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My friend read me one of her beautiful poems the other day, it read to me as a potential form of ecofeminist expression, so I could not but share it with you here. I find in it perhaps another proof that the symbolic may be a field to invest in order to uncover oppressive structures, as well as give us the tools to reimagine and reshape our relationship to all living beings. Without further ado..

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170,000 tampon applicators

floated on the US coast in 1999,

Toxic shock syndroms

come and go

tampons are white,

Roses are red,

and so we bleach them.

Your insides poring is shameful

The life in you makes you weak.

300 million bleed

when i’m bleeding.

It’s that time of the month,

it’s that, and not

the cycle of life,

the Womb that lives and dies

In us, for us

to grow.

300 million bodies

like waves

in an ever flowing ocean.

They bleed

to remind us

that all lives

and dies

in cycles.

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Mireia Lozano (2015)

VANDANA SHIVA

“We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all” – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva embraces not only the principles of feminism, but also the principles of ecology. She is an ecofeminist as she sees these two movements, ecology and feminism, as interconnected and argues that the same causes of environmental injustice are those that justify the domination, exploitation and inequality for women. She has qualified her feminist theory as ‘political’ or ‘subsistence’ separating it from other tendencies in ecofeminism that are more spiritually focused. (Starhawk)

In her book Staying Alive, Vandana Shiva writes:

“We see the devastation of the earth and her beings by corporate warriors, as feminist concerns. It is the same masculinist mentality which would deny us our right to our own bodies and our own sexuality, and which depends on multiple systems of dominance and state power to have its way”

It is clear how a direct link between the oppression of nature and of women is recognized in Shiva’s arguments. In large terms, she argues that the control of land and agriculture, under the logic of development, is the same control that is imposed on women. The possibility of this control has to do with the change in the conception of nature, from being idealized to being instrumentalized and overpowered by reason. The transformation of the view of nature has to do with the change in the XVII century from an ‘organic’ view to a ‘mechanic’ view. Nature was perceived as a living organism, usually conceptualized as a female such as the “nurturing mother” and as that which provides the “needs of mankind”. This view changes with the Scientific Revolution because science signified the ‘power over nature’. This logic, in ecofeminist theory implies that the organic mentality of nature in which the female played an important role – even if this view still did not give agency to women or nature and on the contrary has also been used to control the actions and role of women in society, the control over women and nature had a different character and a closer relation between men and nature was still considered – on the opposite, with reason being opposed and primal against nature, with science being the tool to justify this claim, women were erased from the equation.This is summed up in the following quote:

“An organically oriented mentality in which female principles played an important role was undermined and replaced by a mechanically oriented mentality that either eliminated or used female principles in an exploitative manner” (Ellen Cronan Rose, 1991:78)

It is important to highlight that Vandana Shiva’s main theoretical and environmentalist fight has to do with the consequences on the third world of an imposition of the conceptualization of development in the West. Shiva argues that the negative and exploitative character of global corporate enterprises that have taken over agriculture in the third world, have also promoted and domination over women. This happens as the imposition of a need to produce, by the pressure of a global market, has transformed agriculture from being for subsistence to being for production for the West. This is what she refers to as “maldevelopment”, an agricultural activity that its purely inscribed in a logic of production, where the agricultural needs of the West are imposed over those of the third world. Thus, while gender subordination and patriarchy are among the oldest of oppressions, these have taken a new form with the increase of capitalism and a globalized economy. There has been an appropriation and destruction of the natural resources base and this have systematically removed women’s management and control of the land and other resources. This is what Vandana Shiva refers to as the “feminine principle”. This principle is supported by the argument that nature and women are not given entities as such, but they are conceptual categorization the differ among societies. The inferior status of women is thus as stated earlier linked to the hierarchical stratification of culture over nature which translates into man power over women. Patriarchal categories have defined the ‘active’ (production and development) as masculine and the passive (subsistence agriculture) as feminine, thus production, and the homogenization of an agriculture that is based solely mono cultivation and the need to produce are opposed to a subsistence agriculture that is less invasive. Previous subsistence economies in India that gave a place to women in agriculture and provision of food are replaced to a system of global production where women are no longer necessary. This is how Vandana Shiva criticizes the capitalist system and states that:

“The violence to nature, which seems intrinsic to the dominant development model, is also associated with violence to women who depend on nature for drawing sustenance for themselves, their families, their societies. This violence against nature and women is built into the very mode of perceiving both and forms the basis of the current development paradigm” (Shiva,1998)

Vandana Shiva’s ecofeminism is intrinsically linked to a post-colonial critique that emphasizes the negative impacts of a division between the North and South. Often, Shiva has been criticized for having a very romanticized view which ignores precise details regarding the impact of development in agriculture, what leads her to make large generalizations. However, even if these allegations have some solid ground where to stand, I believe that the theoretical task in her work has contributed enormously to today’s environmental and feminist discussion. She presents an inclusive theory of nature and women, though she makes a relation between nature and women and strengthened to some extent the link she criticized, which may seem to go against and more neutral ecofeminism, the base of her work has a concrete fieldwork source, where:

“women in India are an intimate part of nature, both in imagination and practice. At one level, nature is symbolized as the embodiment of the feminine principle, and at another, she is nurtured by the feminine to produce life and provide substance”(Shiva, 1998)

Henceforth, even if Vandana Shiva claims a relation of women with nature, the alternative worldview promoted by Shiva is such of partnership and cooperation and completes part of feminist task by exposing the logic of patriarchal domination and proposing alternatives. She emphasizes the illusion of men power over nature and argues for an awakening of the dream of the possibility of being ecological without overcoming the need to dominate.


Bibliography

Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India (1988)

Greta Gaard, Living What we’re thinking, 1990.

Patsy Hallen, Recovering the Wildness in Ecofeminism, Women’s Studies Quarterly, 2001.

Ellen Cronan Rose, The Good Mother: From Gaia to Gilead, 1991.

Inga B. Tollefsen, Ecofeminism, Religion and Nature in an Indian Global Perspective, 2011.

QUEER ECOFEMINISM

(overcoming dualisms)

FREE THE EROTIC FREE WOMEN FREE NATURE

“Colonization can therefore be seen as a relationship of compulsory heterosexuality whereby the queer erotic of non-westernized people, their culture, and their lands, is subdued into the missionary position — with the conqueror “on top”

(Greta Gaard, 1997)

Claude Cahun - Que me veux-tu?  1928

(Claude Cahun, que me veux-tu? 1929)

The following paragraphs will develop on Greta Gaard’s essay “Towards a queer ecofeminism” to explain the strong and necessary relationship between ecofeminism and queer studies — I had previously expressed how ecofeminism is an acceptance of pluralism. Accepting different kinds of madness and arrangements of the ‘soul’ — Along this line of reasoning, queer studies are linked to the ecofeminist thought because both are inscribed in a deconstructive logic; both emphasize the exclusive and non-complementary character of a patriarchal binary hierarchy that constructs individual’s identities. Identity has been created by a “dualized structure of otherness and negation” (Plumwood, 1993) and each characteristic of the ‘other’ is related as closer to nature and thus is undermined. Ecofeminism deconstructs the dualisms under which a primal ‘self’ is built to advocate that women and men are equal parts of nature and culture. Thus, at the root of ecofeminism, lies the advocation that many modes of oppression are mutually reinforcing. By realizing this reinforcing dynamic, ecofeminism acts as an inclusive theory of different oppressing dualisms, without defending the existence of a primal dualism or form of oppression. This inclusiveness explains the interdependence between nature and women, that is at the center of this theory, where liberation of women from this structure, depends on the liberation of nature, and as we will see further along of queer.

