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The Concept Of Ecofeminism

The first part of this essay will outline the main arguments of the feminist ecologists and deal with the concept of Ecofeminism. The second part will sketch the main arguments of Rosemary Radford Reuther book, “Gaia and God”. The final part of this essay will analyze: Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, “Witchcraft as Goddess Religion”, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, and “the Descent of Inanna” and examine the pros and cons of the position that a return to goddess worship would save our planet.

Ecofeminism is a multicultural perspective on the interconnectedness of social systems of domination and the domination of non-human nature. It recognizes the cultural and political links between ecology and feminism. Ecofeminism is a value system, a social movement, and a practice. It criticizes the mainstream green movement and challenges the fundamental ideas of the western patriarchy about women, nature science, and “development”. Ecofeminism is an admixture of ecology and feminism. A French feminist, Francoise d’Eaubonne, first used it in 1974 (Mellor, 1997 p. 44).

Ecological feminism focuses on gender as a category of analysis and the perspectives of women are integral to its analysis, it is committed to the importance of valuing and preserving ecosystems. The movement recognizes all social systems of domination: racism, classicism, ageism, and sexism as interconnecting. The world’s dominant socioeconomic and political structure is the western patriarchal capitalism. The system is based on hierarchies of class, race, and gender and the domination and exploitation of nature. It is insensitive to social concepts of justice, equity, and freedom.

Economic, political, and social structures, the world’s dominant ideologies, and values support patriarchy. The belief in a universal reasonable man, and the reliance on modern science and technology enable white middle class men to dominate and exploit “others”. Patriarchy is a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women. It is based on an ideology of men’s superiority over women/nature. The subordination takes various forms: discrimination, disregard, insult, control, exploitation, oppression, and violence.

Science and religion support patriarchal assumptions of male superiority over nature and women as biologically determined. In pre-patriarchal, pagan societies, women and nature were worshiped as life-givers. In Christian belief, God creates man in his image, and women and nature for the benefit of man. “Adam is Soul, Eve is Flesh”. Ecological feminists (Gaard, Heller) argue that culture defines the connection of women and nature. Men are as much part of nature as women are. However, the patriarchal culture identifies women with body, sex, irrationality, passivity, and earth.

It is decided that women are closer to nature. Men identify with spirit, mind, action, and power; they are rational, stable, reliable, and intelligent. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva (1993) observe that women are more concerned about subsistence survival perspective than are men, most of who continue to believe that more growth, technology, science, and ‘progress’ will simultaneously solve the ecological and economic crises. During the Chipko struggles in India women participated in hugging the trees and wanted to preserve their subsistence base, on the other hand their men wanted modernization and waged work.

They objected to women becoming the leaders in this movement and challenging their role as village leaders (Mies & Shiva, 1993 p. 304). Considering that interdependence is central to Ecofeminism, it would be inconsistent to exclude men from this network of responsibility for the creation and continuation of life. Therefor it is necessary that men begin to share the responsibilities for creation and preservation of life on this planet instead of trying to conquer nature/women: “He breaks the wilderness. He clears the land of trees, brush, and weed. The land is brought under his control; he has turned waste into a garden.

Into her soil he places his plow. He labors. He plants. He sows. By the sweat of his brow, he makes her yield. She opens her broad lap to him. She prepares him a feast. She yields. Her powers are mystery to him. Silently she works miracles for him. /… / He is determined he will master her. He will make her produce at will. ” (Merchant, 1998 p. 28). The natural world and women have been devalued as inferior and separate from God and reason, and therefore from men. The dualistic structure of the western thought results in structure of separation and hierarchy in society.

Dualism of thought constitutes of sets of contrasting pairs: culture/nature, reason/nature, male/female, mind/body (nature), master/slave, rationality/animality (nature), reason/emotion, spirit/nature, human/nature, civilized/primitive, and self/other (Plumwood, 1993, p. 43). Reason separates men from women and nature. Women are stupefied and nature is deadened. Matter is dead and has no soul; the universe becomes a machine manipulated and controlled. Natural resources are exploited to the point of depletion. Nature is commodified; it has only economic value.

