Feminist Environmental Philosophy (2022)

Early positions of “feminist environmental philosophy”focused mostly on ethical perspectives on the interconnections amongwomen, nonhuman animals, and nature (e.g., Carol Adams 1990; DeborahSlicer 1991). As it matured, references to feminist environmentalphilosophy became what it is now—an umbrella term for a varietyof different, sometimes incompatible, philosophical perspectives oninterconnections among women of diverse races/ethnicities,socioeconomic statuses, and geographic locations, on the one hand, andnonhuman animals and nature, on the other. For the purposes of thisessay, “feminist environmental philosophy” refers to thisdiversity of positions on the interconnections among women, nonhumananimals and nature within Western philosophy—what will becalled, simply, “women-nature connections”. Unlessspecifically or separately identified, nonhuman animals are includedin the concept of “nature”. (It is beyond the scope ofthis essay to consider non-Western philosophical positions concerningthe environment.)

1. Key Terms and Distinctions

1.1 Nature Is A Feminist Issue

A feminist issue provides ways of understanding, eliminating, andcreating alternatives to the oppression of women. Minimally, nature(used interchangeably in this essay with “theenvironment”) is a feminist issue because an understanding ofnature and environmental problems often helps one understand how andwhy women's oppression is linked with the unjustified domination orexploitation of nature. (The distinction between“oppression” and “domination” is discussedin Section 3.2.) For example, data show thatwomen—especially poor, rural women in less developed countries(LDCs) who are heads of households—suffer disproportionate harmscaused by such environmental problems as deforestation, waterpollution, and environmental toxins. Knowing this helps one understandhow the lives and status of women are connected to contemporaryenvironmental problems. (Greta Gaard and Lori Gruen 2005). Such datamake deforestation, water pollution, and environmental toxins afeminist issue. In fact, some have claimed that “nature is afeminist issue” might be the informal slogan of feministenvironmental philosophy (Warren 2000).

1.2 Canonical Western Philosophy

As used throughout the essay, “canonical Westernphilosophy” refers to the Western philosophical traditiontraceable to Ancient Greece. It includes the works by the philosopherswho are most commonly taught at the majority of colleges anduniversities throughout the English speaking Western world. In thistradition, there is a striking degree of agreement about the“conceptual framework”—the basic beliefs, values,attitudes, assumptions, and concepts—that define “thecanon”. These include the following: (a) a commitmentto rationalism, the view that reason (or rationality) is notonly the hallmark of being human; it is what makes humans superior tononhuman animals and nature; (b) a conception of humans asrational beings who are capable of abstract reasoning, entertainingobjective principles, and understanding or calculating theconsequences of actions; (c) conceptions of both the ideal moral agentand the knower as impartial, detachedand disinterested; (d) a belief infundamental dualisms, such as reason versus emotion, mindversus body, culture versus nature, absolutism versus relativism, andobjectivity versus subjectivity; (e) an assumption that there isan ontological divide between humans and nonhuman animals andnature; and (f) universalizability as a criterion forassessing the truth of ethical and epistemological principles (seeWarren 2009).

Many of these key features of canonical Western philosophy arechallenged by positions in feminist environmental philosophy. When,where and how this occurs is addressed throughout the essay.

1.3 Three Kinds of Positions in Feminist Environmental Philosophy

There are three distinct kinds of positions within feminist environmentalphilosophy. They are: (1) positions whose historical beginningsare located in non-feminist Western environmental philosophies; (2)positions that were initially identified with“ecofeminism” (or “ecological feminism”)generally, but, since the late 1980s and early 1990s, are moreaccurately identified with“ecofeminist philosophy,” specifically; and (3)new or emerging “stand alone”positions that offer novel or unique perspectives on“women-nature connections” that are not identified witheither (1) or (2). Discussion of these three sorts of positionsconstitutes the subject matter of Section 2.

2. First Kind of Position in Feminist Environmental Philosophy: One Historically Associated with a Non-Feminist Environmental Philosophy

Although environmental issues have been addressed by philosopherssince Ancient Greece, Western environmental philosophies did not takeshape until the early 1970s (e.g., Arne Naess 1973; John Passmore1973). Increasingly, unsettling empirical data surfaced concerninghuman mistreatment of nonhuman animals (e.g., factory farming), nature(e.g., clear-cutting old growth forests), and destructive human-naturerelationships (e.g., human creation of unmanaged toxic landfills,especially in communities of color). In addition, many canonicalassumptions were called into question, such as the view that humansand culture are superior to nonhuman animals and nature. Westernenvironmental philosophies, both feminist and non-feminist, emergedfrom such applied and theoretical concerns.

2.1 Western Environmental Philosophy

The historical beginnings of Western environmental philosophy arein environmental ethics. Unlike canonical Western ethics, Westernenvironmental ethics (both feminist and non-feminist) ispredicated on the claim that humans have moral responsibilities (orobligations) to nonhuman animals and/or nature, although they disagreeabout the basis of these responsibilities. Some argue that the basisis the intrinsic (or inherent) value of nonhuman animals and/ornature, in contrast with the canonical view that they have merelyinstrumental (or extrinsic) value. Some argue that there areproperties that nonhuman animals and/or nature have (such as,sentiency, rights, or interests) by virtue of which they deserve moralconsideration in their own right (or, have moral standing). Despitedisagreements about the basis of these human responsibilities, Westernenvironmental philosophy asserts what canonical philosophydenies— that humans have moral responsibilities to nonhumananimals and/or nature themselves, and not just to humans wherenonhuman animals and/or nature are concerned. As a kind of Westernenvironmental philosophy, feminist environmental philosophy supportsthe claim that canonical Western philosophy does not generatea bona fide environmental philosophy, since it fails torecognize that humans have moral obligations (or responsibilities) tononhuman animals and/or nature themselves. (Throughout the remainderof the essay, any reference to philosophy, environmental philosophy orfeminist environmental philosophy is to Western philosophy.)

2.2 Revised Environmental Philosophy: Feminist Perspectives on Animal Ethics

A “revised” environmental philosophy is one that useskey concepts and theories of canonical philosophy,but extends them to include nonhuman animals in the moralcommunity. It does so by granting moral status (or, moral standing) tononhuman animals. “Animal Ethics” is one such revisedposition (see the entry on the moral status of animals).

