What is ecofeminism?


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Molly: Hello and welcome to the podcast. This is Molly.

Cristen: And I'm Cristen.

Molly: Cristen, today we're gonna discuss ecofeminism and I have to say, when I first heard about ecofeminism and we thought about it as a podcast topic, I thought, "Oh, this will be really kind of easy because its name implies what it is. It's an interest in both ecology and feminism made into one word." But it turns out it is just as complicated as all other feminisms that we have discussed on this podcast.

Cristen: Surprise. Yeah, the reason why we are talking about ecofeminism is because How Ecofeminism Works is an article that's been sitting on our website, howstuffworks.com for quite a while now. Ecofeminism actually existed on the site long before "How feminism works," which I wrote.

Molly: That's a very great article.

Cristen: And Molly and I were always a little bit surprised by that. And we'd kind of talked about doing a podcast on it and then other things would pop up. And then finally we said to ourselves, "Let's do ecofeminism." And you're right: it does seem kinda simple and kind of a no-brainer on the outset, but it is a little complicated when you start digging.

Molly: I think you can make any topic complicated by just tacking feminism on the end of the word.

Cristen: Some would say yes.

Molly: All right, so let's get in. As I said, on its simplest level, it is what it sounds like. It is an interest in ecology and it is an interest in feminism, but when you put them together, you can get some conflicting ideas about what this topic should stand for.

Cristen: Well, we should say first that the term ecofeminism was coined in 1974 from a French feminist Francoise d'Eaubonne who wrote a book in French that I can't translate the name of.

Molly: I thought you were gonna go for it, Cristen. I was really excited to hear some French pop out of you, but you're right. And another significant author, Ynestra King went so far as to call ecofeminism the third wave of the feminist movement.

Cristen: Which is a pretty radical statement to make because we've talked a lot about first-wave feminism, second-wave feminism of the '60s and '70s in particular? And then there's been a lot of debate about whether or not a third wave exists, what it is. And saying that ecofeminism is the third wave is pretty bold, I'd say.

Molly: In your opinion.

Cristen: In my opinion, yes.

Molly: Well, again, this is one of those things where on the surface, it does seem like it makes sense because think of the messages we're bombarded with on a daily basis about the environment; something we've gotta save, we've gotta conserve oil; we've gotta live our lives in a more friendly way to the Earth so that our grandchildren, those kids' grandchildren have a place to grow up. So what they are saying is that feminists and women in general have a special interest in saving the environment in this way because - and this is where things start to get a little tricky because you throw in the old word: oppression.

Cristen: Oppression, yeah. This is actually the word that I generally like to avoid when discussing feminism.

Molly: And so this is why it's tricky because ecofeminists would say that the oppression of women and the oppression and destruction of the Earth and nature are closely connected because you can blame both of them on men.

Cristen: Men and patriarchy.

Molly: And this is - again, this is - right here you can probably see why it starts to get a little bit tricky because this implies somehow that all the damage done to the Earth is by men and that women are oppressed. And like Cristen said, it's not a word we like to throw out because I wouldn't say that I feel oppressed. I would say that things could change so that there is more equality in the world.

Cristen: Right. Just the word oppressed in general seems to present sort of a victim mentality that I'd say that - just speaking for myself, that I'm a little bit uncomfortable with, but that's really the crux of ecofeminism as it came out in the mid 1970s. It has evolved somewhat since then, but that's really the root of it.

Molly: Now another facet of ecofeminism that some ecofeminists will adopt and some will throw away is the idea that because women are the homemakers and the ones who are gathering food let's say, then they have some sort of special connection to the Earth and a special desire to make sure that it continues to exist for their children. Some people find this to be a very demeaning point of view because it says that only women have this connection. Other women find it very empowering that yes, we are somehow closer to the Earth by virtue of being mothers: mother, mother Earth. The connection is made by a few people.

Cristen: Yeah, and that's kind of the interesting thing about ecofeminism because it's a pretty radical school of thought in terms of linking this environmental oppression to so called female oppression, but at the same time, it kind of saddles women with this mother, child bearing function that a lot of second-wave feminists were trying to kinda get away from of becoming - saying that women are more than mothers. We're more than baby machines. We are people and individuals.

