Ecofeminism: The Earth Ain’t Your Mama

Brighton Fowler

This week, as an ode to the one thing we all universally have in common, the environment, I would like to talk to you about ecofeminism. Like it sounds, ecofeminism attempts to unite environmentalism and feminism, while specifically stressing that the social mentality that results in the degradation and appropriation of nature is connected to a similar mentality that results in female oppression.
One of its main principles is the idea that the historical legacy of male land ownership has resulted in a male-dominated society, a patriarchy, where land, animals and women are viewed solely as property and, in the current capitalist paradigm, are prized only for their exchange value in the market place.
That is to say, the environment and women are both valued the same way in society, as objects of desire, as things to be used and discarded, and void of any true or inherent worth a part from what can be appropriated from them.
This may seem a little radical to some of you. Frankly it seems a little radical even to me. I don’t think women are treated solely as objects in society, but I do think the environmental oppression and female oppression are interrelated. Since the beginning of agrarian societies — but really more since the western Industrial Revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries — the environment has been used as a means of sustaining human life by utilizing its resources without any thought to the impact this might have on its overall health, sustainability, etc. Female oppression, on the other hand, has an even longer lineage to contend with.
Women up until the 20th century had no rights under the law apart from that of their husband — read: coverture — and could not own property, have equal rights to education or the right to vote.
Women up until not so long a go were property, considering they had no rights of their own, which is the same crappy boat the majority of the world’s environment is in currently.
Despite some cute laws and national parks, rich white men own most of the land on this planet and they can do basically whatever they want with it. They build huge resorts in developing countries, dump their waste in the ocean, put factories on it and then pollute the air with emissions, sucking out every last vitamin or mineral and then leave it to waste. I could just go on and on.
The point is women and the environment share a similar narrative history with the exploitative capitalist hegemony, which I think is the point ecofeminist are trying to make.
There’s also this other brand of ecofeminism that is the earth mother, goddess worshiping, women-are-one-with-nature in a “lets get naked at Lilith fair” kind of deal, which is a little bit more funky. Don’t get me wrong I can get down with some hemp-wearing, body-painting, nature-lover types but it’s the whole equating women with “the natural” that bothers me.
I don’t take offence to what Carolyn Merchant describes in her article, “Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution,” as a reinstatement of nature as the mother of human kind, the gendering the planet or advocating that women should embody the role of nurturer because that’s what “Mother Earth” had in mind. Rather, I disagree with this type of anthropomorphic perspective and stereotypic labels which cover up the real issues at stake for both women and the environment when they are configured into this passive and repressive system of intelligibility.
So now that I’ve thoroughly complicated ecofeminism, go compost your food or ride your bike to the store in the name of “going green” if you’re still confused that the earth may be your mother.