— Ecofeminism is based on the idea that the liberation of women cannot occur unless nature is also liberated and, the opposite applies too, the belief of environmentalists is that the liberation of nature cannot happen without the liberation of women —

‘The other’ (nature, women, and queers) is always that which is feminized or naturalized and thus undermined. Same as gender, it is important to acknowledge that sexuality itself is a socially constructed phenomenon that varies from one culture and context to another. To bring ecofeminism and queer studies together, Greta Gaard argues that there is a theoretical gap because the dualism heterosexual/queer has not been thoroughly addressed. Making an alliance between queer studies and ecofeminist thought entails the understanding that the submission and repression that women and nature are in, comes along with the repression of diversity, with the overpowering view that heterosexuality is the norm as it follows the rules of nature. However, this view of the ‘divine norms’ of nature has many flaws and as Jane Curry states it, “If we look to nature for models of human behavior, we are bound, are we not, to value tolerance and pluralism” The argument that heterosexuality is the natural norm, because it the sexual behavior that takes place for the purpose of procreation, is thoroughly contested by nature itself. There are many examples in nature where copulation occurs without the aim of procreation. Queer sexualities are found in non-human animals to:

– Female homosexual behavior has been found in chickens, turkeys, chameleons and cows
– Male homosexual behavior has been found in lizards, bulls, and dolphins
– Snails and earthworms are hermaphrodites

Eve Kosofsky Sedwick, argues also that heterosexual identity is based in the heterosexual/queer identity, in terms of inclusion it is clear that heterosexuality along with its gender identities is the standard and dominant in Western culture. Queers are defined in relation to that standard (heterosexuality) and their inability to comply to it. The most distinct outcome of bringing together queer studies and ecofeminism is that by deconstructing the heterosexual/queer dualism, in fact, another dualism comes along, that of reason/erotic. Reason: civilized men distinction, its most important attribute, rejects the erotic and builds fear around it, it builds rules around it. Thus, there is a constant fight against the primal “evil” act of pleasure. As a consequence, there is a generalized oppression of the erotic and acts such as sodomy, or homosexuality are rejected. This is how Western culture, through religion, nation state, morals…have, as a matter of fact, imposed a generalized erotophobia.

Thus, the oppression of queers is based on a combination of two mutually reinforcing dualisms: heterosexual/queer and reason/erotic

Only one form of sexuality is allowed,
“only in one position and only in the context of certain legal and moral norms”(Gaard, 1994)

The repression and fear of the erotic have reinforced the devaluation of nature, women and diverse forms of sexuality. Indeed, heterosexuality is the norm, it is the sexual attitude that has been spread throughout, not only religion, but also identitarian notions such as nation-state which highlight the distinction and exclusion between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Only one form of sexual behavior has been predominantly accepted, it is that of heterosexuality as it has been argued that it is the ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ way to engage in a sexual act, for the sake of procreation…the imposition of a normative way of sexual behavior does not stop there, it has to be heterosexual, but also throughout history among certain religions one sexual position has been primary accepted, the missionary position that subjugates women. The realization of the devaluation of the erotic is at the base of the coming together of ecofeminism and queer studies.

Identity 

“The fiction of identity is one that is accessed with relative ease by most majoritarian subjects. Minoritarian subjects need to interface with different subcultural fields to activate their own senses of self” (José Esteban Muñoz,1999)

Queers, by not being able to identify or recognize themselves with the normative sexual forms are pushed to express and construct their identities at the margin. It is the imposed margins what make their actions transgressive. Due to this, queer identities often overemphasize their sexuality as it is the mean through which they create an identification – yet, this leads to the neglection of other characters of queer people and could lead to making it an exclusive identification.

Ecofeminism’s strength is its inclusive character. By emancipating nature from being inert, from being something that is overpowered by men, by acknowledging that its opposition to reason is merely an act to justify a stricter exclusive definition of men, ecofeminism opens a window to consider all the different modes of oppressive dualisms and the implicit determination of one as the dominant.  Ecofeminism accepts plurality and change and same as queer studies it escapes the dual thought to accept the particular order of the plural.


References

Greta Gaard, Towards A Queer Ecofeminism, 1997.

José Esteba Muñoz, Performing disidentifications, 1999.

Starhawk and the Goddess of Immanence

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What is the Goddess? In previous articles, we have spoken to the evocation of the ‘Mother Earth’ figures by some ecofeminists, as well as their resorting to certain ‘primitive’ or pre-modern streams of spirituality embedded in the worship of the Goddess (be it Isis, Ceridwen, Astarte, Miriam, Oshun, White Buffalo Woman, Kuan Yin, Diana, Amaterasu, Ishtar, Changing Woman, Yemaya… Starhawk, 1982, p.73) representing certain feminine aspects in nature: Maiden, Mother, Crone, moon, earth, tree, star, flame, Goddess of the cauldron, Goddess of the hearth, Healer, spider, Lady of the Wild Things (ibid). And so starts, the stats the invocation of symbols as transformative vessels by Starhawk. Though the figure of Starhawk does not account for the scope of earth-based and Goddess-based spirituality that have been developed by ecofeminists, it is captures one of the most controversial and comprehensive theorization and practice of an ecofeminist immanent spirituality. We have read Starhawk’s 1982’s Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics, to better understand how the American ecofeminist witch has articulated her quite unusual witchcraft, of the ecofeminist kind, invoking magic and the Goddess, as tools for personal and collective transformation, and reshaping of consciousness.

‘Dreaming the Dark? But that’s Witchcraft?!’  starhawk

No pointed hat, but a firm belief in the transformative power of Magic, Starhawk has embodied a controversial figure of ecofeminism. Although she acknowledges that not all witches share her political perspective, and that few of those whose political perspective paralleling hers are in fact Witches (they may be Quakers, Buddhists, radical Catholics, or atheists, ibid, p. xxvii), she insists that witchcraft is indeed about the Obscure. It is as much about darkness as light, but it is mostly about an exploration and a reclaiming of what is dark in ourselves, in order to overcome traditional dualisms and power-relationships. In this sense, the work of Starhawk has been simultaneously criticized, feared and admired, as much as it represents a radical, far-reaching formulation and agenda for individual and collective change.

« Dreaming the Dark is an attempt to tell a different story, to reshape culture on the model of the circle, the ever-renewing cycle. I like to believe that this book has been influential in helping people redefine power and reshape its structures toward those of a community that can sustain long-term struggle and creative vision. » (ibid, p. xiv)

Shifting Power, Invoking Power-From-Within

What is striking about the work of Starhawk is how political, and thus far reaching, it reads. Indeed, she destines her book to be about power, about the shift from power-over to power-from-within, about symbols, structures, stories and thought-forms that support, transmit and move power, and about an ethics based on power-from-within (ibid, p.xxv). But the book is also far-reaching in the sense that it is as much about a theorization, a vision, as practice and action; it reads as both a historical reconceptualization of an immanent ethics and a guidebook for a personal and collective practice of consciousness change. As such, Magic is designated as the means to this sweeping transformation of community and self in culture, and of culture itself (ibid, p.xxv). Starhawk’s proposition is especially interesting because it links clearly and practically the way political change is translated from the individual to the collective scale of society. This is especially explicit in her formulation of justice, as integrity of self and relationships, and as different from rule or authority (ibid, p.34). Change itself is traced as originating from the individual, from within, and as so Starhawk emphasizes the fact that she places herself in the context of Western individualistic society. The change that she hopes to bring about seeks to reconnect individuals with the collective and the greater whole of interconnected living things, nature and the earth. She does not however detail how non-individual societies might   overcome the challenge of collective and individual change that they may face, although in different ways, as they are also today confronted to forces of destructions and by power-over.  Magic is also taken as a mode of resistance against the destruction brought about by those who wield power-over. Starhawk defines power-from-within as the capacity to do something, to be able, and as something not entirely new. She argues that it has been referred to as ‘spirit’ or ‘God’, but that in the former case it implies a separation from matter (a false split) which has been instrumental and constitutive of institutions of domination, and in the latter case it has been the repository of power-over in patriarchal religions. This reflection on power is thus, to a great degree, a reflection on the structures which give rise to power-from-within or power-over. In this sense Starhawk holds quite a deterministic stance, her sensitiveness to flows of energy within and among individual and groups translating into a position that « structure, not content, determines how energy will flow, where is will be directed, what new forms and structures it will create ». What more, she argues that  «hierarchical structures, no matter what principles they espouse, will breed new hierarchal structures that embody power-over not power-from-within » (ibid, p.19). Hence, as opposed to hierarchical structures which order agencies, and operates a subsequent hierarchy of values of different categories of individuals, Starhawk’s preaching of power-from-within rests on an immanent belief of the inherent value of all living beings.

