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Final Web Event: Exploring Ecofeminism and It's Effect on Women of Color

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When thinking of topics to write this final web event on, my mind wandered to ecofeminism and stayed there. It’s a topic and issue that has been picking at me since we first discussed it briefly in class and it has been urging me to take a closer look at it ever since. When the final group to present during our last class did their presentation on ecofeminism, the picking only intensified.  I knew then that I needed to learn about the history of the movement and why it carries the images and connotations that we discussed during that class. I felt like this would solve my desire to understand ecofeminism and would help me determine whether or not I could place myself within it. And so, I did just that. I delved into the origins and philosophies of ecofeminism and I decided to look at it from the perspective of people of color. A lack of a presence concerning women of color involved in ecofeminism seemed to be the most glaring issue that I faced when originally analyzing the ecofeminist movement. Keeping this in mind, I concluded that when researching for this paper I would look at popular ecofeminist texts that help establish a general definition of what the movement is, along with ecofeminist movements and texts that directly or indirectly come from the point of view of women of color.

It turns out that I didn’t have to look far when trying to find my first ecofeminist piece. When chatting with my mom about how my life was going and how many papers I had to write, I started explaining to her that I was interested in tackling the subject of ecofeminism and wondered if she has any experience with the movement since she studied and taught environmental justice. In response, I got the oh so familiar, “boy are you in for a nice surprise!” chuckle from her. To my surprise and wonderment, my mom had written a piece on women of color and their role in ecofeminism when I was a toddler during the late 1990s. After confirming it would be an interesting way to link my previous web event involving her to this one, I soon found that what was supposed to be a quick phone call with my mom turned into a series of long, insightful, hilarious, and exciting conversations on my mom’s experience with ecofeminism and who she thought might be some good people to look at. I found it so cool that this was kind of a mother-daughter ecofeminist journey for us. She was the guide who was an expert navigator when it came to all of the different trails in the ecofeminist forest while I was a novice explorer eagerly looking around and taking everything in for the first time.

And with that, now that I have acquired the tools that I need to successfully navigate ecofeminism, I should explain how I’m going to explore it in this paper. I will first take a look at my mom’s paper on how ecofeminism has ignored women of color and why that’s an issue that should concern all activists.  I will then take a step back and describe what it was like for me to deconstruct ecofeminism from the words of Karen Warren and Charlene Spretnak. Afterwards, I will take another look at ecofeminism from the people of color’s perspective with my thoughts on Vandana Shiva and the Chipko movement. Finally, I will talk about community gardening movement in Detroit that has excited me and exhibits the roots and flowering of ecofeminism.

Critiquing Ecofeminism

In her paper entitled “Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism”, my mom begins by explaining that until the point at which the article was written (in 1997), environmentalists had failed to recognize that “certain issues and activities had disproportionate negative impacts on communities of color” and that many of those who were aware of them simply chose to ignore them. This is because many environmentalists didn’t see people of color as a part of the community that they needed to serve or interact with. She explains that if people from the environmental movement did acknowledge people of color, oftentimes they were marginalized and viewed as having needs that were minimal compared to others. My mom doesn’t beat around the bush when introducing readers to the issue and not only does it serve a much needed punch, it makes me intrigued to see how she thinks this viewpoint that she has observed in many environmentalists affects others movements, like ecofeminism, as well. When looking further into my mom’s writing I found her positioning of environmental justice as a movement that serves as the gateway towards other social movements like the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and ecofeminism, to be intriguing.  She claims that “compared with feminism and ecofeminism, movements in which the the gender dimension dwarfs the other dimensions of struggle, the environmental justice movement wages a struggle which is more balanced, with race, gender, and class forming the basic elements. The movement incorporates aspects of civil rights, feminism, ecofeminism, environment, and labor.”

My mom goes on to explain that compared to feminism and ecofeminism, environmental justice for women of color is more intersectional in the fact that it encompasses many movements and cannot be simplified easily. Though I think my mom brings up a good point here, I as a reader have to ask myself if this statement is implying that the ecofeminism movement can’t evolve to do the same? I think this is especially relevant since it has been over fifteen years since this paper was published and more awareness has been brought to this issue since then. As I continued reading her paper, I found that my mom transitioned to a focus on ecofeminism and how women (as well as men) of color have fared in the movement. She highlights that when looking at the environment, ecofeminists link the degradation and oppression of nature with the same treatment faced by women. People of color however, link the degradation of nature to the destruction and exploitation involving nature that they are seeing in their communities. In turn they make the argument that not only is degradation linked with gender, it is involves race and class as well. I agree full heartedly with this statement and it reminds me of what we studied and talked about in class when reading bell hooks. They both come to the conclusion that an intersectional outlook and approach is needed when looking at and participating in social movements.

