Feminism and the Environment (1)
By Chukwu Augustine M.
What can we say to be the origin of man’s sense of inequality? What brings about the dualistic mentality? What constituted the birth of masculine domination? In the line of thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the need for survival led man (or the first man or men) to reach out for those things (typically earth’s produce) that would preserve his life. “Man’s first sentiment was that of his existence, his care that of his preservation”.
However difficulties in dealing with nature’s products like pluck of fruits from tall trees, the competition of animals that want to feed on these fruits and combating ravenous beasts that want to take his life, spurred in him the necessity to build his strength and led him to the discovery of arms from branches of trees and stones in order “to surmount nature’s obstacles, combat other animals when necessary, fight for his subsistence even with men, or make up for what had to be yielded to the stronger.”
As the human race spread, the differences in climate, soil, and season, saw the evolution of various occupations: hunting, fishing, and farming. The result of this development enhanced man’s superiority over other animals thus making him conscious of his superiority.
Another kind of development was that of the heart which saw the union of husbands and wives, and children in common habitation. This development must have brought about the idea of the difference in the sexes. As Jacques further opines:
Each family became a little society all the better united because reciprocal affection and freedom were its only bonds; and it was then that the first difference was established in the way of life of the two sexes, which until this time had but one.
More so, “from the moment one man needed the help of another, as soon as they observed that it was useful for a single person to have provisions for two, equality disappeared….”
Hence, the idea of inequality was introduced into the human race, the notion of superiority reigned in men’s mind, strong as against weak, masculine as against feminine rich as against poor. The whole of the universe was divided into two. The fact of domination became evident as man views himself as superior to other things (women inclusive) observable in the universe.
Thus it was not by chance that Aristotle claimed that women were unfinished men. Such thought as these prevailed throughout the centuries, with women considered inferior and earth’s produce to be manipulated for men’s needs and pleasure.
However following from the unjust treatment of women and the growing environmental crisis, philosophers of diverse fields have risen to counter such ideas that must have contributed to women’s oppression and environmental crisis, in order to redeem the dignity of women and their equality with men and to restore the natural environment from decay or say, to put a stop to environmental crisis.
Hence, this article examines the relationship between feminism and the environment, studies the proposed causes of the unjust domination of women and the environment, and the philosophical positions against such domination, examines the importance of ecofeminism and its criticisms, and finally makes an evaluation of the study.
According to Wikipedia, “the natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally… This environment encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, weather, and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity”. It is pertinent to note that the natural environment is distinct from the built environment which refers to those areas where man has fundamentally transformed landscapes, such as urban settings and agricultural land conversion.
The environment in relation to this essay relates to environmental philosophy, the development of which originated in the 1970’s-was inspired by the widespread perception of an “environmental crisis”. Hence, “the manhandling of naturally turned the attention of a small group of philosophers to (or for) nature-that is, to environmental ethics”. Hence in as much as we make use of the term environment, it is however applicable in the sense of environmental ethics.
Feminism can simply be defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. According to Wikipedia “feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women”.
Feminist movement rejects the superiority of men over women, and campaigns “for women’s rights, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to receive education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave”.
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Charles Fourier, a Utopian Socialist, and French philosopher are believed to be the first to coin the word “feminism” in 1837. The word “feminism” (“feminism”) and “feminist” (“feminist”) first appeared in French and the Netherlands in 1872, Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United States in 1910, and the Oxford English Dictionary lists 1852 as the year of the first appearance of “feminist” and 1895 for “feminism”. Feminists all over the world have had different causes and aim to base on the historical moment, culture and country.
Caroline Dorey observes that “while the roots of feminism are buried in ancient Greece, most recognise the movement by the three waves of feminism”.
The first wave (1830s-early 1960s): Often taken for granted, women in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, realized that they must first gain political power (including the right to vote) to bring about change was how to fuel the fire. Their political agenda expanded to issues concerning sexual, reproductive and economic matters. The seed was planted that women have the potential to contribute just as much if not more than men.
The second wave (1960s-1980s): Coming off the heels of World War II, the second wave of feminism focused on the workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights. During a time when the United States was already trying to restructure itself, it was perceived that women had met their equality goals with the exception of the failure of the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (which has still yet to be passed).
The third wave (1990s-present): Today and unlike the former movements, the term ‘feminist’ is received less critically by the female population due to the varying feminist outlooks. There are the ego-cultural feminists, the radicals, the liberal/reforms, the electoral, academic, ecofeminists… the list goes on.
It is this issue of ecofeminism that concerns us in this essay, since ecofeminist philosophical perspective brings to light the connection between women and the environment (nonhuman animals and nature). It is a term that links feminism with ecology (or environment).