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Putting Down Roots: My Journey to Ecofeminism

juliah's picture

On the surface, Arizona’s ground is purely gravel, beneath is sticky clay and rock-hard white lime. It’s a cruel combination yielding to only the toughest and most determined, and even those somehow able to sink a root must fight for their lives under blistering sun and cloudless sky. Trying to forge a home in the desert can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness, so I readily admit to a certain degree of masochism behind my love for a place that seems, on its surface, to be the antithesis of life and nurture. Growing up in Arizona, I learned to crave the searing burn of sun on my skin, the way my nostrils stung with deep breaths of the dusty, desiccated air, but I didn’t want to belong. I watched my neighbors’ futile attempts to maintain even the sparsest of green lawn, only to become despondent as they turned to hay despite the wasted and wasteful gallons of precious water streaming from their hoses. My love for the Sonoran Desert was hardly immediate; for many years I viewed the barren landscape as a personification of my own inner despondency. I yearned to leave – rejecting the land was infinitely easier that trying to put down roots. When I did leave, however, I felt the ache of displacement immediately. I had unwittingly sunk root into ground that had once seemed impenetrable and I have discovered that beneath the rocks and clay laid a varied and complex soil that has managed, despite my protestations, to feed a soul I never acknowledged. Now, though, I have come to embrace a spirituality I have never before experienced – an acceptance of my ties to the ground I grew from. This epiphany is the genesis for my exploration into the world of ecofeminism.

I am not a religious person; my parents afforded my brother and me the responsibility of finding our own way in that respect; on the whole, they neither encouraged nor discouraged our spirituality. Though there are surely those who would equate a “godless” home such as mine with a lack of morality, it was anything but that; my parents taught us that we should do good and be good because it was the right thing to do, not because there was a reward waiting for us. Despite my lack of formal religion, thinking back on my childhood, I would definitely describe myself as a spiritual being. I believe in interconnectedness; I believe in the butterfly effect. I believe we are not on Earth, we are part of it, and it is part of us.  Though I never before had a label to put on my views, Ecofeminism is feeling close. This belief system that sees the Earth as a living entity and exerts the responsibility organisms have to one another is expressed in Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “Vaster than Empires and More Slow”.  On World 4470 there is total, utter connectedness. With nothing but vegetation, the intertwined roots form a sort of neural pathway that links every living thing and forms a consciousness that includes an awareness of interdependence. Though some would call this as an exaggeration, I believe that this idea of a planet being hyperaware of its inhabitants is not far off from our own Earth. The effects humans have on the Earth show just as acutely as the effects the crewmembers have on World 4470. Ecofeminism argues that there is a parallel between the domination of the Earth and that of women, and such issues of colonization are explored in Le Guin’s story.

Ecofeminsim goes beyond identifying a spiritual connection between the Earth and its human inhabitants. Karen J. Warren discusses tenants of ecofeminism in her essay “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism”.  Warren says that by making visible the interconnections among the dominations of women and nature, ecofeminism shows that both are feminist issues and that explicit acknowledgment of both is vital to any responsible environmental ethic. She claims that feminism as a whole must embrace ecological feminism if it is to end the domination of women precisely because the domination of women is tied conceptually and historically to the domination of nature. Warren clearly articulates the joined, pained history of the Earth and women. Such an analogy, though, can be a hard sell. It is a systemic problem that people often shy from labels—and the term “feminist” is arguably one of the most feared. People recoil from the idea that they are feminists for fear of stereotypes and categories, which are legitimate concerns; however, I believe the uniting power inherent in ecofeminism should overcome such hesitancy. Ecofeminism is intended as a specified umbrella term; it is inclusivist. Though I have never personally shied away from the term “feminist”, it can be hard to define and I have found ecofeminism better and more specifically articulates my own, personal brand.

As I stated, ecofeminism is an inclusive term that specifically links the destructive domination women have faced with the destructive domination of the Earth, two issues that affect everyone, no matter their gender, or even species. My own journey into ecofeminism, though fledging, has been a very intense adoption. I had played around with being a vegetarian throughout my life, but without ever committing to it. Even so, I recently made the (not-so-abrupt) switch to veganism. Although no one need even be vegetarian to call themselves an ecofeminist, this transition has truly helped form my understanding of how I see myself fitting into the world. I dream about one day being able to live sustainably, doing as little harm to the Earth and its inhabitants as possible, and veganism is one way I feel I can help work toward that goal. The meatpacking industry is yet another form of hierarchal power that negatively effects society, especially women. Participating in it is clearly contradictory to my own views, although I would never pass judgment on those who do not feel the same. Warren touches on this idea as well when she states “Ecofeminism denies abstract individualism. Humans are who we are in large part by virtue of the historical and social contexts and the relationships we are in, including our relationships with non-human nature.”

Ideas of the interconnectedness with nature are fundamental to ecofeminism. Realizing the harm we cause, as well as the potential good we could do, is a truly powerful idea. Only the empath Osden, in Le Guin’s short story, feels the terror pulsing through the forest world when the rootless intruders descend. Le Guin contrasts the environmentally blind survey team, with the vegetation on World 4470, leaving Osden to become inundated in the flood of panic from the plantlife. Ecofeminists have acknowledged the threat represented when a denial of interconnectiveness exists. In my own life, I no longer feel capable of ignore the cries of the Earth, be their human or otherwise, simple to facilitate my personal progress.