Feminist animal ethicists oppose the same practices (e.g., factoryfarming, vivisection, and hunting) that are opposed by the twooriginal non-feminist versions of animal ethics, Peter Singer'sutilitarian version (1975) and Tom Regan's right-based version(1982). Singer opposes these practices because they cause unnecessarypain and suffering to sentient beings. Regan opposes them because theyviolate the rights to life of what he calls “subjects of alife”. But feminist animal ethics goes further by providing agendered perspective on such practices and on animal protectiongenerally (see feminist animal ethics of care discussed in Section 3.8).

How does it do this? There are six ways feminist animal ethics hasmade distinct contributions to traditional, non-feminist positions inanimal ethics: (1) it emphasizes that canonical Western philosophy'sview of humans as rational agents, who are separate from and superiorto nature, fails to acknowledge that humans are also animals—evenif rational animals—and, as such, are a part of nature; (2) itmakes visible the interconnections among violence against women,violence against nature, and pornography (see Adams 1990, 2004; CarolAdams and Josephine Donovan 1995; Susan Griffin 1981; Pattrice Jones2011); (3) it demonstrates the role played by language in creating,maintaining, and perpetuating the interconnected exploitations ofwomen and animals (See Section 3.3); (4) it shows how bedrock dualismsin canonical philosophy—such as culture versus nature and mindversus body—have historically not been gender-neutral; they haveassociated males/men with superior culture and mind, and bothfemales/women and animals with inferior nature and body (Gruen andKari Weil 2011); (5) it locates the exploitation of women and animalsin mutually reinforcing systems and practices of unjustifieddomination, particularly sexism and speciesism (or, the prejudicialdiscrimination against other beings based on their membership in(allegedly) inferior nonhuman species) (Gaard 2011); and (6) it raises theissue whether the absence of a gendered perspective in traditionalanimal ethics makes those positions on the mistreatment of nonhumananimals incomplete or inadequate (see Adams 1994; Adams and Donovan1995; Gaard 1993; Gruen 1996; Slicer 1991).

2.3 Expanded Environmental Philosophy: Feminist Philosophical Perspectives on Leopold's Land Ethics

An “expanded” environmental philosophy is one that doestwo things: it retains some of the key features of revisedenvironmental philosophy (e.g., consequentialist and rights-basedtheories) while also introducing genuinely new features—onesthat had not yet been part of a moral theory. This essay considersonly one “expanded” environmental philosophy, AldoLeopold's “land ethic”, published as an essay, “TheLand Ethic”, in his 1949 book The Sand CountyAlmanac. Many environmental philosophers consider Leopold's landethic the first genuinely environmental ethic (not just an“animal ethic”). It is discussed here because manyfeminist environmental philosophers defend positions that draw onLeopold's land ethic (e.g., Chris Cuomo 1998; Deane Curtin 1999;Warren 2000).

Leopold's land ethic advances four key claims (stated here roughlyas Leopold stated them): (1) the moral community should include soils,waters, plants, and animals, or, what Leopold calls, collectively,“the land” (Leopold 1949 [1977]: 204); (2) the roleof homo sapiens should be changed from conqueror to plainmember of the land community (204); (3) we can be moral only inrelation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, respect,admire, or otherwise have faith in (214, 223, 225); and (4) “athing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, andbeauty of the biotic community; it is wrong when it tendsotherwise” (224–225), what some regard as Leopold'sultimate moral maxim.

Many environmental philosophers regard claim (4) as the moral maxim ofLeopold's land ethic; it claims that the rightness or wrongness ofactions is determined by reference to the consequences of thoseactions—a familiar consequentialist ethical principle. However,for Leopold, the relevant consequences are the “integrity,stability, and beauty of the biotic community”. Since theseconsequences are new to ethics, Leopold's land ethic expands ethicsinto new territory—territory beyond even revised environmentalphilosophy. The same is true for the other three claims,(1)–(3): they introduce moral concepts that go beyond those madeby either canonical philosophy or revised environmental ethics (suchas animal ethics). It is this “going beyond” feature thatmakes Leopold's land ethic an expanded ethic.

Many feminist environmental philosophers adopt key aspects ofLeopold's land ethic. For example, many defend a notion of the self asa relational, ecological being who is a member of the larger biotic(living, organic, ecological) community. Many agree that “moralemotions”, such as empathy and care, are important to any ethic,including any environmental ethic (see, for example, Cuomo 2005;Vrinda Dalmiya 2002; Mathews 1994b; Plumwood 1993; Warren 2000). Inaddition, many feminist environmental philosophers acknowledge thatembryonic forms of a gendered environmental ethic can befound in the opening lines of “The Land Ethic”, whereLeopold wrote, “The girls [Odysseus's slave girls] wereproperty. The disposal of property was then, as now, a matter ofexpediency, not of right and wrong” (Leopold 1949 [1977]:201). Lastly, some feminist environmental philosophers endorseLeopold's understanding of the interconnections between culturaldiversity and ecological (or “bio”) diversity. Considerwhy and how understanding these interconnections is important tofeminist environmental philosophy.

Leopold claimed that an ecological interpretation of history showsthat “the rich diversity of the world's cultures reflects acorresponding diversity in the wilds that gave them birth” (1949[1977]: 188). For example, Leopold wrote that cultural diversity is“often based in wildlife. Thus the plains [sic] Indian not onlyate buffalo, but buffalo largely determined his architecture, dress,language, arts, and religion” (1949 [1977]: 177). Culturaldiversity reflects ecological diversity. Assuming that thepreservation of the rich diversity of the world'scultures—cultural diversity—is a good thing, thenunderstanding the connections between that and the preservation ofecological (or “bio”) diversity is also a good thing. Theconverse is also true: ecological diversity reflects culturaldiversity. For example, many Western development projects in Asia andAfrica replace ecologically diverse (multispecies) indigenousforests—forests that are managed by women and are integral tomaintaining subsistence (not money-based) economies—withmonoculture eucalyptus and teak plantations that are managed by menand where trees are primarily a cash crop for export. Many feministenvironmental philosophers argue against these development projects;the loss of ecological diversity (provided by indigenous forests)directly and disproportionately harms women, subsistence economies,and the cultural communities to which women belong. These examplesillustrate ways that Leopold's insightful awareness of theinterdependencies between cultural diversity and ecological (bio)diversity informs a feminist environmental perspective on women-natureconnections (see also Sections 3.5 and 3.6).

