S1: That’s it.
S2: Welcome to the Waves Slate’s podcast about gender feminism and this week resurrecting old feminist trends. Before you get too excited, no, it’s not bell bottoms. Every episode you get a new pair of feminists to talk about the thing we can’t get off our minds. And today You’ve Got Me, Shayna Roth, producer of The Waves and other podcasts for Slate. And this week I’m going to be talking with Eleanor Cummins. Eleanor is a freelance science journalist. She’s written for Slate Wired, New Republic, Vice, National Geographic. I mean, the list goes on. She’s a badass. And despite loving her award winning reporting on New York City oysters today, we’re going to be talking about Ecofeminism. Is Ecofeminism due for a comeback? That’s the name of Elena’s latest article in The New Republic. As a former environmental reporter in Michigan, I absolutely jumped at this article. Ecofeminism or environmental feminism, as it’s thought of in its most basic terms, is something I hadn’t really heard of in, I think forever. But our climate is in. Crisis has been for some time. Plus, we’ve seen the rise of women speaking out in other areas like equal pay and anti-harassment. So it kind of makes sense to me that something like the combination of feminism and the environment could make a comeback, especially given that women are so impacted by the environment. And we want to hear more about that. See our Waves episode from October Finding Hope for Women in the Climate Crisis. It’s an absolutely brilliant episode, but there’s more to all of this than the environmental equivalent of burning our bras, whatever that might be. In Eleanor’s article she wrote. Ecofeminism has perhaps never been more passé in the West, the term weighed down by previous incarcerations of eco feminist activism that centered whiteness promoted as centralizing views of the body and advanced a reductive and appropriation minded mysticism. Yet addressing the complex linkages between marginalized identities and the environment has never been more urgent. There’s so much to unpack there and with this topic in general, and we’re going to get into all of it with Eleanor Cummins after the break. Eleanor Cummins. Welcome to the waves.
S3: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
S2: We’re excited to have you. And I wanted to start out with the basics. When people hear Ecofeminism, I feel like they probably think hippies like crunchy granola people who think fondly of Woodstock. Or I think on the other end of that, maybe they think of it as being sort of like a secret word for witches or people who use the phrase Mother Earth without a hint of irony, perhaps.
S2: But that’s not always the case. So what exactly is Ecofeminism?
S3: Yeah. So I think that Ecofeminism has sort of two phases. And I think one is the one you described where there was a cultural movement called Ecofeminism and the people involved identified as eco feminists who were absolutely like the Mother Earth, anti-nuclear activists, you know, kind of environmental and pollution concerns really motivated them. But then on the other hand, we have this like philosophy of Ecofeminism very much in the academy, and that’s like a really strict definition. They’re talking really about like what they consider to be a logic of domination that affects both women and nature. And so they have a very clear set of sort of motivating principles and sort of view on the world. And honestly, at times like that social movement and that philosophical set of ideas can really be at odds, which I think makes Ecofeminism so fascinating.
S2: And that sort of tension that you came across in your reporting is something I really wanted to talk about, because you mentioned that there’s a lot of different interpretations of what Ecofeminism is or could be. Talk us through some of those.
S3: It’s such an incredibly diverse movement in terms of, you know, who uses the Ecofeminism label and when. And I think that there are a lot of sort of theological components which you’d already sort of touched on. Right. Like the witchcraft thing is totally real. There is an eco feminist tradition rooted in this idea of neo paganism. And so in the 1970s and onward, really influenced by a particular writer named Starhawk, there is a lot of eco feminist Wiccans who kind of had this pseudo historical worldview about the idea that there was one sort of a harmonious, you know, female led society, and that what we see today are sort of these remnants of kind of like female deities and that that was something to celebrate, return to and harness today. But I think that that overall is a very narrow despite how much play that gets and how much, you know, kind of popularity and criticism that’s received. I think it’s a really narrow part of Ecofeminism. There’s also Christian Ecofeminism, there are indigenous Ecofeminism. And then I think increasingly what we’ve seen is a sort of non-Western Ecofeminism that is, you know, really kind of prominent in South Asia and in Latin America. And those Ecofeminism, I think like the plural is so useful here, have a completely different set of priorities that are really rooted in like the contingencies of, of people’s identities in those spaces and the unique challenges that those women are facing in terms of the gendered violence and the environmental injustice specific to them.
