What is Ecofeminism? Explained

In the previous post we learned about Psychoanalytic feminism This post discusses the fundamental ideas behind ecofeminist philosophy and where it came from. It also outlines the many ecofeminism strands and the discussions that underpin them. This blog aims at:

  • Describing the development of the ecofeminism theory. 
  • Comprehending the ecofeminism discussion. 
  • Comprehending various viewpoints on ecofeminism. 
  • Ecofeminism criticisms.


  1. Introduction
  2. Background of Ecofeminism
  3. Emergence of Ecofeminism
  4. Debates on  Ecofeminism
  5. Feminists perspectives on ecofeminism
    1. Liberal Ecofeminism
    2. Cultural Ecofeminism
    3. Social Ecofeminism
    4. Socialist Ecofeminism
    5. Radical Ecofeminism
  6.  Critiques of ecofeminism


Ecofeminism is a movement and theoretical examination of the relationships, connections, and dominance between women and the natural world. It first appeared in the 1960s, when social justice movements, environmentalists, and feminists began connecting women's oppression with the environment. The relationship between women and nature and its dominance is elaborated upon by ecofeminists. They contend that men's dominance and oppression of women is comparable to how society dominates and exploits nature. Karren J. Warren (1987) criticises the oppressive patriarchal system that believes in dominating and subordinating, particularly the subordination and discrimination of women and nature, for having shaped the western world's beliefs, assumptions, attitude, and values about itself and its inhabitants. 

The following are some of the main characteristics of this dominance relationship, according to Tong (2013).
  1. Hierarchical thinking, particularly, “up-down” thinking, which values anything that is “up” more than the one that is “down”.
  2. Believes in dualisms, i.e. oppositional or contrasting pairs that give higher value to one over the other. For example, dualism gives higher and more value to what has been historically identified as “reason”, “mind” and “male” than it gives to what has been historically identified as “emotion”, “body” and “female. 
  3. Logic of domination, which means structuring the argument in a way that it justifies the subordination. Hence, it functions through “power-over” concept of power
Thus, dualistic, oppressive, and hierarchical thought have abused both nature and women. She continues by saying that when a woman is referred to as an animal, such as a cow, bitch, serpent, cat, or chick, she is being "naturalised." Similarly, nature is "feminised" when it is revered and adored as the supreme mother.

Background of ecofeminism

In America, various ecological issues, such as global warming, etc., began to be highlighted and covered by the media in the 1960s. The understanding and awareness-raising of the environment's depletion and the grave peril it was currently facing as a result. Thus, the global environmental movement began to take shape as a result. Although all environmentalists contend that people should respect the environment, the justifications advanced by each of the groups differ.

Tong (2013) has talked about the early environmentalist viewpoints, such as shallow ecology and deep ecology. She argues that shallow ecology is another name for human-centered, or anthropomorphic, environmentalism. The proponents of this school of thought contend that people are injuring themselves by endangering the environment. Future generations will suffer as a result of the excessive use of natural resources and air and water pollution. Therefore, it is necessary to control how nature is used. However, they contend that in order to advance human interests, the environment must be sacrificed. They contend that the environment has an instrumental value, meaning that its relevance and purpose depend on human needs and desires. They thus hold the view that the environment exists for humans and not for itself. Up until the late 1940s, when earth-centered environmentalism first emerged, this human-centered environmentalism viewpoint predominated. It was referred to as "deep ecology." The core principles of deep ecology, according to Arne Naess and George Sessions (1984), are:
  1. The value of non human life is not dependent on its usefulness to the human world. Hence, the human world and the non human world have inherent and intrinsic value of their own. 
  2. Richness and diversity of non human world have value in themselves and therefore, helps in realising value of different forms of life. 
  3. Humans do not have right to exploit richness and diversity of non human world to fulfil their needs. 
  4. The enhancement of human life and cultures as well as non human life requires substantial decrease in the human population growth.
  5. At present human world is excessively interfering with the non human world. This has worsened the situation of non human world. 
  6. The current policies of developing countries to enhance economic growth needs to be changed. To do so, alternative technologies should be developed. 
  7. There is a need to bring about such an ideological change which focuses on enhancing the quality of life rather than improving living standards. 
  8. Those who advocate these arguments are directly or indirectly obliged to bring about these necessary changes. 
The human-centered environmentalists are criticised by deep ecology for using the natural resources to further their own agendas. They contend that the ecological network includes humans. Ecological systems are therefore greater, superior, and more significant than them. As a result, it requires human maintenance, preservation, and honour.