Forest has no value by itself but the timber sold on market has its price. The economic structure breeds destruction and “instrumentalization” of nature and its creatures (including human beings). Nature is abused. Moreover, western religion, science, and economics justify the violence done. Societies before the western patriarchy had different ideology and values. The patriarchy suppressed the pagan concept of the immanent life within nature. It deprived nature of its previously assumed sacredness. It deprived humans of the previous sense of oneness and life in harmony with the natural world.

The belief in Christianity and science justified patriarchal dualism and alienation from nature. Modern Science supports the worldview of the western, capitalistic patriarchy. This system of knowledge is not objective or value-free. Modern Science emerged when the middle class white western males produced the “Scientific Revolution” for their benefit. Science discredited other forms and systems of knowledge: traditional women’s knowledge and knowledge of non-western societies. The European witch-hunts of the sixteenth century served as a mean of destruction of the expertise of women.

By the seventeenth century, women were excluded from practicing medicine and healing. The “wise women”, what originally is meant by witches were declared evil and persecuted, “disorderly women, like chaotic nature, needed to be controlled” (Merchant, 1980 p. 127). The Witch persecutions were tied to changes in consciousness and social reality: “patriarchal science and technology was developed only after these women [the witches] had been murdered and… their knowledge, wisdom, and close relationship with nature had been destroyed” (Mies & Shiva, 1993 p. 17).

Those changes were in interest of emerging power of the Christian Church and the patriarchy. The Church gained monopoly and authority through the fragmentation of rural communities. It destroyed cooperation and unity of the rural community. The emergence of modern science was, and still is a source of violence. “Male science” has created ecological disasters, supported militarism, turned human labor into physically and mentally mutilating work, develop ways of controlling and colonizing the “other”. The patriarchal society eliminated women from positions of power.

Science, politics, and economy became men’s domain. Women’s economic dependency on men has put women in position of subordination, powerlessness, and worthlessness. It has ensured women’s conformity to motherhood and labor, she is a “domesticated animal” working and breading for her master, husband. ‘”A necessary object, woman, who is needed to preserve the species or to provide food and drink”‘ (Plumwood, 1993 p. 17). Economists measuring the standard of living do not include domestic work in GDP (Birkeland, 1993 p. 33). Yet, women’s domestic work provides for the family’s basic needs and welfare.

The woman prepares food, takes care of the children and the elderly. In much of Africa it is women who engage in subsistence agriculture; producing food for family supply, while the men occupy themselves in production of cash crops, which they export to generate profit. The economic “development” in the Third World encourages producing more farm produce for market, not for household. The meaning of agriculture has been transformed. Its primary function of survival economy (to support life) has been transformed to market economy (to create profit).

Through history, women engaged in sustainable, self-renewable agriculture. Women did not use sophisticated technology; their agriculture was based on working on small scale (to provide for family or local community), carrying for fields, providing fields with green maneuver, compost. They did not try to conquer and exploit the natural world but cooperated in order to survive. Their agricultural practices were environmentally sustainable; they produced life not death. As men replaced women, agriculture became mechanized and aimed at profit.

Farms turned into industries of food production. The Green Revolution and Agri-business companies are the results of men efforts to increase “efficiency”, to increase production in order to accumulate more profit. The results of agricultural production for the market are disastrous. Men’s agriculture exploits nature. The Green Revolution was based on mechanization, the use of more chemical pesticides and fertilizers, characterized by monoculture fields, high nutrient uptake and low return, high water demand and low conservation.