S2: It’s so interesting to hear you say that because you have the Ecofeminism, but I would imagine that sort of broad, broad, broad, but broad big picture, they kind of agree women and the environment go hand in hand. We want to protect both. But I feel like these sort of Wiccan or pagan Ecofeminism are not going to get along with perhaps the Christian Ecofeminism talk about what is going on in the field, like are they talking to each other, are they helping each other along or are they really just trying to keep as separate as possible?
S3: My sense is that Ecofeminism, because it was sort of so swept up in a kind of gender essentialist and yeah, like Mother Earth sort of narrative is that it has really become, as you write in the piece, passé, for lack of a better word. Like I think a lot of American feminists today are maybe peripherally interested in these sort of intersections between feminism and, you know, various environmental isms. But that to call yourself an eco feminist or to sort of make the case for advancing, retooling and implementing Ecofeminism is kind of like a fringe idea. So what I’ve come across is like people who are a valid eco feminist, who feel really passionately about this worldview from a philosophical perspective. Right? That there is more work to be done on this, you know, logic of domination. And then what I found is people who you might think would maybe identify as eco feminist, their work and interests are. We fall under the sort of broad category of like the intersection of environment and feminism and yet are totally opposed to that word being applied to them because of the specific tradition that it has been born out of. And so I think what we’re kind of experiencing is like this moment where these ideas are so important. I think that tackling climate change not only requires looking at racism, colonialism, classism, you know, all of these other sort of intersectional forms of oppression, but also gender. And yet, at the same time, you know, this kind of potential umbrella label is quite taboo. And I think that there may be a few ways to resolve that, and we can definitely talk more about it. But right now I just got the sense from everyone I talked to, whether they were pro or against of incredible attention.
S2: Given that there is this tension and that there are these groups that would probably fall under that label of Ecofeminism but don’t like the label of Ecofeminism. Is there another label that they’re exploring using or that could be used that might bring more people together?
S3: Yeah, I think that what we might see is that instead of returning to a single Ecofeminism label and practice, that we’re going to see kind of a continued fracturing, but in a good way where people are being able to bring forward some of those more contingent ideas. I think one of the core problems that we experienced with a sort of white middle class Ecofeminism that came out of that nuclear movement, anti-nuclear movement really was like that. They wanted to be universal quite desperately. And I think that the irony of that, right, is just how obvious, at least today their own shortcomings.
S2: Were, how specific.
S3: Their own sort of interesting concerns and approaches were. And so I think that kind of maybe pushing back on the universalism is one possible route. And I do think that there are other kind of options already in place for how we might conceptualize other alternatives to Ecofeminism as like an umbrella label. So a few that are, you know, very robustly sort of very, very robust ideologies already or perspectives on the world is like environmental feminism. And so that has kind of focused on like the woman nature relationship. And that’s where we’ve seen a lot of like feminist animal rights work and theory and activism come from. So environmental feminism and those relationships between, you know, women and non-human animals, I think is one sort of domain that’s really important to consider. There are also others where like a feminist political ecology, for example, you know, is kind of suggesting that gender is one variable, right? Like sort of how I mentioned that, you know, it fits in with this sort of intersectional analysis of how, you know, natural resources, knowledge of nature and relationships to nature are shaped by our gender, our, you know, race, class and other subjectivity. And then I think, too, we’re seeing like new developments every day. I had the pleasure of talking to Chelsea Mikhail Frazier at Cornell, and she is a black feminist working on a sort of eco criticism. So looking at, you know, literature through this perspective. And she wrote an essay in at most outlining a black feminist ecological thought paradigm. And, you know, on the surface, maybe a universalist kind of pushing for an eco feminist framework might say, well, like, let’s bring all of these things under this umbrella. And I do think there’s some legitimacy there. But I think also understanding, like these individual traditions and goals of all of these kind of environmental feminisms is really important to.