Emergence of ecofeminism

Francoise d'Eaubonne, a French feminist who advocated for women to lead an ecological revolution, coined the word "Ecofeminism" in 1974. She makes the case that the phallic order poses a double threat to people, employing the phrase "Feminism or death." She goes on to say that patriarchal society took use of women's ability to reproduce while also taking advantage of the environment to boost output. She made an effort to inform others about the negative effects of patriarchal ideology. Ynestra King continued to refine this idea in 1976. With the conference "Women and Life on Earth: Ecofeminism in the '80s," held in Amherst, Massachusetts, US, it later acquired the shape of a movement. The relationship between feminism, environment, militarism, and health was discussed at the conference. As a result, Women's Pentagon Action was established. The group's principal objective was to oppose the development of nuclear weapons and wars. (Rao: 2012)

Debates on ecofeminism

Naaz (2016) explored the controversy surrounding the relationship between women and nature. She has incorporated the arguments made in this discussion by the top ecofeminists in India. According to some feminists, the bond between women and nature is inherent or necessary. Women naturally comprehend and are knowledgeable about the ecosystem as a result. Ecofeminism is what we call this (Shiva and Mies, 2014). Other feminists, on the other hand, see the relationship between women and nature in terms of materialist practises. They contend that women may learn about nature more practically because of their material dependence on it (Agarwal: 1992)

According to the essentialists, women's interaction with the environment is natural due to their biological makeup, namely their function in reproduction. They contend that men dominate and oppress women in much the same manner that culture dominates and exploits nature. Vandana Shiva, a pioneering ecofeminist, made the connection between the feminine principle and women's place in subsistence agriculture in 1988. She contends that women can also make a living off of the natural resources. They actively engage in agriculture, dairy, and forestry in addition to family duties; as a result, they have a variety of knowledge and abilities. They are able to save nature thanks to their varied expertise and abilities. The capitalist patriarchal structure, on the other hand, holds that diversity breeds hierarchy, hence in order to achieve equality, uniformity must be established. Shiva challenges this view and contends that by treating the global order as uniform, we are omitting the inequality and variety that still exist within it. She also claims that abuse of the environment has resulted from modernity, development, and advancement. Women are more affected than males by this. The natural resources served as the foundation for producing the food and other necessities for women. As a result, the state has both undermined the productive ability of women and the productivity of nature by usurping management and control over natural resources from them. It is crucial to maintain the diversity of life and culture in order to preserve life on earth (Shiva and Mies, 2014).

According to Agarwal (1992), ecofeminism ignores the differences between women's groups and the importance of class, race, and ethnicity. She offers a different definition of ecofeminism that she refers to as feminist environmentalism. It emphasises the structural underpinnings of the relationship between nature and women. She makes the case that the social division of labour has made women accountable for household chores, increasing their reliance on resources from common property. She also claims that rural women are more dependent on resources from communal property, primarily because
(i) their limited ownership of private property resources, especially land, and their lesser access to employment;
(ii) the gender division of labour (female population comprising women and girl children do much of the collection of firewood and non timber forest products); and
(iii) the gender unequal distribution of basic resources, such as for health care and often even food, within households… She contends that understanding how each individual interacts with the environment is necessary to comprehend how men and women relate to nature (Agarwal:1992).

Feminists perspectives on ecofeminism

Merchant (2005) talks about the four ecofeminism strands. She claims that the various schools of ecofeminism, such as liberal, cultural, social, and socialist feminist, attempt to comprehend the root causes and consequences of women's sexism as well as how it is related to the environment. It further provides insight on how to enhance both the status of women in our society and our relationship with nature. Each has made a unique contribution to the ecofeminist viewpoint in order to achieve this. But these various viewpoints reveal various conceptions of nature and women, as well as various approaches to safeguarding the environment and women's rights.

Liberal Ecofeminism

According to Merchant (2005), liberal feminism has its roots in liberalism, which sees people as logical beings who want to maximise their own self-interest and capitalism as a necessary economic system for human advancement. They contend that in terms of rational agents, women and men are similar. However, because they were denied access to economic opportunities and education, they were unable to reach their full potential. In the 1960s, the liberal feminist movement was born. Liberal feminists pushed for equality for women in the workforce and in the classroom. Due to the increasing exploitation of natural resources and the unchecked use of dangerous pesticides and other pollutants, environmental concerns have increased at the same time. This has resulted in significant environmental issues. The only way to deal with these environmental problems is to create a governance structure and pass legislation. Similarly, we must develop better science, practise conservation, and establish environmental legislation. Liberal ecofeminists contend that if given the chance, women can also improve the environment, preserve the natural world, and improve their quality of life. Women should therefore be given equal educational opportunities to pursue careers as scientists, managers of natural resources, regulators, attorneys, and lawmakers. They will have many options to enhance their quality of life and address environmental issues as a result. As a result, women can join men in environmental protection and end the stigma associated with their biology. .

