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Women Nature Relations from Neolithic Period to the Present: Ecofeminism

Writer: Nujen Yuksel


With the advent of agriculture, people who had been steadily making their way up the evolutionary ladder eventually shifted from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle. This transition to agriculture—which dates back to the Neolithic period—has resulted in reduced gender equality as a consequence of patriarchal values and beliefs regarding the proper role of women in society. Thus, the onset of similar suppression of women and the environment had begun to progress rapidly. Although it seems unconnected, the conundrum of women-nature relations was ironically linked as two aspects damaged by the patriarchal society.


In the midst of a historical moment when imperialism, environmental degradation, labor exploitation, and racism were all intertwined, a theory known as ecofeminism emerged. While many people were painfully aware of women's subjugation, the ecofeminism concept gained popularity. It was a social movement and a type of theoretical inquiry, seeking to establish a politics of planetary survival and social equality in response to dominance forms. Accordingly, this perspective asserts that patriarchal society and male dominance are the leading causes of both women's and environmental problems, and hence contends that women should organize to prevent the patriarchal system and its extension, capitalism.


The term ecofeminism was first introduced by French writer and activist Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1972. Following that, English writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who wanted to emphasize the relationship between nature and women in her book Vindication of the Rights of Women, had a big impact on this subject. The ideas presented in the work of Wollstonecraft, one of the movement's pioneers, play a critical role in understanding the period's ideology.


Wollstonecraft begins the introduction to the book by setting up its fundamental philosophical question: are the differences between the sexes caused by nature or by a civilization that has historically been very partial to men? She answers this question by identifying the neglect of education as the grand source of the misery in society, especially women’s wretched inequality to men. Wollstonecraft contrasts the goals of women’s current false system of education and her plan for a virtuous form of female education. The latter educates women merely to inspire love by fostering typical feminine ideals of beauty, whereas the former teaches them to demand respect through the use of 'their skills and virtues, which makes it obvious that Wollstonecraft uses gender preconceptions of the period to question their power.


Although some ecofeminists and materialist feminists are troubled about ecofeminism's incoherence the bulk of ecofeminists does not want a unified, coherent epistemic perspective. Rather, diversely placed, overlapping, and interconnected perspectives have evolved under the banner of ecofeminism. Unity in ecofeminism is not assumed: although ecofeminists have similar politics and ethics, their strategic and epistemological stances are diverse and often conflicting.


The common politics and ethics of ecofeminists, on the other hand, drive coherence. Ecofeminism reveals that successful collectivities may exist in the absence of a party line. Most crucially, ecofeminism is an alliance that undermines the premise that political unity must be founded on or invoked by a single ideological or epistemological framework.


The ecofeminist idea tends to work with many currents, such as environmentalism, post-colonial theory (the study of seeking solutions in colonial conditions), scientific course, anti-capitalism, queer theory, and socialism to resolve the limits on women and nature. As Ynestra King— an ecofeminist writer and theorist, indicates: (King, 1995) “[F]or ecofeminists "peace" is understood as being connected to a new definition of national and planetary security which includes societies free of violence, with nature-friendly technologies and sustainable economies that are respectful or place and culture.”


Despite the fact that this concept has not been the focus of many magazines or articles, women who wished to demonstrate their strength and opposition in the historical process have made a statement with their acts.


Chipko movement, also known as Chipko Andolan, nonviolent social and ecological movement led by rural villagers, notably women, in India in the 1970s to protect trees and forests threatened by government-backed logging. The movement began in the Himalayan area of Uttarakhand in 1973 and swiftly spread throughout the Indian Himalayas. The Hindi word chipko means "to hug" or "to cling to," which mirrors the activists' principal method of clutching trees to obstruct loggers. As the movement progressed, demonstrations became more project-oriented and expanded to cover the entire ecology of the region, eventually becoming the "Save Himalaya" movement. Similarly, a huge reforestation effort resulted in the planting of over one million trees throughout the region. Chipko demonstrations restarted in 2004 in response to the removal of the logging ban in Himachal Pradesh, although they were unsuccessful.


The Green Belt Movement—- one of many pioneer movements, is a community-based environmental group that enables communities— particularly women, to protect the environment and improve their livelihoods. It was founded in 1977 under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya by Professor Wangari Maathai in response to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was becoming less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. It encouraged the women to collaborate to bind the soil, conserve rainwater, supply food, and firewood, and receive a modest monetary reward for their efforts.


Of course, like with any novel movement that challenged existing structures and stereotypes, ecofeminism has been heavily criticized. Anti-essentialist feminist groups, for example, condemned ecofeminism for adopting an essentialist worldview, so strengthening male domination. The core argument of this criticism is that ecofeminism assumes a stark dichotomy between men and women. This dualistic feature has been accused of focusing too much on the distinctions between men and women.


Social ecologists such as Janet Biehl have criticized ecofeminism as being too mystical and focused too much on a mystical relationship between nature and women. This mystical perspective, she claims, makes it impossible to handle women's genuine difficulties. Biehl also claims that ecofeminism is anti-developmental, and reactionary, rather than progressive. Moreover, Rosemary Radford Ruether— an American feminist scholar and Roman Catholic theologian known for her significant attribution to feminist perspective in Christian theology, considers ecofeminism's overemphasis on mysticism to be hazardous, arguing that a more effective mix of feminism and mysticism is feasible.


In conclusion, aside from the criticisms, a framework such as ecofeminism may help see how social concerns and the environment are connected, and how solutions in one area can affect beneficial outcomes in the other. Recognizing these intersections and how to meet them is crucial to maintaining equitable sustainability and comprehending humanity's relationship with the environment.


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