Righteous ecofeminist takedown

Guest post by Heather McNamara

In my Women’s literature class, all of the books we read had ecofeminist themes. Obviously I got an A. I know. I can’t help it.

Even though the class is over, it got me thinking about ecofeminism. I read a few articles about it and the widest criticism I can find is that the narrative is typically centered around white women. In case there are a few 101s in the audience, I’ll briefly explain why this is a problem. While obviously white women have legitimate feminist agendas,when white women dominate the narratives, the concerns of people of color are at best ignored and at worst willfully invalidated. More on this in a minute. So, when I went to the library to get a book about ecofeminism, I intentionally overlooked the eight volumes that appeared to center mostly on white women’s concerns and went straight for the one book that had chapters about colonialism and women of color. Simply titled “Ecofeminism,” I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Chapter two, “Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework” on account of the name of the author, Andy Smith. Generally speaking, when I want to read about anticolonialism, I don’t want to read it from the perspective of somebody who shares a name with some of the most notorious English colonizers. I prefer to hear from those who have personal experience. Andrea Lee Smith is a Cherokee feminist scholar and not a white man as her name suggests. Silly me. She has written a whole lot of awesome books that I now have to read. That being said, I soon found Andy actually had quite a lot of interesting stuff to teach, and I wanted to share them with you. Below are some selected quotes:

The Inuit of Canada reported that NATO war exercises had been wreaking environmental havoc where they live. The 8,000 low-level flights that had already taken place over Inuit land had created so much noise from sonic booms that it had disrupted the wildlife and impaired the hearing of the Inuit. Furthermore, oil falling from the jets had poisoned the water supply.

The Shoshone reported that low-level flying also takes place over their land. One man was killed when his horse threw him because it was frightened by the noise of the jets. They reported that the flying had been scheduled to take place over the cattle range until the Humane Society interceded, saying this would be inhumane treatment of the cattle. Consequently, the war exercises were redirected to take place over Indian people instead.

Wow, way to go Humane Society.

In the interest of being brief and not just quoting an entire chapter on my blog, I’ll just let you know that what we learn next is that waste dumping on Native land, since it’s not “American land” does not need to meet the same EPA requirements. Because of this, it’s cheaper and therefore preferable for some unscrupulous companies to dump their waste on native land and cause miscarriage, cancer, and birth defects.

Now, here’s where we learn about exactly how racist white-centered feminism is:

The inability to fully embrace an anticolonialist ideology is the major stumbling block in developing alliances between Native people and members of the mainstream environmental movement and the feminist movement.

For instance, in “Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism,” Michael Zimmerman argues in favor of eradicating the dualism between humans and nature. “only by recognizing that humanity is no more, but also no less, important than all other things on earth can we learn to dwell on the planet within limits that would allow other species to flourish” However, deep ecologists and other environmental theorists are often not consistent in applying this theory in practice. For instance, sentiments that have been expressed in Earth First! Journal include that “the AIDS virus may be Gaia’s tailor-made answer to human overpopulation” and that famine should take its course in Africa to stem overpopulation. Such sentiments reinforce, rather than negate the duality between humans and nature, because they imply that humans are not part of nature and that their destruction would not also mean environmental destruction… In addition, it is noteworthy that the people that are targeted as expendable (victims of AIDS and Africans in the foregoing example) are people of color or Third World people who have the least institutional power or access to resources in society… To even make such a comment indicates that one has to be in a fairly privileged position in society where one is not faced with death on a regular basis. It also assumes that all people are equally responsible for massive environmental destruction, rather than facing the fact that it is people in positions of institutional power who are killing the earth and the people who are more marginalized to further their economic interests. It is racist and imperialist to look at the people who are dying now from environmental degradation (generally people of color and poor people) and say that it is a good thing that the earth is cleansing itself.

All emphasis mine. So in other words, all that crap that you hear about overpopulation killing the planet and all this disease being a perfect cure for it? Sorry to burst your bubble, but allowing the deaths of millions of poor and marginalized or those in developing countries is not going to bring the earth back to balance. It’s not Gaia undoing the damage. It IS the damage. Removing poor and indigenous people is the least efficient way to save the earth.

It’s a slightly pricey book but your local library may have it. Just follow the link I’m not doing MLA citations outside of school.


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.