I consider myself to be a generally well-educated person as well as informed about feminism, social justice, and ecological issues. However, I had never actually heard the word “ecofeminism” until it was referenced in one of my courses at Ocean Seminary College. As such, when enrollment for the spring session of courses opened, I immediately signed up for an ecofeminism class as one of my electives.
In short, the foundation of ecofeminism is the perspective that the basic issues of ecological concern around the globe—water, wood, food, health care, climate change, environmental justice—are intimately intertwined with the status of women, their value and treatment. Many of the issues of domination, control, degradation, and oppression that affect women on this planet, also impact the health of the planet itself.
Ecofeminism is a diverse field of study with varying philosophies and approaches, all sharing the concept that there is a connection between, “unjustified domination of women and nature.” From a religious and spiritual perspective, I’ve always been interested by how women are associated with nature, the earthy, the mundane, the body; matters of the flesh and soil. Matter and mother are intimately connected. One of the ways in which patriarchal religion controls women is by asserting that women are connected to the body and the flesh, rather than to the (superior) realm of the mind and the spirit. As Carol Christ notes in her book, She Who Changes, “Feminist theologians have long recognized that women have been viewed as secondary or subordinate in dualistic anti-body traditions that follow Plato in making a sharp distinction between God and the unchanging soul on the one hand, and the changing body and nature on the other. In dualistic philosophies created by men, the rational soul of man is associated with the unchanging immortal realm of (a male) God, while woman is identified with the body, nature, and death.” [and sin!]…one set of qualities—the unchanging, the rational, the soul, the male—is valued more highly than the other—the changing, the natural, the body, the female. In such traditions God must be imaged as male because maleness is associated with the unchangeable realm of soul and spirit. God cannot be imaged as female because femaleness is associated with the changing body, nature, and death.”
In Karen Warren’s book Ecofeminist Philosophy she explains, “just as women’s bodies and labor are colonized by a combination of capitalism and patriarchy (or capitalist patriarchy), so is nature” (p. 26). I have previously written that patriarchy is built and maintained on the bodies of women. It is also built and maintained on the control of nature and natural resources. As someone with a special interest in the power of language and story to shape our world, I was most fascinated by the exploration of the connection between sexist-naturist language, emphasizing that, “Animalizing women in a patriarchal culture where animals are seen as inferior to human, thereby reinforces and authorizes women’s inferior status…similarly language that feminizes nature in a patriarchal culture, where women are viewed as subordinate and inferior, reinforces and authorizes the domination of nature” (p. 27). Language is used as a tool of social control and to reinforce patriarchal messages about ownership of body and resources. Exploitation of nature is justified by feminization of natural places and things and exploitation of women is justified by naturalizing their characteristics, roles, or value.
I also appreciate the observation that the root issue is, “’a social system in which the power of the Blade is idealized—in which both men and women are taught to equate true masculinity with violence and dominance…” (p. 21). These are primarily cultural and social structures, not biological imperatives. When domination of the earth, its resources, and its women is equated with a holy responsibility or sacred mandate, positions that uphold the rights of women and the sanctity of the earth have difficulty gaining ground.
Goddess worship and the symbol of the Goddess plays an important role in re-conceptualizing and restructuring the role of women, the value of nature, and the social order. “Many spiritual ecofeminists invoke the notion of ‘the Goddess’ to capture the sacredness of both nonhuman nature and the human body…the symbol of the Goddess ‘aids the process of naming and reclaiming the female body and its cycles and processes.” Rather than something to dominate and control, the earth becomes the body of the Goddess and is acknowledged as both literal and spiritual home and is something inseparably linked to personal well-being—planetary health and personal health become synonymous—and both treated with reverence and respect.
In another book about ecofeminism, Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, Charlene Spretnak notes that there are two paths to ecofeminism the first originating in the study of politics and history (patriarchy and dominance of women) and the second path is “exposure to nature-based religion, usually that of the Goddess” (p. 5). I identify with both of these paths.
Spretnak also observes that ecofeminists ask, “…surely you’ve noticed that Western conquest and degradation of nature are based on fear and resentment; we can demonstrate that that dynamic is linked closely to patriarchal fear and resentment of of the elemental power of the female” (p. 11).
Ecofeminism also draws on an ethic of care, finding philosophical issue analysis to be, “…sterile and inadequate, a veiled attempt, yet again, to distance oneself from wonder and awe, from the emotional involvement and caring that the natural world calls forth” (p. 12).
In reflecting on this material I recalled a quote I used for post recently about menstruation: womb ecology reflects world ecology.