Ecofeminism,  Featured

Ecofeminism Explained (by Activists, Ecofeminists, and Me)

Photo of Vandana Shiva via Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Ariel Salleh via YouTube screencapture.

If you Google “Ecofeminism,” a lot of different stuff comes up.  Some definitions will describe it as the destruction of nature in the name of profit, leading to women’s oppression. Others will say it’s about women’s sacred relationship to nature. Some label it as merely “spiritual mumbo jumbo.” 

Some will critique it and claim that it’s a white women’s movement, while others will say it  builds bridges across race, gender, and class due to its focus on environmental justice. 

Yet one thing’s for certain, in the words of  Ynestra King (pioneering ecofeminist theorist, feminist teacher, writer and oral historian), who spoke at the first Ecofeminsim conference in 1980:

We are a woman-identified movement and believe we have special work to do in these imperiled times.

So whether you like your Ecofeminism light, dark, or sprinkled with cinnamon — what’s apparent is that these ideas (see below for specifics) are picking up steam among newly minted voters. 

Unlike Google (which can be hit-and-miss) these three pioneering Ecofeminist thinkers, do know what they’re talking about: Let’s hear from Vananda Shiva, Maria Mies, and Ariel Sallah, for the low-down.  

What Ecofeminism Really Is

Ecofeminism, a “new term for ancient wisdom,” grew out of various social movements. It was first used by  French feminist and homosexuality advocate, Francoise D’Eaubonne. The movement was further sparked from protests in the after the ecological disasters Three Mile Island in the late 1970s and 1980s that lead to the feminist, peace, and ecology movements. 

Ecofeminism is different  from traditional feminism in that its more inclusive from the get-go: As Ariel Salleh writes in the second edition her 1997 book (the second edition was published in 2017, Ecofeminism as Politics):

“While many feminists may be content with nothing more than equality alongside men in the existing system, ecofeminists are concerned about global sustainability as much as gender justice: In fact, they see the two as intrinsically interlinked.”

Below find 7 ideas from that iconic, influential text along with quotes from the equally insightful work by Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies in their jointly published 2014 book, EcoFeminism.

There is no “Other” 

Ecofeminism is about inclusive thinking, with no black versus white, good versus bad, better versus worse. Instead, there is just an amazingly complex system of interdependent opposites: life and death, darkness and light, autumn and spring, day and night, moving in perpetual cycles of death, regeneration, and regrowth.  

As Arielle Salleh points out in Ecofeminism as Politics:

 “In too many cultures, girls come into adulthood with assumptions about themselves as essentially Other: as instinct-driven, irrational creatures, as temptress, Earth Mother, dark, evil, damp, passive, moon goddess, and so on. Masculinity, by contrast, elicits associations of rationality, sun, activity, goodness, light and order.” 

So while “man evokes law, regularity and permanence,  woman implies chaos and unpredictability.” Not under ecofeminism—instead everything in between what we see as opposites—and the opposing sides themselves, are valuable.

All beings are sacred. 

Because there is no other, there is no hierarchy, and all beings are sacred. As Vananda Shiva and Maria Mies, write in “Ecofeminism:”

“For us the snail darter is to be considered side by side with the community’s need for water, the porpoise side-by-side with an appetite for tuna.” 

Destruction of nature and women’s oppression is intimately connected. 

The destruction of nature and women’s oppression in the name of profit and progress leads to women’s oppression. As Maria Mies writes in “Ecofeminism:”

“Ecological destruction and industrial catastrophic constitute a direct threat to everyday life, the maintenance of which women are responsible for.” 

We’re trapped in a Culture of Commodification. 

The commodification of the earth’s resources and of people’s bodies leads to the social and environmental destruction of the planet. From “Ecofeminism:” 

“An economics of the deregulation of commerce and of the privatization and commodification of seeds and food, land and water, and woman and children degrades social values, deepens patriarchy and intensifies violence against women. An economics of commodification creates a culture of commodification, where everything has a price and nothing has a value.”