2.4 Radical Environmental Philosophy: Feminist Philosophical Perspectives on Deep Ecology

A “radical” environmental philosophy challengesfoundational assumptions and claims of canonical philosophy in thecontext of environmental issues. These challenges are“radical” in the etymological sense that they “go tothe roots” of environmental problems—typically, theconceptual roots—and in the historical sense that they had neverbefore been part of a moral theory. (This description permits thatwhat was “radical” at one time may no longer be radical.)One of the most influential radical positions is “deepecology”.

(Video) Is Ecofeminism still relevant?

Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess coined the term “deepecology” to refer to the (deep) conceptual roots of theenvironmental crisis (Naess 1973). Naess contrasted deep ecology with“shallow ecology”. Both are concerned, for example, withresolving such “applied” environmental problems as air andwater pollution, use of natural resources, human overconsumption andoverpopulation. But, according to Naess, only deep ecology provides anunderstanding of these issues in terms of false or problematicunderlying assumptions, concepts, beliefs and values of canonicalphilosophy.

Historically, the emergence of ecofeminist philosophy was intimatelylinked to deep ecology. However, during the 1980s and 1990s, thatlink was contested; the so-called “deep ecology-ecofeminismdebate” that emerged took centerstage in discussions of environmentalphilosophy (see Jim Cheney 1987; Cuomo 1994; Kheel 1990; Plumwood1993; Salleh 1984; Warren 1999).

The ecofeminism-deep ecology debate focused on two features ofspecial significance to ecofeminist philosophy. The first is deepecology's criticism of canonical Western philosophy for itsanthropocentric (human-centered) thinking about human-naturerelationships. The second is the notion of the self that is describedby deep ecology's basic “principle ofself-realization”. Both features are critiqued by Val Plumwood,one of the pioneers of ecofeminist philosophy (Plumwood 1993). Hercritique is summarized here since it provides insight into some basicclaims of ecofeminist philosophy(Section 3).

According to deep ecology, canonical Western philosophy'sunacceptable anthropocentrism is rooted in severalproblematic value dualisms, includingthe “culture versus nature” dualism. Plumwood argues thatdeep ecology's criticism of anthropocentrism fails to see thatcanonical philosophy's anthropocentrism has functionedhistorically as andropocentrism (male-centered thinking). Sheclaims that its failure to see this leads deep ecologists to make twofalse assumptions—that one can disentangle anthropocentrism andandropocentrism as distinct and separate ways of thinking, and thatone can critique the “culture versus nature” dualismwithout providing a gendered analysis of how this dualism hasfunctioned historically to “justify” the dominations ofwomen and nature. (This criticism of the “culture versusnature” dualism is discussedthroughout Section 3.)

The second problematic feature of deep ecology concerns theprinciple of self-realization, which claims that thehuman self (small ‘s’) is actualized only when itbecomes merged with the cosmos, a Self (capital‘S’). Plumwood argues that this principle is false becauseit keeps intact “the discontinuity thesis”—thethesis that there is a clear ontological divide between humans (or thesphere of culture) and nature. Culture and nature are“discontinuous” because humans are separate from and differentin kind from nature. For Plumwood, the discontinuity thesis is falseand any environmental philosophy that assumes it is conceptuallyflawed. Plumwood argues that since deep ecology assumes, rather thandenies (as deep ecologists claim), the discontinuity thesis, deepecology is a conceptually flawed environmental philosophy.

How does deep ecology do this—presuppose a thesis that itsets out to deny? Plumwood's answer is that the discontinuity thesisis kept intact by deep ecology's commitment to three faultyconceptions of the self. She calls them “the IndistinguishableSelf”, “the Expanded Self”, and “theTranscendent Self” (Plumwood 1993).

The “Indistinguishable Self” rejects any and allboundaries between humans and nature; humans are just one strand in agreater biotic web. This conception of the self presumes what Plumwoodcalls an “identity thesis:” the human self is anecological self. The problem with the identity thesis is that itmistakenly solves the discontinuity problem byobliterating all divisions between humans and nature. For justthis reason, Plumwood rejects the identity thesis and the notion ofthe Indistinguishable Self. If the principle of self-realization isabout the Indistinguishable Self, the principle is false. In contrast,Plumwood defends a conception of the self that makeshumans both continuous with and distinct from nature, bothindividual selves (who are different from nature) and ecologicalselves (who are a part of nature).

The “Expanded Self” distinguishes between theparticular, individual human self and an expanded, greater“cosmic” Self. Plumwood claims that whatever ismeant by a “cosmic Self” (it isn't clear), the ExpandedSelf denies the importance of individuals asindividuals—as distinct human beings who have their ownparticular attachments and are in various dependency relationships(such as parent and child, care giver and the cared for) that areunique to each self. Plumwood argues that, given that most of theworld's women lack many of the human rights, civil liberties, andeducational opportunities that men have (as individual selves), it isfar too early to abandon a notion of the human self as an individual(a self) in favor of some nebulous, undifferentiated,expanded, “cosmic” Self. If the principle ofself-realization is about the Expanded Self, the principle isfalse.

The “Transcendent Self” refers to the individual selfwho overcomes its particularity to become a more self-aware,transformed self. Plumwood claims that the Transcendent Selfpresupposes a “triumph-over thesis”—the TranscendentSelf triumphs over highly particularistic attachments, emotions,wants, and desires that individual selves have toward themselves andeach other. The Transcendent Self falsely rejects a view of selvesthat Plumwood defends: human selves are emotionally interdependent,ecological, relational beings whose actualization requires a rejectionof rationalism (the identification of humans with reason orrationality) and mind-body dualism. Plumwood's conception of the selfis not a rejection of particularity and individuality; it isa recognition that individual selves are also interdependentbeings-in-relationships, not Transcendent Selves who triumph over suchinterdependencies and relationships. If the principle ofself-realization is about the Transcendent Self, the principle isfalse.

