The following essay was written in the early 90s. While it is still offers an excellent overview of ecofeminism, we feel in retrospect it has some shortcomings: the first, a matter of miscommunication; the second, a rethinking of the role of patriarchy.
The bold, gynocentric viewpoint of the Ecofeminist Visions essay has led some people (mostly men) to assume ecofeminism supports male bashing, if not a call for women's turn to lord it over men. While we stand by everything we wrote in this essay, the record needs to be more clearly set straight. Ecofeminism is 100% opposed to power-over relationships. That includes the flip side of the coin in which women would dominate men.
The essay assumes patriarchy is the root cause of all our problems. While the patriarchal mindset is extremely accountable for much of humankind's dysfunctionality, patriarchy is only 5,000 years old.
Emerging theories from thinkers like Chellis Glendinning contend that our dislocation with nature (and hence with ourselves) goes back 20,000 years or so ago when we moved from the gatherer/hunter stage to that of domesticating plants and animals. Anthropocentrism and speciesismour embedded impulse to tame and conquer natureis a more likely cause of our dualistic, power-over way of thinking.
By Cathleen and Colleen McGuireWritten 1991, revised 1993
- We must remember the chemical
connections between ourselves and the stars,
between the beginning and now. We must remember
and reactivate the primal consciousness of
oneness between all living things.
Co-author, The Great Cosmic Mother
Do you remember the first time you heard the word
"ecofeminism"? Despite its novelty, it probably
resonated a familiarity since "ecology" and
"feminism" are common words. Who put these two
concepts together and why? Does the combination of
"eco" and "feminism" make sense? Is there
a need for this new term?
As a practice, ecofeminism is as ancient as our species.
New archeological discoveries of early civilizations in
Europe and Mesopotamia yield a vast array of evidence that an
egalitarian lifestyle and a unity with nature were prevalent
among ancient peoples of those regions. Theories supporting
territoriality, survival of the fittest, or man the great
hunter are appearing to be inadequate, if not false. Many
ecofeminists believe that the nature of our species is more
in line with how we lived prior to the debut of written
history. This period, extending as far back as 250,000 years,
was a time when cooperationnot competitionwas
valued and necessary for species survival. It was also a time
when female deities, or goddesses, were widely worshipped and
societies were more women-centered.
It is important to keep in mind that, for the most part,
indigenous cultures worldwide have held on more steadfastly
to an earth-based worldview and communal way of being than
Eurocentric cultures. This essay is preoccupied with European
history and ways of thinking because Western powers dominate
the entire globe and are at the root of much of the
worlds most pressing problems.
As a theory, ecofeminism is fairly new. French feminist
Françoise D'Eaubonne is credited with coining the word in
1974. She sought to describe the horrific violence inflicted
on women and nature as a result of male domination. Her early
analysis has since been expanded upon and refined, based in
part on new conceptions of the history and character of our
species. While feminism is a primary entry point, women and
men also come to ecofeminism through environmentalism,
alternative spirituality, animal rights, and other
progressive affiliations. Contributions from these divergent
sectors have all influenced ecofeminist theory and action.
Although there is no one "correct" ecofeminism,
most ecofeminists would agree with one of its core precepts:
that the domination of women and the domination of nature are
fundamentally connected. In other words, philosophically
speaking, violence against Mother Earth is intertwined with
violence against women. These twin oppressions were created
and are perpetuated by an ideology called patriarchy.
Pinpointing the origins of patriarchal thought and practice
is as elusive as trying to identify who invented the wheel.
Suffice it to say, patriarchy arose roughly 5,000 years ago
and has discombobulated our planet ever since.
The Western patriarchal way of thinking is based on
"dualism." Dualism is a world view that splits mind
from body, spirit from matter, male from female, humans from
nature. It thereby creates imbalanced power relationships by
dividing entities in half, according one side of the equation
greater worth over the other. These dichotomies give rise to
an "other" which is then demonized and
discriminated against. The patriarchal mindset is often
referred to by academics as the "dominant/subordinant
duality paradigm," and in its classic form delineates
the following hierarchy of value:
The modern version of the paradigm includes racism (white
people valued over people of color, sexism (men prioritized
over women), speciesism (human animals deemed superior to
other animals), and classism and imperialism (haves pitted
The patriarchal belief system also places higher value on
linear, mechanistic, analytical, and rational qualities. The
intuitive, emotional, anarchic, and earthy are negatively
perceived as passive, weak, irrationaland female.