The Goddess as Immanence, Changing Consciousness

« When we face the possibility of death, the simple moments of connection - looking into the eyes of a friend who understands what we say, sitting in a sunny window drinking tea, nestling into the strong arm of a lover, laughing together at a joke or tapping a foot to the rhythm of music, all the ordinary acts of life - become luminous and treasured, and we understand them to be the sacred gifts that they are. That is the true lesson of the mysteries and the real meaning of the immanence in the Goddess - that life itself has a value that is immeasurable. » (ibid, p.xiii)

And so Starhawk invokes the figure of the Goddess, as a symbol, expression and materialization of immanence. She prefers the symbol to the the abstraction in term immanence that she finds somewhat cold and intellectual. There is a also a sense that abstraction itself may reflect a similar separation from matter as it has been formulated historically by Western scientific and philosophical discourses and theories. Through the term Goddess she refers to ancient images, symbols, and myths of the Goddess « as birth-giver, weaver, earth and growing plant, wind and ocean, flame, web, moon and milk, all speak to me of the powers of connectedness, sustenance, healing, creating » (ibid, p.4). At the same time the invocation of this feminine figure also seeks to oppose to the use of the association of women and nature in Western culture to devalue both (ibid, p. 11). As such Starhawk does not in fact call into question the existence of such an association, but reframes it as a more positive, complex and plural one. What more, this symbol is one that distributes agency not just to women but to all living things as expressions and materialization of immanence. The choice of the term Goddess is discussed quite didactically by the author, she explains that she prefers the symbol over the abstraction as it suggests a sensual and emotional, not just intellectual, relationship. She also claims this term to be deliberatively controversial and unsettling, as it implies, paradoxically, both religion and secularism (or paganism). She points out that all paradigm shifts do and must make us uneasy at first as they confront existing conceptions and structures. There is however some openness in her proposition, as she concedes people may prefer the abstraction over the symbol, as all symbols may also yield the danger that people will focus on them forgetting the principles they represent. As such, if the Goddess were to be taken as an object of external worship, it could as well as patriarchal religions lead to hierarchical and oppressive structures. She makes a fundamental clarification:

« Let us be clear that when I say Goddess I am not talking about a being somewhere outside of this world, nor am I proposing a new belief system. I am talking about choosing and attitude: choosing to take this living world, the people and creatures in it, as the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, to see the world, the earth, and our lives as sacred. » (ibid, p. 11)

In the end, Starhawk designs a spirituality, not a religion, whose ultimate objective is a change in consciousness. This consciousness, embedded in ancient cultures, is what she really refers to as the Goddess and stands for immanence. It corresponds to an « awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting, and infused with moving energies: a living being,a weaving dance ». (ibid, p. 9)

mother_nature_needs_you5

Starhawk, Ecofeminisms, Deep Ecology & Gaia

Drawing a direct connection between all systems of domination, of women and of nature, Starhawk’s position is quite obviously an ecofeminist one. Moreover, she acknowledges the influence and connections existing between this cosmology and those developed in deep ecology (speaking of the inherent value of all living beings), or the Gaia hypotheses (understanding the earth as a living, self-regulating being). She however distances herself from any fixed group affiliation. For one, they may in certain instances lead to oppressive structures, or statements, such as certain deep ecologists arguing that famines and pandemics might be acceptable or even desirable in a context of overpopulation and as part of ‘Gaia’s Greater Plan’ (ibid, p.xvi). For two, she seeks to present her perspective in this book leaving each and everyone the freedom to contest certain aspects, or appropriate others in their own personal terms. She formulates this position, and what may in fact distinguish her from the above movements:

« Only a politics and a spirituality of compassion can possibly transform and heal the world, because without compassion we miss seeing the real interconnectedness of issues and cannot forge a vision or a strategy that can move us out of the stories of estrangement. » (ibid, p.xvi)

This position also explains that she expresses her political closeness to Quakers, Buddhists, and radical Catholics, all of which share a spirituality of compassion (ibid, p. xxvii). But what remains unclear, is what she implies by ‘healing the world’?

The Stories of Estrangement

Part of the answer lies in her identification of a historical movement from which to depart from. She refers to as estrangement, or a state of consciousness of ourselves as not part of the world, strangers to nature, to other human beings, and to parts of ourselves (ibid, p.5). This movement, which has been detailed in previous articles as the operating of several splits and dualisms, and which have resulted in a conception of the world as as made up of separate, isolated, nonliving arts that have no inherent value. (They are not even dead – because death implies life). Among things inherently separate and lifeless, the only power relationships possible are those of manipulation and domination, Starhawk argues. Estrangement is also the culmination of a long historical process. Its roots liying in the Bronze-Age shift from matrifocal, earth-centered cultures whose religions centered not he Goddess and Gods embodied in nature, to patriarchal urban cultures of conquest, whose Gods inspired and supported war. Christianity then deepening the split, by establishing a duality between spirit and matter that identified flesh, nature, woman, and sexuality with the Devil and the forces of evil (ibid, p. 5). Starhawks identifies these splits as constitutive of culture as a « set of stories we tell each other again and again ». It is in turn these stories which shape individual and collective expectations and actions. They are the stories of estrangement (ibid, p. 19-23).

– The Apocalypse (another variation may be Revolution)

– The good guys/girls against the bad guys/girls: or the operation of a series of dualisms which has led humanity to negate darkness (over light) and all which is associated to it (materiality, sensuality, sexuality, witchcraft…)

– The great man receives the truth and gives it to a chosen few (or a story of hierarchization)

– Making it/the fall (the story of how western societies relate to success and failure, as exemplified in the notion of the American dream).

Setting a Limit

To complete this position with regard to the historical movement of Western societies, it might be noteworthy to precise that this ‘healing’ practice does not rest on the idea that the world must be saved. In fact, this healing may, according to the witch, take place in by setting limits, which she distinguishes from a threat to the use of power-over. She takes the example of collective or community mobilizations opposing projects such as the Diablo canyon Nuclear Power Plant. By using the metaphor of parenting she explains how setting a limit may not have to be authoritarian, and how change may only come about if we change our relationship to all living things, and in so doing, to ourselves. As such, change is understood as relational, as change in relationships, and as resulting from interconnectedness between beings and things through flows of energy: « in (re)shaping energy, we take the shape we create, we become the power that we call forth » she argues (ibid, p. 44). What more, this also evokes the conservation of elements through transformation which explains that all elements remain but the structure must change, or perhaps the circular conception of life, as made of of cyclical mechanisms, all life implying death, all death implying life. But what is most striking is that, although she may call Magic a science, the setting of a limit must stem from a political collective choice, which may succeed where scientific knowledge still fails.