We live among an interconnected web of life:

Ecofeminists place emphasis on the interconnectedness of life on earth to problems and solutions. From “Ecofeminism” and Vandana Shiva, respectively:

“Ecofeminism is about connectedness and wholeness of theory and practice. It asserts the special strength and integrity of every living thing.”

And 

“The Earth is comprised of a  complexity of living systems and intelligent organisms that allow for regeneration and regrowth.”

The ultimate ecological crisis is that the regenerative cycles of nature have been torn apart. 

Nature’s self-regenerative systems have been harnessed and sold on a global commodities market. As Vandana explains in “Ecofeminism:” 

“The colonization of the regenerative sources of the renewal of life is the ultimate ecological crisis: patriarchal science and technology, in the services of patriarchal capitalism, have torn about cycles of regeneration, and forced them into linear flows of raw materials and commodities, The self-provisioning, self-regenerative systems have been reduced into ‘raw material, and consuming systems have been elevated into ‘production’ systems which supply commodities to consumers.” 

And last but most importantly:

The Earth is alive. 

As Vananda Shiva points out in this talk, soil is the most abundant ecosystem on the planet. Its biodiversity exceeds that of any other ecosystem.  There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet. Soils contain bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, and arthropods. These micro-organisms are responsible for breaking down pathogens, toxins and metabolize our waste, turning it to the nutrients we eat.

In this below-the-ground world, mushroom mycelium grows webs of fungus that serve as internets of communication, creating a dialogue between the soil and the trees.

Ecologist Suzanne Simard has shown how trees these neural pathways of soil fungi to communicate their needs and aid neighboring plants. She explains fungi forms a mutually symbiotic exchange with trees all over the world:

“It’s this network, sort of like a below-ground pipeline, that connects one tree root system to another tree root system, so that nutrients and carbon and water can exchange between the trees. These are fungi that are beneficial to the plants and through this association, the fungus, which can’t photosynthesize of course, explores the soil.”

Those trees, then of course, inhale our carbon and exhale our oxygen in the form of clean air, literally breathing with us.

Yet although our life is directly dependent on this exchange with soil,  we are losing seventy-five billion tons of it, each year as it’s sterilized as a result of the agrochemical industry business, which uses the same chemicals fertilizers used to make nitrogen bombs. 

This is why for me, Ecofeminism is about allowing the Earth the ability to purge itself from the agrochemical, fossil fuel industry and begin to heal the fractures along with this interconnected web of life, filled with amazing, self-organizing complexities with more neural activity than our brains.

It’s about re-establishing the importance of engaging in a symbiotic exchange with the earth and support the women and local farmers doing this work in preserving soils and ecosystems, rooted in special knowledge and understanding of the Earth’s supernatural ability to create regeneration, regrowth, and life. 

It’s a celebration of biodiversity in all shapes and forms and approaching development and economic growth more holistically. 

Ultimately, as Ynestra King said at the first Ecofeminist conference:   

“We are living in imperiled times, We do have special work to do as women. And while we’re on the brink of ecological collapse, we’re also seeing the feminine consciousness begin to rise across the world. So the question becomes —  as human beings, in all our diversity —  take these ideas and breathe new life into our planet?”

Read previous pieces from my Ecofeminism column:

Welcome to my New Column on Ecofeminism

How Women’s Rights and Environmental Destruction Go Hand-in-Hand

Jessica Williamson is a social impact storyteller and partnership builder who believes in the power of story to change the world. She is a writer, reporter, speaker, video producer, and on-air personality dedicated to amplifying the voices of marginalized women to create a healthy planet. She currently serves as the North American Regional Director for the World Information Transfer (WIT); an NGO in General Consultative Status with the United Nations. She urges world leaders, governments, and institutions to consider the role of women in sustainable development at global policy meetings. In her new role at Eco Chick, Jessica aims to share women’s stories and give NGO’s platform by connecting them to mainstream audiences.