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Ecofeminism: Sustainability and Women


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Title: Ecofeminism: Sustainability and Women

Ecofeminism Sustainability and Women
  • Hillary Tyree, Director A.S. Womens Center,
    CSU, Chico
  • Sean Cummins, Program Coordinator A.S. Womens
    Center, CSU, Chico

What is Ecofeminism?
What is Ecofeminism?
  • While there is no central definition of
    ecofeminism, it is generally regarded as a
    feminist approach to environmental ethics.
  • Ecofeminists see the oppression of women and the
    domination of nature as interconnected as a
    movement, ecofeminist theorists use a framework
    that confronts issues of gender, race, class, and

What is Ecofeminsm?
  • Ecofeminism strives to show the connections
    among all forms of human oppression, but it also
    focuses on human beings attempts to dominate the
    non-human world (nature)
  • Tong 1998

Why Care?
  • It is important to be aware of how environmental
    policies, or a lack thereof, influence our
    everyday lives.
  • Women, children, low-income individuals, people
    of color, and residents of the Global South are
    particularly vulnerable populations whose rights
    to a healthy and sustainable future must be
    vigilantly respected and safeguarded.
  • As we are all only as healthy as our earth, we
    must be mindful of how our lives positively or
    negatively impact the environment, and
    ultimately, ourselves.
  • Women and the status of the environment are
    inextricably linked.
  • In many cases, it is women, in the U.S. and
    across the globe, who primarily feel the effects
    of ecological change and the creation of toxic
    substances by humans.

History and Background
The Emergence of Ecofeminsm
  • Deep Ecology first developed in 1972, from the
    writings of Arne Naess
  • Ecofeminism was first coined in 1974, by French
    writer Françoise d'Eaubonne, in her book Le
    Feminisme ou la mort, which called for women to
    take a leading role in environmentalism
  • Ecofeminist theory became coherent in the 1980s
    Karen Warren, Rosemary Reuthers

The Emergence of Ecofeminism
  • Ecofeminism shares many basic ideas with Deep
    Ecology, but holds a major critique
  • Deep Ecology is anthropocentric in its views on
    humans and the domination of nature
  • Ecofeminists argue that a more androcentric view
    should be taken

Deep Ecology
  • 1. The flourishing of human and non-human life on
    Earth has intrinsic value. The value of non-human
    life forms is independent of the usefulness these
    may have for narrow human purposes.
  • 2. Richness and diversity of life forms are
    values in themselves and contribute to the
    flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth.
  • 3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness
    and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
  • 4. Present human interference with the non-human
    world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly

Deep Ecology
  • 5. The flourishing of human life and cultures is
    compatible with a substantial decrease of the
    human population. The flourishing of non-human
    life requires such a decrease.
  • 6. Significant change of life conditions for the
    better requires change in policies. These affect
    basic economic, technological, and ideological
  • 7. The ideological change is mainly that of
    appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations
    of intrinsic value) rather than adhering to a
    high standard of living.
  • 8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points
    have an obligation directly or indirectly to
    participate in the attempt to implement the
    necessary changes.
  • -Arne Naess

Feminists Ecofeminists
  • Karen Warren claimed that, logically, all
    feminists should be ecofeminists
  • Feminism is a movement to end sexism
  • Sexism is conceptually linked with naturism
    (through an oppressive conceptual framework
    characterized by a logic of domination)
  • Thus, feminism is also a movement to end naturism

4 Core Assumptions of Ecofeminism
  • 1. There are important connections between the
    oppression of women and the oppression of nature
  • 2. Understanding the nature of these connections
    is necessary to any adequate understanding of the
    oppression of women and the oppression of nature
  • 3. Feminist theory and practice must include an
    ecological perspective
  • 4. Solutions to ecological problems must include
    a feminist perspective
  • According to Karen J. Warren qtd. in Tong 1998

Towards an Ecofeminist Ethic
  • Warren outlines the type of ecoethics necessary
    to overcome naturism, saying that it must be
  • Antinaturist
  • Contextualist
  • Structurally pluralistic
  • Theoretically in-process
  • Inclusivist
  • Subjectively biased
  • Attentive to and appreciative of traditionally
    feminine values
  • Interested in reconceiving the notion of humans

Ecofeminist Spirituality
  • Some ecofeminists advocate a return to goddess
    worship and earth based religions, others claim
    this essentializes women
  • Gaia worship
  • Human-nature connection vs. dualism and
    dichotomies (nature/culture, women/men)
  • Starhawk

