Ecological Feminism

A symbol of feminist power

A symbol of feminist power

There are many social constructs that make up our society, some exist for reasons of practicality such as wearing clothes in public, but some are oppressive such as the gender roles imposed on men and women today. Ecological feminism is a movement that provides a distinctive framework both for reconceiving feminism and for developing an environmental ethic which takes seriously connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature.

Environmental and Feminist Activism go hand in hand

Environmental and Feminist Activism go hand in hand

According to Karen Warren, a philosopher and scholar of feminist theory, any environmental ethic that fails to take seriously the twin and interconnected domination of women and nature is at best incomplete and at worst simply inadequate. She advocates for Eco-Feminism because it encompasses these two values. As a stakeholder of an academic philosopher and feminist, she wants to maintain that natural relationships must occur but there must be an atmosphere of respect between humans and nature, as there should be between men and women. Eco-feminists extend this feminist philosophical concern to nature and argue that some of the most important connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature are conceptual.

Karen Warren has hosted talks in places ranging from town halls to colleges on the relationship between men and women

Karen Warren has hosted talks in places ranging from town halls to colleges on the relationship between men and women

Warren discusses the idea that Eco-Feminism should allow for difference in its expression, seeing eco-feminism as a flexible, evolving “quilt” being woven with “narratives,” “stakeholders,” and other voices. She is clear about the rule that there should be no sexism, anthropocentrism, etc in the “quilt,” and that eco-feminist ethics themselves are contextualist, thus relying upon their cultural background to be defined.

According to Warren worldview that is eco-feminist must also declare the difference between men and women and all human beings and a difference between human beings and the rest of nature as well, but principles of the movement must contain the loving, caring respect of differences between the humans and non-humans. It also directly opposes traditional patriarchal domination logic and values the tolerance of difference where a sharing, nurturing community, and a personal narrative even. Rules that including the respect of differences between human beings and between humans and non-humans and policies that reflect the above principles and values.

Ecofeminism is supported by organizations like the World Wildlife Foundation who empower women in their communities around the world to change their environment for the better

Ecofeminism is supported by organizations like the World Wildlife Foundation who empower women in their communities around the world to change their environment for the better

Eco-feminism also discusses problems such as the Western world’s subjugation over third world countries and how the “maldevelopment,” as Vandana Shiva calls it, results in real poverty and oppression while the believed poverty suffered by subsistence economies is not truly poverty. The West’s attitude of domination of market economies over subsistence economies is antithetical to the Eco-feminist idea of mutual respect and sharing and non-domination. It is in this same vein that women are often described with negative connotations being called wild and unreasonable, much like nature. According to Eco-feminism en are never typically put in this light. The domination of subsistence economies such as those in the Amazon also cause strife for the ecosystems involved. Thus a Western, patriarchal mindset applied to terms of nature domination are akin to the gender domination that women are put under in this patriarchal society.

Subsistence economies oftentimes lack the traditional idea of wealth, but that does not mean the people who live in them are poverty-stricken.

Subsistence economies oftentimes lack the traditional idea of wealth, but that does not mean the people who live in them are poverty-stricken.

Feminism needs to be involved with the environmental movement. There are so many examples of environmental crises that put women in poverty or subjugate them and then also wreak havoc on the ecosystems that they live in. Warren has it right when she says that both environmental ethics and feminism are incomplete without the other supporting ideology. If feminist ideals were included in environmental discussion then there would certainly be more nuanced and complex ethical arguments about women in patriarchal societies. How can we declare that animals and ecosystems have rights without further affirming the rights and equality of women? Logically, the movements will not work apart from one another.

I do not consider myself a feminist explicitly, but I understand the vital importance of feminism and the principles that it stands for. Rarely if ever do I see environmental issues discussed alongside feminist conversation or vice versa and I think that there is something to be acknowledged about that loss. Academic conversation and even everyday conversation must include this new dimension in order for it to cover all sides of the story. A Land ethic of some sort accompanied with Eco-feminism may help cover the bases in terms of rights. In the end, Ecological feminism is about equal rights regardless of gender, but also the rights of all organisms and ecosystems on Earth to not be subjugated. I think we need to remember the importance and equality of all creatures and environments in order for us to succeed as a society.

