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Ethics & the Environment 7.2 (2002) 12-26

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Karen Warren's Ecofeminism

Trish Glazebrook

Karen Warren's Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism has conceptual beginnings in the French tradition of feminist theory. In 1952, Simone de Beauvoir pointed out that in the logic of patriarchy, both women and nature appear as other (de Beauvoir 1952, 114). In 1974, Luce Irigaray diagnosed philosophically a phallic logic of the Same that precludes representation of woman's alterity, so that it subjects women to man's domination (Irigaray 1974). In the same year, Françoise d'Eaubonne coined the term, "l'eco-féminisme," to point to the necessity for women to bring about ecological revolution, and used the slogan, "Feminism or death [Le féminisme ou la mort]" (d'Eaubonne 1974, 221), to argue that the phallic order is the source of a double threat to human being: overpopulation, and the depletion of resources. Exploitation of female reproductive power has caused an excess of births, and hence overpopulation; while an excess of production has exploited natural resources to the point of their destruction. Though "feminism or death" was a battle cry, it was also a warning that human being cannot survive patriarchy's ecological consequences.

In North America, the alliance between feminism and ecology likewise began in 1974, when Sandra Marburg and Lisa Watson hosted a conference at Berkeley entitled "Women and the Environment." The following [End Page 12] year, Rosemary Radford Ruether pointed out that "Women must see that there can be no liberation for them and no solution to ecologi- cal crisis within a society whose fundamental model of relationships continues to be one of domination" (Ruether 1975, 204). She called for a unification of feminist and ecological interests in the vision of a society transformed from values of possession, conquest, and accumulation to reciprocity, harmony, and mutual interdependence. In 1991, Karen Warren edited an issue of Hypatia devoted entirely to ecofeminism, which was later expanded and republished under the title Ecological Feminist Philosophies. This anthology was ground-breaking, because in it Warren consolidated a collection of diverse voices, not into an ecofeminist platform as such, but into a vision of the lay of the land, as it were, with respect to ecofeminism.

Although Warren has been writing as an ecofeminist since 1987, it was not until 2000 that she published a sustained treatment in her own voice: Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is and Why It Matters. This book is the culmination of her thinking for over a decade. Her perspective, very much in the spirit of d' Eaubonne and Ruether, is as political, social, and practical as it is philosophical, and constitutes a research program that extends beyond the walls of the Academy in its challenge to the social order. The book can be used to answer some of the criticisms that ecofeminism has received. I will use Warren's work to address in particular the validity of the foundational ecofeminist assumption that environmental issues are feminist issues; the charge against feminism in general that it reflects only the needs of white, middle-class, Western women; the claim, especially in reference to spirituality, that ecofeminism reinscribes gender essentialism; and the challenge ecofeminism offers to traditional philosophy, including how such an inclusivist movement can respond to the history of philosophy without simply reproducing its exclusionary politics.

Feminism and Environmentalism

Ecofeminists insist that feminism and environmentalism are inherently connected, but it is not always clear what the nature of that connection is. In general, ecofeminist work applies feminist analyses to environmental issues, so the claim is not so much that feminist worries are environmentally grounded, as that environmental issues warrant feminist analysis. Carolyn Merchant's (1980) analysis of the history of science, for example, [End Page 13] uncovers misogyny at the heart of the modern conquest of nature. Yet the ideology of Man's (sic) dominion over nature is not new with Bacon, and is evident in Christian teachings concerning the expulsion from the Garden of Eden at Genesis 3,17-24. Adam is sent from the garden with instructions to till the ground and...


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