Ecofeminism: Environmental Justice with a Gender and Intersectional Lens

Written by Alyssa Adamovich

What are the connections between feminism and environmental issues?  Ecofeminism places a gender justice lens on environmental justice.  It is an understanding that we are all connected by recognizing the various discriminations (e.g., racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia) that are institutionalized oppressions.  Essentially, ecofeminism is all about intersectionality within the environment.  Ecofeminists, like Dr. Julia Mason, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Grand Valley, believe that there is a “social mentality that leads to the domination and oppression of women [and it] is directly connected to the social mentality that leads to the abuse of the environment… [thus] it is not coincidental that we treat both the earth and women badly” (Mason).

An example of supplying a gender lens to environmental problems would be the effects of climate change and deforestation on women.  In many countries, women carry the water and the firewood across miles from the natural resource supply to the home.  An ecofeminist perspective would address the rising heat and deforestation rates, including an analysis of how women trying to support families will be affected by these problems.

Social and environmental problems are also ecofeminist issues.  One example is the idea of pinkwashing.  Pinkwashing is the application of the breast cancer symbol on products that contain toxins and chemicals that can cause cancer.  It basically is using the symbol of breast cancer to gain recognition and profit.  The large oil corporation, Baker Hughes, is a great illustration of pinkwashing.  Their company used pink drill bits to promote the health of women and a cure for cancer.  These drill bits were used in fracking.  Known carcinogens such as benzene, lead, sulphuric acid, and formaldehyde are used in fracking.  It is interesting that a fracking company then would use the pink breast cancer symbol on their equipment.  These carcinogens cause cancer and are being used in and around aquifers to find natural gas.  It is an environmental hazard, not only to women but surrounding areas and their citizens.

Paraben and phthalates (known hormone disruptors and chemicals) within cosmetics are also guilty of pinkwashing.  The breast cancer symbol is on the product, yet the product itself is a cancer issue.  It promotes a prescription based necessity for a cure rather than trying to cure the original problem.  And at this point we have to ask ourselves, is it an individual problem or a community problem?

Another example of an ecofeminist issue would be the way we treat women and the earth using gender pronouns and sexist language.  Karen J. Warren wonderfully describes 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.  The exploitation of nature and animals is justified by feminizing them; the exploitation of women is justified by naturalizing them”.  The highly negative attitude towards both women and the environment is part of an oppression-based system that is perpetuated by sexist language.

Ecofeminism challenges us to think intersectionally about environmental issues.  Gender-based oppression is a real issue of justice, and the ongoing problems of the environment need attention as well.  This month the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and GVSU Women’s Center are hosting a Women and the Environment Symposium focusing on environmental justice.  We invite you to attend the event to learn more about the issues concerning women and the environment, and challenge yourself to think openly about the environment and gender justice!

Quoted Sources:

Dr. Julia Mason, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU TEDxGrandValley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NQbMVyPzRg

Karen J. Warren Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature

Research Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/10/21/komen-is-supposed-to-be-curing-breast-cancer-so-why-is-its-pink-ribbon-on-so-many-carcinogenic-products/

http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=749

https://fracfocus.org/chemical-use/what-chemicals-are-used

http://www.businessinsider.com/scary-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracking-2012-3#methanol-1

http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/

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