From:    Coeta Mills


(An article by Kitty Mattes in The Amicus Journal, fall 1990 issue.
Ms. Mattes writes on environmental issues from Ithaca, NY.)

"Arachnophobia", a movie in which a community battles evil spiders
with heroic tides of pesticides, was a major hit at theaters this
summer; in the end, chemical-welding man wins out over web-weaving
insect. While reinforcing people's fears of the natural world, the
movie glorifies the technological fix, and crudely illustrates the
mentality environmentalists are up against. Humans increasingly
control and stand apart from other forms of life. Among
environmentalists, the deepening global crises is leading to new
modes of thought. Recent movements such as Green philosophy,
bioregionalism, and deep ecology all seek to rearrange and
reharmonize humankind's relationship to nature.

ECOFEMINISM, an intriguing manifestation of this quest, is rooted
equally in environmentalism and women's liberation--two powerful
movements that flowered in the 1970s. Combining the feminist and
ecological perspectives, ecofeminism makes the woman/nature
connection: the domination, exploitation, and fear of both women and
nature are characteristic of patriarchal thinking. In other words,
pollution of the planet and oppression of women are caused by the
same set of attitudes.

"Nature-hating and woman-hating are particularly related and
associated", says Ynestra King, "and are mutually reinforcing." King
has become the major spokesperson for ecofeminism through her
activism, writing and teaching over the last 15 years. Currently,
she teaches at the New School for Social Research in New York; her
forthcoming book is titled, WOMEN AND THE REENCHANTMENT OF THE
WORLD.  Ecofeminism links human liberation and respect for nonhuman
nature, explains King. Ecology is incomplete without feminism, she
says, because it does not recognize the necessity of ending the
oppression of women; and feminism is disembodied without the
ecological perspective, which "asserts the interdependence of living

"Ecofeminism is a holistic way of thinking" says King, "a way of
continuously connecting issues like violence against women, military
violence, degradation of the planet. You can take any issue and see
how these relationships work together."  Everything on the feminist
agenda--equal rights, quality of work, child care, reproductive
choice, and domestic violence-- is interconnected, just as the
feminist agenda is connected to the environmental agenda.

Charlene Spretnak, whose books include THE LOST GODDESSES OF EARLY
GREECE and THE POLITICS OF SPIRITUALITY, sees ecofeminism as one of
the "new ecologies" that include Green politics, deep ecology,
bioregionalism, "creation-oriented spirituality," and animal rights.
While mid-1970s feminist studies of domination are seminal to
ecofeminism, Spretnak particularly emphasizes the impetus and
inspiration of recent work on ancient goddess cultures.

Archaeologists studying graves and temples in Eastern Europe and the
Middle East ("Old Europe"), have uncovered flourishing, unstratified
farming societies where females and males had equal power, according
to Marija Gimbutas, professor of archeology at the University of
California. Religion centered on goddess figures; the female
principle was conceived as creative and eterna, the male as
spontaneous and ephemeral. This culture reigned until about 3500 BC,
Gimbutas claims, when incursions by nomads gradually succeeded in
destroying it.

Nomad society was based on the grazing of large herds and on small
patrilinear units, with the hero as horseman and warrior. "In
contrast to the sacred myths of pre-Indo-European peoples, which
centered around the moon, water, and the female," Gimbutas has
written, the religion of Indo=European peoples was "oriented toward
the rotating sky, the sun, starts, planets, and other sky phenomena,
such as thunder and lightening." Eventually the holistic,
earth-oriented goddess cultures were displaced by the hierarchy and
domination of patriarchy. Some ecofeminists even date the beginning
of our cultural history from 8000 BC, the midpoint of the period
when agriculture was first developed.

The ecofeminists view also claims some notable male voices. In his
book, THE DREAM OF THE EARTH, environmental philosopher Thomas Berry
shows how the values and attitudes that emerged after the historical
shift to patriarchy underpin our four, central modern institutions:
empire, church, nation, and corporation, all of which are
hierarchical and male-dominated. Kirkpatrick Sales, a prominent
spokesperson for Green values, whose latest book is THE CONQUEST
PARADISE, hails ecofeminism, especially as he sees it establishing a
direct political link between men and women that is lacking in the
traditional feminist movement.

But among ecofeminism's most obvious allies, there is also serious
criticism of the movement. The ecofeminist stance on international
population control programs-- that they are tainted by racist and
coercive overtones-- puts them at odds with those environmentalists
who consider curbing world population an urgent priority. Greens
claim that ecofeminism does not exist as a separate philosophy at
all, because their own philosophy incorporates the goals of
ecofeminism. The "Ten Key Values" that form the basis of Green
politics include "postpatriarchal values" which some see as an
accurate description of the ecofeminist view.

Traditional feminists decry the woman/nature connection at the very
core of ecofeminism, calling it a throwback to biological
determinism. The identification of women with nature reinforces the
Earth Mother stereotype, say feminists, and revives the
"essentialism" and romanticization of women they have fought so hard
to discredit. From nurturer on a pedestal to tramp in the gutter,
the patriarchal woman is defined by her relationship with males, and
feminists have always condemned such stereotypes. In this light,
ecofeminists risk perpetuating women's marginality and "otherness."

