A Guide to Ecofeminism: 8 Books to Kickstart your Ecological Journey
The term Ecofeminism was first mobilized during the Chipko Movement in the Himalayas.
A group of women (1973) from Mandal village in the Himalayas in India "hugged" trees to prevent them from being felled. When the loggers came, the women, led by Gaura Devi, surrounded the trees and chanted: "This forest is our mother’s home; we will protect it with all our might."They told the loggers: "If the forest is cut, the soil will be washed away. Landslides and soil erosion will bring floods, which will destroy our fields and homes, our water sources will dry up, and all the other benefits we get from the forest will be finished". Despite threats and abuses, the women stood firm until the contractors left four days later. Word of their actions spread, and the movement now known as the Chipko Movement was formed. Chipko, meaning “hugging” in Hindi, originates from the term 'tree hugger' used for environmental activists.~This excerpt is via Ode Andie Freude.
To learn more about the movement, read this article by Mahatma Gandhi.
Eco-feminism recognizes that the relationship between nature and humanity mirrors the hierarchical and exploitative relationship between the patriarchy and non-male beings. Coined by the French writer Françoise d'Eaubonn in her book Le Féminisme ou la Mort (1974).
"Eco" rather than enviro because it implies interconnectedness and integrated systems rather than duality and binary distinctions. In the West, femininity is defined through the male gaze or what the patriarchy views as feminine and is therefore automatically imagined as inferior to the masculine. Eco- Feminists seek to empower the natural world’s proximity to those we have deemed to be disposable.
Vandana Shiva is one of the most important contemporary ecologists of our time because she writes from the perspective of those affected most directly by global warming, those in the formerly colonized nations, and what we now call the Third World.
In her book, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, & Development, she identifies women on the margins as central to developing lasting ideologies for the longevity of agriculture and sustainability in food production. Shiva argues that "maldevelopment," in an attempt to manipulate nature, has instead set the course for environmental degradation, threatening our survival at the expense of profits. Instead, Shiva sees a solution in expanding the "democracy of life" that non-western countries already exemplify, especially to unravel the culture of disposability that has been normalized and embedded through globalized capitalism. Using examples of women’s peasant movements in India, Shiva points to underrepresented centers of collective power that are often dismissed as futile. Her internationalist class analysis is also prevalent and important to the web of destruction she identifies, as it acknowledges that the alleged sustainable and alternative energy sources will be derived at the cost of sustenance needs that land in the Third World now satisfies.
"The appearance of objectivity that is attached to some value judgments comes from the fact that a particular tradition is used but not recognized." (pg.30)
"Contemporary women’s ecological struggles are new attempts to establish that steadiness and stability are not stagnation, and balance with nature’s essential ecological processes is not technological backwardness but technological sophistication." (pg.36)
"The colonial concept of wastelands was not an assessment of the biological productivity of the land, but of its revenue-generating capacity. ‘Wasteland’ was land that did not pay any revenue because it was uncultivated." (pg.82)
"Women’s scientific and economic contribution has been obscured by the male writing of history and anthropology and by the use of the market and profits as a patriarchal base for evaluation of the significance of technology." (pg.101)
Click to purchase at Thrift Books.
Carol J. Adams - The Sexual Politics of Meat. A good read if you want to understand the history of meat as a political object used to uphold wealthy, racist, and patriarchal protein associations within the dominant western paradigm.
In Carole's book, she argues that the historical equation of nature as feminine and meat as masculine has cultivated a societal norm that posits the natural world (and those who live within it) as a disposable resource while simultaneously exalting the masculine as essential and healthy. Using a critical lens, Adams examines the history, philosophy, and popular culture to uncover western mythologies' relationship to power, resources, and health, especially regarding the symbols that dominate these concepts. Adams challenges contemporary arguments that meat is necessary for the fulfillment, instead calling for vegetarianism in the name of destabilizing patriarchal consumption.
Adams critically examines:
Meat is "a symbol for what is not seen but is always there - patriarchal control of animals."
Contemporary meat production and how it distorts the animal - physically and metaphorically for consumption
Class consciousness - "where poverty forced a conscious distribution of meat, men received it."
The entrance of meat into our western society and its association with power, resources, and well-being - the link between meat eating and the parallel subjugation of women and animals.
Examines language, imagery, and history to show the timeline of categorizing vegetables as passive, easily coerced, and gentle
The performance of gender complicates the bio-essentialist version of womanhood instead of indicating the spectrum of gender identity.
Click to purchase: @ Publisher’s Weekly
Carol J. Adam’s website Instagram
Robin Wall Kimmerer - Braiding Sweetgrass. Looking to rekindle your connection to the birds and the bees? Eat with the swallows and the willow trees as your dinner guests?
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass Robin Wall Kimmer illustrates that to reclaim the fundamental gift of nature - a relationship of reciprocity - society must imagine itself as inherently part of the natural world rather than “othered” or separate from nature. Kimmerer relies on her lived knowledge as a member of the Potawatomi Nation to examine the duality of science and humanity in order to uplift the ancestral secrets which are shared only when we greet, listen, and offer our gratitude. She calls in the natural world, boldly investigating the distinctions between land and humans to blur western designations of person and plant as she turns strawberries into teachers and her father into a student of the earth.
"The field gave to us, we gave to my dad, and we tried to give back to the strawberries ...the strawberries showed us. Because they had given us a gift, an ongoing relationship opened between us." (pg.25)
"That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage."(pg.27)
Click to purchase a physical copy at Milkweed Publishers
Are you a fiction lover but still want to participate in the eco-fem tradition? Look no further than Barbara Kingsolver and her ardent commitment to dynamic female characters who adamantly investigate the power structures in which they reside. Her characters are more than plot points but indicators of how internalized misogyny and embodied disempowerment can manifest in multiple contexts.
In Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Poisonwood Bible, she articulates that the cultural arrogance of the west has stifled our ability for truth, curiosity, and, most importantly, true love. With post-colonial Africa as the setting, Kingsolver describes the unwavering conviction of a Southern Baptist Pastor and his family to “civilize” the Congolese people through westernized methods of gardening, language, clothing, and even attempts at salvation. The novel is compellingly nuanced, as it is narrated through the eyes of his wife and three young daughters, all of whom have to reckon with being victims of their miscalculated superiority. Kingsolver writes as if nature is under our skin, crawling around waiting for its presence to be acknowledged as more than a nuisance which we have to work around, but rather an invitation to radically accept what is already at our fingertips. The Pastor’s unwillingness to accept his faults, as he believes to be backed by God, eerily mirrors white, patriarchal, and capitalist views of climate change as something we can work around or force away.
Click to purchase at Thrift Books
In this novel, she does an excellent job of weaving together the lifelines of multiple families against the backdrop of a sweltering summer in southern Appalachia. As she paints the mountains and the forests, the farms and the fields, she weaves together alternating knowledge of the natural world, creating an environment of biodiversity even amongst her human characters. This is an especially relevant story for the eco-feminist lens as it flips the anthropomorphization of nature on its head, aiding in the debate of whether humans have a right to try and control the natural world or if we are instead tasked with trying to maintain the intrinsic balance. And at an even more micro level, Kingsolver manages to expand on the “predator vs. prey” dynamic through the eyes of both humans and animals.
Click to purchase at Thrift Books
Alice Walker - In Search of Our Mothers Gardens
In Alice Walker’s collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens, she uncovers the untapped knowledge, creativity, and lived experiences of black women’s history, which has been violently suppressed and simultaneously defined by the male gaze. This collection of essays walks the reader through the Civil Rights movement and anti-nuclear movements of the late 1970s and 80s. It is important to understand that Walker defines her liberatory ideology as “womanist,” which is distinct from “feminist” in that this term has historically been defined by white, wealthy women and does not reflect the basis of which black women and women of color endure oppression. Womanist is defined as Walker details the willful yet dynamic nature of the women who embody this term through her discussion of writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Jeanne Toomer, and Langston Hughes. This collection of prose details the gruesome reality we face as an international community when we deem certain groups of people as disposable when we believe some knowledge to be less than other - parallelling that of eco-feminist foundational principles.
"For you will find, as women have found through the ages, that changing the world requires a lot of mobility. Requires money and, as Virginia Woolf puts it so well, "a room of one’s own." (pg 37)
Click to purchase at Thrift Books.
Alice Waker’s website
Lee Pivnik - The Institute of Queer Ecology (IOQE)
In an attempt to birth ecology from a historically subjugated mutualist queer community lens, the Institute of Queer Ecology, founded in January 2017, challenges modern assumptions that posit biodiversity and competition as beneficial to the natural order, instead looking towards examples of interspecies cooperation as a path to reclaim our deteriorated earth. Using feminist theory and decolonized thought, the collective aims to “reintegrate[ing] queerness into scientific discourse and bring[ing] artists to the table of environmental decision making." The institute engages with the idea of interconnectivity, "using artistic research to uplift marginalized voices and finding environmental solutions on the periphery of the climate movement." The potential of a scientific center resistant to traditional rigid categorization lies in its ability to topple harmful hierarchies that limit our knowledge base to a singular perspective. Here we see a true site of expansive research where "ecology is larger than life." (The Institute of Queer Ecology)
The idea of mimicry lies at the heart of the Institute of Queer Ecology’s vibrant identity—mimicry as an act of survival, manifested in the behavior of many species and distinctly connected to the history of queer communities. IQECO presents as an institute in an act of mimicry and infiltration."(The Institute of Queer Ecology)
"What I’m most interested in right now is rewiring our understanding of how we relate to other species and how we relate to each other from Darwin’s understanding of competition to one more of what Sylvia Earle, for example, explains as collaboration." - Lee Pivnik
On Instagram, find H.O.R.I.Z.O.N. (Habitat One: Regenerative Interconnected Zone of Nurture): a multiplayer gathering space that invites people to come together and share their thoughts, proposals, dreams, and offerings for a world more responsive to natural rhythms and each others’ presence.
Dr. Joan Roughgarden - Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
In this innovative celebration of diversity and affirmation of individuality in animals and humans, Joan Roughgarden challenges accepted wisdom about gender identity and sexual orientation. A distinguished evolutionary biologist, Roughgarden takes on the medical establishment, the Bible, social science—and even Darwin himself. She leads the reader through a fascinating discussion of diversity in gender and sexuality among fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals, including primates. Evolution's Rainbow explains how this diversity develops from the action of genes and hormones and how people differ from each other in all aspects of body and behavior. Roughgarden reconstructs primary science in light of feminist, gay, and transgender criticism and redefines our understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality. This witty, playful, and daring book has revolutionized our understanding of sexuality. ~Synopsis repurposed from AbeBooks
Click to purchase at AbeBooks
Dr. Joan Roughgarden's website
Marsha Meyers (they/she) is an artist, writer, and ocean lover born and raised in San Diego, California, before leaving the west coast to pursue a Global Studies and Cultural Anthropology degree from Loyola University of Chicago, where they graduated in 2021. When Marsha isn’t working a nine-to-five, they spend time skating, camping, writing poetry and political analysis, practicing yoga, and wading in the Pacific Ocean - returning to the place she calls home once again. Marsha’s Instagram: @ marshameyerss
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