3. Second Kind of Position in Feminist Environmental Philosophy: Ecofeminist Philosophy

We already have been introduced to ecofeminist philosophy in connectionwith animal ethics (Section 2.2),Leopold's Land Ethic (Section 2.3), and deep ecology (Section 2.4). This section explores the nature of ecofeminist philosophyas a distinct kind of environmental philosophy.

3.1 Characterization of Ecofeminist Philosophy

French feminist Françoise d'Eaubonne coined the term“ecological feminisme” in 1974 to call attentionto women's potential to bring about an ecological revolution.Initially, “ecofeminism” referred generically to a widevariety of “women-nature” connections, often based indifferent disciplinary perspectives (such as History, LiteraryCriticism, Political Science, Sociology, and Theology). This isimportant because ecofeminism did not emerge as adistinctly philosophical position until the late 1980s andearly- to mid 1990s.

For purposes of this essay, a general, common-denominatorcharacterization of “ecofeminist philosophy” is that it:(1) explores the nature of the connections between the unjustifieddominations of women and nature; (2) critiques male-biased Westerncanonical philosophical views (assumptions, concepts, claims,distinctions, positions, theories) about women and nature; and (3)creates alternatives and solutions to such male-biased views.

A note about terminology is relevant here. Many ecofeministphilosophers distinguish between the oppression of women andthe (unjustified) domination of nature. They do so on thegrounds that only those beings that have such characteristics asrationality, cognitive capacity, or sentiency can be oppressed. InWestern contexts, nonhuman natural entities such as rocks, plants,rivers, or (generically) nature are presumed to not have any suchcharacteristics. As such, unlike women, they cannot be oppressed(although they can be unjustly dominated). What about nonhumananimals? Many ecofeminist philosophers include animals, especiallydomesticated animals, among those beings that are capable of beingoppressed, but deny that nature has this capability. They talk aboutthe oppression of animals (but not of nature). For purposes of thisessay, the word “oppression” will not be applied tonature; its applicability to animals will be left an open question.Accordingly, for example, ecofeminist philosophical perspectives onwomen-nature connections will not refer to “the oppression ofnature”, “the twin oppressions of women and nature,“or “the mutually reinforcing oppressions of women andnature”. However, they will refer to the unjustified dominationsof women, nonhuman animals, and nature.

3.2 Oppressive Conceptual Frameworks

A conceptual framework is a set of basic beliefs, values,attitudes, and assumptions that shape and reflect how one sees oneselfand one's world (Warren 2000, 2005). Some conceptual frameworksare oppressive. An oppressive conceptual framework is onethat functions to explain, maintain, and “justify”institutions, relationships and practices of unjustified dominationand subordination. When an oppressive conceptual frameworkis patriarchal, it functions to justify the subordination ofwomen by men.

Sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, and ethnocentrism areexamples of what Warren calls unjustified “isms ofdomination” (1990, 2000). Warren argues that these isms ofdomination share conceptual roots in five features of an oppressiveconceptual framework. The first feature is value-hierarchical,Up-Down thinking that attributes greater value to that which is“Up” than to that which is “Down”. Incanonical philosophy, value hierarchical thinking (typically) puts men Up andwomen Down, culture Up and nature Down. By attributing greater valueto that which is higher, the Up-Down organization of reality serves tolegitimate inequality “when, in fact, prior to the metaphor ofUp-Down, one would have said only that there existed diversity”(Elizabeth Dodson Gray 1981: 20)

The second feature is oppositional (rather thancomplementary) and mutually exclusive (rather thaninclusive) value dualisms, which place greater value (status,prestige) on one disjunct over the other. In canonical Westernphilosophy, the dualisms of male versus female and culture versusnature have historically done this; they have ascribed greater valueto that which is identified with males or culture than to that whichis identified with females or nature. According to these valuedualisms, it is better to be male or culture-identified than to befemale or nature-identified.

(Video) Ecofeminism Introduction Lecture

The third and fourth features of oppressive conceptual frameworksare that they conceive of power and privilege inways that systematically advantage the Ups over the Downs (whether ornot the Ups choose to exercise that power and privilege). In aclassist society, wealthy people have the power and privilege tomobilize resources to self-determined ends. Sometimes this power andprivilege enables the wealthy to not notice the ways socioeconomicstatus is a significant challenge to equality of opportunity. Forexample, poor people may be viewed as inferior, and therebyundeserving of the same opportunities or rights of the wealthy, oftenon the grounds that their poverty is “their ownfault”.

The fifth and philosophically most important feature of anoppressive conceptual framework is the “logic ofdomination”. This is the moral premise that superiorityjustifies subordination. The logic of domination provides the(alleged) moral justification for keeping Downs down. Typically thisjustification takes the form that the Up has some characteristic(e.g., reason) that the Down lacks and by virtue of which thesubordination of the Down by the Up is justified.

Note that it is possible to have the first four features of anoppressive conceptual framework yet not have a case ofoppression or unjustified domination. For example, responsible parentsmay exercise legitimate power and privilege over their children (suchas the power to decide when to put their child to bed or have theprivilege to drive), without thereby being involved in any sort ofoppressive parent-child relationship. Parent-child relationships areonly oppressive if the logic of domination is in place; it is whatprovides the (alleged) justification for treating children as inferiorand justifiably dominated.

Warren argues that the five features of an oppressive conceptualframework spotlight some of the shared conceptual roots of theunjustified dominations of women, nonhuman animals, and nature. Manyecofeminist philosophers explore the ways these shared conceptualroots function in real life to keep intact unjustified institutionsand practices of oppression and domination.

3.3 Linguistic Perspectives

Ludwig Wittgenstein argues that the language one uses mirrors andreflects one's view of oneself and the world—one's conceptualframework. According to ecofeminist philosophers, language plays a keyrole in the formation of problematic concepts of women, animals, andnature—concepts that reinforce the five features of anoppressive conceptual framework and contribute to the“justification” of the dominations of women, animals, andnature. Consider some examples of how language does this.

