Feminism and the Environment (5)

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By Chukwu Augustine M.

Kakaire also observes: …ecofeminists contest the problematic foundations upon which our knowledge of the world, our consciousness, and our worldviews is (and has been) grounded.

They, additionally, highlight not only the manner in which our present state of knowledge and consciousness is (and has been) problematic but also propose alternative ways of thinking, of relating with one another, of regenerating societies and self that transcend the obviously problematic Cartesian conceptualization of excessively self-wrapped and communally estranged cogito.

He further observes that ecofeminists offer us such invitation as to “journey in search of non-violent, reciprocal and communitarian relationships that are largely grounded on collaborative experience, the spirit of teamwork and compassion for other humans and especially the less advantaged members of society (whether humans, non-human species and/or inanimate things)”.


Ranging from the 1980s and 1990s some began to see the advancing theories in ecofeminism as essentialist. An argument which posed that ecofeminism equated women with nature broke out from an analysis done by post structural and third-wave feminists.

This dichotomy is dangerous because it groups all women into one category and enforces the very societal norms that feminism is trying to break. Out of this critique rose the anti-essentialist argument.

Two criticisms feature from the anti-essentialist argument

Adherence to strict dichotomy between men and women: Some eco-feminist critiques are that the dichotomy between women and men and nature and culture creates a dualism that is too stringent and focused in the difference of women and men.

That eco-feminism too strongly correlates the social status of women with the social status of nature, rather than the non-essentialist view that women along with nature both have masculine and feminine qualities, and that just like feminine qualities have often been seen as less worthy, nature is also seen as having lesser value than culture, or the qualities involved in this concept.

Divergent view regarding participation in oppressive structures: As opposed to radical and liberation-based feminist movements, mainstream feminism (that most tightly bound with hegemonic social status) strives to promote equality within the existing social and political structure, such as making it possible for women to occupy positions of power in business, industry and politics, using direct involvement as the main tactic for achieving pay equity and influence. In contrast, many ecofeminists would stand in opposition to active engagement in these arenas, as these are the very structures that the movement intends to dismantle.


From man’s earliest survival, development is the core that has led to the recent opposition against environmental abuse and women oppression. A man from his earlier era sought for survival, in such survival quest found himself to be a little or more above the natural environment. He made use of the natural environment (trees for wood, animal skin for clothes, and so on) to provide for his various needs and thus found such things to be much lower than himself.

Later development brought men and women together, thus the formation of societies. It is in living together that man discovers inequality in strength, say, one can work harder than the other, and women are generally weaker in strength than men. Such situations, one can say, initiated the idea of dualism, thus positing man as superior and other things inferior.

Such idea maintained, with other contributing factors the exploitation and manipulation of the natural environment engaged man and this evoked nature’s out wearing as observed in the contemporary environmental crisis. It is this environmental crisis that caused men passionate for the natural environment (say environmental philosophers) to stand out in opposition against what they call man’s oppression of the environment. Such advocacy has been named environmental ethics.

The same also applies to men and women relationship, with women viewed as inferior to men, the domination and oppression of women raised the dust of feminism which stands to advocate for women’s right and equality before men.

The relationship between environmental ethics and feminism is quite obvious since both are advocating for their right to exist without interference to their inherent value. Such relationship has been conceived in these ways: ….

It has also led to the development of ecological feminist theories or ecofeminist theories following from the emergence of ecofeminist philosophers like Van Plumwood, Karen Warren, Carol Adams, etc. the theories developed from this are good in so far as they tend to the preservation and upholding of nature’s inherent value and women dignity.


However, to hold that the idea of dualism is one of the main causes of the unjust domination of women and the environment seems quite abstract. No doubt such idea must be a contributive constituent to the unjust domination of women and the environment, but in the practical order, man’s selfishness is a chief factor of such domination.

The extermination of the idea of dualism does not fit into reality because reality itself manifests such things as dualistic, say, man and woman, negative and positive. The point we are trying to make is that in the practical sense, selfishness is the obstructing curtain that hinders man to recognize and acknowledge the inherent value in the natural environment and the dignity of women.

No gainsaying, a dualistic worldview projects its own effect but such effect is abstract and minimal to the impulse of selfish practicality. That is to say, that bracketing the “idea of dualism” in man will to no extent cease such acts born out of selfishness from which man acts with no respect for the environment and women, rather for self-interest. Hence, respect for the natural environment and women for their inherent value is the right attitude to be sought after in order to put to order man’s excesses.

However, guide must be taken against extremism whereby the natural environment is taken as a sacred entity and women being considered sacrosanct. The proper approach is to recognize that the environment has its worth and value, as with women and such value must be respected by according each (the environment and women) its due place and function without misuse or abuse.

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