Ecofeminist Philosophy and the English Language

As mentioned in my recent post about Ecofeminism, these philosophies can be divided into three different categories. This post will cover the second of the three. The first one was covered here and the third is yet to come!

We already have been introduced to ecofeminist philosophy in connection with animal ethics, Leopold’s Land Ethic. This section explores the nature of ecofeminist philosophy as a distinct kind of environmental philosophy.

In 1974, a French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne called attention to women’s potential to bring about ecological revolution. Initially, ecofeminism referred generically to a wide variety of women-nature connections, often based in other disciplines such as history, literature, political science, sociology, and religion. Because of this, ecofeminism was not considered its own philosophical position until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The Distinct Discipline of Ecofeminist Philosophy

  • Explores the nature of the connections between the unjustified dominations of women and nature
  • Critiques male-biased Western canonical philosophical views (assumptions, concepts, claims, distinctions, positions, theories) about women and nature
  • Creates alternatives and solutions to such male-biased views

The Intersection between Ecofeminism and Language

According to these philosophers, language plays a key role in the formation of problematic concepts of women, animals, and nature—concepts that reinforce the five features of an oppressive conceptual framework and contribute to the “justification” of the dominations of women, animals, and nature. Consider some examples of how language does this.

The English language animalizes and naturalizes women in cultural contexts where women and nonhuman animals are already viewed as inferior to men and male-identified culture. Women are referred to pejoratively as dogs, cats, catty, pussycats, pussies, pets, bunnies, dumb bunnies, cows, sows, foxes, chicks, bitches, beavers, old bats, old hens, old crows, queen bees, cheetahs, vixen, serpents, bird-brains, hare-brains, elephants, and whales. Women cackle, go to hen parties, henpeck their husbands, become old biddies (old hens no longer sexually attractive or able to reproduce), and social butterflies. Animalizing women in a sexist (or, patriarchal) culture that views animals as inferior to people reinforces and attempts to legitimate women’s alleged inferior status to men. Similarly, the English language feminizes nature in cultural contexts that view women and nature as inferior to men and male-identified culture. Mother Nature (not Father Nature) is raped, mastered, controlled, conquered, mined; her (not his) secrets are penetrated, and her womb (men don’t have one) is put into the service of the man of science (not woman of science, or simply scientist). Virgin timber is felled, cut down. Fertile (not potent) soil is tilled, and land that lies fallow is useless or barren, like a woman unable to conceive a child.

These exploitations of nature and animals are justified by feminizing  them; the exploitation of women is justified by animalizing and naturalizing women. Language that feminizes nature and naturalizes women describes, reflects, and perpetuates unjustified patriarchal domination by failing to see the extent to which the dominations of women, nonhuman animals, and nature are culturally analogous and sanctioned.

Of course, some examples provide a small amount of a counterargument, but there are very few examples of this kind. In the English language, animal terms also are used pejoratively against men. For example, men are called wolves, sharks, skunks, snakes, toads, jackasses, old buzzards, and goats. In Western culture, it is generally complimentary to describe someone as busy as a bee, eagle-eyed, lion-hearted, or brave as a lion. Regardless, the majority of animal and nature terms used to describe women, and the majority of female terms used to describe animals and nature, function differently from the animal and nature terms used to describe men. Within a patriarchal context, they function to devalue women, animals, and nature in a way that reinforces the unjustified dominations of all three.

During the 1980’s, women’s activism in a variety of social movements—environment, peace, animal liberation, and environmental justice movements—came together and a new form of activism emerged, ecofeminist political activism, which is what I always envisioned this blog to be a part of. By the 1990’s, this political activism had given rise to a diversity of ecofeminisms: liberal, Marxist, socialist, radical, cultural/spiritual, and social ecofeminisms, which are rooted in a different ecofeminist political perspective—liberalism, Marxism, socialism, radical feminism, spiritual politics, anarchism, and social ecology.

Ecofeminist philosophical ethics or ecofeminist ethics is the sub-field of ecofeminist philosophy that has received the most scholarly attention, which relates to the last post discussing The Land Ethic. Ecofeminist ethics is a subcategory of feminist ethics. It involves a commitment to critique male bias and to develop ethics that are not male-biased. As a feminist ethic, it also involves articulation of values often considered unimportant in mainstream Western ethics. What makes its critiques of traditional ethical theories “ecofeminist” is that they focus on women-nature connections

Terminology

Many ecofeminist philosophers distinguish between the oppression of women and the  domination of nature. They do so on the grounds that only sentient and rational beings can be oppressed. In Western contexts, nonhuman natural entities are presumed to not be sentient and/or rational. As such, unlike women, they cannot be oppressed, although they can be unjustly dominated.

What about nonhuman animals? Many ecofeminist philosophers include animals, especially domesticated animals, among those beings that are capable of being oppressed, but deny that nature as a whole has this capability. They talk about the oppression of animals (but not of nature).

What do y’all think? Are nonhuman animals sentient and rational? Regardless of that answer, can they be oppressed? What about nature as a whole?

 

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s