The English language animalizes and naturalizeswomen in cultural contexts where women and nonhuman animals arealready viewed as inferior to men and male-identified culture. Womenare referred to pejoratively as dogs, cats, catty, pussycats, pussies,pets, bunnies, dumb bunnies, cows, sows, foxes, chicks, bitches,beavers, old bats, old hens, old crows, queen bees, cheetahs, vixen,serpents, bird-brains, hare-brains, elephants, and whales. Womencackle, go to hen parties, henpeck their husbands, become old biddies(old hens no longer sexually attractive or able to reproduce), andsocial butterflies. Animalizing women in a sexist (or, patriarchal)culture that views animals as inferior to “humans”reinforces and attempts to legitimate women's alleged inferiorstatus to men (see Adams 1990; Joan Dunayer 1995; Warren 2000).Similarly, the English language feminizes nature in culturalcontexts that view women and nature as inferior to men andmale-identified culture. Mother Nature (not Father Nature) is raped,mastered, controlled, conquered, mined; her (not his) secrets arepenetrated, and her womb (men don't have one) is put into the serviceof the man of science (not woman of science, or simplyscientist). Virgin timber is felled, cut down. Fertile (not potent)soil is tilled, and land that lies fallow is useless or barren, like awoman unable to conceive a child.

In these examples, the exploitations of nature and animals arejustified by feminizing (not masculinizing) them; theexploitation of women is justified by animalizing (nothumanizing) and naturalizing (not “culturizing”)women. As Carol Adams argues (1990), language that feminizes natureand naturalizes women describes, reflects, and perpetuates unjustifiedpatriarchal domination by failing to see the extent to which thedominations of women, nonhuman animals, and nature are culturally (notjust metaphorically) analogous and sanctioned.

The point of these examples is not to claim that only females aredenigrated by use of animal or nature language. That would befalse. In the English language, animal terms also are usedpejoratively against men. For example, men are called wolves, sharks,skunks, snakes, toads, jackasses, old buzzards, and goats. Nor is itto claim that all uses of animal or nature language arederogatory. That would also be false. In Western culture, it isgenerally complimentary to describe someone as busy as a bee,eagle-eyed, lion-hearted, or brave as a lion. Rather, the point isthat, within patriarchal contexts, the majority of animal andnature terms used to describe women, and the majority of female termsused to describe animals and nature, function differently from theanimal and nature terms used to describe men. Within apatriarchal context, they function to devalue women, animals, andnature in a way that reinforces the unjustified dominations of all three.

3.4 Historical Perspectives

Historical perspectives on the causes of the unjustifieddominations of women and nature are conflicting and inconclusive. Oneof the earliest and most widely referenced is ecofeminist historianCarolyn Merchant's perspective (Merchant 1980). Merchant argues thatthe separation of culture from nature (or, the culture/nature dualism)is a product of the scientific revolution. She describes twoconflicting images of nature: an older, Greek image of nature asorganic, benevolent, nurturing female, and a newer,“modern” (1500–1800s) image of nature as inert, dead, andmechanistic. Merchant argues that the historical shift from an organicto a mechanistic model helped to justify the exploitation of the earthby conceiving of it as inert matter. For example, mining wasprohibited in antiquity because it was thought to be “mining theearth's womb”; early Greek metaphors of nature as alive and“nurturing female” supported the view that mining waswrong. According to Merchant, a conception of nature as inert matterremoved moral barriers to mining that were in place when nature wasconceived as organic, nurturing female. For many ecofeminist philosophers,Merchant's historical perspective informs their analyses of the deepconceptual roots of the unjustified dominations of women and nature.

3.5 Socioeconomic Perspectives

According to Marxist-informed “materialistecofeminism”, socioeconomic conditions are central to theinterconnected dominations of women and nature (see Rosemary Hennessyand Chrys Ingraham 1997; Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva 1993; ArielSalleh 1997). Mellor argues that while both men and women mediatebetween culture and nature, they do not do so equally. She arguesagainst “capitalist patriarchy” by drawing on the Marxistnotions of the means of production, which includes the rawmaterials, land and energy resources, and the forces ofproduction, which includes the factories, machinery, technology, andaccumulated skills of the workers. Mellor argues that the system ofpredominantly male ownership of the means and forcesof production results in a male-biased allocation and distribution ofa society's economic resources that systematically disadvantages womeneconomically and exploits nature (Mellor 1997, 2000, 2005).

Socioeconomic conditions are also central to Vandana Shiva'saccount of Western development as “systematicunderdevelopment” or “maldevelopment” (1988). Shivaargues that this maldevelopment began with European colonizationthroughout Asia and Africa; it resulted in the creation of cash-basedeconomies that were modeled after Europe. The colonizers replacednative food crops and forests with such monoculture crops assunflowers, eucalyptus, and teak, which were cash crops createdprimarily for export. In addition, the colonizers introduced agendered division of labor, where men were employed in cash-basedeconomic relationships with the colonizers and women were responsiblefor all the household duties associated with (non-money based)subsistence economies. By destroying subsistence economies,maldevelopment projects created material poverty where, before, there had beennone. According to Shiva, it thereby contributed to the very real“feminization of poverty”, subordination of women, anddegradation of nature.

3.6 Epistemological Perspectives

Ecofeminist epistemology extends feminist epistemology's concernswith ways that gender influences conceptions of knowledge, the knower,and methods of inquiry and justification (see the entry on feminist epistemology and philosophy of science). It does so by showing how these concerns involve women-nature connections.

Consider an example often discussed by ecofeminist philosophers. In 1974,twenty-seven women of Reni in northern India took simple but effectiveaction to stop tree felling of indigenous forests. They threatened tohug the trees if the lumberjacks attempted to cut them down. Thewomen's protest, known as “the Chipko Movement”(“chipko” in Hindi means “to embrace” or“hug”), saved 12,000 square kilometers of sensitivewatershed. The Chipko movement also gave visibility to two maincomplaints of local people: commercial felling by contractors damagesa wide variety of species of trees, and it replaces valuable,multispecies indigenous forests with monoculture plantations of teakand eucalyptus. This commercial felling also disproportionatelyharmed women by: increasing the amount of time women spent collectingfirewood; reducing women's abilities to maintain household economiesthat are dependent upon trees for food, fuel, fodder, and products forthe home; and, decreasing opportunities for women to makeincome-generating wood products for sale at local markets (LouiseFortmann and Diane Rocheleau 1985; Fortmann and John Bruce 1991).