S2: Dovetailing off of some of that. And getting back a little bit to the history of Ecofeminism it has had, I guess you could call it a white woman problem over the years, much like a lot of the different feminist movements, especially in the seventies and eighties with Ecofeminism when it was trying to take off. You said in your piece, quote, Many American Eagle feminists also shared the exclusionary conviction that either a biological status or socialized oppression gave cis gender women a special perspective on the environment. So it seemed like this movement wasn’t just excluding males, it was also trans exclusion. And I would imagine there was because it was at least in the West, there was a lot of middle class suburban white women trying to take charge that it was also racially excluding. So I guess talk us through a little bit more about that problem that has sort of been persisting with Ecofeminism.
S3: Definitely. So it seems to me that these sort of environmental concerns have been really core to feminism as a project from its inception. Like I think it’s there, you know, from the 19th century onward. It’s not really confined to any sort of moment. But what we saw is that the moment in which it was most fully articulated, it was one where there were just so many limitations in terms of the approach of, you know, the Ecofeminism of the seventies onward. So, yes, I think that there was a sort of middle class kind of limitation in terms of their sense of the ways that different kinds of poverty or other status might fall into this equation. I think, too, that they were certainly, I mean, overwhelmingly white in terms of their organization. You know, a few key events I’ve read about suggests that there was only one black woman involved in the planning. Right. Kind of invited to the table. So so just overwhelmingly white in their perspective. And then I think to write like into the 1990s, it is definitely part of this sort of larger conversation in feminism about how to move away from this like essentialist notion of womanhood. And so, you know, I talked with Nora Ross Singer, who is an incredible environmental communication scholar. And they were talking about how this was a broad critique of feminism of this era. Like, everyone had these challenges and some did better than others in terms of learning how to move forward. And I think that, you know, Ecofeminism didn’t ever need to get stuck there, and I don’t think that it did. One of the criticisms I saw of my piece on Twitter was that the framework of, you know, is it time for a kind of an eco feminist revival? There were Ecofeminism saying, well, it never went away. Right. Which is certainly the point. Like it did. And it’s continued and it’s continued to grow. And there are practitioners and theorists who have done a great job of integrating, you know, a more kind of intersectional approach. But yeah, there was just such a moment where Ecofeminism was on kind of the tip of everyone’s tongue in a way it isn’t today. And and that moment was, I think, really kind of dominated by some fierce personalities and some ideas today that, you know, make us cringe and sort of these limitations on, you know, who can be an eco feminist.
S2: What has been sort of the the residual effects of that within the movement? Is that part of the reason why we see all these different sort of sections of Ecofeminism, or has it had other impacts carrying on throughout the years?
S3: Yeah, my sense is that there’s also like a challenge with the word Ecofeminism. So it was coined by Francois de Bonn in her 1973 treatise, Feminism or Death, which was published in French. And it’s like the best title of all time. And, you know, she was sort of writing about her personal sense that a sort of feminine form of power could end power all together. So she writes about this idea that, you know, if women were to sort of take responsibility for approach to the environment rooted in care, that that kind of concept of power structure would be overturned. And that’s a very 1970s idea. There are a lot of sort of, you know, problems there. But she coined Ecofeminism in the process. And so then Ecofeminism is picked up by these sort of white western middle class activists, and they’ve applied it and it has been applied in a sort of universal context. So right now, you see, for example, that one of the most prominent self-identified Ecofeminism today is the South Asian activist Vandana Shiva. And she, you know, is really probably yeah, I would say the most famous eco feminist right now. And she’s kind of taking that term on for herself. And she has no relationship to the American, you know, eco feminist movement of the 1970s in terms of, you know, all of these limitations we’ve been talking about. She’s taken the word in a completely different direction. I think the word, too, is like part of the issue. That. I think for kind of a layperson, it it’s a great word. It’s like efficient packaging. It’s fun to say. But then, you know, there are all these sort of kind of origin stories behind it. And all of the context it’s used in are so contradictory that I think for a lot of people sort of in the academic world, it has become maybe like too too burdened to be useful. And so I think that’s why we’re having this conversation of like, do we keep pushing forward with this term? Do we let it go and be replaced by other, you know, sort of practices? And I think there’s a case to be made for both. But I think that the sort of name recognition of Ecofeminism can be a good thing.
