Feminism and Environmental Studies

Eco-feminism.jpgEcofeminist thought emerges from the assumption that patriarchal society’s values and beliefs have resulted in the oppression of both women and nature. These feminists suggest that the “natural” qualities of women and the “feminine” qualities of nature are both attributed by males as a result of which, men dominate both women and nature, and assume and act as though both women and nature are to be exploited by men. Beliefs that dominate the oppression of woman also legitimate environmental degradation. Certain fundamental binary opposition such as male/ female, culture/nature, reason/ emotion, mind/body create the ideological basis for both feminism and ecofeminism. The work, of Vandana Shiva, Mary Mellor, Ariel Salleh and others have generated nuanced readings of the relationships between gender and nature

Sherry B. Ortner‘s 1974 influential essay Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? explains in terms of structuralist anthropology the presence in diverse cultures of the idea that woman are subordinate to men —the underlying idea of which Ortner discovers as that woman is closer to nature. This helps to explain the acquiescence of women in their own subordination. They accept the general logic of human domination of nature. Kolodny’s The Lay of the Land examines the way in which colonial nature writers in the USA represented the land as female, while Louise Westling‘s The Green Breast of the New World extends this analysis to 20th century novels.

Earlier in Ortner’s essay, the connection between women and nature was considered as a weakness or susceptibility of women to exploitation; later ecofeminists argued that such identification should be seen as a source of strength; while others like Janet Biehl warns against the risk of confining women back to their old cultural spaces. Major ecofeminist critiques include Marti Kheel‘s critique of the masculine ‘heroic’ genre, into which many fictional representations of environmental problems fall, and Gretchen Leglar‘s analysis of the transgressive erotic in contemporary women’s nature writing.

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