Cultural Ecofeminism

Cultural feminism's emergence and advancement are illustrated by Merchant (2005). She discusses how the 1960–1970 second wave of feminism coincided with the emergence and development of cultural ecofeminism. The relationship between women's reproductive biology (nature) and male-designed technology is a major source of inspiration for and motivation behind much of the ecological activism promoted by women (culture). In addition, it is stated that historically and across all cultures, women have been seen as being more in tune with nature because of their physiology, psychology, and social roles. Women are biologically capable of producing life from their bodies. Their mobility was restricted by these nursing and reproductive functions. Men had the freedom to hunt, travel, engage in armed conflict, and run the government. Socially, women's duties as caregivers, mothers, and childbearers have restricted their access to the workforce. Therefore, according to cultural ecofeminists, human biology is a part of human nature. Humans are both socially and physiologically gendered. Men and women are supported differently in terms of power by this sex and gender equation. The same role that limits women might therefore become a source of empowerment for them if the perception of the relationship between women and biological reproduction is changed. In this way, the biology and nature of women might be understood as a source of their strength. This brand of ecofeminism places a strong emphasis on nature-related consciousness, such as witchcraft, spirituality, and goddess worship.

Merchant goes on to say that cultural ecofeminists revere the prehistoric period, when ancient rites were dedicated to the veneration of goddesses and the female reproductive system. Women were portrayed during this era by butterflies, snakes, and trees. They were revered and admired for having the ability to create life. The goddess and mother nature were revered and viewed as sources of strength and inspiration. This viewpoint held that social and personal change could be effected through spirituality. Thus, the cultural ecofeminist philosophy links relationships between human nature, intuition, and the ethic of care.

The female gods, however, were dethroned and replaced by the male gods with the advent of patriarchal culture. Similar to how the scientific revolution that began in the seventeenth century paved the way for nature's exploitation More and more machines were being used to exploit, govern, and maintain the nourishing earth. Cultural feminists criticised this mechanisation process for being overly masculine and for taking advantage of the historically perpetuated stereotype that nature is associated with femininity. Thus, male-dominated science, technology, and industry developed and controlled the earth. Cultural ecofeminism holds that the only path to the liberation of both women and nature is through direct political action. 

Social Ecofeminism

According to Merchant (2005), cultural ecofeminism's belief in a spiritual bond between women and nature is criticised by social ecofeminism. The society would be restructured into democratic, decentralised communities. Therefore, we must abolish all sorts of dominant structures in order to create an ecological society.

According to social ecofeminism, the relationship between women and nature is primarily socially and materialistically formed. They think that the economic and social hierarchy must be destroyed in order for women to be liberated. All of society has become a market society as a result of these social and economic hierarchies. Decentralizing communities and eliminating public-private distinctions are therefore necessary for the bureaucratic state and capitalist production. Only until we are successful in building such a society will women be able to fully engage in public life and the workplace. Although social ecofeminism rejects the idea of gender dominance and hierarchies, it does recognise the differences between male and female reproductive capacity. They also assert that both men and women are capable of showing compassion. As a result, they can both engage in ecological ethics. Therefore, childbearing will be a shared responsibility and all forms of violence against women will end if society is held accountable. Therefore, individuals will have the chance to create the kind of society they wish to live in thanks to society, biology, and the connections that people have with one another. 

