Ecofeminism is a term coined by the French feminist Françoise D’Eaubonne in 1974. Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism and the feminist movement that explores the relationship between gender and the environment. Women and nature are both seen to have feminine values, with Mother Earth, picturing nature/Mother Earth and women to be nurturing figures. Ecofeminism is a theory, a movement that aims to understand how the oppression of women is linked with the oppression of nature that comes from the attitudes and practices linked to a male-dominated society. In Feminism or Death: How the Women’s Movement Can Save the Planet by Françoise D’Eaubonne, the author points out that the destruction of the environment is “rooted in the patriarchal system which exploits, suppresses, and destroys women’s bodies as well as the natural environment” (Li, 2023, p. 162).
Ecofeminism rose to popularity in India, from woman-led environment activism. The movements highlighted how patriarchal and colonial forces impact both women and nature. The movement wants to show that any solution to address one must take into account the impact of the other, “women’s equality should not be achieved at the expense of worsening the environment, and neither should environmental improvements be gained at the expense of women” (Buckingham 2015). The Chipko Movement was one of the first acts of environmental activism that mobilized rural women in the 1970s. This movement fought to preserve and protect the forest from the government. The women chanted “This forest is our mother’s home; we will protect it with all our might.” The women were invested in this because these environmental tragedies had mostly affected women because they had been in charge of agriculture, livestock, and children. Women relied on the forest for many resources. The deforestation of these forests caused for there to be more flooding and landslides that had taken the lives of many of these women’s family members, while also ruining their crops and houses. The Chipko Movement was one of the first movements that could be classified as Ecofeminism but there are many places in history/current time where ecofeminism is present.
Ecofeminism centers on the awareness that our society, built on the foundations it currently sits upon, will offer no solution to the environmental crisis (Estévez-Saá & Lorenzo-Modia, 2018, p. 124). To be knowledgeable about both the environment and gender stratification, and the intertwined nature of the relationship, is what ecofeminism is all about. The Ethics and Aesthetics of Eco-caring by Margarita Estévez-Saá & María Jesús Lorenzo-Modia states that “ecofeminists today are focused on offering alternative discourses that renounce the establishment of hierarchies and emphasize the continuity and connections that should prevail between humans and non-human nature” (Estévez-Saá & Lorenzo-Modia, 2018, p. 129). There is a societal belief that we are separate from nature which is a damaging narrative as it provides an “excuse” for society to exploit the environment (Longnecker, 1997, p. 3). The separation and disconnection allows for distance between our actions and their consequences. An ecofeminist believes that the labeling of genders onto certain jobs or social formalities provides women with a unique view of the nonhuman world, allowing women to identify problems and look for solutions (Longnecker, 1997, p. 3).
As mentioned early, a prime example of an ecofeminist is Francoise D’Eaubonne, who coined the term ecofeminism. In 1974, D’Eaubonne wrote a book with the translated title of Feminism or Death: How the Women’s Movement Can Save the Planet. In this book D’Eaubonne wrote that ecofeminism would be the only way of saving the environment and societal concerns over population growth. D’Eaubonne calls out the patriarchal societal system and demands attention be brought to the exploitation of women and the environment (Li, 2023, p. 162). She supports contraception and abortion as a means to control overpopulation and defames what she considered the male perspective of consumption and productivity to be a player in environmental degradation (Li, 2023, p. 162). D’Eaubonne brought this term into existence and its definition has changed overtime to become more inclusive and representative.
Years later in the United States, a collective called the WomanEarth Feminist Peace Institute was born (Sturgeon 1997). Begun in 1985, WomanEarth was a radical, grassroots organization that was created in the midst of pushback against the appeal of feminism to strictly white women- an idea heavily popularized by Second Wave Feminism. It was founded with the intention of establishing an educational center for ecofeminism that would provide resources for action, engage in networking for a nationally interconnected support system, and support research on issues relevant to the ecofeminist cause. In addition, the educational center aspired to produce theory, conduct research, and publish newsletters. WomanEarth was founded upon a principle of racial parity- where there were always an equal number of white women and women of color. To attempt to combat inherently racist structures which were so present in the scope of late twentieth century feminism, the organization emphasized the input of people of color every step of the way in order to avoid producing an authoritatively white power dynamic. This meant people of color were given the responsibility of forming the ideas and issues central to WomanEarth.
The early days of WomanEarth, called “WomanEarth I”, were defined by meetings with revolutionary feminist leaders like Barbara Smith and Barbara Deming, acquiring funding, and laying the groundwork for the program. “WomanEarth II” was the next phase of the institute’s progress where publicizing WomanEarth as an antiracist, ecofeminist model was prioritized. Over the course of years, meetings that the core members organized slowly began to reflect dissonances in the stability of trying to uphold work where everyone felt included. Some women at first left the program because they felt ecofeminism was supporting pagan feminist spirituality and therefore, ecofeminism didn’t align with their Christian values. Others began to feel uneasy in the way white women were approaching spirituality, coming dangerously close to appropriation of Indigenous culture. Though conversations continued in the interest of ecology, spirituality, global feminism, and activism, tensions between the ability to retain racial parity yet also bring in funding ultimately led to the end of the WomanEarth collective. Though the spirit of ecofeminism still vibrantly lives on, the group couldn’t justify the disproportion in white members even if, due to the systemic structures of classism and racism, the white members were necessary for bringing in a majority of the group’s economic support.
Buckingham, S. (2015). Ecofeminism. In J. D. Wright (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition) (pp. 845-850). Elsevier. https://10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.91020-1
Estévez-Saá, M., & Lorenzo-Modia, M. J. (2018). The Ethics and Aesthetics of Eco-caring: Contemporary Debates on Ecofeminism. Women’s Studies, 47(2), 123-146. https://doi.org/10.1080/00497878.2018.1425509
Li, M. (2023). Feminism or death: How the Women’s Movement Can Save the Planet by Françoise D’Eaubonne (review). Women in French Studies, 31, 162-163. https://doi.org/10.1353/wfs.2023.a909492
Longenecker, M. (1997). Women, Ecology, and the Environment: An Introduction. NWSA Journal, 9(3), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.2979/NWS.19220.127.116.11
Sturgeon, N. (1997). WomanEarth feminist peace institute and the race for parity. Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory and Political Action, 77-111.
Kohli, S., & Singh, V. (2018, March 26). 45th Anniversary of the Chipko Movement [Illustration]. https://www.google.com/doodles/45th-anniversary-of-the-chipko-movement
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