Magic as the Art of Changing Consciousness at Will, Magic as Language

Starhwak defines Magic, as the art of changing consciousness at will. She also refers to Magic as an applied science that is based on an understanding of how energy makes patterns and patterns direct energy. What more, it may also be a way to overcome the following paradox: “Consciousness shapes reality; Reality shapes consciousness” (ibid, p. 13). Magic, be it a metaphor or practice, may indeed be most powerful in its use of language as spells. Once again, we may retrieve the very political dimension Starhawk gives to Magic, as language (ibid, p. 15). This also relates to her reference and use of symbols, metaphors and stories as embodiments of thought-forms. But language, even more so explicitly, distributes power (ibid, p. 24). Magic in this sense is seen as working as a language, a language of action, images, of things rather than abstracts. These things are seen not as objects but as consciousness-manifest, and together with images, and metaphors they may be used to shape movements of energy and change possibilities.

« Magic speaks to the deep parts of ourselves that were formed before we knew abstractions. While the language of words, of abstracts, of concepts, is shaped by culture and tends to move in the thought-forms of culture, the language of things, of images, can, if we open to it, take us deeper. » (ibid, p. 26)

This is the manner in which, Starhawk argues, magic, the concrete, may reveal the ‘unseen’, what lies in darkness, what lies ‘deep’, what may reveal power-from-within. As such, magic is seen as a subversive means to « reverse the processes of mechanistic thinking », to go from a language of words to a language of things, speaking of metaphors, as if energy were a thing rather than moving relationships, in order to move towards a « nounless language that would let us speak more truly ». (ibid, p.29)

Dreaming the Dark, a Frightening Change

« The question of the dark has become a journey, as our conversation took place on a journey, How do we face the dark on the edge of annihilation? How do we find the dark within and transform it, own it as our own power? How do we dream it into a new image, dream it into actions that will change the world into a place where no more horror stories happen, where there are no more victims? Where the dark is kind and charged with a friendly power: the power of the unseen, the power that comes form within, the power of the immanent Goddess who lies coiled in the heart of every cell of every living thing, who is the spark of every nerve and the life of every breath. » (ibid, p.xxviii)

By opposing systems of dominations of women, nature, and in turn all living things, Starhawk deliberately refers and resort to controversial and unsettling words or tools, as « the words we are comfortable with, the words that sound acceptable, rational, scientific, and intellectually sound, are comfortable precisely because they are the language of estrangement » (ibid, p.29). Similar resorts can be identified in Lovelock’s choice of the term ‘Gaia’ to embody his controversial scientific hypothesis. As so, she also takes a counterposition by reclaiming the darkness, and which, through a dualistic conception, has captured all of our fears. For change itself is frightening, ‘where there is fear, there is power’, say witches (ibid, p. 47), and deep change in structure as well as content of our thinking may only come through profound unsettling. As so, this journey of change may also be one of acceptance. Indeed, one main impediment to action against global environmental change has been the refusal to acknowledge the fear of annihilation as real. But the particularity and strength of Starhawks’ Goddess-based spirituality may lie in its radical, creative and innovative use of symbols and language, both as tools for criticism and vessels of individual and collective change. Starhawk herself, flamboyant on her Facebook page’s profile picture, has exposed herself to become a figure of ecofeminism, to be contested, to be challenged.

References:

  • Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics, Beacon Press Books, 1982
  • Starhawk’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Starhawk/165408987031?fref=ts

‘La femme est-elle l’avenir de l’homme’? – Aragon and Ferrat’s undisclosed ecofeminist agenda


‘Zadjal de l’avenir’ (‘Zadjal of the future’),

A poem by Louis Aragon (1963)

Comme à l’homme est propre le rêve

Il sait mourir pour que s’achève

Son rêve à lui par d’autres mains

Son cantique sur d’autres lèvres

Sa course sur d’autres chemins

Dans d’autres bras son amour même

Que d’autres cueillent ce qu’il sème

Seul il vit pour le lendemain

S’oublier est son savoir-faire

L’homme est celui qui se préfère

Un autre pour boire son vin

L’homme est l’âme toujours offerte

Celui qui soi-même se vainc

Qui donne le sang de ses veines

Sans rien demander pour sa peine

Et s’en va nu comme il s’en vint

Il est celui qui se dépense

Et se dépasse comme il pense

Impatient du ciel atteint

Se brûlant au feu qu’il enfante

Comme la nuit pour le matin

Insensible même à sa perte

Joyeux pour une porte ouverte

Sur l’abîme de son destin

Dans la mine ou dans la nature

L’homme ne rêve qu’au futur

Joueur d’échecs dont la partie

Perdus ses chevaux et ses tours

Et tout espoir anéanti

Pour d’autres rois sur d’autres cases

Pour d’autres pions sur d’autres bases

Va se poursuivre lui parti

L’homme excepté rien qui respire

Ne s’est inventé l’avenir

Rien même Dieu pour qui le temps

N’est point mesure à l’éternel

Et ne peut devenir étant

L’immuabilité divine

L’homme est un arbre qui domine

Son ombre et qui voit en avant

L’avenir est une campagne

Contre la mort Ce que je gagne

Sur le malheur C’est le terrain

Que la pensée humaine rogne

Pied à pied comme un flot marin

Toujours qui revient où naguère

Son écume a poussé sa guerre

Et la force du dernier grain

L’avenir c’est ce qui dépasse

La main tendue et c’est l’espace

Au-delà du chemin battu

C’est l’homme vainqueur par l’espèce

Abattant sa propre statue

Debout sur ce qu’il imagine

Comme un chasseur de sauvagines

Dénombrant les oiseaux qu’il tue

À lui j’emprunte mon ivresse

Il est ma coupe et ma maîtresse

Il est mon inverse Chaldée

Le mystère que je détrousse

Comme une lèvre défardée

Il est l’oeil ouvert dans la tête

Mes entrailles et ma conquête

Le genou sur Dieu de l’idée

Tombez ô lois aux pauvres faites

Voici des fruits pour d’autres fêtes

Où je me sois mon propre feu

Voici des chiffres et des fèves

Nous changeons la règle du jeu

Pour demain fou que meure hier

Le calcul prime la prière

Et gagne l’homme ce qu’il veut

L’avenir de l’homme est la femme

Elle est la couleur de son âme

Elle est sa rumeur et son bruit

Et sans elle il n’est qu’un blasphème

Il n’est qu’un noyau sans le fruit

Sa bouche souffle un vent sauvage

Sa vie appartient aux ravages

Et sa propre main le détruit

Je vous dis que l’homme est né pour

la femme et né pour l’amour

Tout du monde ancien va changer

D’abord la vie et puis la mort

Et toutes choses partagées

Le pain blanc les baisers qui saignent

On verra le couple et son règne

Neiger comme les orangers.

Louis ARAGON

[Le Fou d’Elsa, poème, NRF Gallimard, 1963]


‘La Femme Est L’avenir De L’homme’ (‘Man’s Future Lie with the Woman’),

A song by Jean Ferrat (1975)

Le poète a toujours raison

Qui voit plus haut que l’horizon

Et le futur est son royaume

Face à notre génération

Je déclare avec Aragon

La femme est l’avenir de l’homme

Entre l’ancien et le nouveau

Votre lutte à tous les niveaux

De la nôtre est indivisible

Dans les hommes qui font les lois

Si les uns chantent par ma voix

D’autres décrètent par la bible

Le poète a toujours raison Qui détruit l’ancienne oraison

L’image d’Eve et de la pomme

Face aux vieilles malédictions

Je déclare avec Aragon

La femme est l’avenir de l’homme

Pour accoucher sans la souffrance

Pour le contrôle des naissances

Il a fallu des millénaires

Si nous sortons du moyen âge

Vos siècles d’infini servage

Pèsent encor lourd sur la terre

Le poète a toujours raison

Qui annonce la floraison

D’autres amours en son royaume

Remet à l’endroit la chanson

Et déclare avec Aragon

La femme est l’avenir de l’homme

Il faudra réapprendre à vivre

Ensemble écrire un nouveau livre

Redécouvrir tous les possibles

Chaque chose enfin partagée

Tout dans le couple va changer

D’une manière irréversible

Le poète a toujours raison

Qui voit plus haut que l’horizon

Et le futur est son royaume

Face aux autres générations

Je déclare avec Aragon

La femme est l’avenir de l’homme


I was day-dreaming and humming inadvertently Jean Ferrat’s song entitled ‘La femme est l’avenir de l’homme’ (‘Man’s future lie with women’) the other day. This song, inspired from a line of the poet Aragon, played for me many times in my childhood, had thus constituted my initial understanding of the feminist agenda. The song indeed emphasizes a number of major historical steps in the progression of women’s condition, which also constituted for me some of the main achievements of feminism. It then appeared to me that this agenda remained incomplete yet again, and that Ferrat’s (and with him Aragon’s) interpellation urged us to pursue, in the ‘future’.