Through dualistic thinking, nature is paradoxically
considered inert, dead mass and a wild, chaotic force.
By either reckoning, nature is to be dominated and harnessed
for human ends. By extension, the patriarchal mind
objectifies, controls, and devalues all that is labeled
Both women and men are socialized to accept these man-made
values. Although men, too, are harmed by patriarchal
practices, they nonetheless benefit from them at the expense
of women. For example, men own 99% of the world's property
while women perform two-thirds of the world's labor. Also,
adult men rarely shoulder the physical, social, political, or
psychological consequences of the experience of rape. Except
for inmates, only women are burdened withalbeit to
varying degreesthe psychic fear induced by a climate in
which the threat of sexual violation looms like a distant
rain cloud. These are but two examples illustrating the
primacy of male supremacy relative to the oppression of other
social groups within patriarchy.
Although ecofeminism is not a movement in the traditional
sense, patterns exist among those who think and act with an
ecofeminist consciousness. Ecofeminists affirm traditional
"female" qualities that are cooperative, nurturing,
supportive, nonviolent and sensual. Ecofeminists further
strive for a balanced synthesis with traditional
"male" qualities that in appropriate contexts have
value, such as competitiveness, individuality, assertiveness,
leadership, and intellectuality. The concept of
"female" and "male," however, are social
constructions and not innate qualities. Both men and women
share in the pool of human character traits, some of which
came to be categorized as "female" and
"male" after dualistic thinking took hold.
By and large, most feminisms (ex., liberal feminism,
womanism, radical feminism, etc.) to some degree incorporate
the above perspective. Ecofeminism, however, expands upon all
other versions of feminism in its efforts to develop a more
comprehensive analysis of humans and nature. While agreeing
with the feminist premise that gender is a social
construction, ecofeminists also embrace biological
difference. In an effort to be "equal," many
mainstream feminists downplay innate female capabilities such
as birthing, lactation, and menstruation. Ecofeminists are
proud of women's unique physiology, and feel that equality
with men should not come at the expense of disavowing or
understating our biological differences. This does not imply
that ecofeminists necessarily perceive women as closer to
nature. As with other animals, humans are intrinsically part
of nature. Ecofeminists are simply at the feminist forefront
in developing a deeper analysis of the human/nature dynamic.
Ecofeminists are often perceived as
environmentally-oriented women who are feminist, or
alternatively, as feminists who focus on the environment. Yet
ecofeminism is not simply a subset of feminism or ecology. It
is in many respects a meta-feminism, if you will, offering a
distinct and more broadened methodology for understanding the
In addition to feminism and environmentalism, the
kaleidoscopic lens of ecofeminism includes a prepatriarchal
historical analysis, an embracement of spirituality, and a
commitment to challenging racism, classism, imperialism,
heterosexism, ageism, ableism, anthropocentrism (i.e., human
supremacism), speciesism and other forms of oppression.
Although ecofeminists are immersed in social and political
struggles for reform on a variety of fronts, there remains a
certain sympathy for Ynestra Kings classic declaration,
"We dont want a piece of your rotten, carcinogenic
Women's spirituality, such as goddess spirituality, has
likewise left a distinct imprint on ecofeminism. Alienated by
male-centered religions, peopleespecially
womenare increasingly turning to spiritualities which
validate female divineness. The synthesis of the political
and the spiritual is one of ecofeminism's most appealing
Ecofeminist grassroots activism is taking place the world
over. Some inspiring examples include:
- Wangari Maathai's formation of the Green Belt
Movement in Kenya in which rural women plant trees as
part of a soil conservation effort to avert
desertification of their land;
- The women of Greenham Common Peace Camp in England
whose over ten-year presence was instrumental in the
removal of nuclear missiles there;
- Mohawk women along the St. Lawrence River
establishing the Akwesasne Mother's Milk Project to
monitor PCB toxicity while continuing to promote
breastfeeding as a primary option for women and their
- Judi Bari's
bringing together labor and environmental groups in
Northern California to save the remaining five
percent of old growth redwood forests from corporate
- Artist Helene Aylon's Sister Rivers
performance ritual in which Japanese women placed
rice, seeds, and soil from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
pillowcases and then floated the artwork down the
- Bernadette Cozart, a gardener and founder of the
Greening of Harlem, who organizes diverse community
groups in Harlem to transform vacant garbage-strewn
lots into food and flower gardens;
- Lois Gibbs' exposure of Love Canal as a toxic waste
site, and her founding of the Citizens Clearinghouse
for Hazardous Waste to share tactical skills with
local environmental groups.