Green revolution is rooted in a patriarchal fabrication of reality and it resulted in production of death, not life; it increased soil and nutrient loss, waterlogging, salinization, drought, and desertification. Economic “development” is based on commercialization of resources. Resources are used for commodity production. Development, according to Vandana Shiva (1988), is a process of wealth creation for the western patriarchy. “The patriarchy’s economic vision is based on exploitation and exclusion of women (of the west and non-west), on the exploitation and degradation of nature, and on the exploitation and erosion of non-western cultures.

The western economic growth, the process of creating one global economy is a new form of western colonialism. Nature, women, and non-western societies do not benefit from “development” (supposedly a project for removal of poverty and leveling of socioeconomic inequalities, based on class, ethnicity, and gender). Exploited Third World’s women and tribes fight for liberation from the imposed economic “development”. They recognize it as a process of exploitation, inequality, injustice, and violence

The hypocritical dominant image of development that persists is the “progress for all”. In contrast, it created new forms of deprivation, dispossession, and poverty. “Development” did not improve women’s social and economic position but rather worsen it. Women are excluded from participation in the “development” which, is ecologically destructive; it threatens the bases for survival itself. Shiva (1988) talks about the Third World women engaged in survival struggles that are at the same time struggles for protection of nature.

They challenge the notion of nature as object of exploitation and struggle to protect nature from human-caused destruction and struggle to recognize it as the living force that supports life. Third World women and Ecofeminists challenge the western concept of development as economic growth and material accumulation. Their concept of economy is production for sustenance and satisfaction of basic needs. Ecofeminism recognizes the cultural and political links between ecology and feminism; the movement comprehends the domination and exploitation of women and nature as interrelated.

It struggles for liberation of women and nature form patriarchal oppression. It struggles for justice, and equity for all classes, races, and genders, and for conservation and appreciation of nature. Ecofeminists challenge the fundamental ideas of the western patriarchy about women, nature, science, and “development”. They challenge the concept of “progress”, recognizing its ecologically destructive forces that threaten the base of human survival. They criticize the scientific revolution and industrialization, which have turned nature into a machine, a resource, or commodity, devalued it, and deprived it of its sacredness.

Ecological breakdown and social inequity are intrinsically related to the dominant paradigm which puts man against and above nature and women. The underlying assumptions of dialectical unity and cyclical recovery shared by the common concern for the liberation of nature and of women contrast deeply with the dominant western patriarchal assumptions of duality in existence and linearity in process. Exploitation and murder of nature is a form of violence to people, it is a threat to the bases of human survival. Ecofeminism envisions a non-violent world of equity where nature is preserved.

The liberation can be accomplished through a transformation of culture, politics, and economy. To transform the culture, the ideology of dualism has to be transformed, and the concepts of nature and human identity have to be reconstructed. It requires re-conceptualization of the relationship between men and women, and between humans and nature. The culture of equity and collaboration cannot be based on hierarchical, sexist system. Men are as part of nature as women; and are as crucial to reproduction and nurturing of life as women are.

Ecofeminism is not contra men but against patriarchy, capitalism and environmental exploitation The solution lies in fundamental changes in way of thinking, in perceptions, and in changing actions from life-destroying into life-giving and life-maintaining. The culture of destruction and death has to be transformed into culture valuing life and protecting the right to live. People make political decisions and create socioeconomic structures. We create social norms and ironically it is the “norms” that determinate the way we think, perceive, and act.

To change the patriarchal assumptions and methods, linear thinking, dualism, rationality, belief in science and technology has to be challenged and transformed. Believes about power relations, truth, knowledge, and self have to be deconstructed. To recreate the culture into life-nurturing from life-destroying, love and life have to become the dominant values. Only in a society recognizing interdependence and immanence of all living organisms, people can live in harmony with nature. We cannot change the world without changing ourselves; “Consciousness shapes reality; Reality shapes consciousness” (Starhawk, 1982).

Rosemary Radford Ruether’s ecofeminist theology, Gaia and God, In the first chapter the author evaluates the legacy of the Christian and Western cultural heritage by exploring three classical creation stories Babylonian, Hebrew, and Greek (platonic). She argues that creation stories are the blueprint for society and that they reflect current science, the assumptions about nature of the world, physical processes, and relationships. They have decreed the relation between humans the divine, nature and society.

