What Is Ecofeminism? Understanding The Intersection Of Gender & The Environment

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published Septemeber 21, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD

What Is Ecofeminism?

Ecofeminism is a branch of feminist theory which considers the relationship between women and nature. Ecofeminist theorists posit that societal patriarchal dominance is associated with gender equality, social justice, and environmental issues.  

The term ‘ecofeminism’ was first coined by French feminist Francoise d’Eaubonne in 1974. According to d’Eaubonne, the marginalization and oppression of women, people of color, and the poor are essentially linked to the degradation of the natural world since both come from patriarchal dominance. 

Ecofeminism grew out of various social movements in the 1970s and early 1980s, including feminist, ecological, and peace movements. The term became popular in the context of numerous protests and activism against environmental destruction (Shiva & Mies, 2014). 

Ecofeminists highlight that due to patriarchal structures – a societal imbalance that typically favors men – the effects of environmental issues, including climate change, are more likely to have a detrimental impact on women. As put by Karen Warren (2000), she claimed that ‘nature is a feminist issue.’ 

What Are The Assumptions Of Ecofeminism?

Value-hierarchical thinking

According to many ecofeminists, capitalist patriarchy is maintained through value-hierarchical thinking. This means that society is organized into a hierarchy that values different groups or characteristics above others. 

Ecofeminists believe that value-hierarchical thinking puts humans above nature, which is why any practices that wreak havoc on the environment or animals are justified since nature is not seen as valuable. 

In the same hierarchical thinking, women are positioned below men as having less value, which is why any practices that harm or oppress women are equally justified. 

Oppositional dualisms 

Further to the value-hierarchical thinking, these are organized through oppositional value dualisms according to ecofeminists. These are pairs that are exclusive of one another. Oppositional, rather than complementary, value dualisms place greater value on one item over the other. 

This is noticeable in a patriarchal society with oppositional dualisms of male versus female and culture versus nature. In society, greater value is given to that which is identified with males or culture than to that which is identified with females or nature. Accordingly, a patriarchal society sees it better to be male or culture-identified than female or nature-identified. 

Oppressions of women and nature are connected

Women and nature are related to each other, according to ecofeminists. The world is known as ‘Mother Earth’; nature is referred to as ‘mother nature,’ fertile soil is tilled, virgin timber is cut down, and useless land is described as barren, like a woman unable to conceive a child (Warren, 2000). 

There are said to be parallels between the treatment of women and that of nature. For example, the traditional ideas of the roles of both women and nature are conceived as instrumental. This means that women and nature are valued mainly in terms of their usefulness to others (Plumwood, 1986). 

Men of technology and science are thought to view nature as something to be conquered, controlled, and exploited for their resources. The exploitation of nature is believed to be justified by feminizing nature and not masculinizing it. Likewise, the exploitation of women is justified by naturizing them. 

One study found that some men may have internalized aversions towards environmentalism as it could be perceived as feminine. Brough et al. (2016) found that men’s willingness to engage in ‘green’ behaviors can be influenced by threatening or affirming their masculinity. Since caring about environmental issues can be seen as a feminine trait, which is less valuable than masculine traits, some men view destroying the environment as a male, dominant action. 

Capitalist patriarchy negatively impacts women and nature

Many ecofeminists believe that gender equality, climate change, and social justice are intrinsically related and all stem from masculine dominance in society. 

Patriarchal dominance is thought to have resulted in the degradation of nature along with the oppression of groups, including women, children, and people of color. Capitalism is also tied into this patriarchy and further drives this oppression as it places value on productivity and making money by any means. 

Some of the fathers of modern science and technology believed that the dependence on mother nature was a mockery of man’s right to freedom of his terms and thus needed to be forcefully and violently abolished (Shiva & Mies, 2014). 

Shiva and Mies (2014) also claimed that patriarchal science and technology, in the service of patriarchal capitalism, have torn apart natural regeneration cycles, forcing them into linear flows of raw materials and goods.  

Women suffer most from environmental issues 

Ecofeminists argue that, because of patriarchal structures in society, the effects of environmental issues are more likely to have a detrimental impact on women. 

Women are more likely to be affected by the ‘poverty trap’ than men. The poverty trap was created through the vicious cycle of ‘development’ debt, environmental destruction, and structural adjustment (Mies & Shiva, 1996). In some developing countries, women are also less likely to have fundamental human rights and the right to freely move across lands in times of crisis. 