The Chipko movement shows that often it is rural women (such as theChipko women), not the “outside” Western-trained forester,who are the experts (“the knowers”) on how to useindigenous forests for multiple purposes (e.g., for food, fuel, fodderfor cattle, dyes, herbs, medicines, building materials, and householdutensils). Similarly, in Sierra Leone a study by feminist forestersrevealed that, on the average, local men could name only eightdifferent uses of local species of trees, while local women could namethirty-two uses of the same species of trees. The epistemologicalclaim is that women of Sierra Leone have “indigenous technicalknowledge” (ITK) about forest uses and production that isbased on their daily, lived, gendered experiences in connectionwith forest use and management (Sally Fairfax and Fortmann 1990:267). Their knowledge is borne from their situated, gendered,concrete, daily experiences as women.

An ecofeminist epistemology also shows that a genderedenvironmental perspective is important to understandingepistemological methods of inquiry and forms of justificationconcerning women and nature. Consider orthodox Western forestry. Toooften it has assumed that activities that fall outside the realm ofcommercial fiber production are less important than those that fallinside that realm. Yet the latter are precisely the activities thatrural women in many parts of Africa and India engage in on a dailybasis. Failure to understand the importance of these activities oftenmakes women “invisible”. This invisibility helps explainswhy many orthodox, Western foresters

literally do not see trees that are used as hedgerows or livingfence poles; trees that provide materials for basketry, dyes,medicines, or decorations; trees that provide sites for honey barrels;trees that provide fodder; trees that have religious significance;trees that provide shade; or trees that provide human food.

(Video) Environmental Ethics: Social Ecology, Ecofeminism, Deep Ecology | Human Geography

Because many foresters literally do not see the enormous variety inthe use of trees, they frequently do not see the vast number ofspecies that are useful … that men and women may have verydifferent uses for the same tree or may use different trees fordifferent purposes. (Fairfax and Fortmann 1990: 268–9)

When Western foresters literally do not see these activities, theyalso do not see different methods women have for using different treesfor different purposes. They do not see gendered environmentalknowledge that is based on what local women do and know best.

These examples and data challenge canonical conceptions ofknowledge as objective and of the knower as impartial, detached, andgender-neutral. They also challenge traditional researchmethodologies by encouraging researchers to situate themselves andtheir research projects within specific historical, cultural, andeconomic contexts. They also illustrate ways theory and practice areinterdependent: theory must “fit the facts” and “thefacts” (e.g., the empirical data) must inform the theory.

3.7 Political Perspectives

Feminist political philosophy critiques ways in which traditionalunderstandings of the political world, including the nature of thepublic sphere, freedom, democracy, political speech, solidarity, andparticipation, fail to adequately address feminist concerns (see entryon feminist political philosophy). Ecofeminist political philosophy tends toexpand these critiques to include ecologically informed visions forconceptualizing politics, political analyses, and the nature ofdemocracy.

During the 1980s, women's activism in a variety of socialmovements—the environmental, peace, animal liberation, andenvironmental justice movements—came together and a new form ofactivism emerged, ecofeminist political activism. By the1990s, this political activism had given rise to a diversity ofecofeminisms: liberal, Marxist, socialist, radical,cultural/spiritual, and social ecofeminisms. These differentecofeminisms are mentioned here because each is grounded in adifferent ecofeminist political perspective—liberalism, Marxism,socialism, radical feminism, indigenous and spiritual politics,anarchism, and social ecology. And each political perspective providesa different answer to questions about the nature of ecofeministactivism, green politics, and ecofeminism political philosophy.

Ariel Salleh, for example, claims that the basic premise of ecofeminist politicalanalysis is that the ecological crisis

is the inevitable effect of a Eurocentric capitalistpatriarchal culture built on the domination of nature, and dominationof Woman ‘as nature’. Or, to turn the…equationaround the other way, it is the inevitable effect of a cultureconstructed on the domination of women, and the domination of Nature,‘as feminine’. (Salleh 1997: 12–13)

Catriona Sandilands' ecofeminist political perspective starts with

the premise that ecofeminism contains an inherentlydemocratic vision…[that] needs to be located in the context ofcontemporary democratic theory. (Sandilands 1999: xvii)

Sandilands argues that traditional understandings of democracy, thepublic sphere, political speech, and coalition-building fail toadequately address the need for an ecologically informed democraticpolitics— an “ecological democracy”. For both Sallehand Sandilands, ecofeminist political analysis is not “politicsas usual”; it is a gendered, ecologically informed perspectivethat uses its understanding of the unjustified dominations of women,animals and nature to reconceive notions of the public sphere,democracy, citizenship, and free speech.

Deane Curtin (1999) agrees that the environmental crisis is acrisis of citizenship and of traditional democracy. Unlike the senseof “democracy” that refers to culturally specificinstitutions created by Western liberalism, a feminist informed“ecological democracy” refers to a vision of democracythat recognizes that we all live in both cultural and ecologicalcommunities—in familiar, enduring, socially diverserelationships to people and places, culture and nature. Ecologicalcommunities are democratic when they are committed to reconcilingculture with nature in ways appropriate to what it is to be anecological citizen—one who exercises civic virtues that fosterthe health of all humans and the planet (see also Katherine Pettus1997; Sherilyn MacGregor 2004).

There is a very different sort of ecofeminist political philosophythat is developing within Continental philosophy and phenomenology. Itadvances views of nature as a subject with agency, subjectivity,“voice”, and the ability to enter into political dialogueas co-interlocutor with humans. This approach to ecofeminist politicaltheory deserves to be acknowledged, though it is not discussed furtherhere (see Patricia Glazebrook 2001, 2008; Chaone Mallory 2008;Sandilands 1999, 2002).

3.8 Ethical Perspectives

“Ecofeminist philosophical ethics” (henceforth,“ecofeminist ethics”) is the sub-field of ecofeministphilosophy that has received the most scholarly attention. (It hasalready been discussed in connection with animal ethics, Leopold'sland ethics, and deep ecology.) Ecofeminist ethics is a kind offeminist ethics. As such, it involves a twofold commitment to critiquemale bias in ethics wherever it occurs and to develop ethics that arenot male-biased. As a feminist ethic, it also involves articulation ofvalues (e.g., values of care, empathy, and friendship) often lost orunderplayed in mainstream Western ethics. What makes its critiques oftraditional ethical theories “ecofeminist” is that theyfocus on women-nature connections.

