This month we explored the distinctions between feminism
and ecofeminism. In describing three primary strands of
feminismliberal feminism, socialist feminism, and
radical feminismCarolyn Merchant and Ynestra King show
that second wave feminism is not monolithic.
A bit confused
by the various factions, we welcomed this opportunity to
dissect second wave feminist theory in order to clarify
ecofeminism's roots. We defined in very general
terms the predominate (yet often overlapping) characteristics
of each type of feminism.
Liberal Feminism: mainstream; reformist; largely
white middle class constituency; believes women's presence in
the patriarchal system can humanize it; struggles primarily
within the system for equal rights for women.
Socialist Feminism: sees societal problems as
rooted in material conditions (historical materialism);
emphasizes the economic value of women's labor;
anthropocentric (human-centered) in its conception of nature
as a resource for human needs; advocates political solutions;
dismisses spiritual/personal struggle as ineffective for
revolutionary social change.
Radical Feminism: sees male supremacism
(patriarchy) as the root of societal ills; strong focus on
the politics of biology. One version of radical feminism is
political, rationalist, and theoretical; feels women's
biology (birthing, menstruation, etc.) under patriarchy
limits women's access to and power in the public sphere;
rejects viewing women as closer to nature.
radical cultural feminism exalts in all that is
"essentially" female; called cultural feminism due
to its celebration of women's culture (women's music, goddess
worship, etc.); embraces connections with nature and animals;
lesbian separatists have roots in this camp; believes women
and women's culture hold the key to planetary healing.
We all agreed that ecofeminism takes something from each
variant of feminism. Most women supported liberal feminism's
struggle for equal rights, but rejected its limited agenda.
To paraphrase ecofeminist Hazel Henderson, "It's not
about scrambling for deck chairs on the Titanic."
women also appreciated socialist feminism's strong class
analysis, but found its repudiation of spirituality and its
willingness to exploit nature to be problematic. By and
large, most of us felt that ecofeminism's roots come
primarily from radical cultural feminism. One woman said she
experienced the greatest degree of racial and class diversity
within the realm of women's spirituality.
In discussing Alice
Walker's term "womanist," women revealed an
eagerness to further explore ecofeminist of color
perspectives. Most of us rejected separatism as an end in
itself arguing that the masculine principle and male animals
(human and nonhuman) are part of nature. Conversely, though,
one woman challenged us to envision parthenogenesis.
woman suggested that the source of unequal power relations
may not be gender-based (per radical feminism) or class-based
(per socialist feminism), but species-based, stemming from a prepatriarchal
domination of humans over nature and other animals.
One woman expressed exasperation that ecofeminism is
usually relegated to the realm of ecology instead of treated
as a bona fide branch of feminismif not its third wave.
We were excited by another woman's suggestion that
ecofeminism seems to be developing its own methodology,
bringing together feminism, environmentalism, alternative
spiritualities, and the social justice politics of race,
class, gender, species, and other forms of oppression.
precepts we considered essential to an ecofeminist
methodology included the idea that all life is
interconnected, that oppressions cannot be prioritized, that
humans are not the apex of life on earth, and that
rebalancing dualistic thinking is paramount, i.e., that
politics and spirituality go hand in hand, as do activism and
One woman offered a concrete example of an ecofeminist
approach to an urgent political issue. Biotechnology
corporations, the City of New York and Columbia University
intend to demolish Harlem's historic Audubon Ballroom
(rallying site for Marcus Garvey, Puerto Rican nationalist
Don Pedro Albizu Campos, and Malcolm X) and build in its
place a massive, four-block biotech plant and research lab.
As anti-racist and anti-capitalist activists, ecofeminists
can join in the struggle to preserve the Audubon as an
international cultural landmark, and prevent the proposed
Frankenstein factory from exploiting the people of Harlem. As
feminists, ecofeminists can oppose yet another high-tech
venture by patriarchal geneticists to wrest reproduction and
the creation of life away from females. As animal liberation
activists, ecofeminists can protest the experimentation on
animals. As ecologists, ecofeminists can help mobilize
against the hazardous artificial viruses and chemical wastes
that will endanger the environment.
Wide webs of support and
resistence can clearly be woven. The struggle against
biotechnology in Harlem is a case in point of how an
ecofeminist methodology can strengthen common connections
among diverse and all too often separate movements.
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