Integral ecology

Ecology and feminism

Society would be much better served by employing the female genius in tasks of greater social impact than being a soccer player or firefighter. Environmental care would be one of them, as women are more involved in nature conservation.

Emilio Chuvieco-March 8, 2023-Reading time: 3 minutes
ecology and feminism

A few months ago a good friend of mine, who has been committed to environmental issues since he was young, told me about his frustration with the ideological drift of some current environmental movements, which mix environmental care with other social issues, in his opinion with little or no relation to nature conservation.

Precisely one of the issues that my friend considered to be most clearly influenced by this deviation from environmentalism was that of so-called ecofeminism. We owe the term to a French feminist, Francoise D'Eubonne, who coined it in the mid-1970s to describe the parallelism between the marginalization of women and nature, both influenced - in the French thinker's opinion - by the patriarchal and hierarchical society, linking certain characteristics of femininity (such as openness to life or care) with those of nature. Women's liberation and environmental liberation would thus be part of the same struggle.

Ecofeminism began to consolidate in the 1980s and 1990s, diversifying into various branches: some more social, characterized by the vindication and confrontation between opposing poles, and others more cultural (or spiritualist), which favored a return to pagan traditions of fertility worship and religious mythologies linked to it. In these tendencies of Western ecofeminism, some figures stand out, such as Petra Kelly, founder of the German Green Party, or the philosophers Karen Warren, Carolyn Merchant or Val Plumwood.

On the other hand, southern ecofeminism places more emphasis on the impacts that environmental deterioration has on women in developing societies (search for water, food, health), and emphasizes the figure of the mother and the ethics of care, while highlighting the role of women in the conservation of traditional forms of agriculture and urban management.

The figures of the Kenyan Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, or the Indian Vandana Shiva, one of the promoters of agro-ecology and permaculture, are clear exponents of this trend.

Beyond my friend's opinions about the convenience or not of mixing the commitment to environmental conservation with other social issues, I believe that there is a relationship, perhaps a deeper one, between ecology and feminism, or rather between ecology and femininity.

On the one hand, the ecology stresses the importance of diversity and cooperation among complementarians. It is not so much a friend of confrontation as of cooperation. From this point of view, the interest of some branches of feminism in keeping women in permanent opposition to men or, even worse, in their maximum aspiration to do the same things that men do, does not make much sense.

Obviously I am not referring here to equal opportunities or the professional and educational promotion of women, with which I could not agree more. I am referring to a certain obsession of some feminisms to consider male values, which in some cases are rather anti-values, as something worthy of imitation. I am struck by the number of series and movies where the protagonist is dedicated to throwing as many or more punches with her male colleagues, as if that makes her more worthy of commendation.

As a student said to me a few years ago, wouldn't it be more reasonable for feminism to demand that men do the same things as women? Perhaps, in my opinion, it would be even better for men to have the same noble values that women have, to learn from them to welcome, to share and to care.

In other words, it seems to me that society would be much better served by employing the female genius in tasks of greater social impact than being a soccer player or firefighter, including many activities that have traditionally been performed by women and that are essential for society to be more humane, such as caring for other people.

In addition, the contribution of women in tasks previously performed only by men should also help to humanize these tasks, providing a different vision, closer to the female perception of things.

Surely environmental care would be one of them, since women -either because of their material instinct, or because of their greater sensitivity or their greater contemplative capacity- I have no doubt that they are more interested and more involved in the conservation of nature than men. All this, obviously, as a general statement.

Sex has a great influence on people's habits and perception, nothing less than a different chromosome, but it does not determine their character, so we can all learn from the best that others, men and women, bring to us, taking advantage of the cultural biodiversity that enriches us all.

The authorEmilio Chuvieco

Professor of Geography at the University of Alcalá.

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