There is not one definition of ecofeminist ethics. However, thereare some themes that run through ecofeminist ethics. These themes areabout the nature of ecofeminist ethics generally, not about any particularecofeminist ethic.

One theme is that ecofeminist ethics is a critique and eliminationof time-honored, mutually exclusive value dualisms, especially theculture versus nature dualism. As Plumwood argues(Section 2.4), a rejection of theculture-nature dualism has implications for an ecofeminist conceptionof the self: humans are both individual selves that are distinct fromnature and ecological selves that are continuous with nature (see alsoMathews 1994b; Cuomo 2005).

A related second theme is that ecofeminist ontologies take selvesto be

(Video) 32;17 PS@SR What Is Ecofeminism; Feminist Environmental Philosophy; Third wave feminism

fundamentally relational, and therefore deeply social,historical, and ecological, without losing sight of the great ethicaland political significance of individual experience, intentions andvolitions. (Cuomo 2005: 203)

As Chris Cuomo argues, if one begins with the awareness thatrelational selves are interdependent selves, then “the stage isset to discuss the relationships between selves and others, andbetween community and individuality, without replicating inaccurateideas about humans ” (2005: 203). Inaccurate views include thosebased only on positing human identity in terms of individualinterests, autonomy, and separation from nature. Caring for oneself,for example, will involve more than protection of individual rightsand liberties; it will also involve protection of the ecologicalwell-being of others (including nature) with whom we are inrelationship. For ecofeminist ethicists, relationshipsthemselves, and not just the moral status ofthe relators in those relationships, have moral value and aresubject to moral critique. This means that how humans are inrelationship to others (including nature) matters morally.

A third theme is that ecofeminist ethics is (or at least aims tobe) both inclusive and contextual: it views ethical discourse andpractice as emerging from a diversity of “narratives” or“voices” (especially women's voices) of beings located indifferent historical and cultural circumstances. This contrasts with aview of ethical theory and discourse as imposed on situations as aderivation from some predetermined abstract rule or principle. Thecontextual inclusivity of ecofeminist ethics involves a shift inethics from a monist focus on absolute ethical rules, principles,rights, and duties to a pluralist focus on a variety of values, rules,and principles in ethics, ethical decision-making, and ethicalconduct.

A fourth theme is that ecofeminist ethics makes no attempt toprovide an “objective” moral point of view, since itassumes that, in contemporary culture, there really is no such pointof view. As such, it does not claim to be “unbiased” inthe sense of gender-neutral. But it does assume that the gender biasit has is a better bias than those of other environmental ethics thatdo not recognize or include in their ethical theories anything aboutthe varieties of women-nature connections that have been described inthis essay.

These themes provide a general characterization of ecofeministethics. Consider now three kinds of positions in ecofeminist ethicsthat have not yet been addressed: care-focused ethics, environmentalvirtue ethics, and environmental justice ethics. Of these, the mostwidely defended positions in ecofeminist ethics are care-focused ethics(see, for example, Adams and Donovan 2008; Gruen2011; Kheel 2007; Warren2000).

Ecofeminist care-focused ethics hails back to the work of CarolGilligan (1982); it oftenrevolves around “the justice versus care debate” (seethe section on care-focused approaches in the entry on feminist ethics). That debate was about twodifferent perspectives: the “justice perspective” ofcanonical ethics, which emphasized individual rights and duties andappealed to universalizable rules (or principles), ascertainable throughreason, for a morally assessment of human conduct; and the “careperspective”, which emphasizes such values as care and empathythat are neither reducible to individual rights or duties norascertained through appeal to ahistorical rules or principles.

As ecofeminist care-focused ethics matured, it included a defenseof care and empathy as “moral emotions” that are necessaryto ethics, ethical-decision making, and ethical conduct. It drew onthe emerging body of research on “emotionalintelligence”—a form of intelligence that is differentfrom but connected to reason or “rationalintelligence”—by cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists,and neurosurgeons (e.g., Daniel Goleman 1995). According to thisresearch, “The intellect (rational mind) simply cannot workeffectively without emotional intelligence” (Goleman 1995:28). What we do and ought to do in life is determined by both. Thisresearch provides scientific evidence that those who are unable toempathize or care (e.g., because of damage to the part of thebrain—the amygdala—where care and empathy reside) do notsimply engage in bad ethical reasoning; they do not engage in ethicalreasoning at all.

This research on emotional intelligence validated the care-focusednature of ecofeminist ethics (see Warren 2000). It affirmed, onscientific grounds, that the ability to care and empathize isnecessary for ethical reasoning or practice; a failure to care aboutothers (for example, to care about animal suffering or destruction ofthe planet) is a moral wrong. Humans are beings who can and must learnto care about the health or well being of others, including animalsand nature.

A second kind of ecofeminist ethic is a version of environmentalvirtue ethics. Ecofeminist virtue ethics asks what a morally good orvirtuous person would do, and which character traits, attitudes ordispositions a virtuous person would exhibit, in order to predisposethe nonhuman natural environment to survive and “flourish”in a healthy way. Chris Cuomo (1998) defends a virtue-based“ethic of flourishing”. She argues that humans ought toact in ways that nurture and enhance the health and well being (or“flourishing”) of individuals, species, and communities,including ecological communities.

A third kind of ecofeminist ethic is environmental justice-focusedethics. This kind of ethic appeals to (mainly) distributive models ofsocial justice to show why, for example, the disproportionatedistribution of environmental harms to women and children(particularly poor women of color who are single heads of householdswith children under the age of eighteen) constitutes a social andenvironmental injustice. They focus on ways these harms are caused bysuch environmental problems as unsanitary water, the location ofhazard waste sites, and environmental toxins (Gaard and Gruen 2005;Warren 2000).

4. Third Kind of Position in Feminist Environmental Philosophy: New or Emerging Positions and Perspectives

The scholarship in feminist environmental philosophy is expanding in avariety of novel ways. This expansion reveals a wide diversity inrange of topics and theoretical perspectives beyond those discussedin this essay. Their mention here is intended mainly to identify and highlightsome additional, and in some cases surprising, ways that feministenvironmental philosophy is continuing to expand and unfold.