Socialist Ecofeminism

Socialist ecofeminism is also characterised by Merchant (2005) as a metamorphosis of socialist ecology from a feminine standpoint. They contend that the idea of reproduction is essential for the development of an equitable and sustainable world in order to do this. Natural resources supply the building blocks for life, while humans require food, housing, and clothing to survive. In traditional and tribal societies, women were principally in charge of gathering food, medicine, and fuelwood. They also planted and harvested crops, prepared meals, tenderised birds, gave birth, and took care of young ones. Women were in close contact with nature while carrying out these tasks. They were able to learn about nature deeply and intimately as a result. This understanding of women has contributed to the preservation of life on earth. But as capitalism and colonial activities spread, so did the disruption of women's interactions with nature. Women lost their traditional roles as a result of the extensive use of mechanisation in agriculture and other industries. Men largely assumed the duties of women, including those of providers of food and clothing, gardeners, midwives, etc. As a result, women's roles in the home changed from ones of production to those of reproduction. They become more domestic as a result of having to raise and interact with kids. They also emphasise the continuation of life. They promote the idea that reproduction is socially and biologically mediated. First and foremost, humans must have enough offspring to be able to have more offspring in the future. Second, by interacting with the natural world, they should be able to create enough food, fuel, and shelter to ensure both their subsistence and the preservation of the environment. Thus, biological reproduction has an indirect impact on the environment.

As a result of human meddling, the link between human nature and nature has been socially constructed and changed. Nature should not be dominated because it is not a passive thing. Therefore, it is important for people to have a long-term connection with nature.

The socialist ecofeminist viewpoint suggests a lens through which social and ecological change should be examined. They also advocate for social action that will promote a just society and secure the sustainability of life.

Radical Ecofeminism

Radical ecofeminists criticise patriarchal society for demeaning and exploiting women by comparing them with nature. According to them, the social construction of sex and gender as well as women's biological reproductive functions are the fundamental causes of women's oppression. Therefore, in a patriarchal society, women are primarily in charge of childbearing, childrearing, and gratifying the sexual needs and desires of men. It is essential to destroy the oppressive patriarchal system and remove men's dominance over women's bodies and the environment in order to free women and nature from this oppression. Because man's awareness exhibits natural processes inside patriarchal systems, these processes have been culturally undervalued. Because of the biological roles that women play, nature has long been connected with women. The stereotype that men are powerful, logical, and emotionless while women are intuitive and passive has been shaped by these associations. They contend that it is necessary to reconsider the cultural traits that have historically been ascribed to men and women. It will assist in dismantling the dualistic presumptions that give rise to gender categories. Therefore, gender roles have been created in a cultural and societal context that values men over women. Similar to socialist feminists, radical feminists think that the dualistic presumptions must be dismantled. However, they contend that doing so requires accepting what has been undervalued.

Critiques of ecofeminism

Rao (2012) explored the objections to ecofeminism raised by numerous feminist academics, including Meera Nanda (1991), Janet Biehl (1991), and Bina Agarwal, in her article "Ecofeminism at the crossroads in India: A review" (1992). Ecofeminists contend that historically, men have oppressed and taken advantage of both nature and women. They are both thus victims of development. They contend that any harm to nature will also harm women because they are thought to be closer to nature than males are. Ecofeminist literature, however, was unable to offer any conclusive proof of this kind of connection. These associations between the dominance and oppression of women and nature are therefore ideological.

Essentialist ecofeminism has been criticised by Cecille Jackson (1993) for failing to account for differences that arise due to class and ethnicity. He also criticises it for ignoring the material world. Biehl (1991) criticises ecofeminism for maintaining the gender stereotypes that exist in patriarchal societies and claims that the metaphors used to compare women to the world and the earth to women are regressive rather than empowering for women. She adds that ecofeminists have limited women to responsibilities of caregiving and nurturing rather than recognising their potential and skills. (Rao: 2012: 128)

Agarwal (1992) criticises ecofeminists for ignoring caste and social differences among women and presenting them as a homogenous entity. It fails to distinguish between women according to class, colour, ethnicity, and other factors, she claims. The categories of gender, nature, and culture are "historically and socially constructed, which vary across and within cultures and time periods," she continues, and they are not taken into account.


  1. Agarwal, Bina.1992. "The gender and environment debate: lessons from India." Feminist studies 18, no. 1: 119-158. 
  2. Biehl, Janet.1991. Rethinking Feminist Politics. Boston: South End Press. 
  3. Merchant, Carolyn. 2005. Radical ecology: The search for a livable world. Routledge. 
  4. Nanda M. 1991. Is Modern Science a Western Patriarchal Myth? A Critique of the Populist Orthodoxy, in “South Asian Bulletin”, Vol. 11, 1-2. 
  5. Naess, Arne and George Sessions.1984."Basic principles of deep ecology." Ecophilosophy 6, no. 3: 7. 
  6. Naaz, Isha. 2006. Common property resources management in Uttarakhand: understanding from gender perspective, Unpublished PhD proposal - presented at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 2006. 
  7. Rao, Manisha. 2012. "Ecofeminism at the crossroads in India: A Review." Dep 20, no. 12: 124-142. 


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