Women play a predominant role in agricultural production, especially in developing countries. Consequently, women are most vulnerable to drought, floods, and storms (Shiva & Mies, 2014).

Likewise, poorer women in rural areas are thought to suffer disproportionate harm caused by other environmental problems such as deforestation, water pollution, and environmental toxins.

What Are The Goals of Ecofeminism?

Some ecofeminists may argue that since women have a more intimate relationship with nature, there should be more women in positions of environmental decision-making.

Research has found that women assess risk differently from men and prioritize the welfare of their families and communities in resource-management decisions (Global Gender and Climate Alliance, 2016; UN Women, 2016). 

A 2019 study found that national parliaments with more women pass stricter climate policies (Mavisakaylan & Tarvendi, 2019), suggesting that real change in tackling environmental issues may come from having more women in these roles. 

In their book, Shiva and Mies (2014) argue that mother nature needs to be ‘healed.’ They say that to do this, there must be an alternative to the ‘prevailing model of capitalist-patriarchal development.’ 

The authors claim that many women in developing countries regard the earth as a living being that guarantees their and all fellow creatures’ survival. These women are said to respect and celebrate Earth’s sacredness and not use nature’s dead, raw material to produce goods. They recognize that if they want to survive, they should not test the limits of nature and should not violate it (Shiva & Mies, 2014).

Thus, it is suggested that this survival perspective should be taught and incorporated worldwide – the Earth should be treated with respect and admiration. Therefore women, who are similar to nature, are equally respected. 

Types of Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism eventually branched into two distinct categories: radical ecofeminism and cultural ecofeminism.

Radical ecofeminism

Radical ecofeminists assert that patriarchal dominance in society equates nature and women as a way to degrade both. Particularly, radical ecofeminists pay interest to how both women and nature have been associated with negative or demeaning attributes. At the same time, men are seen to be dominant in both. 

Moreover, radical ecofeminists build on early ecofeminists’ ideas that patriarchal domination should be studied, with the primary goal of ending the associations between women and nature. 

Cultural ecofeminism 

In contrast to radical ecofeminists, cultural ecofeminists encourage the association between women and nature. They claim women have a more intimate relationship with nature because of their gender roles and biology.

Many cultural ecofeminists see the women-nature connections as liberating and empowering expressions of women’s capabilities to care for nature. They argue that women’s ability to reproduce provides a closeness with nature.

Other cultural ecofeminists assert that this closeness to nature is embedded in social and psychological structures, meaning that women’s ways of knowing and moral reasoning are better suited to solving environmental problems (Warren, 2001). 

Strengths And Criticisms Of Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism is one of the central theoretical, philosophical, and practical ways of resolving environmental problems. It has advanced over the years into a diverse and intellectual discourse and political movement that has reinforced environmental and women’s rights, green consciousness, social justice, and social activism in the West and some developing countries (Aziz, 2021). 

Ecofeminism has helped to bring the environment to the forefront of discussions surrounding feminism which is considered necessary because of the continuing environmental degradation that is happening to the Earth.

It also brings to light how the effects of developed countries are negatively affecting developing countries in that those countries are more likely to experience the impact of environmental disasters.

Critics of ecofeminism suggest that all women are placed into a victim role regarding environmental issues. Ecofeminism often overlooks the extent to which many women, specifically in developed countries, have contributed to the process of ecological destruction in the past (Eckersley, 1992). Hence, it is not solely men who have caused these problems. 

The main point for many ecofeminists is that women are connected to nature due to their similar biological processes. However, if a woman does not experience biological processes such as being able to bear children, does this make them less connected to nature? 

Ecofeminists may claim that women’s biological processes are more ‘natural’ than men’s. This could be insinuating that women are superior to men because of this connection to nature, reversing the hierarchical dualism many ecofeminists claim to want to overcome (Eckersley, 1992). 

Ecofeminism is criticized for being essentialist - believing that things have set characteristics. Some believe that emphasizing the connection between women and nature reinforces the differences in gender norms that feminism seeks to avoid. 

Moreover, over-emphasizing the significance of women’s biology in terms of sex and reproduction may reflect the patriarchy's power over women’s experiences of their own bodies. It is a regressive view that perpetuates the notion that biology determines the social inequalities between men and women (Archambault, 1993). 

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, Sept 21). Ecofeminism Feminism Theory. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/ecofeminism-feminism.html


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