Ecofeminist Connections
Connections Between Feminism and Environmentalism
  • I. Feminisms basic tenets
  • 1. Women are fully human and deserve rights and
    responsibilities inherent upon such full humanity
  • 2. Women have been historically oppressed and
    denigrated (as is/has been nature)
  • 3. The personal is the political is the personal
    is the Focus on personal experiential truths,
    informed by and melded with larger conceptual and
    theoretical analysis
  • 4. Patriarchy is not healthy for anyone.
  • 5. People -women especially- need to work for
    personal, local, global, and systemic change

Connections Between Feminism and Environmentalism
  • More detail on point 3 The personal is political
  • Women have been denigrated for their
    emotionality, their lack of objectivity,
    their insistence on personalizing things, their
    touchy-feely-ness. Feminism argues that these
    things are not only good, but that they are ways
    to greater Truths, Truths not accessible through
    distancing and impersonal analysis.
  • 1. Listening to, learning from, self-critiquing
    personal experiences are forms of validating
    intuitive knowledge and self
  • 2. Looking at these personal experiences can
    teach us about the ills of patriarchy, not only
    toward ourselves, and those we love, but on a
    larger scale. We can mobilize our energies
    through our empathetic understandings of others
  • 3. What an individual woman feels and experiences
    reflects larger political issues inherent in

Connections Between Feminism and Environmentalism
  • More detail on point 4 Anti-Patriarchy Stance
  • 1. Feminism advocates power-with versus
    power-over echoes deep ecology
  • A. among humans and between and nature-against
    traditional Judeo-Christian hierarchical,
    domination over relationship between humans and
    other forms
  • B. Respect for difference, among humans and
  • C. Against socio-economic hierarchy inherent in
    patriarchy, which encourages exploitation of
    humans and resources for power-over
  • 2. Against traditional patriarchal association of
    nature with the vulgar, soul-less, threatening,
    irrational (alsowomen)

Connections Between Feminism and Environmentalism
  • More detail on Point 5 Environmental Activism in
  • 1. Maternalist/essentialist feminism
  • for our children and their future
  • 2. Spiritual Realm
  • neo-paganism (Goddess movements, essentialist
    feminism-woman as earth, mother, earth-mother,
    life-giver, nurturer)
  • 3. Social/power dynamics realm
  • Ecofeminists (socio-interactive analysts, seeing
    domination over nature as another example of
    patriarchal domination, parallel to
    male-over-female domination)
  • 4. Global (and Multicultural) Feminisms - pulling
    together critiques of capitalism
    imperialism/colonialism with regards to
    environmental exploitation

What does it all mean?
Rising Breast Cancer Rates
  • The rate of cancer is growing exponentially
    breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer
    death among U.S. women aged 35-44.
  • Today, as many as 50 of breast cancer cases
    remain unexplained by personal characteristics
    and other traditionally accepted risk factors.
  • Epidemiologists and other scientists increasingly
    believe many cases are linked to environmental

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products
  • Consumers should know that ingredients in
    personal care products range from essentially
    harmless components to chemicals that are known
    carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances.

Cosmetics Contd
  • According to a study by the Environmental Working
    Group, the average adult uses 9 personal care
    products each day, with 126 unique chemical
  • More than a quarter of all women and one of every
    100 men use at least 15 products daily.
  • With the absence of adequate government oversight
    for this 35 billion industry, consumers are the

Motherhood and Pregnancy
  • A 2001 Centers for Disease Control study found
    that ten percent of reproductive-age American
    women already carry so much mercury in their
    blood that if they got pregnant it could pose a
    threat of neurological damage to the fetus.
  • Each year, approximately 60,000 children are born
    at a significantly increased risk of neurological
    effects from mercury because of the contaminated
    fish their mothers ate.

Motherhood Contd
  • Mercury is not the only chemical substance that
    can detrimentally affect reproduction.
  • Manufactured chemical by-products like dioxin are
    a key factor in cancers as well as in
    reproductive health problems such as infertility
    and endometriosis.

  • Plastics contain xenoestrogens which can have
    devastating effects on the bodys estrogen
  • Estrogens natural function is to stimulate cell
    growth, especially in regard to a females
    secondary sex characteristics.
  • However, excess estrogen contributes to unnatural

Plastics Contd
  • American women have the highest levels of
    estrogen in the world, and this may be due to the
    preponderance of xenoestrogens in our daily life.
  • Xenoestrogens are found in plastic products such
    as food wrap and soda bottles, as well as in
    growth hormones common in milk/meat production
    and in agricultural pesticides.
  • The chemical has been linked to migraine
    headaches, hormonal imbalances, and cancers

International Family Planning
  • International family planning allows people to
    freely and responsibly decide the number and
    spacing of their children.
  • In addition to saving womens lives through more
    comprehensive health care, IFP services help
    reduce global population rates.