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Deep and Shallow Ecology

Shallow Ecology and Deep Ecology represented in two different diagrams that explain the differences in the way that they value organisms

Shallow Ecology and Deep Ecology represented in two different diagrams that explain the differences in the way that they value organisms

Two positions that underlie many philosophical positions that we have examined are Deep and Shallow Ecology. The depth of both positions indicates the depth of spirituality that both have, or have a lack thereof. Deep Ecology, advocated by thinkers such as Arne Næss, is a secular position that claims to be supported by both science and philosophy. It has a strong spiritual orientation and draws on an array of world religions. In contrast with this position is so-called Shallow Ecology, supported by the philosopher Anthony Weston, among others. This non-secular, pragmatic position has a focus on pure policy and technology as well as the actions taken by humanity in order to become less anthropocentric. They both have recognize and examine the anthropogenic problems with the environment, albeit in different ways.

Arne Naess advocates for Deep Ecology and believes that there can be no other option for a basis of environmental ethic

Arne Naess advocates for Deep Ecology and believes that there can be no other option for a basis of environmental ethic.

Arne Næss, a Norwegian philosopher, coined the term deep ecology and collected several different schools of thought in order to solidify its points. Some influences of Deep Ecology are the work “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson and also Gandhi’s ideas about nonviolence. For Næss, policy and public awareness of environmental problems are not as important as instilling a different attitude than the one that modern Western developed societies had adopted up until that time. Abolitionism, therefore, is not what he advocates for but instead a sense of strong reformism. There is also a sense of mistrust of anthropocentrism within Deep Ecology, since it is a worldview that has caused the many problems that plague the earth.

Also explored in Deep Ecology is what Næss calls self-realization and self-love in the Greater Self of Nature. Borrowing heavily from the atman principles of the self, he maintains that humans need to craft their selves as inside a greater Self, or else there simply exists no will to actually solve the environmental problems that legal policies set out to rectify. If humans can recognize that their moral community is not just themselves but also all biotic and abiotic members of the Earth’s ecosystem, then there that will to right wrongs eventually is going to be found.

An excerpt of the Rig Veda: the text that introduces the idea of the self, or the atman

An excerpt of the Rig Veda: the text that introduces the idea of the self, or the atman

Næss also does not think highly of the Shallow Ecology movement, believing it to be, evidently, shallow in its pursuits. He outlines seven principles for Deep Ecology and one for Shallow Ecology and highlights the idea that Deep Ecology is, in fact, an ecosophy (a combination of ecology and philosophy) while Shallow Ecology is most certainly not.

Shallow Ecology, as supported by Anthony Weston, an American philosopher and scholar of the work of Aldo Leopold, is far more pragmatic but also less spiritual than the Deep Ecology advocated by Næss. Weston, in his explanation of the so-called Shallow Ecology in “Enabling Environmental Practice,” disagrees that rights need to be given to trees and other organisms in order to treat them right, or that there must exist an environmental ethic at all for the preservation of the planet. He argues for a pragmatic approach for the improvement of the environment for future generations.

Anthony Weston  is one philosopher who

Anthony Weston is one philosopher who advocates for Shallow Ecology, and thinks that Deep Ecology is excessive and not ready to be revealed to the public

Weston compares the attempt to form an environmental ethic to past ventures to create moral standing for certain demographics of humans such as people of different ethnicities, or women. In this comparison he mentions that the formation of an ethic simply cannot be visualized yet because we have not physically prepared society for a modern life with the interaction of nature and humans. For Weston, the priority for the coming decades is to create that interactive sphere of places where, perhaps planes are prohibited from flying overhead or communities are more adapted to the climes that they inhabit. Only after we have established these mechanisms of interaction can we then begin to think of forming an environmental ethic.

Designing a green neighborhood is one way in which humans can create an ethic through practice

Designing a green neighborhood is one way in which humans can create an ethic through practice

I think that the Shallow Ecology means of thinking is far more reasonable than Deep Ecology. Weston, who does not discount humans in his non-anthropocentric point of view, is pragmatic in his approach to ethics, which is something that I admire. Although Deep Ecology does seem to have deep-seated spirituality involved in its implementation, the idea of a non-secular ecological movement never quite appealed to me. It is important to take a stance on the ethics that people are now creating, which are based on nothing more than fundamentalists teachings, something that Shallow Ecology does not choose to confront, but in the long term I feel that practice will make the ethic rather than vice versa.

The struggle for an environmental ethic is real in this day and age, but perhaps viable solutions are what is needed for future generations to look back and acknowledge our forward thinking, rather than trying to create theoretical moral policies that may not hold up to the passage of time. It is in human nature to create a reasoning behind why societies have certain practices, so perhaps a hidden truth will become self-evident in the construction of sustainable homes or while composting table scraps. Only time will tell.

Perhaps the work put into at-home composting will one day reveal an environmental ethic to those who practice it

Perhaps the work put into at-home composting will one day reveal an environmental ethic to those who practice it