S2: It’s tricky, too, because I feel like when people hear Ecofeminism, they get a very limited idea of what it is and what the connections are there. But it’s about more than just women and the environment, right? It also intersects with gender violence and patriarchal oppression in a lot of ways.
S3: Absolutely. Yeah. I think that, you know, it can be a really radical framework still today for thinking through the challenges we face with our environment. Like, I think, for example, about the idea of sort of extraction, which I think was really central to Francois, to Bond’s sort of concerns, was this idea that you treated, you know, a sort of patriarchal system, treats the the world, the earth itself as something from which resources can be removed and that women are treated in much the same way in terms of these paradigms of a kind of spouse who is brought on to provide children. Right, almost a breeding partner to provide sort of the next generation of a sort of man’s progeny, carry on his name. And I think that we’re a little distanced from those ideas today. I think it can maybe be hard to think about the ways that that is still resonant for women or sort of the ripple effects of that structure of society. And so I think that, you know, in in kind of talking about Ecofeminism from this approach, like not only is it helpful to see, like, okay, like this logic of extraction doesn’t actually make any sense and it is sort of culturally specific. It emerged in the specific time and place and can be done away with. And that helps you to sort of see, you know, the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and other things in context. But I also have felt that it has helped me understand sort of the relevance of of any kind of feminism today, right? Where there is this continued need to address these sort of systems of gendered violence, not just against cis gendered women, but against, you know, all marginalized genders that we live in a, you know, a system where suspended in a matrix where this violences is every day. And maybe it is not as obvious to some people as the way it was when Dubon was writing. But I found that Ecofeminism can be really helpful, I think, for thinking through any feminist issue.
S2: We’re going to take a break here. But when we come back, we’re going to dig into where Ecofeminism is going. And if you want to hear more from Eleanor and myself, will be saving an extended portion of this interview just for our Slate Plus members. And we’re even going to tell you where the term tree hugger came from. You are not going to want to miss it. Eleanor, let’s start off with where is Ecofeminism thriving today? Are there places where they are able to really have successful outcomes with this type of activism?
S3: Yeah, so I think that Ecofeminism is sort of most relevant right now in terms of how it’s being applied and used really popularly in South Asia and especially in Latin America. And so I think, for example, of the sort of women who are protesting the extraction of resources from the Amazon as really being incredible examples of, you know, the kind of eco feminist potential. Today, for example, in Ecuador, we see a lot of, you know, indigenous Amazonian sort of activism where women are coming together and drawing connections between the sort of violence that is experienced by women as a result of these camps that come up. Right. And the sort of employment of of men in these heavy industries that go in and, you know, remove trees and other resources from the Amazon and the exploitation of the Amazon itself. And of course, like the Amazon is hugely important for all of us. It’s a major, you know, reserve of oxygen, a huge carbon sink, and is being actively depleted, you know, by these sort of moneyed interests that want these materials. And so on the front lines, like women putting their bodies between, you know, once again, like the Chipko movement, like other movements we’ve seen throughout sort of an eco feminist history, putting their bodies between the sort of forest and the people who don’t see it as alive and worthy of sort of respect in the way that they do.
S2: I’m curious about Native Americans and their role. So you mentioned the indigenous women fighting to protect the Amazon. When I was an environmental reporter here in Michigan, there was a lot going on with water because we have the Great Lakes surrounding Michigan. And Native Americans tended to be some of those big front and center activists trying to protect the water. Have we seen a lot of Native American activists embracing Ecofeminism, or are they also sort of part of the West considering it to be a little passé?