Molly: Right. And some ecofeminists do have sort of that more second-wave view where they're saying, "Okay yes, maybe we have these typically stereotypically female traits such as cooperation and sensitivity and these seem to be married with the so called male traits of aggressively pursuing an idea in a way that will somehow solve our environmental problems." But others will just say, "No, we're mothers. We must mother the Earth." And it's kind of - not to pass judgment, but to put it simply, it's sort of a hippy dippy idea that a lot of feminist academics have trouble with. And another idea that these feminist academics have trouble with is the idea of spirituality within ecofeminism because one of the things that came out of the ecofeminist movement, or was sort of happening at the same time was this emergence of Earth goddesses and rejecting a church that some viewed as patriarchal to worship at the alter of Earth goddesses. So when you've got one ecofeminist saying, "Our Earth mother and our Earth goddesses compel us to take care of the environment," and then you've got someone trying to make a very academic argument to, let's say, the president - I wouldn't go to the president and say, "The Earth goddesses compel us to do this." So that's sort of one of the big divides between some ecofeminists!

Cristen: So in critiquing this spiritual aspect that's sometimes attached to ecofeminism, Molly and I came across an article by Joni Seager about the coming age of feminist environmentalism. And it's very apparent that Seager prefers feminist environmentalism to ecofeminism specifically because she says that ecofeminism as a term is too much of a dual signifier. Essentially, it tries to do too much at one time, trying to be an environmental movement driven by feminist ideals, but also this spiritual movement as well.

Molly: Because regardless of whether you choose to identify yourself as a feminist environmentalist as Seager does, or as an ecofeminist, you have the same goals. So I think that Seager was making a pretty interesting point of ecofeminism has too much baggage attached to it. And that's an argument we hear about regular feminism.

Cristen: Sure.

Molly: The word is just too loaded. Let's get rid of it because what we're after, what ecofeminists or feminist environmentalists are after are addressing issues like water pollution, deforestation, toxic waste dumping, agriculturally development, sustainability, animal rights, nuclear weapons policies; all these things that we have a stake in, we have interest in and Cris and I were talking about it: we all have stakes in these as human beings. Do we need to have additional stakes in these causes as feminists?

Cristen: And it makes sense that ecofeminism took off when it did in the mid 1970s and early 1980s because there were different environmental movements sprouting up across the world actually. There was an ecofeminist movement in Kenya around that time called the Green Belt Movement that really just started as a local community tree planting effort. And it was a group of local women who were wanting to address the lack of local water and the effects of soil erosion and all of the problems caused by deforestation. And so they got together and started planting trees on a large scale effort to replace those - the ones that had been removed. And then over in the United States in 1978 we have the Love Canal disaster in upstate New York in which a chemical landfill site leaked into a neighborhood and there were all of these chronic illnesses and other certain health ripple effects that came up as a result of it.

Molly: And let's talk about the Chipko Movement which is also heralded as the defining moment of ecofeminism because what was happening - this was in the Himalayas of northern India and the government was allowing more and more companies to come into the forests there and take trees. I think one of the big companies was a sports equipment company was gonna come in and make tennis rackets out of the trees, but when they cut the trees down, then there would be landslides, flooding, soil erosion. And this affected the women. And this is one of the arguments is that because these environmental disasters affect women in their roles as gathering water, cooking, etc that that's why women have a special interest in this. But what they did is they managed to get all the women to go together to the trees that were remaining when they heard someone was gonna come in an cut them down and they put their arms around the tree to hug them, tree hugging, so that the people couldn't cut down the tree. And Chipko means to cling in Hindi so that's - by standing between the saw and the tree, these women managed to save the trees.

Cristen: Yeah. And I had no idea that his concept of tree huggers if you will really started in the Himalayas of northern India.

Molly: By a group of women.

Cristen: By a group of women.

Molly: And they're saying that this is significant in terms of ecofeminism because they went to the entire villages and said, "We need you all to come out and hug the trees because people are gonna cut them down and it's gonna be bad for our little village." And it was only the women who responded. It was only by making that appeal to women that "There will be a landslide and your home will be flooded if we don't do this" that women were able to see the importance of the effort.

Cristen: And in these more rural areas, ecofeminism and ecofeminist movements like Chipko make a lot of sense because women are really the primary stakeholders in terms of going out and needing to gather wood for fire or get fresh water for cooking or getting all of these things they need to take care of their homes. And I feel like once you translate that to Western culture, it becomes a little bit more diluted and a little bit more -

Molly: Condescending a little bit.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: And I think that's the problem that you mentioned earlier, Cristen, is that if we're all walking around as the big Earth mamas, that that is sort of what second-wave feminists were trying to get us away from because it could be a person's entire job just to be a mother and then - or the be an environmentalist. And does it limit them to put this label on them? So it's - it can get tricky and also, where we're doing the most polluting are in the western countries. So these more village oriented communities, they say are not doing the extent of damage that we're doing in our part of the world.

