Feminist thinkers, focused on moving toward sex equality, turned their attention to the root causes of sexism and the oppression of women. In the process, thinkers and authors such as Carol Adams, Josephine Donovan, Greta Gaard, Vandana Shiva, Val Plumwood, Susan A. Mann and Marti Kheel unearthed common ground between feminists, environmentalists, and animal activists, connecting with and advancing a comparatively new school of thought, “ecofeminism”. The term “ecofeminism” was first used by a group of feminists in France who established the Ecology-Feminism Center in 1974, based on their analysis of the connections between male-dominated social institutions and the destruction of the physical environment. The term is believed to have been coined by the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book Le Féminisme ou la Mort (1974).
In their quest to ascertain and expose the causes of sexism, feminists explored dualistic thinking and a tendency to form hierarchies. Over time, these ways of viewing and ordering individuals and the world came to be understood as foundational forces undergirding and backing sexism. Ecofeminists eventually pointed out that these same forces create and support systems of oppression that affect, among other things, women, the natural environment, nonhuman animals.
Watch: Vandana Shiva Interview about Ecofeminism (2013)
Dualistic thinking is foundational in the Western world, as in many other civilizations. Through dualism, men, human beings, civilization, culture, mind, and rational thought are envisioned as holding a particular set of esteemed characteristics, relegating females, nonhuman animals, untamed wildness, bodies, the material world, emotions, and intuition to a separate and lesser category. In The Pornography of Meat, ecofeminist Carol Adams aptly uses the terms “A” and “Not A” to describe this dualistic categorization.
Watch: Intro to Ecofeminism: An Intersectional Look at the Devaluation and Commodification of Women, Nature, and Non-Human Animals (2015)
Ecofeminists came to see that women, nature, and nonhuman animals are similarly devalued in relation to those in the “A” category, similarly controlled by those in the “A” category, and similarly exploited by and on behalf of those in the “A” category. Ecofeminists first noticed that female animals – whether women or cows or hens – were similarly devalued in relation to their oppressors, were often associated with one another as “Not A” individuals, and were similarly exploited by those in the “A” category, particularly in relation to their female bodies and reproductive anatomy.
Watch: Animal Liberation, Tokenizing ‘Intersectionality,’ and Resistance Ecology (keynote address of Dr. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project and Lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project)
In unearthing these parallels, ecofeminists came to see that it is inappropriate to seek to liberate only one oppressed group without concern for the many others who are relegated to the “Not A” category, and who are thereby systematically oppressed and exploited by “A” category individuals. For ecofeminists who recognize linked oppressions, extricating just one oppressed group is a narrow and selfish response. In light of the systems of oppression exposed by ecofeminists, the task at hand was clearly one of uprooting common causes and dismantling these deep-rooted, pervasive systems of oppression.
-Adapted, with permission, from Lisa Kemmerer, “Ecofeminism, Women, Environment, Animals,” Deportate, esuli, profughe: Rivista telematica di studi sulla memoria femminile 23 (2013)
Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan (eds.), Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations (1996)
Greta Gaard (ed.), Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature (1993)
Lori Gruen and Carol J. Adamas (eds.), Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth (2014)
Breeze Harper (ed.), Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (2010)
Lisa Kemmerer (ed.), Sister Species (2011)
Susan Mann, “Pioneers of U.S. Ecofeminism and Environmental Justice,” Feminist Formations 23:2 (2011)
Photo Credit: Cover, Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (20th anniversary edition, 2010)