My relationship with feminism is complicated. At eighteen, feminism was central to my identity as a woman. Now, at twenty-one, I don’t know where I stand. I will always champion the traditional definition of feminism, wholeheartedly. But the use and application of feminism today, often leaves me scratching my head. A few weeks ago, whilst in the depths of a YouTube wormhole, I discovered the term ‘Ecofeminism’. In 1974, French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne, first used the term in her writings. Ecofeminism is a framework that studies the relationship between feminism, the environment and animals. Fundamentally, it seeks to reveal the connection between the patriarchal oppression of women, the environment and nature. The liberation of women is intrinsically linked to the liberation of the environment and non-human animals from human destruction. Considering the ongoing climate crisis, the use and application of Ecofeminism seems more relevant now than ever before.
In our society, humanity and nature are viewed as oppositional dualisms. We do not see them as one. Rather than work with nature, we seek to conquer and control it. Hence, the dichotomy man vs. wild. Hierarchical oppression pits women, non-human animals and the environment against one another. This is often expressed through our use of language. We use interchangeable terms to define women, the environment and non-human animals. For example, the environment is referred to as ‘mother earth’ or ‘fertile ground’. We describe women as ‘chicks’, ‘birds’ etc. We attach feminine words to animals, i.e. ‘chicken breast’. Ecofeminists argue that women, the environment and nature are controlled and subjugated by the same domineering patriarchal system. Women, just like the environment and animals, are viewed as natural resources and commodities. To be used, exploited or plundered. Hence, no group can achieve nor realise full liberation, until all groups are fully liberated. This is because their individual oppressions mutually reinforce one another’s.
This logic can be explicitly applied to the relationship between women and non-human animals. Masculine traits, such as domination, aggression and violence are central to the exploitation of women and nonhuman animals. Rather than focusing on impartial moral reasoning, ecofeminists argue for the liberation of non-human animals through an appeal to our emotions. It’s not a moral issue, but an emotional one. Our relationships, connections and similarities with non-human animals are signals for animal liberation. Ecofeminists argue against male approaches, instead, they appeal to our emotions, sympathetic responses and our instinct to care. If we consider the similarities between us and animals, it is obvious we are one and the same. If we can liberate animals through our innate human values, we can liberate ourselves from our own patriarchal oppression.
What case studies can we find in the Western World?
Animals: The Dairy Industry
Unknown to many, the dairy industry is one of the most sexually abusive and violent industries in the world. Just like human mothers, cows must be pregnant to produce milk. Dairy cows are raped (artificially inseminated) for the first time, at around 14 to 28 months old. Like humans, they will give birth to their calf nine months later. Naturally, a baby calf would suckle its mother for up a year. But to produce milk for human consumption, the farmer will separate the calf from its mother. Just like human mothers and their children, a maternal strong bond is formed immediately, this makes separation extremely traumatic. If the calf is a boy, he will be killed for veal at five to seven months old. If the calf is a girl, she will follow the same fate as her mother. After her calf has been removed, she will be impregnated again two to three months later. She will spend seven months of every year, pregnant. This cycle will continue for years, until she is worn out and will then be sent for slaughter. In accordance with ecofeminist logic, if we continue to sexually violate and abuse all females, regardless of their species, then we are, by default effectively oppressing ourselves. Just like non-human animals, women experience sexual violence and abuse at the hands of patriarchal oppressors. If this sexual violence can legally exist in any manner, it will continue to oppress humans and non-humans alike. As humans, with a deep connection and relationship with animals, we can sympathise and understand their suffering. To achieve full female liberation, we must end patriarchal and sexual violence for all, including our non-human counterparts.
The environment: Destruction of Bugoma Forest
In Uganda, the survival of Bugoma Forest is in jeopardy. It is a richly biodiverse forest, with hundreds of different species of birds, shrubs, wildlife and trees. Yet, a bulldozer stands, awaiting to deforest the land for a sugarcane plantation. To prevent this, a grassroot network of women have worked tirelessly to save the forest. They hope their movement will mobilise and politicise discussions over the destruction of the environment from their patriarchal oppressors. In their community, women are traditionally responsible for growing food and collecting water. Hence, they feel the impact of environmental damage and destruction profoundly. Amid a food scarcity, domestic violence rates increase. The National Association for Professional Environmentalists and the National Association for Women’s Action in Development have mobilised five thousand women. They demand both economic and gender justice. They argue that women have a deeper understanding of the land and its natural resources. Their patriarchal government tells them women will achieve nothing. But singlehandedly, these women have mobilised hundreds to fight against environmental destruction. The complex relationship between the environment and women means one cannot be liberated without the other.
In light of the ongoing climate crisis, ecofeminism has gained popularity amongst different groups of women across the globe. If we consider the liberation of animals and the environment, as part of feminist ideology, what implications could this have on modern society? I don’t have the answer to that just yet. But what I do know, is that a future which eradicates the oppression of non-human animals and the environment, will be liberating for all.