IFP Contd
  • Studies show that the average number of children
    a woman will have in her lifetime rapidly
    declines when there are improved child survival
    rates, higher education levels, and viable,
    voluntary family planning policies.

IFP Contd
  • Unprecedented and explosive global population
    growth has already taken its toll on the
    environment one-third to one-half of the Earths
    land surface has been transformed and 80 of
    original forests degraded.
  • A sustainable future for both people and the
    planet means slowing population growth and
    improving the social economic and economic well
    being of people worldwide

10 Ecofeminism Facts You Should Know
  1. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
    in January 2003 show that Americans of all ages
    carry a body burden of at least 116 chemicals,
    some of them banned for more than two decades
    because of toxicity.
  2. As recently as sixty years ago, a woman's
    lifetime risk for breast cancer was 1 in 22.
    Today, it is 1 in 7.
  3. 89 of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care
    products have not been evaluated for safety by
    the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), the Food
    and Drug Administration (FDA), or any other
    publicly accountable institution. In its 67-year
    history of monitoring cosmetic safety, the FDA
    has banned or restricted just nine personal care
    product ingredients.

10 Facts Contd
  • The Endometriosis Association studied a colony of
    rhesus monkeys that had developed endometriosis
    after exposure to dioxin, a toxic chemical
    byproduct of pesticide manufacturing, bleached
    pulp/paper products, and medical and municipal
    waste incineration. 79 of the monkeys developed
    endometriosis the more dioxin exposure, the more
    severe the endometriosis.
  • The U.S. is home to only 5 of the global
    population but uses over 25 of the worlds
  • Today, one in four Americans lives within four
    miles of a toxic waste dump this is roughly 70
    million Americans, including 10 million children.
    Overwhelmingly, waste facilities are built in
    African American, Latino, and Native American

10 Facts Contd
  • Children have higher metabolic rates and a higher
    proportionate intake of food and liquid than
    adults. Consequently, an adult will absorb 10 of
    ingested lead, while a toddler will absorb 50 of
    ingested lead.
  • In every one of the 44 major metropolitan areas
    in the United States, African Americans are more
    likely than European Americans to be exposed to
    higher concentrations of toxins in the air they
  • While research has shown that agricultural
    productivity increases significantly when women
    farmers have access to land and technology, women
    own less than two percent of all land.
  • Men have experienced a 50 reduction in sperm
    count during the last fifty years

What can I do?
Take Action!
  • Research products you use to find out if they
    contain chemicals that may be carcinogenic or
    otherwise harmful. Help hold corporations
  • Contact public officials and encourage them to
    support the research of environment related
    causes of increasingly common diseases.
  • Make sure that your campus community recycles and
    uses non-disposable utensils and containers in
    the cafeteria, when possible.
  • Lobby your schools administration to research
    the use of toxin-free cleaning supplies and
    organic food.

10 Steps for People Serious about developing a
subsistence lifestyle
  • 1. People should produce only enough to satisfy
    fundamental human needs
  • 2. People should use only as much of nature as
    they need to and come together only to form
    community in order to meet needs
  • 3. People should replace representative democracy
    with participatory democracy
  • 4. People should develop multi-dimensional
    problem solving approaches
  • 5. People should combine contempory knowledge
    with ancient wisdom

10 Steps for People Serious about developing a
subsistence lifestyle
  • 6. People should break down the boundaries
    between work and play
  • 7. People should view all natural resources as
    community goods rather than private resources
  • 8. Men and women must come together and adopt the
    subsistence perspective
  • 9. Traditional feminine traits must be valued
    and adopted by all
  • 10. People should realize that in order for
    everyone to have enough no one can have it all.
  • According to Maria Mies qtd. in Tong

Practical Transformative Ecofeminism
  • What could you as an individual feminist (and/or
    as a member of a feminist group) do to help
    actualize Mies ten necessary steps for citizens
    in capitalist patriarchies? Using the process
    outlined below, devise specific, practicable
    strategies and activist actions/programs for
    achieving your assigned steps

Practical Transformative Ecofeminism
  • Process For each of your assigned steps
  • 1st- Analyze obstacles resistance
  • What stands in the way of it being achieved- what
    ideologies, attitudes, practical concern?
  • What particular groups might be particularly
    resistant and why?
  • What forms might their resistance take?
  • 2nd Develop action plan (s) for dealing with
    the various sources forms of resistance

Thank You!