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"Ecofeminism and Feminist Theory"
by Carolyn Merchant
From Reweaving the Web: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

"Healing the Wounds"
by Ynestra King
From Reweaving the Web: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Readings Were Discussed: February 2, 1992
Present: Marsha L., Kalisa, Colleen M., Catherine C., Cathleen M., Ora M., Stephanie R., and Robin Z.

This month we explored the distinctions between feminism and ecofeminism. In describing three primary strands of feminism—liberal feminism, socialist feminism, and radical feminism—Carolyn Merchant and Ynestra King show that second wave feminism is not monolithic.

A bit confused by the various factions, we welcomed this opportunity to dissect second wave feminist theory in order to clarify ecofeminism's roots. We defined in very general terms the predominate (yet often overlapping) characteristics of each type of feminism.

Liberal Feminism: mainstream; reformist; largely white middle class constituency; believes women's presence in the patriarchal system can humanize it; struggles primarily within the system for equal rights for women.

Socialist Feminism: sees societal problems as rooted in material conditions (historical materialism); emphasizes the economic value of women's labor; anthropocentric (human-centered) in its conception of nature as a resource for human needs; advocates political solutions; dismisses spiritual/personal struggle as ineffective for revolutionary social change.

Radical Feminism: sees male supremacism (patriarchy) as the root of societal ills; strong focus on the politics of biology. One version of radical feminism is political, rationalist, and theoretical; feels women's biology (birthing, menstruation, etc.) under patriarchy limits women's access to and power in the public sphere; rejects viewing women as closer to nature.

In contrast, radical cultural feminism exalts in all that is "essentially" female; called cultural feminism due to its celebration of women's culture (women's music, goddess worship, etc.); embraces connections with nature and animals; lesbian separatists have roots in this camp; believes women and women's culture hold the key to planetary healing.

We all agreed that ecofeminism takes something from each variant of feminism. Most women supported liberal feminism's struggle for equal rights, but rejected its limited agenda. To paraphrase ecofeminist Hazel Henderson, "It's not about scrambling for deck chairs on the Titanic."

Most women also appreciated socialist feminism's strong class analysis, but found its repudiation of spirituality and its willingness to exploit nature to be problematic. By and large, most of us felt that ecofeminism's roots come primarily from radical cultural feminism. One woman said she experienced the greatest degree of racial and class diversity within the realm of women's spirituality.

In discussing Alice Walker's term "womanist," women revealed an eagerness to further explore ecofeminist of color perspectives. Most of us rejected separatism as an end in itself arguing that the masculine principle and male animals (human and nonhuman) are part of nature. Conversely, though, one woman challenged us to envision parthenogenesis.

Another woman suggested that the source of unequal power relations may not be gender-based (per radical feminism) or class-based (per socialist feminism), but species-based, stemming from a prepatriarchal domination of humans over nature and other animals.

One woman expressed exasperation that ecofeminism is usually relegated to the realm of ecology instead of treated as a bona fide branch of feminism—if not its third wave. We were excited by another woman's suggestion that ecofeminism seems to be developing its own methodology, bringing together feminism, environmentalism, alternative spiritualities, and the social justice politics of race, class, gender, species, and other forms of oppression.

Some precepts we considered essential to an ecofeminist methodology included the idea that all life is interconnected, that oppressions cannot be prioritized, that humans are not the apex of life on earth, and that rebalancing dualistic thinking is paramount, i.e., that politics and spirituality go hand in hand, as do activism and theory (praxis).

One woman offered a concrete example of an ecofeminist approach to an urgent political issue. Biotechnology corporations, the City of New York and Columbia University intend to demolish Harlem's historic Audubon Ballroom (rallying site for Marcus Garvey, Puerto Rican nationalist Don Pedro Albizu Campos, and Malcolm X) and build in its place a massive, four-block biotech plant and research lab.

As anti-racist and anti-capitalist activists, ecofeminists can join in the struggle to preserve the Audubon as an international cultural landmark, and prevent the proposed Frankenstein factory from exploiting the people of Harlem. As feminists, ecofeminists can oppose yet another high-tech venture by patriarchal geneticists to wrest reproduction and the creation of life away from females. As animal liberation activists, ecofeminists can protest the experimentation on animals. As ecologists, ecofeminists can help mobilize against the hazardous artificial viruses and chemical wastes that will endanger the environment.

Wide webs of support and resistence can clearly be woven. The struggle against biotechnology in Harlem is a case in point of how an ecofeminist methodology can strengthen common connections among diverse and all too often separate movements.

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