Intersectional Ecofeminism: Environmentalism for Everybody

By
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

chipko-tree-huggersThe Women’s March was certainly a resounding and inspiring event. An estimated 2.5 million people around the world peacefully marched in solidarity for various women’s and social rights issues against the rhetoric of the newfound federal administration. Having attended the march in Eureka, I must admit I was astounded by the diversity of issues and people whom which were present. It was certainly a spectacle, and aimed to leave the crowd with a warm and fuzzy feeling to last them the next news day.

The Women’s March made an impression on everyone, but not without some important critiques. The success of the march set the precedent for the Science March, Peoples Climate March, and any other future collective efforts. However, one important question lingered as the crowds dissipated: was the mainstream feminist movement finally ready to treat the perspectives and experiences of womyn of differing races, sexes, and classes with the same gravity of those as their counterparts—and what does this mean for environmentalist movements whom have been historically female driven?

For the past 60 years, women have comprised some of the most powerful voices within the environmentalist movement. Consider Rachel Carson and her influential book Silent Spring, the Chipko movement ,Vandana Shiva’s and Wangari Maathai’s decades of advocacy— and more recently, Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx, Dakota Access Sacred Stone Campground founder and water protector LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, and local favorites Julia Butterfly Hill, Judi Bari, and Alicia Littletree Bales. EPIC has its own series of powerful women such as our co-founder Cecilia Lanman, and long time attorney Sharon Duggan.

Feminism is universally understood as a movement for women (but men can be feminists too!). Unfortunately, that often means that the needs and wants of privileged cis (people whose gender identity matches assigned sex) white ladies get addressed, and the experiences and voices of trans womyn, indigenous womyn, womyn of color, poor womyn, and womyn with disabilities is often ignored. In comparison, female driven environmentalist movements are predominately rooted in ecofeminist theories, which incorporate a wide range of intersectional concerns for all identifying women—including trans and non-gender conforming experiences.

Historically, marginalized groups have been on the front lines of extreme weather due to climate change—like the thousands of displaced families after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in Haiti. Underdeveloped or low-income agriculture communities are more likely to be subject to unlawful work conditions, and are typically the first to interact with toxins and harmful pesticides— communities like Kettlmen, CA, where toxins in water runoff and water pollution caused a swarm of birth effects and miscarriages. People of color have been discriminated in legal systems making it more difficult to combat poor water quality or air pollution—like the water crisis in Flint Michigan. However, despite these difficulties, these communities are also the ones who are doing the most work to mitigate the consequences of environmental harm.

ecofemToday’s environmental issues stem broader than just our waterways and forests. Like traditional feminism, ecofeminism personifies various definitions, but acts as a perspective that looks at environmental issues through a social justice lens, and critically analyzes how the effects of environmental degradation and climate change affects marginalized groups more intensely. Ecofeminism finds parallels in which the environment and women are treated in our contemporary society. In many instances women and nature are viewed one in the same. Karen J. Warren illustrated this concept in Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature: “Women are described in animal terms as pets, cows, sows, foxes, chicks, serpents, bitches, beavers, old bats, old hens, mother hens, pussycats, cats…‘Mother Nature’ is raped, mastered, conquered, mined; her secrets are ‘penetrated’…Virgin timber is felled, cut down; fertile soil is tilled, and land that lies ‘fallow’ is ‘barren,’ useless.” Ecofeminism unveils oppressive societal structures such as racism, classism, and sexism and how they play a significant role in the health of the environment—often because the same systems that are in place to oppress women and minorities are also exploiting the environment.

Applying ecofeminism is the blending of biocentric and anthropocentric concerns. For example, when discussing the harmful effects of the LNG pipeline along the Klamath River, don’t just think of the effects of the ecosystem and the fisheries—dig deeper and consider the communities who live close to the river, such as the various native communities like The Karuk and Yurok Tribes—and then dig even deeper and consider how polluted water negatively impacts their health and cultural traditions.

This perspective allows you to practice and identify with all social justice movements. If you identify as an ecofeminist you’re not only a feminist, but also a universal ally for environmentalism, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and any other movement that aims to reinforce the needs of marginalized groups —and that is the beauty of intersectional ecofeminism.

The Women’s March represented a catalyst for mainstream feminism. The popular “we are one”, and “all lives matter” rhetoric is counter productive, and negates the experiences of the disproportionately marginalized groups. Those granted privilege whether it be gender, race, or socioeconomic class must understand and be empathic to the communities whom suffer the most when it hits the fan. Those who have privilege must use it for good, and advocate with and on behalf of our fellow communities. Educate yourself, share dialogue with others who may have never heard of the word feminism or intersectionality, and dare I say… initiate that hard conversation with your Trump supporter friend/ family member to help them see the other side of the spectrum.

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Photo courtesy of Mark Larson. Times-Standard “Anti-pipeline marches held at local Wells Fargo banks” 1/28/17

Simply put: Feminism, environmentalism, and the LGBTQ movement wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for low income women of color at the front and center of it all. Therefore, any event that affects these communities should not only concern you—but gain your advocacy and action.