A Definition of Eco-feminism

A clear and succint explanation of eco-feminism by Madronna Holden:


Ecofeminists express a variety of theoretical dimensions, but they share the following understandings:
  • Feminist and ecological perspectives are interdependent. One cannot ensure the liberation of women without re-valuing the natural world, which Western tradition has connected with the “feminine”. In turn, the destruction of the natural world has gone hand in hand with the oppression of women, and only through the liberation of women (and all that is considered “feminine” in patriarchal societies) can we honor, protect and affirm the live-giving qualities of our world.
  • There is an intrinsic relationship between the way in which we treat the natural world and the way in which we treat one another. Dualism and hierarchy are traits of patriarchy, which underlie the oppression of women and destruction of natural systems. Colonialism, racism and the disparity between the rich and poor are other tragic results of patriarchal hierarchy. Racism and poverty serve to maintain the patriarchal system politically, economically, and psychologically– and to justify and amplify the destruction of natural systems. Thus ecofeminism is seriously concerned with environmental racism and what Vandana Shiva has termed “maldevelopment”– which industrialized nations and their corporations have created in the third world.
  • Elite knowledge (such as too much of Western science) must be questioned from the perspective of its methods, its social results, and its cultural and historical context– and thus, its reliability. Historically, Western scientific method has played an essential part in the oppression both of women and of nature. Francis Bacon, sometimes dubbed the “father of modern science”, quoted the language of the witch trials to indicate the ways in which the scientist should treat nature by “torturing her secrets from her”. An alternative science based on the intimacy and equality between human/nature and man/woman is needed to replace dominating systems of knowledge. This new science, in partnership with nature, may be derived from a combination of indigenous knowledge systems and the work of Euroamerican scientists who are developing what ecofeminists have termed “deep science” (after “deep ecology”).
  • Given the function of dualistic and hierarchical thinking in maintaining oppressive social systems, ecofeminism must be dynamic and inclusive, open to continual dialogue as it develops. Ecofeminist theory thus seeks to emulate the dynamic quality of the living systems it honors.
  • Individual human beings are responsible for their actions and their use of their power. Certainly, those who oppress others are culpable for their actions. However, “essentialism” and labeling must be avoided. The critique of patriarchy does not imply that all men are bad and women are good (nurturing, egalitarian, etc.) As does feminism, ecofeminism draws a distinction between sex (the physical differences between men and women) and gender (the meaning a given society assigns to those differences). It is the oppression of the patriarchal gender system that ecofeminism critiques. This system certainly hurts women– even as it often puts men in a position of oppressing women. That system is also inherently destructive to the poor, children, racial minority groups, indigenous peoples, and the natural world itself. But it cannot be overlooked that this system also hurts less privileged men in its classism and racism. Indeed, it ultimately hurts all men in that it undermines human intimacy, our quality of life– and now, our very human survival on this planet. Given this, there are a number of men who consider themselves ecofeminists. An example is the physicist Brian Swimme, whose essay, “How to Heal a Lobotomy” appears in Diamond and Orenstein, eds. Reweaving the World: the Emergence of Ecofeminism”.
  • Ecofeminists look for many of their insights to an analysis of the historical and cultural contexts in which the human and the natural (as well as men and women) have been anciently interwoven. In this sense, ecofeminists honor the wisdom of contemporary indigenous writers, in addition to supporting the concerns of their communities as they fight for their own survival against racism and “maldevelopment”
  • The goal of ecofeminism can be summed up in the words of Vandana Shiva: ecofeminism seeks to create “a democracy of all life.”
What would an ecofeminist society look like? Here is an outline for an “earth democracy” adapted from Vandana Shiva’s book, Earth Democracy, pp 9-11. According to ecofeminists such visions reflect feminist values not because only women can hold them, but because they counter the patriarchal model that dominates women and nature together. Here is great short interview with Shiva that outlines Shiva’s major points.
  1. All species, peoples, and cultures have intrinsic worth.
  2. The earth community is a democracy of all life.
  3. Diversity in nature and culture must be defended.
  4. All beings have a natural right to sustenance.
  5. Earth democracy is based on living economies (that is, living ecological systems) and economic democracy.
  6. Earth democracy is based on local economies: economies that provide direct subsistence from nature rather than from extractive global markets.
  7. Earth democracy is a participatory democracy in which people have knowledge and power to influence actions that effect their lives and livelihood.
  8. The human cultures of an earth democracy promote peace and create free spaces for the practice of different faiths and identifies.
  9. Cultures in an earth democracy are life nourishing.
  10. Earth democracy globalizes peace, care and compassion.
There is a good additional introduction to ecofeminism (which also includes ideas of Val Plumwood).

This outline of ecofeminism is copyright 2008 by Madronna Holden, but feel free to link here and share. And feel free to contact Madronna for permission if you wish to copy or cite it. holdenma@comcast.net