S3: I don’t have great expertise into sort of the Native American experience on Ecofeminism, but what I will say is that it seems like there is definitely an understanding and a value placed on sort of the kind of potential of women and to spirit individuals, you know, who are able to really participate in unique ways in the preservation and transfer of environmental knowledge. And that that is really, you know, seen as sort of an essential kind of skill and contribution to the community. And I think that, you know, in the U.S.. Native Americans, in terms of like the challenges that they’re facing, are have always been, you know, very sort of intersectional and and drawing these connections between what we see in terms of, you know, genocide, colonization, you know, the sort of continued violence against indigenous women as as interlinked and part of a system. And I think that that is sort of the the way that Ecofeminism, you know, more generally has been moving towards is this idea that these that these component parts actually build up a bigger whole. And so I think in some ways, you know, there’s great potential there and some, I think definitely do identify as Ecofeminism. But I think similarly, it’s just not that popular of a of a paradigm or necessarily like an identity that needs to be taken on in order to do that work.
S2: So we’ve seen over the last few years a sort of, I would argue, a resurgence of feminism and people embracing feminism broadly. We’ve seen the MeToo movement happening. We’ve seen, you know, more people speaking out against harassment and fighting for equal pay. Is Ecofeminism on track to have its own sort of resurgence, particularly in the West?
S3: I think definitely it is a possibility and one that I do hope to see. I think that the idea of Ecofeminism is a really useful paradigm to just say that there is, you know, so much different and distinct work going on here. But this importance of protecting environments and protecting, you know, people of all genders is linked. I think that that has, you know, incredible power and is something that needs to continue to be sort of, you know, decolonised, updated, retooled, repackaged. As we move forward, I think that one of the problems with Western Ecofeminism has really been in this idea of appropriating, you know, anti-colonial strategies into a colonial framework, right? So this idea of trying to take evidence from around the world and fit it in. To an eco feminist paradigm being inherently sort of, you know, problematic and reductive. And so, like I was saying that that universal kind of desire of eco feminist to have articulated something that, you know, stretches across time and place, I think is sort of one of the underlying issues here that has to be resolved as people, you know, kind of continue to move forward. For example, I was thinking today about how the Ecofeminism of the 1970s, you know, who were white, middle class women were explicitly appropriating what they thought were indigenous customs and belief systems, and they were often extremely wrong in the details. But also the entire premise. Right, is one that we should be suspect of, of the idea that you can draw from other people’s experiences, evidence for the idea that you want to sort of advance in the world. So I think that, you know, in many ways, Ecofeminism has potential in sort of how we talk about these problems and how we organize around them. But that one of the biggest things that has to happen is that people who are interested in Ecofeminism have to open themselves up to and give power to, you know, nonwhite and nonsense gendered and, you know, other sort of marginalized identities and their perspectives and as they actually exist in the world.
S2: That leads into my next question, which is that marginalized communities, not just in feminism, but in all different types of isms, tend to get forgotten about and tend to not have their needs met. Is there an effort going on within sort of this resurgence of Ecofeminism or Ecofeminism that we’re seeing that is particularly addressing and focused on ensuring that marginalized communities needs are met?