They both reflect the worldview of the culture and mandate the worldview to its ongoing heirs. The creation stories in genesis’s, the Hebrew bible, and the Babylonian Enuma Elish have particularly, shaped the Christian world. Their social message induced a view of earth as dead matter to be possessed and shaped, and the animals, plants and humans to be ruled, dominated and exploited by other humans. Plato’s creation story, the Timaeus, defines the primal dualism that underlies reality, it separates and juxtaposes mind and body, good and evil, male and female and human and animal.

The Timaeus not only divides but gives value and inferiorises one side in relation to the other, legislating domination, class hierarchy and patriarchal order. Further more there are links between the dualism; the female is body, evil, and animal/nature while the male is mind/reason, good, and human/civilization. Reuther indicates that western Christianity viewed the creation story in genesis from the “Platonian” perspective. In chapter two of her book, Reuther explores the split between the Christian biblical view of the world and a post-Newtonian cosmology and earth history.

The author observes that, after the initial hostility, science and religion appropriated themselves separate domains of control. Mechanistic science embraced scientifically verifiable truth, all that could be measured and observed objectively. Religion controlled the unreal realm, spirituality, value judgment, and the aesthetic. However, the author points out that in the 1960’s the belief in the “value-free” method, was being shattered, “the observer is an integral part of the reality observed” (p. 39). The technology proved to become the problem (nuclear bombs, environmental damage) instead of the promised solution.

The author suggests that the scientific account of origin have the potential to provide a new and shared creation story. The elements of ethics and spirituality can relate the story of earth and the cosmos to a holistic culture and heal the western split between fact and value, theory and practice, private and social. She claims humans must realize the interrelation of all things and balance their reproduction, production, and consumption with the ecosphere. Further, more humans should see nature as a system of cooperation in food chains and life and death cycles.

Reuther blames the “[c]ultural avoidance of death” (p. 3) for the pollution crisis, and emphasizes the need for diversity, and a balance of interdependency to sustain ecosystems. The new ideology must combine science with the unreal realm; and transform the mechanistic language illustrating male bias “Westernized consciousness must heal itself of its split-off divisions that have separated knowledge from wonder, reverence, and love” (p. 58). Biologists such as James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis adopted the term Gaia, the Greek earth goddess, in reference to their thesis that the entire planet is a living system behaving as a unified organism.

In chapter three, Reuther explores the development of scenarios of world destruction from its ancient Near Eastern prototypes to its contemporary uses. Their origin are the ancient experiences of real destruction from nature (floods and droughts) and other humans (wars and colonialization). The Sumerian narrative of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley flood is the paragon of the Hebrew flood story. The dying god narratives of Inanna’s and Persephone’s descent into the underworld were part of the yearly cycle of death and rebirth of nature that ended the drought with the rains.

Jews took over the story illustrating the passage of nature from death to life, the renewal of the powers of fertility and turn it into a punishment story. A divine punishment for disobeying the laws of one god who controls nature and history from above. The narrative is a warning and a threat of punishment for the wicked but ultimately it is a promise of salvation and harmony between humans and nature. God punishes evil sinners and forever separates from the saints. Reuther claims that in an ideology of a god unrelated to earth, body, or mortality, death is the last enemy to conquer.

Chapter four looks at the interrelated, contemporary crises of ecological devastation, poverty, and militarism. Present day ecologists warn of an ecological apocalypse, a permanent destruction of ourselves. The only way to prevent it is to understand how the web of life works and to convert our spirit and culture, technology and social relations into life sustainable ways. Ecological damage is a result of population, consumption, and technology multiplied together, and affected by poverty and inequality The main problem is the over-consumption in developed countries and the under-consumption in third world countries.