A closer reading of Aragon however released for me a somewhat essentialized vision of women, represented as « the color of man’s soul », as the « fruit » and man the « seed », and as « man is born for woman and born for love ». This essentialized vision also appeared epitomized in both the poet and singer’s use of the expression « la femme » (woman), and not « les femmes » (women). But then again, how could they have been aware of this subtlety when it had yet to be developed as a feminist agenda?

And yet today, I was wondering if this interpellation may not also correspond to an undisclosed ecofeminist agenda in becoming, and thus to be revealed? Indeed, it seemed to identify a global agenda for humanity as lying with women. In doing so, the poem’s essentializing verse may correspond to Sturgeon’s ‘strategic essentialism’ (1997), a manner to reshape humanity’s relationship to nature by way of feminine symbols and values such as ‘love’ or care. This would thus be the means for « everything of the old world to change, first life, then death ».

What is also striking in the poem, and most specifically the song, is the identification of a break from religion for the purpose of this upcoming agenda. The line echoed in mind again, and this interpellation to look to the ‘future’ now seemed to depict a certain relationship to time. If a break from religion had been identified, this imitated a recurring narrative which might pertain to the theme of modernity, the enlightenment breaking away from the religious obscurantism, modernity breaking away from all past archaisms.

All in all, while this line may indicate the site for an ecofeminist agenda, to redefine man’s relation to women, and in turn humanity’s relationship to nature, humanity’s relationship to time, here and now on this earth, has yet to be reinvented.

27.04.15 Simulation – How to make a claim of non-authority?

On April 27th 2015 took place a simulation (of the simulation) for the 2015 Paris Climate Summit in our class of Political Philosophy of Nature led taught by Pr. Bruno Latour. This simulation, on top of discussing some of the main issues of climate change today, has dealt with the controversial issue of including nonhuman interests and representations for nonhuman entities – such as the oceans, rivers, or soil – into the negotiation. Doing so, we arrived at the conclusion that no politics of the global may in fact exist without the recognition of all such entities and according interests we had heard represented that day.

A question for us dealing with ecofeminism(s) has been to consider what line may be put forward by ecofeminists? More specifically, our professor had asked us to posit ourselves according to a number of fundamental characteristics or givens for the movement or entity we would represent: the supreme authority to which legitimacy is owed to, the ‘cosmogram’ (how agency has been distributed among entities), the territory, people, and time scale on which a claim is being made.

Thus the real (and tough) question for us was to ask ourselves whether ecofeminism(s) could represent an ultimate authority to which its legitimacy would be owed to? All of our undertakings in the simulation may have in fact surrounded and depended upon this crucial question. Indeed, we face the difficulty of ecofeminism(s) not standing as a totalizing theory, but to the contrary, as a theory which, in our understanding, was inclusive of many movements, theories (such as feminist and postcolonial theories and movements), traditions and values across the globe. In this sense, it appeared to us that ecofeminism could and should not stand in the name of any ultimate authority, a given cosmogram, territory or people and time scale on which to make its various claims. It appeared increasingly clear to us, that our only claim of authority may in fact be a claim of non-authority and non hierarchy over all beings, movements, territory, and theories.

But then, we had to ask ourselves if our position in the negotiation thus became a non-political one? The very important position we came to establish for ourselves would be that of a representing and advocating for the recognition of claims and interests, by ecofeminists, as well as all oppressed minorities (human and nonhuman) on the globe. The term ‘minority’ even was a problematic (although necessary) term to arrive at, as historically a political term only standing for human entities: could oceans, rivers and soils stand for ‘minorities’? Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s formulation of the ‘becoming-minoritarian’ (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1987) is inclusive of nonhumans and may in fact offer us a re-entry. What it confirmed was the need to make a political claim for the recognition of human as well as nonhuman minorities.

Throughout our research on ecofeminism, we have discovered a body of works which link the oppression of women and nature, humans and nonhumans, and as themselves embedded in the movement of History and human activities. As such, ecofeminisms have moved towards a recognition of a variety of political claims from women and nature around the globe, through a movement of aggregation-disaggregation (the different ecofeminist trends and movements both conflicting, responding and thus constituting one another), as well as a recognition of the historical impact and responsibility of the forces of colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism (you name it)… Indeed, if we were to claim a common political agenda encompassing all ecofeminisms it would have to be one that makes no universal values applicable to all, apart from this principle of inclusiveness of all minorities within the feminist and environmental debates and negotiations.

For this reason, that April 27th 2015, we stood up with the representatives for the soil, oceans and rivers of the Earth, both in a measure of sympathy for the potential anti-colonialist claim they may push, and for the recognition of their authority and interests as crucial to the environmental debates.

The ‘Other’ – a building block of Ecofeminist Thought

“The mistaken and unhappy notion that a man is an enduring unity is known to you. It is also known to you that a man consists of a multitude of souls, of numerous selves. The separation of the unity of the personality into these numerous pieces passes for madness. Science has invented the name schizomania for it. Science is in this so far right as no multiplicity maybe dealt with unless there be a series, a certain order and grouping. It is wrong insofar as it holds that one only and binding lifelong order is possible for the multiplicity of subordinate selves. This error of science has many unpleasant consequences, and the single advantage of simplifying the work of the state-appointed pastors and masters and saving them the labors of original thought. In consequence of this error many persons pass for normal, and indeed for highly valuable members of society, who are incurably mad; and many, on the other hand, are looked upon as mad who are geniuses…This is the art of life. You may yourself as an artist develop the game of your life and lend it animation. You may complicate and enrich it as you please. It lies in your hands. Just as madness, in a higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania the beginning of all art and all fantasy”
Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse

MADNESS, to embrace our madness was the requirement presented in our first Philosophy of Nature’s Class, as a necessary aptitude to follow the course and to accept that nature is not a given. On the contrary, same as the idea of women, nature is not but a quoted category, a term to further understand and explain what man, is. 

I decided to start this bid for a coherent ramble about the ‘Other’ and Ecofeminism with an extract of Steppenwolf. The extract above expresses the consideration of man as ‘numerous selves’, as a ‘multiple’ which is in constant construction and deconstruction – the book, Steppenwolf, carries the reader along the existential crisis of a man, Harry, and his suicidal desire as a response to the challenge to overcome the limited conception of his self as a mere duality (man and wolf), over the reality of being an agglomeration of multiple selves with constant different alignments – this extract, is not only relevant to consider the various dualisms through which man has been defined, including the distinction between man and woman, but it also touches the idea of Gaia (present in our course) which unlike Nature, it’s a self-regulating entity formed by various organisms, with agency and not at the mercy of men. The reflection presented by Herman Hesse may not seem unusual today, due to that in everything: politics, philosophy, religion, there is an approach that accepts plurality, a view that overcomes the fragmentation that all these dualisms imply and introduces the notion of an ultimate monism. However, dualisms still curb much of modern thought as these have not disappeared from our perceptions but have simply been stacked together in different orders. To surmount dual division, one has to think of continuity, the idea of becoming, meaning, as the concept of Gaia defends, and ecofeminism upholds, that there is no immobility, but everything is links and relations. 