S3: So I think that the the sort of question of how, you know, kind of marginalized concerns are channeled through Ecofeminism is one that remains like so much about Ecofeminism unresolved. But recently I was reading a great article by Andrea Semper to Glee about Indigenous women’s activism in the Ecuadorian Amazon. And the way that she sort of describes and characterizes that potential here is that there is a kind of quote unquote partial connection here between the sort of, you know, indigenous Ecofeminism of the Latin America and the sort of, you know, Ecofeminism of the academy. And her sort of argument is that, you know, this can be utilized for allyship so that the women of the Amazon and people who identify as eco feminist globally are able to become essentially, like mutually supportive of each other. And, you know, the kind of connections that they have can be recognized, as Andrea puts it, asymmetrical, partial or ambiguous. And that that doesn’t mean that there’s potential for sort of collaboration and resource sharing and support isn’t still there. And I think that that is sort of a great summary of the potential here, that that partially connected relationship is one that is still so fruitful and could be, you know, filled with so many potentials. But it has to be recognized as such. It can’t be understood as there’s one Ecofeminism and it exists everywhere in the same form. It really has to be, you know, these ideas that if you believe in these sort of central concerns and you want to take action, then you have to meet people where they are at in terms of the needs that they have that are specific to their environment. I think to that in terms of, you know, this conversation about the marginalized issues that Ecofeminism has maybe struggled to sort of be sensitive to in the past, is that the climate crisis, you know, is going to be disproportionate and its effects and the people who most need help now and the place where Ecofeminism can in theory, do the most work, one that is, you know, sensitive to difference and, you know, understands these partial connections is in places like the Amazon, where the sort of risks posed by this development that these, you know, Ecuadorian women are fighting against is one of the most urgent issues, you know, we face as a global sort of interconnected community.
S2: I feel like a big part of all this kind of hinges on one word that you used a couple of times there, which is potential. Right now we are facing a massive climate crisis and it feels as though if ever there was a time for Ecofeminism or Ecofeminism or however you want to phrase the communion of the environment and feminism, it’s now it needs to rise to its potential now.
S3: In talking with Nora Singer, you know, one of the things they said is that in all forms of feminism, a kind of consistent concern has been sort of like the tensile strength of feminism itself. Like once you move beyond that idea of a core liberation of women, some people start to worry that each new thing is going to cause the entire thing to fall apart. Right? That it just can’t support itself. Under these interconnected issues. And, you know, in the context of Ecofeminism that’s come up, it’s like, why is it a woman’s job to clean up what men have done for the planet, you know, in a very sort of simplistic, rhetorical question. And I think the answer is that because it’s all of our responsibilities, right? And it’s work that has to be done. There is this moment where we all understand that and whatever it sort of takes to get people involved and thinking about this and collaborating and acknowledging their partial connections with, you know, everyone on Earth. The more we’ll be able to make good on that potential.
S2: Before we head out, we want to give some recommendations. Eleanor, what are you loving right now? What’s making you happy?
S3: Yeah. So I just read on Saturday in like one sitting Elaine Hsieh Chao’s disorientation, which is a new novel that just came out in the past few weeks. And I cannot recommend highly enough disclaimer it is satire. I like to spend time reading Goodreads reviews and a lot of people do not seem to grasp that. But basically Elaine sort of takes the campus novel and turns it inside out, and it’s set in this moment where, you know, it’s so recognizable to our own, where there are issues of, you know, racism. There are also issues of sort of, you know, gendered oppression and violence. And the way that Alain handles that is just one of the funniest, most, you know, addictive, like read right through kind of books I’ve had on my desk in a long time.
S2: So what’s the short summary of the book?
S3: Okay, so short summary. The book is that our protagonist is working on a Ph.D. she doesn’t want and she doesn’t know how she got here. It’s year seven. Her funding is about to run out and she just can’t write this dissertation. She hates it too much. And in the process of trying to distract herself slash get herself to finally put some words on the page, she discovers that the subject of her dissertation is not who she thought he was, and that starts to unravel the entire campus community. It has a very far reaching implications for for everyone at this, you know, small liberal arts college probably, you know, in the Northeast. And so, yeah, it’s it’s really chaotic and fun and also just extremely sharp and wise and humane in the end in terms of its treatment of these complicated characters.
S2: Oh, this sounds fantastic. As someone who also went to a small liberal arts college, I’m very excited to dig into this. I feel like we’re on the same wavelength because my recommendation is also a sort of humorous, poignant kind of satire book. It’s called Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, and it came out probably a little while ago. But for Valentine’s Day this past year, my husband and I both were like, Let’s each get each other a book. We both had good success. His book for me was much more successful than my book for him. But Anxious People is just an amazing book that you think is going to be about one thing and ends up being about so much more to not spoil anything. This sort of general pitch is that a bunch of people who the author calls idiots end up at an open house on New Year’s Eve and a burglar comes in and it turns into a hostage situation. And so that’s what hooked me. I’m like, Ooh, I love a hostage situation. I love a comedy that somehow is hostage. G But it’s so much more than that. I laughed. I cried. It’s so, so, so good. So I highly recommend anxious people.