In the final stages of her paper, my mom decrees that a change in ecofeminism and how it treats people of color is not only needed, but is required if it is to be seen as a movement that isn’t oppressing others in the process of achieving its goals. I agree with this viewpoint because I can easily see a power feminism dynamic playing out between ecofeminists and women of color similar to the way it has occurred between feminists in the past. I think that if there isn’t change then eventually damage will be inflicted onto ecofeminism that can’t be reversed. However, my mom does give a few solutions that could change the movement for the better. One of them is awareness. Being aware that there are people of color in ecofeminism and that they have a voice worth hearing. Being aware that ecofeminists have the power to oppress people of color just as much as men have the power to oppress them, and along with that, awareness that race is a viable comparison when it comes to nature and degradation just as gender is believed to be. And as a final plea to ecofeminists, my mom asks that they resist the urge to take over everything (I can actually see my mom saying this in an exaggerated and funny manner). I think these are solutions that are acceptable and achievable though I wonder how well they’ve been implemented? Though intersectionality has been a popular topic for discussion in these past couple of decades, how much has the image of ecofeminism really changed? At the forefront we still see older, white, and relatively well-off women overwhelmingly more than anyone else being represented as ecofeminists.

Defining Ecofeminism

With this thought still in mind, I’ll now give you some insight on how I took to reading Karen Warren and Charlene Spretnak. From reading both, along with the introduction to Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, I found out that many credit the birth of ecofeminism to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It was a book that raised public conscience and knowledge about the environment and led many to organize against pollution and the degradation of nature. As a result the environmental movement took off and ecofeminism formed with women finding that there was a duality between the way the patriarchy was oppressing women and the way that it was oppressing nature. Women in particular began to identify with ecofeminism, in part, because they, like nature, were a vital part of biological regeneration. I found it fascinating that Warren was able to link the domination of women with the domination of nature in a way that really clicked for me. I also discovered that while I have always seen the ecofeminism as one giant movement, in reality, all the texts I have mentioned helped me discover that there are are different strains within the movement, and along with them, different interpretations.

For example, people discover ecofeminism in different ways. Some might have been introduced to it in 1974 when Françoise d’Eaubonne coined the term “ecofeminism” as a political ploy to encourage women to participate in an ecological revolution while others may have used philosophy and/or logic to link two and two together. Another example, is how you define what it means to be an ecofeminist. Some people think this means having to be vegan since animals are an important of nature. Others (like vegetarians and omnivores) are more liberal with the identity though they still believe in many of the basic principles.

“I am a tourist in nature…”

One thing that really resonated with me while reading Spretnak was her depiction of nature and how we have denied it culturally because of our status as a technocratic society. She explained how our experiences with nature are not valued as highly as our work with technology. For instance, I remember talking with someone earlier in the year about how when she used to walk outside as a means of getting somewhere, she saw it as an inconvenient and brisk walk (especially during the Michigan winters). However, when she started to take walks without an agenda, she noticed animals, sights, and noises that she had never acknowledged before. She soon found herself taking walks everyday, sometimes for hours, just for the heck of it. As much as it was therapeutic, it was also insightful. She was opening herself up to so many experiences that she had been taught to resent from an early age.

I think of this example and I wonder what would happen if it was given out as a homework assignment? As students we hardly react to being given reading and writing assignments that are often posted online or require us to stay indoors, but what if we were asked to walk outside or sit down and just listen for an hour? For many people, that’s a completely foreign concept. However, I believe that it would be an innovative way to connect with nature. I even did a few variations of it in high school with my classmates and though we were initially hesitant, we were awed and humbled by our results; a deeper conscious of what is out there.

Something that I couldn’t help but notice when reading Warren and Spretnak was a fleeting at best and nonexistent at worst, mention of people of color and how race as well as class plays into ecofeminism. I was surprised that Spretnak’s piece, which was written earlier than Warren’s, contained more about people of color. However it was only a brief paragraph about people in Third World and Fourth World (containing indigenous people) countries. There wasn’t a mention of race in America or in North America itself. This is where environmentalists fall into the trap of examining and critiquing what is happening in other countries but failing to notice and/or acknowledge what is going on in their own backyard.

