Contributions of Ecofeminism

One might summarize ecofeminism's contributions to environmental ethics as threefold: First, ecofeminism challenges male-gender bias wherever and whenever it occurs. Second, ecofeminism offers a corrective lens to oppressive male-gender bias by self-consciously attempting to develop environmental analyses and positions that are not male-gender-biased. Third, ecofeminism offers a transformative perspective in environmental ethics, one that builds on but goes beyond both feminisms that do not have an adequate environmental component and environmental ethics that does not have a distinctly feminist component.

Ecofeminism does this by using a feminist lens to form different insights about women-nature connections; those environmental ethics that do not include (eco)feminist insights are viewed by ecofeminists as either antifeminist or nonfeminist. Nonfeminist environmental ethics, unlike antifeminist environmental ethics, is not ipso facto male-biased; its claims and conclusions might be quite compatible with and supportive of ecofeminist ethics. What an explicitly (eco)feminist environmental ethic does is overtly challenge androcentric (male-centered) bias in the way environmental ethics is conceived and practiced. For this reason, many ecofeminists criticize other environmental ethics (e.g., deep ecology, traditional Western ethics) for either their androcentric bias or their inattention (however inadvertent or unintentional) to important historical and empirical data about women-nature connections. Ecofeminists insist that within the intellectual traditions of the past few thousand years and at least of Western cultures, anthropocentrism (human-centeredness) has functioned historically as androcentrism (male-centeredness); failure to see this results in a gender blindness that is harmful to the framing of an environmental ethic or philosophy.

Similarly, ecofeminist conceptual concerns challenge the dominant notions of reason, knowledge, and objectivity, as well as the dominant notions of the human self that underlie them, that have been a mainstay of Western philosophical and environmental ethics. What ecofeminists seek is the development of different, nonoppressive notions of each that change or expand how the notions of reason, knowledge, objectivity, and the human self are conceived. In this vein, many ecofeminists challenge the extension of rights by animal-rights ethics to some nonhuman animals because those rights are based on historically intact, unrevised (and hence problematic) notions of the human self as moral agent (claimant, right holder, interest carrier) separate from and superior to lower plant and inorganic life.

Ecofeminist epistemological concerns raise related issues about the underrepresentation of women's voices in environmental ethics. Such concerns prompt ecofeminists to criticize, for example, land ethicists for their apparent lack of interest in gender issues. Ecofeminist concerns about gendered language and nature symbols (e.g., Mother Earth) challenge those environmental ethics (e.g., stewardship ethics) that uncritically adopt or perpetuate gender-exclusive or gender-problematic language and symbol systems (see Adams). Ecofeminist political concerns about unequal distributions of power and privilege in maintaining systems of domination (e.g., domination over women and nature) challenge any environmental ethic uncorrected by feminism to pay more attention to power and privilege in discussions of environmental ethics (see Warren, 1990).

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