S3: Wow. I can’t wait. I’m going to literally order a copy now by chance.
S2: Okay, good. I have a copy of mine. I’ll order a copy of yours. Her family back together later.
S3: Book swap.
S1: That’s it.
S2: That’s our show. This week, The Waves is produced by myself, Shayna Roth with Shannon Paulus as our editorial director and Alicia montgomery, providing oversight and moral support. Please be sure to subscribe, write and review wherever you get your podcasts. Also, we would love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com, drop us a note, tell us how we’re doing or just to say hi. The waves will be back next week. Different hosts, different topic, same time and like. So I wanted to talk to you in Slate plus about some more of the history of Ecofeminism. And the show is called The Waves, in part because of the different waves of feminism. So how has Ecofeminism changed over time and impacted those different waves of feminism?
S3: Absolutely. So in talking to Nora Singer, you know, they were saying that from their perspective, an environmental concern has been rooted in the feminist project from the 19th century onward. And I think that that’s absolutely true. I think that it maybe wouldn’t have yet been articulated the way that Ecofeminism do it today in terms of this like logic of, you know, kind of oppression between both the environment and women having that sort of resonance. But I think that from the very beginning, there are sort of these concerns about the way that industrialization has shaped sort of the roles of women that has also shaped the environment. Right? Like those connections were already beginning to be drawn. And so it really, though, reaches at sort of fullest articulation in that second wave where in the 1970s, I think this becomes increasingly critical for feminists who are involved in sort of all manner of kind of environmentally tinged activism and scholarship. So the anti-nuclear movement is really huge to the formation of the Ecofeminism that we know in the US today. And so you see that, you know, there’s this sort of conception of, of a threat in the form of, you know, nuclear annihilation and women feeling in that period sort of uniquely suited to go and tackle these kinds of issues. And so, you know, we see these protests like at the Pentagon where, you know, women come together and they’re kind of making an appeal that attempts to reclaim the emotion of nuclear annihilation in service of their protest. And so they’re saying, like, this is crazy. This is hysteria, this is madness. You know, this is disturbing and devastating. These these emotions, though, are sort of part of that experience. And they’re personified in, you know, that protest with these enormous sort of figures that they built in different sets of colors that kind of represent what they see as a as kind of a cycle of of feeling and of kind of processing this sort of nuclear era we’re living in. And so, you know, in that second wave, I think, too, we also see this yeah, this kind of, you know, a fairly essentialist understanding of a woman’s relationship to nature as being something kind of special and outside of a kind of male dominated patriarchal logic of, you know, environmentalism. And I think that that came about from the desire really to sort of push back, not just from a feminist lens, but from an environmentalist lens of saying, you know, even the environmentalism that is trying to undo sort of all of these male dominated assumptions of the last, you know, 150 years is still being led by men and that there’s a lack of sort of insight into the perspectives that other people have with the environment outside of this white male perspective specifically. And so I think that there’s a desire to kind of get into that different feminism, right? Of like, you know, how do we start to articulate what these differences mean? But it is also challenged then by that third way of sort of post structuralist movement, where the difference was articulated often in a way that was exclusionary. So how do you then kind of tackle, you know, looking at it sort of these what we’re called, you know, women and the environment questions as more like gender and the environment questions and feminism becoming more open to, you know, a number of different kinds of gendered experiences. And I think that that process mirrors a lot of other feminist movements. You know, part of of the waves is that they they kind of are these, you know, kind of metal structures for what’s going on in these more specific contexts where activists are working through these issues. But I think that, you know, it has meant that Ecofeminism is sort of unique and not having been able to move forward, because I think it became so firmly associated with second wave feminism that the first wave and third wave and future potential has been sort of collapsed and ignored.
