What is Ecofeminism?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Ecofeminism is a term first coined in the 1970s by writer Françoise D'Eaubonne, but the term is somewhat difficult to describe because of its many definitions and applications. Essentially, D’Eaubonne's description focused on the similarities or interconnectedness of the way women and nature are treated in paternalistic societies. The term paternalistic could be substituted with others like advanced, high tech or western.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The idea of a connection between the treatment of women and treatment of nature is one of the hallmarks of ecofeminism. In the view of its theorists, both women and nature are not left alone or venerated but are instead exploited. There are even many language terms in common when people discuss natural resources. “Raping the land,” and “taming nature” are relatively common expressions. These ideas suggest nature is at once to be exploited and also to be tamed, and there are numerous people who believe these attitudes are quite similar to those about women in societies. They are mysterious, wild, elements that aren’t worthwhile until somehow used.

Another element of ecofeminism is that exploitation of land, water or nature often creates significant impact for women, and the population at large. When poor farmers in certain parts of the world grow cash crops, they don’t provide enough food for families, and this leads to depletion of the earth and food shortages. Once land is viewed as only something to be used for profit (as may be common in a paternalistic mindset), instead of as a nurturing source that requires care, it deprives people of resources that provide basic dignities like the ability to obtain food or feed children. On a larger scale, many of the activities undertaken that pollute the earth and do not steward it with consideration have a far-reaching impact for women.

An additional idea in ecofeminism is that paternalistic societies tend to favor what are traditionally masculine attributes to the cost of those considered traditionally feminine. Masculine attributes might include competition, linear thinking and praise of rationale thought. Those things considered feminine could include cooperation, a less linear method of perceiving time and intuitionism. When these things are lost due to predominantly masculine thinking, both the earth and its people suffer the consequences.

For some, ecofeminism has led to the embrace of feminine values and even rejection of things like paternalistic religious forms that assert most females are not equal to but are instead subject to males. In addition to celebrating “feminine” attributes, ecofeminists may look at ways in which these values can be applied to creating balance in all nature so that earth is not raped or molested but is instead tended to, to create environments of protection for all and mutual benefit.

There’s no one right way to be an ecofeminist, and the theories espoused by ecofeminism are varied and not exclusive to females. Women and men may be drawn to its ideas through feminist principles or through their work in environmental protection. The many theories can’t be described as a discipline, but instead are more of a way of thinking that can have practical and positive results when applied.

A few practical examples of ecofeminism include those where women have joined together to bring awareness to practices that are inherently harmful. Ecofeminists might work to protest deforestation or create think tanks that help expose the potential harm and contamination of toxic chemicals. Some people call ecofeminism a mindset more than a precise theory because it has expressed itself in numerous ways, and those who share elements of this mindset believe that changing attitudes about both nature and women could help change the world in many positive ways.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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