Cristen: Well, it's interesting too just thinking about it now in terms of this idea that women are not doing as much environmental damage as men, like the patriarchy, etc is the cause of all this environmental destruction whereas in the United States women are generally in control of what? Something like 85 percent of household consumer purchases.

Molly: Exactly.

Cristen: So yes, we have the power to lead a movement, but at the same time, over the years, we have been in charge of household budgets and have certainly been contributing our fair share to environmental destruction as well. So I think that before we start going all Gaia on everybody - not to be condescending about it, but I think it's - that we have to examine our own actions first.

Molly: I think that's very true and that's probably one of the reasons why that word oppression just rubbed us the wrong way because it does seem that when you're reading a lot of ecofeminist tracks that there is this tendency to wanna blame the patriarchy for all of the world's problems.

Cristen: And it removes any sort of responsibility from our shoulders, but as long as you just say that you're oppressed and you're a victim, then you aren't - it removes the notion that you could have contributed anything to it.

Molly: Exactly. So to me, the question, Cristen, and I don't know the answer. This is what we'll need the input from our listeners to think on is if we are refusing this victim role, but we still have a lot of concerns about the environment, is it more helpful to view environmental problems through a feminist lens, or are the two just unrelated entirely and just complicating the issue? So in other words, do you think ecofeminism is necessary?

Cristen: Like you Molly, I don't know the answer either. So let's turn it over to our very wise listeners and see what they think because like you said, it's - we don't want to come down on this term and we certainly don't wanna come down on environmentalism or on feminism, but the question is -

Molly: Yeah, I like both of those concepts a lot.

Cristen: Yeah, but do you need to smash them both together? Are the two joined too much?

Molly: Exactly, and that's what we want your thoughts on: momstuff@howstuffworks.com. And in the mean time, let's read some people who have already written into that very same e-mail address.

Molly: I have one from Lydia about the PCOS (pee-cos) podcast and I will say that one of our sources said you could say it PCOS. Other people are very adamant that it's P - C - O - S.

Cristen: I say you call it whatever you want to. I think people will get the picture.

Molly: And Lydia shares a few points here about what you should do if you get a diagnosis or suspect you have it. She writes, "If you suspect you have PCOS, the first step would be to go to a gynecologist and tell her of your suspicions. If you feel you aren't getting adequate care or she dismisses you, see a reproductive endocrinologist even if you aren't trying to get pregnant. REs are fertility specialists and generally very knowledgeable about PCOS. I perplexed my OB/GYN, but was diagnosed in 15 minutes by my RE." And then she says, and I think this is pretty important, "With lifestyle changes and good medical care, PCOS is manageable. Don't lose hope."

Cristen: All right, I've got one here about our podcast on long distance relationships and this is from Brianna. And for a little background Brianna has been in two LDRs in her life and she - her first one was with a guy in England that she met online, and they ended up getting engaged. And she broke things off, but this is what she has to say, "For me, there is nothing more revealing than text. You're forced to truly think about what you are saying and honesty seems to prevail. Also, misunderstandings are typically addressed straight away. All in all, we were together for two years and all other relationships until my current one, paled in comparison. After having 'normal relationships' following that one, I concluded that you can feel more distant from a person sitting next to you than a person an ocean away. It's an investment and when you choose to enter an LDR, both parties realize that it's a serious undertaking of great import. The constant nurture required to sustain it can actually be a very rewarding experience rather than an exhausting one. So after years of normal relationships, I met another fellow online; this time, from even farther away. I knew what I would be in for. I knew the difficulty it would entail, but I also knew the lavish rewards that were to be reaped. Although it's painful to be apart, it makes one realize the amazing value of the smallest details of being with someone that others take for granted. Hearing the person you love so dearly's heartbeat for the very first time is an experience of shear bliss and gratitude." So thank you, Brianna. And again, if you guys want to send us an e-mail, it's momstuff@howstuffworks.com. Hit us up on Facebook as well and share your thoughts with other listeners. Follow us on Twitter if you'd like. And lastly, you can head over to our blog during the week. It's Stuff Mom Never Told You and you can find it along with how ecofeminism works at howstuffworks.

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