Human activities are modifying the biosphere and human influences are increasingly disrupting the functioning of the ecosystems. There is growing evidence of anthropogenic climate disruption. Population growth creates increased demand for resources. Human beings cause deforestation, land degradation, pollution, and other specie extinction, in the course of retrieving natural resources like coal, minerals, wood, oil, and gas. Processing the resources into functional objects causes further ecological damage. Technology is advantageous in the effective management and exploitation of various natural resources.

However, some resources are scarce, technology does not enhance the amount of natural resources obtainable for defilement. The environmental damage that individuals create increases with wealth. The level of consumerism is an important factor on the impact of the environment. Rich people have higher incomes therefor their level of consumption of resources is higher than that of poor people. Higher consumption means higher levels of waste. Many rich countries over consume. Over consumption in rich countries is partly do to cheap labor and ecological degradation in developing countries.

To maintain high levels of consumption the West must be assured of getting increased amounts of resources from poor countries. Poverty and inequality reduce concern with environmental quality. Expanded modern military technology is aimed at retaining unjust advantage over the earth’s resources for a wealthy elite. The next three chapters explore the meaning of evil in relation to nature. Chapter five scrutinizes Jewish, Greek, and Christian understandings of evil. Greek Gnosticism produced a dualism of evil physical body and the material world over against the conscious mind.

Christians perceive sin as ethical and metaphysical and as disobedience and finitude. Reuther finds the culpability for own finitude in Christian theology problematic. The dualism of absolute evil against absolute good pretends that a clear distinction is attainable and justifies the genocide and violence done to the demonized enemy. This effort to name evil and struggle against it reinforced relations of domination and created victim-blaming spiritualities and ethics. Reuther states that those traditions equate sin with death and blame those on women insubordination.

However, the author claims that the Hebraic understanding of evil as unjust relations between peoples, and the destructive effect this has on the earth is a recoverable element for an ethic of eco-justice. Furthermore the Pauline-Augustinian realization, that we inherit historical systems of culture and social organization that bias our minds and wills negatively, help us realize that we are an integral part of this hole reality. In the sixth chapter, Reuther outlines contemporary versions of the story of the “fall from paradise” in Ecofeminism, deep ecology, and creation spirituality.

Reuther indicates that there are problematic assumptions about “nature” and the fall into patriarchy. The author analyses the work of contemporary writers, among them Gimbutas, whom she criticizes for presuming a pre patriarchal paradise where all was benign between the genders and the earth. Reuther warns about the danger of associating women with nature, nurturing, benign, peaceful, promoting mutuality and partnership and presumption that males are not as capable of these qualities.

Reuther uses Peggy Reeves Sanday’s book, “Female Power and Male dominance: on the Origins of Sexual Inequality”, to argue that a new form of gender parity is essential. Men’s only role can not consist of being an adjunct to women; this would lead to male resentment and violence. Reuther suggests that a ” reconstruction of the relation of the domestic core of society to the larger society” (p. 171) is essential to create a new society. Men must be equally responsible for domestic work and child up bringing, instead of helping out. Chapter seven demonstrates the interconnection of domination and deceit.

Reuther insists that classical traditions sacralized patriarchal hierarchy over women, workers, and the earth. She explores ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Israel, classical Athens, looking at patterns of domination and its justification. The author examines how the synthesis of asceticism, apocaptilism, Christianity, Calvinism, scientific revolution, colonialism and industrialization have evolved into a contemporary crisis caused by domination and deceptive ideas of endless “progress” and “development”. Reuther sees the elite male denial of interdependency as the cause of evil.

The author emphasizes the importance of three elements in the quest for an ecological culture and society. First the rebuilding of local communities, where people are responsible for the ecosystem of which they are part. Second, just relations between humans that accept the right of all members of the community to an equitable share in the means of subsistence. And finally, an overcoming of the culture of competitive alienation and domination for compassionate solidarity. In the last part of her book, Reuther traces two lines of biblical and Christian traditions.

