Goddesses and Eco-warriors Need Eco-Activism and Feminism


As previous ideological divides have blurred and the prominence of direct action for protesting environmental issues has grown, the gap between theory and action has deepened. While feminist and ecological studies are increasingly focusing on theory, action is becoming more common.

Has feminism made such inroads into politics that their contributions have been considered in curtailing the need for special feminist theory or politics in connection to our experiences of eco-activism?  

Pam is a feminist scholar and part-time activist, while Sarah is an environmental activist who has studied Women's Studies.

We agree that feminist theory, including ecofeminism, is a poor resource for modern eco-activism, but we equally believe that waiting for theoretical difficulties to be resolved might stifle action. Sarah believes that feminist analyses are significant historically and have contributed to shape eco-activism as it is now, thus they are included into ecological studies, but she avoids utilizing explicit feminist criticisms for fear of being regarded as "oldhat" and alienating co-activists.

Pam admires how activist coalitions may liberate political action from identities or unitary theories, but she is wary of depending on feminist analysis inside a 'grand theory,' even one that revalues the traditionally feminine and undervalued. We couldn't help but distinguish various constituencies of environmental demonstrators as we discussed our opinions of and thoughts on the popularization of feminist concepts.

When the focus is on a specific location, it frequently draws together campaigners who have used formal political tactics, such as public meetings and petitioning the council, with 'eco-warrior' activists who may occupy land or buildings and live in tree-houses or tunnels.

Local residents and activists visited, lived on, and farmed abandoned urban land at PureGenius, whose politics spanned shades and combinations of anarchist, socialism, and deep ecology, or none of these, and whose identities ranged from Pagan to punk to professional and beyond.

Prioritizing action means acting together without the necessity for shared identities or theoretical ideas.

Pam has had a mixed experience with male co-activist’s gender politics. At a Newbury By pass protest-camp, she learned ways of diffusing aggression diffusing aggression from men at house occupations protesting the M motor-way link-road.

Many serious eco-activists with a radical ecological analysis incorporate gender analyses into their criticisms of power and 'progress.'

We can critically explore the traditional gendered identities that eco-activism might mobilize, such as warriors battling for the Earth or the celebration of feminine vitality and creativity, with them.

We take pro-feminist convictions for granted among these activists perhaps because they frequently reflect features of our own political lives, but not among the many others drawn to each one demonstration. 

Is our assumption that eco-activists are feminists accurate, or are we allowing identity politics in via the back door?

The term "patriarchy" is outdated.

Pam relates this to a growing focus on the local, which means she only uses the word infrequently, but when she does, it's to emphasize the breadth of analysis in an almost exasperated gesture to 'capitalist patriarchy' or 'hetero-patriarchal relations,' which she sees as a critical counterpoint to a focus on the local. 

Sarah agrees, but is concerned that putting too much focus on such huge ideas might lead to feelings of impotence in the face of them, and points out that decisions are made by real people, with names and addresses, in the institutions and organizations that support them.

The concentration on action rather than philosophy permits eco-activists to be portrayed as thoughtless in the mainstream media. While certain concerns, such as violence, will be addressed as practical concerns of living and acting together, other events such as Earth First! rallies will focus on more theoretical debate. 

Because we haven't all 'come through feminism on-site, feminist analyses are required to challenge appropriations of feminism on and off-site where images of ‘active' women are used to sell us beauty products and designer combat gear, and when journalists want 'cute' women protesters to be the vulnerable victims of burly bailiffs.

If 'first-wave' Western feminists fought for equality and integration, and 'second-wave' feminists criticized dominant values and sometimes inverted value-hierarchies to revalue qualities associated with the feminine in this century, 'third-wave' feminism goes beyond such reversals, stepping outside the existing terms of debate, such as by deconstructing the presumption of a gender binary or the convexity of a gender binary.

We respect feminist studies for demonstrating who profits the most from corporate 'development' both locally and worldwide and for contesting dominant presumptions about desired 'progress' such as ecofeminist criticisms of integrationist/'catch-up' international development models.

These are the first and second waves of arguments, respectively. On-site, we see second-wave feminist analyses being drawn on implicitly by men and women to challenge daring machismo, which the emphasis on action sometimes elicits from male or female activists; to identify bailiff aggression and intimidation, and to challenge the devaluation of nurturance and passivity.

Pam is more ambivalent than Sarah about some revaluing, particularly where women's connection to the Earth is understood as intrinsically gendered, because she shares especially third-wave feminist theorists' distrust of essentialism and skepticism of the discourse of the natural' for its ability to undermine women's reproductive choices and sell us anything.

Our various reactions to women activists employing and loving the sexualization of their bodies, such as the Sacred Harlots of Gaia, who striptease to distract security guards/police from the acts of other activists, demonstrate the contradictions of striving to reclaim or disrupt traditional meanings.

Such attempts to recover or use sarcastic or strategically gendered meanings can sometimes be indistinguishable from or reinforce pre-second-wave sexist beliefs, necessitating the inclusion of second-wave analysis e.g.to remain critical about women being defined by their bodies or reproductive status. Pam can join Sarah in celebrating women's sexuality in a specific local intervention while questioning if it reflects women’s' true sexuality,' according to third-wave studies. Because eco-activism employs both second and third-wave feminist tactics at the same time, it seems more useful to think of them as distinct tactics rather than stages.

Is feminist philosophy necessary for today's eco-activists?

Feminism, Sarah believes, isn't relevant as a separate analysis and is already a component of the pot. Pam would want to have distinct feminist analyses even when working within larger coalitions, so that she could add to the flavor. Our various replies reflect our various locations, and the challenges we had in writing together were like those confronted by coalitions.

Our theoretical disagreements, however, haven't stopped us from working together or being friends. So, although Pam thinks 'third-wave' analyses are useful for thinking about activism, Sarah wonders if they help her do it.

You may also want to read more about Feminism and Activism here.