The Connection of the Domination of Nature and Women
In this article, Nina Koevots shares with us what she has been learning about ecofeminism in order to raise a discussion amongst people who are interested in social change. While many environmentalists have explained the interrelatedness of continuous economic growth, the expansion of the free market and alarming environmental damage, they have not yet explained that connection with the under-privileging of women. Understanding the links between the exploitation of women and nature can possibly give a better understanding that helps to find solutions to both. This her attempt, within the limitations of a short article.
First, it is important to look at Western dualisms such as human-nature, human-animal, and man-woman. These dualisms are hierarchical: men can dominate nature. And they are gendered: men can dominate women. While men are believed to be separated from nature, women are supposed to be closer to nature. Women are associated with body, emotion, intuition, cooperation, the subjective and the private domain. Men, on the other hand, are associated with mind, reason, rationality, competition, the objective and the public domains.
Ecofeminists have challenged these assumptions. In the early 1970s, the first attempts were made to simply celebrate nature and women, praising the closeness of women to nature and explaining this by their biology (menstrual cycles and child birth).
However, later ecofeminists criticized this attitude. They found that it is male sexist culture, institutions and practices that exploit both women and nature. And they believe women are no more part of nature than man, as both reside in nature and culture. According to Warren the inferiority of women is based on three faulty assumptions:
Biological determinism: seeing women as biologically closer to nature.
Conceptual essentialism: ignoring that the concept and conditions of women are not uniform.
Universalism: assuming that all women share a set of experiences in virtue of the fact that we are women.
This debate is reminiscent of the classical nature-nurture debate.
Another dimension of oppression is the economic one: patriarchy is not only a cultural but also a material economic domination; one where a rational man tries to maximize his profit. Women on the other hand are traditionally part of the domestic sphere, doing unpaid labor.
Ecofeminists pointed out that domestic labor is required for a formal economy to develop, and the ‘economy of nature’ is required for both the domestic and public economy. Or expressed more simply: we all depend on natural resources such as oil, coal, wood, stone, water and food.
Finally, another area where domination becomes clear is that of knowledge production. Progress, economic growth, social welfare and objective science are all defined according to masculine and bourgeois interests and meanings.
Women were systematically left out. Therefore, it is important to include their experiences and points of view. And, as the system of knowledge production does not only follow class and gender lines, but also racial lines, it could be eye-opening to listen to those ‘at the bottom’ of the hierarchy.
Such perspectives make invisible power dynamics visible, and could provide a whole different system of knowledge. Those who want to critique globalization and its capitalist practices therefore need feminism. This is the argument of Mohanty who points out that toxic waste sites are often located in the neighborhoods of poor black, Native American, and Latina women, and it is thus no coincidence that they provide the leadership in the fight against corporate pollution.
Examples often referred to are the Chipco Movement in India (in which Vandana Shiva participated), and the Green Belt Movement in Kenya: both started in the 1970s, but still today there are many movements in which ecofeminists are active.
Perhaps ecofeminists are also active in the Ecovillage movement or interested to become active? I wonder if some women and men examine the relationships between the domination of nature and women and challenge them? And I wonder how they approach the difficult questions of differences between women and men, between colored and white people, those part of rich nations and those who live in poverty? Can we bridge these divides? Obviously these are, for now, rhetorical questions.
Jane Moeckli & Bruce Braun (2001).
See Sandra Harding (1998). “Gender, Development, and Post-Enlightenment Philosophies of Science”, in Hypatia, Vol. 13, No. 3, Border Crossings: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist Challenges to Philosophy (Part 2) pp. 146-167.
Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003). “Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles”, in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society , vol. 28, no. 2 pp 499-535.