So much of ecofeminism is recognizing our shared past, present and future. Acknowledging that our actions cause reactions by people outside our ego is key, and taking steps to help combat the effects created and perpetuated by kyriarchies is one broad goal of the movement. Ecofeminism speaks to me because I crave connection; I want to feel as though I am working with the Earth, not against it. For so long I fought against Arizona based on a generalized view of many of the people who live there, fabricating abhorrence for the place, when I should have been doing the opposite. Working with and for a land that I love, despite its difficulties, is a worthy cause. Everything that manages to survive in Arizona has had to work tirelessly to be there; the plants and animals are some of the most resilient in existence. I am working to do all that I can to take into account these admirable traits and use them in order to fight back for this Earth.


Works Cited

Warren, Karen J. “Toward an Ecofeminist Peace Politics”. Ecological Feminist Pilosophies. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. 1996. Print.

Le Guin, Ursula K. “Vaster than Empires and More Slow”. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, NY. 1975. Print.


Anne Dalke's picture

enlarging the scope...

A lot of the eco-feminists come from (and write about) the arid lands of the west. I expect you might find the work of Terry Tempest Williams particularly compelling; start w/ her Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place.

There’s also lots of fascinating work now about animal rights; one text I’ve had lot of success teaching is J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, which really lays out the argument for vegetarianism, and where the main character does not hesitate, as you to  “pass judgment on those who do not feel the same.”

Perhaps the most interesting dimension of ecofeminism to me is the way in which it questions the value of individualism. It poses a deep, deep challenge both to the “empowerment” that one of your writing partners talks about, and also to the search for salvation so important to the other. All my daughters were vegans @ some point in their lives, and there was a point when I thought that one of them might have an eating disorder, that she really didn’t value herself enough to think that she was worth the protein needed to keep her healthy. So I do have a visceral sense of the enormity of the questions you, and other ecofeminists, are posing.

What does it really mean to de-center humanity, in a search for a better world for all who share it? Does it mean incorporating, or somehow moving beyond, the issues of human inequity? As one of your writing partners asks, can we “move on to animals, plants and non-humans, before we have tackled” the issues presented by “women of color, international women and queer women in their fight for equality”? Your argument, and the argument of ecofeminism more broadly, is that these fights are one and the same—but re-casting feminism as an environmental project does certainly enlarge the scope of the problem! I’ll be interested to go on exploring these questions with you….

sschurtz's picture

Eco feminism and christian feminism

I found your views on ecofeminism very insightful. I find the concept of ecofeminism a little confusing and I liked hearing your point of view especially. I wonder if the way that people treat different types of animals such as dogs compared to cows is a part of ecofeminism? When we pick and choose the animals that we find acceptable to eat are we saying that the lives of the animals we eat are less valuable? I liked what you said, "Though I have never personally shied away from the term “feminist”, it can be hard to define and I have found ecofeminism better and more specifically articulates my own, personal brand." I had a similar experience with feminist theology. I call myself a feminist and a Christian but I feel that I found a more accurate and meaningful way to express my beliefs by joining them together. It also helps with the issues of being stereotyped as a feminist or a Christian or an environmentalist. When people hear one of those terms they conjure up stereotypes about what they are but when you use the terms like ecofeminism and a Christian feminist it gives them pause to think about what that actually is. They can’t immediately jump to conclusions about your beliefs. I had a similar issue of trying to combine feminism with another large factor. I do think that in both of our cases it could be seen as taking some of the focus away from feminism when you bring in this other element but it is important to do so. Feminism is a large term and I find it more accurate to include the other part of myself that I identify as. I think that Christian feminism and ecofeminism seem like they are at the end of the spectrum from each other but they have some similarities. I related to a lot of your thoughts in the essay. I too was a vegetarian for many years and then switched over to veganism before becoming a pescitarian. I feel the same connection to the earth. I was always taught in Church to respect animals. It was only after the first sin that people began to eat meat. I've always interpreted that as we were supposed to live in harmony with the earth and its creatures but as a result of sin we lost that. I feel the most connected to Christianity and God when I’m in nature.

Fdaniel's picture

Through a multicultural lens

 Through a multicultural lens ecofeminism isn't as "exlcusive" as it seems. It still fails to address the other complexities of a woman that can easily affect her idea of feminism. Women in some countries depend on our earth for a living. They use it for survival. That alone creates a hierarchy between the earth and women. We need the structure for our world to thrive. There are many women that rely on animals to procreate in order to make a living. Are they not ecofeminist? What about women that live in third world countries that have no choice but to use the resources that they have from earth which includes killing animals, are they not feminist? Ecofeminism is very narrow in that it doesn't really address any problem at hand. Yes, we are eliminating the idea of inferiority and yes we are eliminating the idea of competiveness but there’s more that goes into feminism than just competiveness. Feminism has still failed to include women of color, international women and queer women in their fight for equality. We can't move on to animals, plants and non-humans before we have tackled one task. This is why multicultural feminism is so appealing because it takes into account intersectionality and all the aspects that affect a woman. It doesn’t try to create this idea of right or wrong but rather a boundary that doesn’t oppress women. However, I do respect your view. I think ecofeminism is an amazing thing because it tries to encompass everything in this world not just human. It attempts to make us one with the world instead of us against the world. We aren’t two different entities we are one and we should be working to help sustain the world not abuse it.