Finding Your Ecofeminist Self
What follows is a reductionist hodgepodge of ecofeminist
ideas. This random melange is presented to give the reader a
sense and flavor of the broad continuum of ideas embraced by
ecofeminists. These sound bites, so to speak, encompass
somebut by no means allof the various dimensions
of ecofeminism. These ideas are explored in other chapters of
this book and are expressed more elaborately in a burgeoning
library of ecofeminist literature.
Take note, however, that what is assuredly ecofeminist to one
person might be unfamiliar or possibly unacceptable to
To give shape to your personal interests and beliefs,
check off those concepts that especially speak to you. Review
your choices. Do you see your own ecofeminist visions
- The individual and the collective are of equal
- Politics and spirituality go hand in hand, as do
theory and action.
- Experiential knowing is as useful and important
as "objective" scientific knowledge.
- It does not make sense to prioritize one
oppression over any other. All struggles are
- Fear of death is a constructed anxiety.
Ecofeminists respect death, for it is an integral
part of the natural cycles of life.
- As Starhawk
writes, power can be positive when it is
over" is the negative corollary fostered by
- Both culture and biology determine female and
- Sexual repression and control of women's
reproductive powers are key mechanisms used to
maintain patriarchal hegemony.
- Biogenetic engineering is dangerous for many
reasons, one of which is because it is predicated
on the elimination of women as the primary force
in the creation of life.
- Early in the evolution of the human species, it
has been postulated that females had an estrus
cycle, akin to animals in heat. Women's
revolutionary contribution to the emergence of Homo
sapiens was the development of the menstrual
cycle. This enabled human animals to have sex at
any time and for reasons other than procreation,
such as for companionship, fun, spiritual
bonding, and physical release.
- Sexuality was enhanced by the development in
women's bodies of the clitoris, the only organ
existing exclusively for sexual pleasure.
- Menstruation was once a powerful and celebratory
act. During this uniquely creative time, bleeding
women bonded with each other in concert with the
primordial rhythms of the moon.
- Growing evidence indicates that women may well
have been the first farmers, weavers,
doctors/healers, astronomers, potters, and
mathematicians. Some say women also developed
language. In short, women were pivotal architects
in the formation of civilization.
- In the context of 250,000 years of human history,
women's sexuality has only recently been bought
and sold as a commodity. Claims that prostitution
is the "oldest profession on earth" are
simply nonsense and insulting.
- All spirituality was originally earth-based or
pagan and centered on a oneness with nature.
Organized religion based on a single,
authoritarian, male, hierarchical godhead figure
(i.e., monotheism) is a relatively new concept
arising a mere 2,000 or so years ago.
- People, particularly Westerners, can restore deep
meaning to their lives by rediscovering and
nurturing their own prepatriarchal spiritual and
cultural rootsinstead of appropriating that
of indigenous peoples.
- Just as diversity thrives in nature,
multiculturalism likewise is an asset to society.
- Oneness with nature is to be honored, but not
romanticized. The idyllic in nature is
counterbalanced by cataclysmic forces.