The coming paragraphs will refer to the idea of the ‘Other’ and how it is used in ecofeminist theories. I will approach philosophical discourses based mainly on the thoughts of Deleuze and Nietzsche and on the other hand, on ecofeminist theorists, particularly Carol C. Priest and Bruna Bianchi. I will not address thoroughly any of the terms developed by these authors, as it is not the point of this exercise, nor I consider myself capable of, but I will simply refer to their concepts and explanations as a mean to enhance dialogue about the queries raised by ecofeminism.

Philosophy has, since always, dealt with the question of what it is to be, what is the essence of man and the dilemma of being and not being. In particular in the realm of metaphysics, from Parmenides and Plato to Aristotle, who overpassed his predecessors by seeking a philosophy beyond the notion of not-being, to encourage a richer and more complex notion of being. All through Greek philosophy the dualism between a real world and the other world determined the essence of men. We could say that, same as everything else we know, we’ve given a negative definition to who we are. It has been the task of structuralist and post-structuralist thinking to develop an epistemological endeavor to look for the roots of these dualisms. Nietzsche is one of the main figures undertaking this effort. His work is, indeed, the search for the roots of western concepts, the deconstruction, and demystification of our thought, not for the sake of preaching a new, purer philosophy, but just for the sake of it. Deleuze, one of the main philosophers to approach the idea of the ‘Other’, was strongly influenced by Nietzsche and approaches philosophy based on differentiation and the idea of ‘becoming’

– A few words on Deleuze’s ‘Other’ –

The ‘Other’ according to Deleuze, is that through which we understand the world. Life is not possible without the notion of the ‘Other’, as the categories we use to identify anything are based on differences.

There is no stable existence of the subject, but the subject is in itself a becoming – what is the unity of this subject? How to understand the multiplicity and its becoming to unity under a precise time and space – Deleuze presents the concept of deterritorialization, a process of abstraction to envisage individuals, to bring in some sort of contextualization.

Deleuze’s philosophy is based on difference – not as a product of distinction – but as something that upholds immanence. Let’s keep in mind that, every distinction forms part of the process of becoming, no repetition is thus, ever the same. Deleuze’s philosophy has at the heart the need of the ‘Other’ to understand the self and is thus an interesting point of departure to start reflecting on the dual oppositions that have been built around nature/man and women.

(Think of dualisms as universal frameworks)

male/female, mind/body, culture/nature, reason/emotion,public/private,
subject/object, action/passivity, civilized/primitive, universal/particular

It is not a bizarre exercise, as it is one of the main normative logics we use on a daily basis to reflect and act. Thus, Science and philosophy, are characterized by hierarchy and conflicting dualisms (Bruna Bianchi, 2012) Ecofeminism aims to explain, by referring to the importance of dualisms and the construction of the ‘Other’ to explain the self, that duality is framed by a phallocentric culture. It aims also to contest our knowledge and views on Nature, by recognizing that man has been differentiated from women and from nature by taking ownership over culture, 

Ecofeminism, reveals how every dualism we encounter is linked to others, forming a labyrinth of oppressive connections (Bianchi, 2012), which are bound by a logical a structure conformed by exclusion and denial. Dualism, is in itself a way of thinking, perceiving and judging the world. It is a relationship of domination and exclusion, where men’s existence is put at the foreground and women’s in the background.

“the world of men has been constructed in opposition to the world
of nature and that of women. Being a man entails dissociation from
the feminine and from what it represents: weakness, care,
inclusion. Masculinity can be attained by opposing the concrete
world of everyday life, escaping contact with the feminine world
of the home in favour of the masculine world of politics or
public life. This experience of two worlds lies at the heart of
conflicting dualisms. Dualism stems from the denial of dependence
on a subordinate ‘other’. For the image to emerge of men as
superior, active, independent, the creators of culture and of
technology, it was necessary to obscure and belittle what was
feminine. Only separating culture from nature could produce a
patriarchal order of men as self-sufficient and self-made, a
symbolic order based on violence against difference, interpreted
as inferiority”
(Bianchi, 2012)

Going back to our opening quote, Hesse also falls into considering women as complementary to man, as another mean to explain his essence. Hermine, the female character of the book, whom at first glance seems to have agency and a signification of her own, is not but a participant of a role-playing where she is one of the faces, the parts, a negative of Harry, the main male character. Hermine is thus instrumentalized to represent the internal division of man, furthermore, her role is thereafter undermined and overpowered by masculinity at the end of the novel. Hermine is submitted to the needs of man and viewed only as one his facets.

‘Ecofeminist philosophy […] is not a new essentialism or a new
romanticism, but a call to transform dualistic thinking: spirit and
nature; body and mind; emotion and reason; woman and man – humanity
in the web of life’
(P.Christ Carol, Ecofeminism and Process Philosophy, Feminist Theology p.291)

Ecofeminism intersects with Political Philosophy of Nature by considering nature, not as that in which we are, but one of the ways to understand what we are, thus it overcomes the dualism of nature/culture and man/woman. Acknowledges multiplicity and inconsistency, immanence and transformation.

Reconsidering Hesse, Ecofeminism presents us with an alternative, a socially accepted condition of schizomania. 


Bruna Bianchi, Introduction to Ecofeminism: the ideas, the debates, the prospects, 2012.

Carol P. Christ, Ecofeminism and Process Philosophy, 2006.

Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1987.

Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf, 1927.

Ecofeminism: environmental feminism or feminist environmentalism?

in Pink: Self/Other divide

in Green: Culture/Nature divide

in Yellow: shifting divide

____________________________________

From ecofeminism to ecofeminisms

What we have come to discover through our study and reading of ecofeminist manifestos is that ecofeminism does not in fact correspond to a single unified movement, but to a constellation of worldly ecofeminisms. One of the guiding question which has led our inquiry and attempts at differentiating these movements has been formulated by Catherine Larrère in her 2012 article:  do these movements correspond to environmental feminism or to feminist environmentalism? Does the crossing between feminism and environmentalism leads to socialize nature, or naturalize the social? It became increasingly clear that these two movements, although both coexisting among ecofeminisms, did not equate each other, most specifically from a theoretical (and political philosophy) perspective. From a wealth of movements which have come to take different names, if not different ethical stances, we found nonetheless fruitful to trace the genealogy of these ecofeminisms.

 

Environmental feminism or feminist environmentalism?

The term ‘ecofeminism’ was coined in 1974 by feminist theorist Françoise Eaubonne in her book Feminism of Death. In her 1978 work, Environmentalism/Feminism. Mutation or Revolution, she wrote:

“In any case, the very bases for the current environmental catastrophe have been set: from the appropriation of fertile soil {…} the destruction of resources will be birthed: and from the appropriation of women’s fertility, overpopulation. From its foundation the conflict between sexes has been tightly linked with ecology.”  

It is however in the Anglo-Saxon world that ecofeminist ideas and movements in formation have found more fertile soil to grow from. These movements really took shape in the 1980s when ecofeminism developed out of a necessity to « hear women’s voices within an environmental ethics », and to question the existing bias in the environmental movement (Larrère, 2012, p. 1), thereby introducing a social dimension to the environmental cause. As a result it is the movement of creation and autonomization of a feminist current among the environmental ethics that first constituted ecofeminism, more so than a form of feminism – of the environmental kind – in itself.

 

Feminist resistances

To understand the reasons for a resistance of feminism to the question of the environment we must go back to the initial construction of feminist thought (or what we can date back to the Simone de Beauvoir moment) as a departure from the natural law. In this sense feminists, through the introduction of an environmental claim to defend nature, have thus feared a re-introduction of a ‘natural’ dimension in feminism. The question lied on whether feminism could thus become naturalized?

