What is Ecofeminism?

Molly Davis shares her knowledge in celebration of Earth Day 2022.

Ecofeminism is a growing radical movement with significant conceptual and societal meaning; it is where feminism and environmentalism intersect. Rooted in both philosophy and political activism, what does this mean?

Coined by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1974, Ecofeminism (ecological feminism) is a branch of feminism that examines the connections between patriarchal violence against women and nature and believes in the integrity of every living organism. Ecofeminism encompasses a multitude of issues, including sexism, deep ecology, racism, classism, and even the anti-nuclear movement. The two themes connecting these topics are the recognition of the vital link between gender oppression and environmental exploitation, and the notion of human and nature interconnectedness. Ecofeminists believe women’s and nature’s oppression are linked to the societal mindset of the patriarchy and for-profit privatization, but how exactly?

Ecofeminist Artwork by KT Shepherd

Ecofeminism says the same mindset and values leading to gender-based violence and women’s oppression also facilitates environmental domination, leading to climate change and other forms of irreversible environmental damage. For example, under capitalism, society markets and profits from both women’s and nature’s beauty- this is the livelihood of beauty, fashion, and nature-based tourism industries. This leads to the exploitation of women and nature, as they are both viewed as commodities. (Much of ecofeminism is rooted in anti-capitalism, but that is a blog for another day)! Further, women also face exposure to risky environmental issues disproportionately to men. This empirical oppression can be seen with women and child-care; because women in patriarchal countries tend to be ‘primary caregivers’ that stay home (often with less socioeconomic power), they’re more vulnerable to climate issues such as local air/water pollution and natural disasters. The lived experience and status of many women connect to environmental problems, making deforestation, water pollution, and environmental toxins a human safety/rights issue and a feminist issue.

Conceptual forms of oppression also exist because women are associated culturally and symbolically with the Earth. We see this in the colloquialism “Mother Earth,” the Gaia tradition and religion, and the dependence between ‘child to mother’ mirrored in ‘society to nature.’ Dualisms such as reason v emotion, mind v body, heaven v Earth, and man v woman also exist and imply men have innate power over both women & nature, reinforcing the patriarchal/capitalist oppression.

These factors shape our societal mindset and reveal how, as stated by Ecofeminist Sam Mickey, “the way we think about and treat the environment is directly related to how we think about and treat women.”

This attitude translates into gender violence, socio-economic disparities (wage gaps), exclusion from positions of power, sexual/economic exploitation, gender roles and other forms of sexism. Ecofeminism believes we must value both women and nature, recognizing their issues separately and addressing them together.

Feminists demanding Climate Justice at a march in Katowice, Poland. Photo by APWLD

What are the goals of Ecofeminists? Ecofeminists believe all people are equal, regardless of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. The movement puts a special emphasis on women, specifically BIWOC, and desires for society to recognize them as equally respected and protected. While working to uplift women and those on the “lower half” of our hierarchical dualisms, Ecofeminists strive to end all brackets of societal hierarchy. They view all living things (humans, plants, animals) as equally valued and essential to the well-being of the planet, urging humans to not view themselves as separate and superior. When we value all life forms, Ecofeminists believe society could emphasize environmental health and potentially dissipate many forms of oppression. Without the ingrained social hierarchy in human culture, there will be a limited basis for sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and speciesism to exist. Essentially, Ecofeminists believe real change requires a radical shift in human values.

It’s first important to recognize that the weight of today’s environmental degradation isn’t on the shoulders of the individual; in fact, the 2017 Carbon-Majors Database found just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Industries such as transportation, fossil fuel, meat/livestock, and manufacturing have damaged the environment far beyond the average person. Learning about these environmental statistics can feel defeating, but Ecofeminists acknowledge the importance of individual efforts. Some examples they share are listed below!

  • “The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.” (United States EPA)- they focus more social attention to higher‐level corporations and governments that are leaders in single-use plastics, greenhouse gas emission, and fossil fuel usage.
  • Raise awareness online, speak out against these businesses, and make an effort to stay up-to-date on politics concerning our environment.
  • Implement eco-conscious choices in their daily life- eliminating single-use plastics, using reusable bags, buying food locally & by season, attempting to consume less meat/dairy, cutting food waste by composting, using renewable energy sources if possible, reusing/recycling and more!
  • Calculate your carbon footprint to see where you can make the most impactful changes in your life.

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