The Original Treehuggers

When working with my mom, she mentioned a revolutionary ecofeminist movement called “the Chipko movement” to me. After finally getting the name right (my brain wanted me to make a fool of myself and I proceeded to call it “the Chickpea movement” for way too long) I was able to research it and I discovered that the women behind it were the original tree huggers. I was pleasantly surprised to learn this fact as I had always associated tree hugging with American “hippies” but never particularly with international women of color. The Chipko movement started in the 1970s in the Himalayas as a form of non-violent protest through the action of hugging trees in an attempt to save them from being cut down. At the time, trees were being cut down at an alarming rate and negative environmental consequences were occurring as a result. Since women were the ones mainly affected by the clearcutting and deforestation, it gained the reputation of being an ecofeminist movement. As a result of the Chikpo protests, a more serious look was taken at negative effects of degradation and pollution, and people all around the world were inspired to take a closer look at conservation and sustainability.

Vandana Shiva, a prominent figure in the Chipko movement and ecofeminist scholar of color, gave an interview in February 2013 about her involvement in the movement. She talked about how she discovered the movement when she lost a place in nature that held great significance to her as a result of deforestation. It was at that moment that she realized that even though we assume nature will always be here, that isn’t true. Something that I found even more impactful than this however, was when she was talking about when she first witnessed the Chipko movement as an observer and saw women willing and ready to die for the cause. They clung to trees knowing that it might be the last thing that they ever do but if they had to sacrifice themselves so others could live, then so be it. It was the “ultimate love” for nature.

Shiva’s story continued to entrance me as she talked about how she emerged as figure in the movement as a result of her ability to speak both her native language and English. She referred to it as “knowing the language of domination”. So because she knew how to speak English, she wasn’t ignored in the same way her counterparts who couldn’t speak English were. Also, because she knew how to convert her findings and writings into graphs and other types of quantitative data, she was taken more seriously than those who didn’t. This just goes to show that domination doesn’t exclude privilege and class, even within marginalized people of the same race.

Soil Sisters

As a final part of my examination of ecofeminism, I read Monica White’s article “Sisters of Soil: Urban Gardening as Resistance in Detroit. This piece looks at ecofeminism in an innovative way that is expanding the definition of ecofeminism for people of color and ecofeminists alike.  White examined a group of black women activists who used urban gardening in community gardens in Detroit as a tool to fight oppression and to encourage community and liberation. These women proceeded to use gardening as a form of resistance and protest by showing that they have determination in a place where a negative mentality could easily be adopted instead. The idea of agency also plays a strong role since these women are able to control what they plant and how they choose to care and cultivate their food.

Black women are being put in this empowering role where they can collaborate with nature as opposed to dominate it. And in doing so, “they are able to define their behavior as a form of resistance, one in which their resistance is against the social structures that have perpetuated inequality in terms of healthy food access…” By working towards achieving food security, these women are in turn getting closer and closer to controlling the food system that affects their lives. By participating in urban and community gardens, these women are essentially protesting against the capitalism of the food system, and the unhealthy production of food that is a threatening presence in their lives. They are fighting back by controlling what they feed their families and community as well as being agents of change in general.

An aspect of this urban gardening movement that I find to be revolutionary and noteworthy is that these protests aren’t formal in the same way boycotts and picket lines are. “For Detroit’s women activists, transforming public space enables them to resist the social, economic, and gendered oppression that complicates the accessibility of healthy food for poor people and the communities of color who have not left the impoverished city.” This use of community/urban gardening as way to cultivate and support ecofeminism is very clever and broadens the movement in a good way. I have participated in urban gardening in Detroit before and with this newfound knowledge on how it intersects with ecofeminism, I am excited to help sustain it.


Exploring ecofeminism has been an exciting journey for me and it has been more intriguing and fun than I thought it would be. I never realized until reading all of these papers/articles how multifaceted and complex it is. I know now, that it is much broader and harder to define than it may seem. There is not one single type of ecofeminist. It’s a definition and movement that is constantly evolving and expanding, and I think that’s a good thing. While it hasn’t shed it’s stereotypical facade in the way that I would have hoped for it to have by now, I know that these things take time. I am also given hope by the fact that not only have movements like the Chipko movement been accepted as a form of ecofeminism, thus supporting women of color, but environmentalists are acknowledging ecofeminism concerning people of color who live locally as well as globally. Both national and international ecofeminism is important and vital to maintaining an intersectional identity. I believe that ecofeminism has made progress in terms of acknowledging race and oppression within its own movement. Though there is much more that it can and should do to present itself as an open and diverse movement, I think that it is heading in the right direction.


"Chipko Movement." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.

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White, Monica M. "Sisters of the Soil: Urban Gardening as Resistance in Detroit." Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts 5.1 (2011): 13-28. Project MUSE. Web. 17 Dec. 2013. <>.