What can be said, is that ecofeminisms, regardless of their positioning within this disaggregated  movement, have developed from a common understanding of the global oppression of women by men as intrinsically linked with the oppression of nature by men. But these oppressions, embedded in both History and the symbolic, as formulated by the hegemonic Western world ever since ‘modern times’ (also corresponding to the judo-christian tradition), have led to diverging theoretical and political interpretations by ecofeminists.

 

Modernity: the great splits

Catherine Larrère bases her analysis of the genealogy of ecofeminist movements on the work of Carolyn Merchant, who published in 1980 a book entitled the Death of Nature. Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. This book traces the series of dualisms and binary divisions which have been operated throughout the history of modernity.

These series of dualisms may be synthesized around two major splits:

  • the Nature/Culture divide (represented in pink on the graph), which occurred out of a shift from pre-modern organicist visions of a feminine nature, to a mechanist vision of nature;
  • the Self/Other divide (represented in green on the graph), which has distributed power and representations to set white european males as positively characterized, valued, and thus, dominating, while women, nature and people of color have been attributed negative characteristics, lesser value, justifying their being dominated and oppressed.

As such, departing from modern dualisms may be as much of an environmental stake as a feminist one.

 

Scission in the movement in the 1990s

In the 1990s ecofeminism has weakened in France and has been more dramatically divided in the Anglo-Saxon world (and elsewhere). Two main tendencies have since pervaded the movement:

An ecofeminism focusing on socio-economic aspects, which has been personified by Indian activist Vandana Shiva. This alter-globalist movement denounces as much the domination of men over women (patriarchy) and nature, as the domination of so called ‘Northern countries’ over countries of the Global South. Its connections with post colonial thought and movements are thus significant, and suggest a global development more respectful of diverse cultures and traditions.

The other trend may be more heterogeneous as it gathers a number of movements and thoughts inspired from ‘primitive’ (or pre-modern) cultures and religions. Such movements preach a return to the organicist vision revolving around respect for a ‘Mother-Earth’ entity. As such, they have often been oriented towards a more mystical and spiritual conception of the relationship between women and nature, as well as between all beings more generally speaking (humans and nonhumans). What we could add is that such conceptions may have focused on more complex representations of both the feminine and nature, as (re)active subjects (i.e. possessing agency), sometimes motherly, but sometimes also hostile. Such conceptions are in fact close to the old figure of Gaia, which has been used by the controversial scientist John Lovelock to describe his « Earth Regulating System ».

Internal ecofeminists debates

The movement’s divisions have been fed by a rich debate over the reference to feminine symbols of nature, as well as the underlying organicist and mechanistic conceptions of nature. This is probably the most complex and interesting part of ecofeminism to analyse in terms of a political philosophy: this dialogue within ecofeminisms, and among feminist and environmental groups and thoughts, has led ecofeminist movements to constantly renew and re-identify themselves within these debates.

Indeed, spiritual and mystical accessions of ecofeminism using feminine symbols to represent nature, and which stand as forms of environmental feminism, have had to face growing criticisms of essentialism from feminists and ecofeminists themselves. Moreover, the socio-economic branches have reproached them with being ‘ethnocentrist’, as they refer to and proclaim certain cultural and religious values and traditions, which may as well exclude others. They have also criticized this trend for homogenizing the claims of humans with that of non-humans. This has led certain activists and ecofeminist theorists pertaining to this trend to proclaim a form of « strategic essentialism » (Sturgeon, 1997).

The socio economic trend on the other hand, although sensitive to the environmental cause, has preserved the hierarchy between humans and nonhumans most specifically with regard to identifying certain ethical priorities for bettering the lives of exploited women and people. Vandana Shiva, for instance, although she preaches an intrinsic value of all living beings, has mostly focused on the ongoing ‘war of seeds’ and on the impact it has had for agricultural people in India and abroad. For this reason the socio economic trend may appear as still somewhat within the ‘nature vs. culture’ paradigmatic divide, as it retains this moral distinction between humans and nonhumans. This has owed the movement to be sometimes qualified as ‘speciest’ and ‘anthropocentrist’, or to be reproached with not occurring a big enough paradigm shift, by the other ecofeminist trend, as they seem to prioritize the claims of humans over that of non-humans.

Where the magic happens

The discussion led above has aimed at a synthesis of the ecofeminist debates since the 1990s, which may appear overly general or simplistic, as it fails to account for the full wealth, diversity, overlaps and contradictions within and among these two trends themselves. However, what remains interesting in such a dichotomy, most specifically from a political philosophy perspective, is that it reveals how either the nature/culture or the self/other divides may have been shifted within the ecofeminist movements itself (this shutting divide has been represented in yellow on the graph), to include, but most specifically to exclude or distinguish from such or such movement (judged « speciest », « anthropocentrist », « essentialist », or « ethnocentrist »). What it may also reveal, is the incredible fruitfulness that such debates may permit with regard to questioning the relationship between all living beings, between humans and earth, and the conceptual (religious, political…) systems that such relationships may entail.

References:

– Catherine LARRÈRE, « L’écoféminisme : féminisme écologique ou écologie féministe », Tracés. Revue de Sciences humaines [En ligne], 22 | 2012, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2014, consulté le 02 mai 2015. URL : http://traces.revues.org/5454

– Interview avec Catherine Larrère, ‘Qu’est-ce que l’écoféminisme’ (‘What is ecofeminism?’), Ocotober 2012, availabale at: http://reporterre.net/Qu-est-ce-que-l-ecofeminisme

– ‘Ecoféminisme : quand développement durable rime avec femme et écologie’ (‘Ecofeminism: when sustainable development rhimes with women and ecology’), availbale at: http://femmes.durable.com/a-ecofeminisme

– ‘Féminisme et écologie, un lien “naturel”?’ (‘Feminism and ecology, a ‘natural’ link?’), 2011, available at: http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2011/05/BIEHL/20467

– Pour repenser l’écoféminisme (‘To rethink ecofeminisme’), 2008, available at: http://ecorev.org/spip.php?article711

– ‘Qu-est-ce que l’écoféminisme?’ (‘What is ecofeminism?’) http://www.consoglobe.com/quest-ce-que-lecofeminisme-cg

– ‘Ecofeminism Revisited: Rejecting Essentialism and Re-Placing Species in a Material Feminist Environmentalism’, by Greta Gaard, in Feminist Formations, Vol. 23 No. 2 (Summer) pp. 26-53

A Political Philosophy of Ecofeminism?

-The ‘Big Bang’-

A fictitious conversation between a young girl and her (catholic) mother:

A mother is reading a passage from the Bible to her daughter.

mother: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’” (Mark, 10:6)

daughter: but wait… they told me at school that there was something that came before, way before creation… Yes, that’s right, they called it the ‘Big Bang’!

The mother is taken aback by her daughter’s question.

mother: yes, they taught you right, the big bang was like a huge explosion which constituted the universe ‘as we know it’, but this came before creation.

daughter: so, in a way creation emerged out of destruction? But what came before then?

mother: (she pauses) I wouldn’t really know… Even scientists have little knowledge, if not understanding of what came before.

daughter: hm, okay… (she still doesn’t look quite satisfied with this explanation).

mother: what is it?

daughter: Okay, but there is something else that I understand in what this Mark guy wrote… He says that God ‘made them male and female’, so were they male or female… or both?

The mother now looks puzzled.

Once upon a time children, we experienced notions of ‘nature’, of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as non-evident and puzzling. Growing up, a child is confronted with different conceptions of the world, be it catholicism, modern science (which in this sense can become a form of dogma), or else; that she, he or they have to reconcile. Temptation for nostalgia is immense. There is, however, little chance that we will ever recover this state of sheer puzzlement facing the world, as it emerged out of a condition of being free of any form of explicit or internalized preconceptions. What more, it is doubtful that such a state would manage to take us out of our misery, and hence, is desirable for any thinker, activist, individual or group working for social change!