S2: Yet they sort of get into that mindset of, well, this is what this is what my grandparents did or this is what what has been. We’re better than that because we’re newer. We want something fresh and exciting and different.
S3: Definitely. And they think, too, just like in terms of the neo paganism that, you know, kind of tradition we’ve touched on, I think that that just does not appeal to a lot of people. And if you believe that that’s what Ecofeminism is, that’s going to be a really hard entry point. And I think personally, you know, like I have, I think just kind of a personal kind of skeptical attitude to the idea that that there needs to be a sort of explicit. Spiritual dimension to my own Ecofeminism. And I think that at the time that this was really being formulated, I think a lot of people probably would have taken away that they had to also have these shared spiritual beliefs in order to get into, you know, the philosophical and activist positions that Ecofeminism offered. And so I think, too, like part of the sort of, you know, future is about continuing to disentangle those ideas and saying, you know, you can take on whatever is useful to you and in your practice and you don’t have to subscribe wholesale to, you know, what are, in fact, a kind of lot of contradictory yet interlocking ideas.
S2: Yeah. Nobody of these days wants to be accused of being a hippie.
S3: You know, the worst thing.
S2: What made you sort of want to dig into Ecofeminism for this article? Is this something that you’ve been exploring for a long time? Have you considered yourself an eco feminist for a long time, or is this something that you were just doing other reporting and happened to come across it and were like, Oh, this is a thing that might be bubbling up?
S3: So for me, I came to it because I was reading about the Chipko movement last year, which was a movement in India where in sort of the northern Himalayan part of India there was incredible deforestation really rapidly that led to this like cascade of local climate effects, where suddenly, you know, villages were being washed away because there were no trees to hold down the soil. And it was devastating. And what happened was that women inspired, you know, in part by sort of Gandhi’s, you know, principles and sort of philosophy, began to organize. And they called themselves Chipko, which means hug. And that’s where we get the word treehugger from, because they were literally hugging trees. And I was just so intrigued by, you know, sort of this history. I was like watching documentaries and reading stories about the Chipko movement. So what I found through that was that, you know, some Western eco feminists have labeled the Chipko movement Ecofeminism. And then at the same time, some of the Chipko movement members have come, and I self-identified as Ecofeminism in the decade since. And so that was my entry point, was just this very specific kind of contingent experience and realizing that that kind of represents a larger set of potentials. Because to be perfectly honest, I think that as someone who writes a lot about climate change, I hadn’t really until then thought about it in terms of a gender dimension. I think that that that sort of element of the climate crisis is really sort of underplayed in the US and that, you know, we focus rightly on, you know, environmental racism, on sort of the larger kind of colonial project and the oppression of people on land. But I never really come across somebody saying, like, you know, this has sort of a gendered violence component as well. And also as a gendered activist potential, right. That for marginalized genders, this is another way to to look at these issues, to create new opportunities and to come together to push back against, you know, this impending apocalyptic doom.
S2: Heavy, heavy. I was trying to think of like how to respond as a heavyweight and a slate plus segment. Well, I.
S3: Mean, I guess I would just say to that, like, okay, then. So the reason that I guess I felt the reason that I guess I felt sort of optimistic, too, was that the the Chipko movement was in many ways successful and it had like long lasting repercussions. The reason that, you know, Ecofeminism is still so entrenched in South Asia is because this movement was successful in bringing people together in popularising an issue and giving a framework to, you know, the sort of a spectator at home and abroad about how these ideas fit together. And so I think that I really appreciate the sort of analysis that Ecofeminism also provides in terms of thinking through these connections. And I think the more connections you can draw, right, the more people you can bring in and the more people you have. You know, as I wrote in the story, to build new worlds with, like we need everyone on board. And I think that Ecofeminism or you know, more broadly, these sort of environmental and feminist traditions can do a much better job of sort of helping in that process and giving people new ways to to think about the problems we face.
S2: That’s a nicer note to leave our slate plus listeners with.
S3: You got it.