Ecofeminism

Ecofeminists, not just advocates of the rights view, are among those contemporary moral philosophers who differ significantly with deep ecologists. Like other isms, ecofeminism is not a monolithic position (see Adams; Diamond and Orenstein; Warren; Gaard); instead, it represents a number of defining tendencies, including in particular a principled stance that puts its advocates on the side of those who historically have been victims of oppression. For obvious reasons, women are pictured as among the oppressed, but the scope of ecofeminism's concern is not limited to women. The same ideology that sanctions oppression based on gender, ecofeminists maintain, also sanctions oppression based on race, class, and physical abilities, for example; moreover, beyond the boundaries of our species, this same ideology, ecofeminists believe, sanctions the oppression of nature in general and of nonhuman animals in particular.

In a number of fundamental ways, ecofeminism's diagnosis of the ideology of oppression resembles deep ecology's diagnosis of the deficiencies of traditional moral theory. As is true of the latter, ecofeminism challenges the myth of the isolated individual, existing apart from the world, and instead affirms the interconnectedness of all life. Moreover, no less than deep ecologists, ecofeminists abjure the overintellecutalization of the moral life characteristic of traditional moral theories, with their abstract, universal, and impartial fundamental principles. But whereas deep ecologists locate the fundamental cause of moral theory gone awry in anthropocentrism (human-centeredness), ecofeminists argue that it is androcentrism (male-centeredness) that is the real cause.

Nowhere is this difference clearer than in the case of sport or recreational hunting. Devall and Sessions celebrate the value of this practice as a means of bonding ever more closely with the natural world, of discovering "self in Self"; ecofeminists, by contrast, detect in the hunt the vestiges of patriarchy—the male's need to dominate and subdue (Kheel). More fundamentally, there is the lingering suspicion that deep ecologists continue to view the value of the natural world instrumentally, as a means to greater self-awareness and self-knowledge. In this respect, and despite appearances to the contrary, deep ecology does not represent a "paradigm shift" away from the anthropocentric worldview it aspires to replace.

Ecofeminists believe they offer a deeper account of the moral life than do deep ecologists, one that goes to the very foundations of Western moral theorizing. The idea of "the rights of the individual" is diagnosed as a symptom of patriarchal thought, rooted in the (male) myth of the isolated individual. Morally, a "paradigm shift" occurs when, in place of assertions of rights, we freely, lovingly choose to take care of and assume responsibility for those who are victims of oppression, both within and beyond the extended human family, other animals included. Writing for the growing number of ecofeminists, Josephine Donovan states:

Natural rights and utilitarianism present impressive and useful arguments for the ethical treatment of animals. Yet, it is also possible—indeed, nec-essary—to ground that ethic in an emotional and spiritual conversation with nonhuman life forms. Out of a woman's relational culture of caring and attentive love [there] emerges the basis for a feminist ethic for the treatment of animals. We should not kill, eat, torture, and exploit animals because they do not want to be so treated, and we know that. If we listen, we can hear them. ("Animal Rights and Feminist Theory," in Gaard, p. 185)

Thus, whereas the grounds for practical action offered by ecofeminists differ fundamentally from those favored by the rights view, and despite the foundational gulf that separates these two theories, both philosophies arguably have the same abolitionist practical implications.

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