- Nature does not need humans to survive. Contrary
to techno-capitalist propaganda, human dependence
on nature is inescapable. It is counterintuitive
to manipulate, control, and attempt to transcend
- It is doubtful whether our species is innately
greedy, aggressive or competitive. Darwinian
theories are not the final word on the nature of
- Attacking patriarchy is not the same as
male-bashing. The masculine sex is not "the
enemy." Rather, patriarchy is a particular
way of thinking whose practitioners can be of any
- Just as white people need to root out
internalized racism and not rely on people of
color to educate them, so too, men must take
initiative to expunge male privilege and not wait
for women to petition the cause.
- The nuclear family grew out of the practice of
woman as mans private property. Alternative
family arrangements deserve recognition and legal
- Femicide today has reached epidemic proportions.
Worldwide statistics show that up to 100 million
women are "missing" because of a
preference for male children. Infant females are
disproportionately aborted, killed at birth, or
die through neglect.
- The Burning Times was a misogynist holocaust in
European history when tens of thousands (some say
millions) of people, mostly women, were tortured
and murdered. Persecuted as witches, the
political agenda of the Church and State all but
obliterated the accumulated wisdom of ancient
- For thousands of centuries earth-based medicine
worked. The Western medical establishment
imperiously devalues the healing power of the
body, the psyche, herbs, and nutrition.
- Eating factory-farmed animals and dairy products
devastates the environment, exacerbates world
hunger, and is a major cause of death in
meat-eating societies. The extreme suffering
nonhuman animals endure solely to satisfy the
carnivore palate is unconscionable.
- Overpopulation is inevitable when the control of
reproduction is wrested away from women, and
educational and contraceptive resources are not
- In ancient times, women exercised exclusive
self-determination over their bodies. Our
foresisters had extensive holistic knowledge
about birth control, abortion, birthing, and
other gynecological concerns.
- It is imperative that environmental politics
incorporate issues of race, class, gender and
species in their agendas.
- Massive infusions of greenery in urban areas
would benefit the working class and multicultural
residents of inner cities who lack the resources
of privileged people to purchase nature retreats.
- Bioregionalismsustaining the ecology within
ones habitatmakes sense for the
welfare of our planet.
- Private car ownership, sustained by innumerable
tax breaks, is destructive to the planet. Mass
transportation systems and nonmotorized vehicles
are earth-friendly and warrant gargantuan tax
subsidies. Auto dependency is carmegeddon
in the making.
- Through the high tech software of public
relations and advertising, ruling monopolies
utilize television as one of their most powerful
weapons. Television programs chronic viewers for
rampant consumerism, political inertia, and
- Process matters. The ends never justify the
- If it's not appropriate to women and nature, it's
What Is To Be Un-Done?
The Western linear calendar declares the approach of the
second millennium, obscuring the fact that our species is
thousands of centuries old. Male-dominated history has
occupied less than two percent of the time period Homo
sapiens have existed on earth. Yet, in a mere 5,000
years, the patriarchal mindset has managed to steer us all to
the brink of extinction. Many ecofeminists believe this 5,000
year-old path is an aberration, a cancer gone haywire.
We as a species are in an arrested state of adolescence as
insecure egos (mostly male) compete for unrestrained power
and attention. Playing god, they manipulate life by splicing
genes in a frenzy of womb envy. As profit-driven warmongers,
they traffic in death. Defiling our habitat, the patriarchs
seem to be recklessly inventing new ways to junk Earth like
some inner city ghetto and venture off in sterile techno-womb
machines for ever more vainglorious conquests on the cosmic
In opposition to such a frightening mindset, ecofeminism
offers radical alternatives for reconstituting life on Earth.
We seek to conjure new postpatriarchal ways of being
based in part on prepatriarchal values that resurrect
and restore our original profound oneness with nature. By
reactivating the ancient spiritual power of the feminine
principle and balancing it with the male principle, men and
women together can abandon dualistic thinking, "grow
up," and live as sensitive, mature human beings in
harmony with other animals and our planet.
As visionary activists, ecofeminists of all colors and
classes are midwifing earths denizens toward a new
version of an ancient consciousness. A millennia of
gynocentric wisdom exists with which to inform our collective
and individual reality. Truths lay dormant in your own
genetic memory. Reach deep within. Let us spiral outward from
the past, in consciousness with the present, and onward to