Contesting the concept of ‘Nature’

But fortune, – or is it prolongated uneasiness and questioning in front of such concepts? – might lead us to one day sign up for a class with the appealing and mysterious title of ‘Political Philosophy of Nature’.

It is not the purpose of this blog to ambition to cover the entire subject, or even the definition, of what engaging in a political philosophy of nature is or might be. As a point of departure it is however useful to remind that the political philosophy of nature agenda generally corresponds to the theoretical and empirical contestation of the concept of ‘nature’ as formulated by a diversity of societies (hegemonic or not) and worlds. In our first contacts with this considerable subject, it appeared to us/me that political philosophy stood as a more attainable, and fruitful alternative to permanent nostalgia or despair. Political philosophy is taking shape as a way to question these very preconceptions, their evolution throughout ‘History’, and more importantly their role in shaping our societies, our political actions, and our chances for a better future.

From ‘History’ to ‘her stories’

With such an agenda in mind, it was difficult for us/me not to bridge connections with feminist theories (e.g. the move from ‘History’ to ‘her story’, Robin, 1970; Casey & Swift, 1976), and with our personal feminist-leaned experiences. Wait, is this a disclaimer? Not really. If it is true that this blog does not seek to create general agreement (and might also adopt at times, although temporarily, partisan standpoints), its main purpose is to be critical in uncovering existing preconceptions of ‘nature’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and thus perhaps push further the idea of ‘her story’, to ‘her stories’, but also ‘its story’, and ‘its stories’ when it comes to nature.

Ecofeminism: Making ‘nature’, ‘manhood’, ‘womanhood’ contentious and political concepts

In doing so, it is the concept(s) of ‘ecofeminism’ which has first caught our attention as a potential bridge created between feminist and environmental agendas. Both theories and social movements, feminism and environmentalism have sometimes suffered from divisions and isolation among and between themselves. And indeed, ecofeminism (a term coined by François d’Eaubonne in 1974) was born in the 1980s out of a necessity to uncover the connections existing between the domination of men over nature and that which they exercise over women. the idea was to make room for women’s voices among the environmentalist movement which had, up until then, preoccupied itself with man’s relations to nature without questioning which man it was (Larrère, 2012, p.1). For this reason ecofeminism shares the political philosophy of nature’s agenda to remove concepts of ‘nature’, ‘man’ out of their normative but also prescriptive realm.

A Political Philosophy of Ecofeminism?

The ‘Big Bang’

It is more than tempting to join the ecofeminist claim that oppression of nature and women can no longer be addressed in isolation in today’s world (Gaard & Gruen, 1993, p.248). But what can be the added value of engaging in a political philosophy of ‘ecofeminism’? Why is it interesting to confront the evolution of ecofeminism, the concepts it has federated and the ambitious task that pertains to political philosophy of nature?

Theoretically first, the two, as evoked above, have intersections that will be our main object of study. Our task will be to study the discussion space that can be created within these intersections.

Additionally, as a social movement, ecofeminism has its own historical ‘evolution’ and corresponds to political structures that should unpacked.

In the ‘big bang’ of a political philosophy of ecofeminism, one should not be surprised for commonly accepted expressions to be explicitly and, frenetically, put in quotes in this introductory note. In doing so, we also hope to lay out, not a finite product, but an explosion of contentious themes our reflexion seeks to explore.

Questioning the separation of human and natural worlds – Bridging environmental and social change

Ecofeminism from its early definition aims to overcome the nature versus culture divide which often limits the scope of action of both environmental and feminist theories. Uncovering oppressions of women and nature by men as forms of global oppression. In this regard ecofeminism acknowledges the natural and the human worlds as interconnected.

In this line of work (comprising amongst others Philippe Descola’s contribution), Carolyn Merchant has studied the historical, psychological, symbolic, movement of separation of culture from nature, and locates it as a production of the scientific revolution, of patriarchal religion perpetuated by Judeo-Christian tradition (shift from goddess-worshipping cultures to male deities 4500bc), of human evolutionary development, of metaphorical and ideological forms of domination through dualisms (operated through language amongst other things), of the internalization of gender roles, of the shift from feudalism to capitalist and colonial economies, as well as of the division of labor by gender roles (Carolyn Merchant, 1980, in Gaard & Gruen, 1993, p.236-239). More than alternative and exclusive explanations, Merchant suggests that this separation has happened through a co-production of these different historical movements. As a result, such be considered and explored in their interconnectedness. It is in such an insight that the global social and environmental change ecofeminist agenda  find its roots.

« Developing an ecofeminist framework » (Gaard & Gruen, 1993, p.248)

Greta Gaard and Lori Gruen based themselves on the work of Merchant in order to explore the cumulative potential of these explanations, and argue that ecofeminism as a theoretical and social movement is best suited to do so, mainly through « developing a ‘multi-systems’ approach to understand the interconnected forces that oppress women and the natural world” (Gaard & Gruen, 1993, p.248).

De-essentializing women and nature?

As historically critical of world dominations through recourse to dualisms, ecofeminism stands as a de-essentializing theoretical force. As such, ecofeminists have pointed at discursive feminization, naturalization, animalization (and subordination) of an ‘Other’ as political strategies by which women, animals and nature are both casted as ‘other’ versus ‘self’ (Gaard & Gruen, 1993, p. 237).

In face of ecofeminist movements preaching a return to the figure of ‘Mother Nature’, we can however wonder if ecofeminism is truly de-essentialist?

Ecofeminism as a contentious political and critical movement

This issue reveals the movement’s very tensions and divisions. Indeed, the concept of ‘ecofeminism’ now captures such a diversity of theoretical and activist movements that speaking of ecofeminismS might better reflect realities. In any case, this issue also reflects a need to inquire into ecofeminists means for social action. In uncovering the different contentions existing within this movement, it will be useful to look into the question formulated by Catherine Larrère of whether ecofeminisms are closer to environmental feminism or feminist environmentalism (Larrère, 2012). We can also question whether certain ecofeminist trends have (re)produced universal laws?

An additional (& non-exhaustive) list of contentious themes to be dealt with

(feel free to comment on those which you would be interested in seeing developed)

  • Ecofeminism and the emblematic figures of Vendana Shiva & Starhawk (each diserving substantial space for discussing their works in detail)
  • The place of spirituality and immanence in certain ecofeminist trends
  • The recourse to symbols and to the artefact as an ecofeminist means of social action and empowerment
  • The intersection between ‘greenwashing’, advertising and marketing that target women
  • Ecofeminism, Starhawk, Gaia Theory & the importance of language both as tool of analysis and means to  create debate
  • Ecofeminism and maternity: criticism, contentions and distinctions
  • Ecofeminism and ‘the common’
  • Ecofeminism and Queer Theory: Towards a Queer Ecofeminism?

References:

– Descola Philippe, 2005, Par-delà nature et culture, Paris, Gallimard

– D’Eaubonne, Françoise, Le féminisme ou la mort, Paris, Pierre Horay, 1974

– Gaard, Greta, & Gruen, Lori, ‘ecofeminism: Towards Global Justice and Planetary Health’, Society and Nature, 2 (1993), 1-35

– Larrère Catherine, « L’écoféminisme : féminisme écologique ou écologie féministe », Tracés 1/ 2012 (n° 22), p. 105-121, URL : www.cairn.info/revue-traces-2012-1-page-105.htm

– Latour Bruno, ’Political Philosophy of Nature’, a class taught at Sciences Po Paris University

– Merchant Carolyn, 1980, The Death of Nature. Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, San Francisco, Harper and Row

– Miller, Casey & Swift, Kate, Words & Women, 1976

– Morgan, Robin, Sisterhood is Powerful, 1970

– http://www.historytoherstory.org.uk/