Reromanticizing women does carry risks, including the potential for
images of "the good feminist" (Earth Mother) and "the bad feminist"
(militant), says Ynestra King. But she argues that all feminists--
and indeed *everyone* -- should question the "ideal of human freedom
and liberation over and against the natural and biological."
Biology as destiny is not just a threat to women, it is an excuse
for all forms of oppression, she points out. But in deflating the
concept of biological determinism, biology's role may be made
irrelevant altogether. Instead, King says, "everyone needs to
recover some awareness of the earthiness, the fleshiness of human

Irene Diamond, professor of political science at the University of
Oregon, views the reshaping of the women/nature connection as part
of a more general shift among feminists to "difference feminism"
(also called cultural feminism), which spring from studies revaluing
motherhood and women's culture in the early eighties. Diamond's
coedited with Gloria Orenstein. Diamond believes that an
identification with the biological has been assigned to women by
western culture; men have chosen to dissociate themselves from
nature and to associate women with it.

The ecofeminist viewpoint has informed a valuable critique of some
of the directions taken by mainstream feminists, Diamond says. Women
are now looking beyond the goal of integrating themselves into the
work force, for example, and questioning the nature of work and the
structure of the workplace itself. Day-care is no longer the more
appealing alternative to mothering, as women and men are revaluing
child care, and questioning the role the state plays in it.

Ecofeminism simultaneously celebrates interconnectedness and
diversity. Life is a web, not a hierarchy; within it diversity is
essential for both healthy ecosystems and healthy societies. We are
all different, but no one's difference is more important than
another's. Since our very differences are valuable, all forms of
domination are unhealthy. On a political level this stand can be
linked to the recognition of the intrinsic worth of nonhuman life
(hence animal rights), of indigenous peoples (cultural survival),
and of the integrity of minority cultures (as opposed to

The celebration of differences may explain why more women of color
are to be found in the ranks of the ecofeminists than among the
traditional feminists. Rachel Bagby, associate director of the
Martin Luther King Papers project at Stanford University, praises
the racial parity at ecofeminist gatherings. As she has put it,
"None of us are tokens at someone else's party."

Third World women, most of whom find themselves within status in
their cultures, also gain empowerment in ecofeminism. Their health
and livelihoods are directly linked with environmental quality.
Vandana Shiva, a physicist and ecofeminist in Delhi, India,
maintains that "maldevelopment" -- a model of progress based on the
colonizing, modern West -- means destruction for women, nature, and
subjugated cultures.  She calls for reinstatement of precolonial
standards of productivity as the basis for a development based on
conservation and ecology.

In Brazil, ecofeminism began to take shape in 1984 as people
protested against the testing of experimental contraceptive drugs on
poor women. Thais Corral, a journalist for Interpress Service in Rio
de Janeiro, told The Amicus Journal that women quickly made the
connections between this incident and other forms of ecological
manipulation that also affect women and children, such as
bio-technology and the use of chemicals in agriculture. "Women
living in the country knew how to control their fertility", says
Corral. When they had to move to the city, "they lost that
knowledge." Now, the right wing want to control poor woman's
childbearing choices instead of dealing with the wider reasons for
environmental collapse, such as destructive development, she
believes. An ecofeminist group has emerged Brazil, called the
Network of Defense of the Human Species; the group plans an
international conference next year in Salvador, Brazil.

Corral's concern --that the costs of a deteriorating environment
fall hardest on those who can least afford it -- is shared by all
ecofeminists. "You can't just put the responsibility [for the
crises] on women" says Ynestra King. The population issue must be
looked at in the context of other issues, she believes. The U.S.,
with 5% of the world's population, produced 25% of global warming
gases, for example. "Let's face it" says King, "it's the rich, white
people who pollute." Studies have repeatedly documented the
relationship between rising economic and social opportunities for
women and declining birthrates, so given the power, King maintains,
women "will do it themselves."

Feminist and Green philosophers meet in ecofeminism, especially in
its focus on "the value and integrity of not only women, but all
creatures with whom we share the earth," says Irene Diamond. The
ecofeminist celebration of diversity and sense of place is shared by
Greens and is basic to bioregionalism. Calling ecofeminism "a new
term for an ancient wisdom" Diamond believes, that "ecofeminism is
the philosophy and Green is the politics." In Germany, ecofeminists
such as well-known leader Petra Kelly consider themselves Greens,
Diamond points out, and as Greens, they hold political power.

Right now, it is a bit too soon to speak for true environmental
politics in the United States. A tiny fraction of the American
people has made meaningful life-style changes, but the national
agenda consists mainly of approaching environmental problems through
the legal system. The gap between philosophy and action keeps
American environmentalism tenuous and peripheral. Western European
countries are taking far more significant steps -- in farm policy,
recycling, pollution reduction, and family planning -- due to
cohesive political pressure. The danger in all "isms" is that they
can be reduced to academic bombast or pop-press prattle. Ecofeminism
may well inform a future solution to the planetary crises-- and may
even play a significant role. But at this time and in this place, it
is still only a good idea.