Some theoretical perspectives within feminist environmentalphilosophy (not mentioned before in this essay) that are emerging are:

  • ecofeminism as embodied materialism (Mellor 2005)
  • ecofeminist phenomenology (Glazebrook 2008)
  • ecofeminist pragmatism (Mary Jo Deegan and Christopher Podeschi 2001)
  • ecofeminist process philosophy (Christ 2006)
  • queer ecofeminism (Gaard 1998; Wendy Lynn Lee and Laura Dow 2001; Sandilands 1997;Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson 2010)

The diversity of topics or areas of research for which an ecofeminist(or, feminist environmental) philosophical perspective is providedinclude the following:

  • business (Chris Crittenden 2000)
  • children and educational systems (Ruthanne Kurth-Schai 1997)
  • cities and the urban environment (Catherine Gardner 1999)
  • cloning and homophobia (Victoria Davion 2006)
  • death (Ophelia Selam 2006)
  • the digital environment (Julia Romberger 2004)
  • ecology (Warren 1987, 2000; Warren and Jim Cheney 1991)
  • environmental jurisprudence (Mallory 1999)
  • environmentally related consumption (Susan Dobscha 1993)
  • globalization (Heather Eaton 2000)
  • marketing (Pierre McDonagh and Andrea Prothero 1997)
  • rhetoric (Daniel Vakoch 2011)
  • sustainability and eco-sufficiency (Salleh 2009)
  • teaching literacy (Donald McAndrew 1996)
  • wheelchairs and disability (Alison Kafer 2005)
  • work and leisure (Karen Fox 1997, Sessions 1997)

The evolving scholarship also provides unique feminist environmentalphilosophical perspectives on many historical figures:

  • Theodor Adorno (D. Bruce Martin 2006 )
  • Alfred North Whitehead (Carol Christ 2006)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Deegan and Podeschi 2001)
  • Immanuel Kant (Wendy Wilson 1997)
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wendy Lee-Lampshire 1996, 1997)
  • Martin Heidegger (Glazebrook 2001)
  • Mary Wollstonecraft (Sylvia Bowerbank 2003; Karen Green 1994)
  • Sigmund Freud (Green 1994)

This sampling of new or evolving perspectives in feminist environmentalphilosophy illustrates that feminist environmental philosophy is anexpanding field of scholarship—one rich with possibilities ofnew ways of thinking about women, animals, and nature.


What is environment feminism? ›

ecofeminism, also called ecological feminism, branch of feminism that examines the connections between women and nature. Its name was coined by French feminist Françoise d'Eaubonne in 1974.

How does feminism relate to environmentalism? ›

Environmentalism needs feminism, among other reasons, for its struggles to open spaces for women to hold positions of power; feminism's efforts to irradicate gender gaps are exactly what we need to overcome, effectively and fairly, the challenges that climate change poses for humanity.

What is the feminist theory in philosophy? ›

Feminist philosophy is philosophy that is aimed at understanding and challenging the oppression of women. Feminist philosophy examines issues that are traditionally found in practical ethics and political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of language.

Why Is environment a feminist issue? ›

Minimally, nature (used interchangeably in this essay with “the environment”) is a feminist issue because an understanding of nature and environmental problems often helps one understand how and why women's oppression is linked with the unjustified domination or exploitation of nature.

What is the meaning of environmental philosophy? ›

Environmental philosophy examines our relation, as human beings, to nature or our. natural environment: it reviews our philosophical understandings of nature and our. conception of nature's value and entitlements; it explores how we are to live with.

What is ecofeminism in environmental ethics? ›

"Ecofeminism" is expressly committed to making visible the nature and significance of connections between the treatment of women and the treatment of nonhuman nature, or "women-nature connections." Ecofeminism claims that understanding women-nature connections is essential to any adequate feminism or environmental ...

Is eco feminism relevant today? ›

Environmental damage is a feminist issue and so is climate change- both of which are one of the most urgent social issues worldwide today. By exploring the sustainable relationship between the environment and women, the fight for environmental protection needs to have more and more women at its helm.

What is ecofeminism and how does it relate to environmental justice? ›

Ecofeminism, by placing gender at the center of its analysis of environmental problems, also helps to make visible the ways in which women, and especially women of color, are particularly and specifically affected by ecological degradation, contamination, and by global problems such as climate change.

How does ecofeminism help preserve the environment? ›

Ecofeminism puts forth the idea that life in nature is maintained through cooperation, mutual care and lovei. It is an activist and academic movement, and its primary aim is to address and eliminate all forms of domination while recognizing and embracing the interdependence and connection humans have with the earth.

What is an example of feminist theory? ›

Expanding human choice: Feminists believe that both men and women should have the freedom to develop their human interests and talents, even if those interests and talents conflict with the status quo. For example, if a woman wants to be a mechanic, she should have the right and opportunity to do so.

What are the feminist beliefs? ›

At its core, feminism is the belief in full social, economic, and political equality for women. Feminism largely arose in response to Western traditions that restricted the rights of women, but feminist thought has global manifestations and variations.

What are the 3 types of feminism? ›

Three main types of feminism emerged: mainstream/liberal, radical, and cultural. Mainstream feminism focused on institutional reforms, which meant reducing gender discrimination, giving women access to male-dominated spaces, and promoting equality.

What is the difference between feminism and ecofeminism? ›

The ecofeminist believes that women and nature have a strong bond because of their shared history of patriarchal oppression; whereas, the socialist feminist focuses on gender roles in the political economy.

What is environmental aesthetic philosophy? ›

Environmental aesthetics is one of the major new areas of aesthetics to have emerged in the last part of the twentieth century. It focuses on philosophical issues concerning appreciation of the world at large as it is constituted not simply by particular objects but also by environments themselves.


1. Environmental Ethics: Deep Ecology
(Ryan Hubbard)
2. Alternative Paradigms: Care Ethics and Feminine Ethics
(UvA ComScience Microlectures)
3. TEDxGrandValley - Julia Mason - An Ecofeminist Perspective
(TEDx Talks)
4. Theories of Gender: Crash Course Sociology #33
5. What is ECOFEMINISM? What does ECOFEMINISM mean? ECOFEMINISM meaning, definition & explanation
(The Audiopedia)
6. Feminist Art, Environmental Art, Conceptual Art, Postmodernism
(Angela Wescott BYU, UVU, Snow College)

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