They struggled with what they perceived to be injustice and sin and sought to create just and loving relations between people in their relation to the earth and to the divine. There are glimpses in this heritage of transformative, biophilic relationships. These glimpses are a precious legacy that needs to be separated from the toxic waste of sacralized domination. Some how started to believe that the Christian male monotheistic God is destructive concept that rationalizes alienation from and neglect of the earth, while Gaia, as an immanent divinity, is seen as the all-nurturing earth mother goddess.

Reuther points out that merely replacing a transcendent male deity with a female one does not answer the god-problem. These two traditions can be complementary then alternatives to each other. She sees the work of Eco-justice and the work of spirituality as interrelated, the inner and outer aspects of one process of conversion and transformation. What we need, in her view, is a vision of a much more abundant and creative source of life. A healed relation to each other and to the earth calls for a new consciousness, a new symbolic culture and spirituality.

We need to transform our inner psyches and the way we symbolize the interrelations of men and women, humans and earth, humans and the divine, the divine and the earth. To save our planet the Earth and all creation must be valued, protected, and we, as human beings, must find our place within the web of all life, not outside and separate from the whole of Creation. Starhawk, in The Spiral Dance, argues that the religious concepts of the immanence of the divine in women as much as in men, as well as in animals, plants and every thing that is on the face of the Earth and in the wider cosmos is essential for saving our planet.

The image of god as outside of nature has given as a rationale for our own destruction of the natural order and justified our plunder of the earth’s resources (Starhawk 1979, p. 0). A Goddess, who is immanent with nature, fosters respect for the sacredness for all living things. Goddess does not rule the earth; she is the world (Starhawk 1979, p. 9). Witchcraft is a religion of ecology. Its goal is harmony with nature, so that life may not just survive, but thrive (Starhawk 1979, p. 10).

Witchcraft takes its teaching from nature, reads inspiration in the movement of the sun the moon, and the stars, the flight of birds, the slow growth of the trees, and the cycles of the seasons” (Starhawk 1979, p. 3). The Demeter and the Inanna myths help us to recognize the importance of ecological balance and the interdependence of all life. The myth of Demeter and Persephone was associated with the cycle of vegetal life, human fear of death, the hope for immortality, and the valuing of mother to daughter relations. Demeter is the grain mother, the giver of crops; her daughter Persephone is the grain maiden, who embodies the new crops.

Demeter stooped doing her job as the goddess of cultivated grain. The barrenness of the earth threatens to extinguish all life and, the gods Zeus and Hades were forced to bow to her power and autonomy. They returned Kore to her but had to use trickery to call her back to the underworld for half the year, without her Hades might not have been able to rule and to assure the cycle of seasons. Demeter is not the supreme mistress over life and death because she can not save her daughter by her self. Demeter-Persephone myth is more complex then the yearly withering of vegetation.

Fertility disappears after Demeter wanders among people and withdraws to her temple and not with the capture of Kore. The Demeter Persephone myth teaches us that matricide, genocide, and goddess murder produce a wasteland. The myth makes Demeter responsible for the death of nature, whereas Zeus and Hades, who conspired and hatched the plot of the lure and rape of Persephone, appear reasonable men with whom one can negotiate Persephone’s return. Ecofeminism sees the interconnectedness between the death of nature and the rape of women.

The Demeter-Persephone myth shows how the fates of women and nature are entwined within patriarchal ideology and praxis. Goddess worship is part of the major movements for political and social change. Inanna is the queen of the land and its fertility; she symbolizes consciousness of transitions and borders, places of intersections and crossing over. She combines earth and sky, matter and spirit. Inanna’s descend into the underworld of death to meet her sister Ereshkigal presages a renewal of life. Ereshkigal represents Inanna’s other side, death, nonbeing, annihilation, and emptiness.

She symbolizes the great Round of nature, grain above and growing, and seed below and dying to sprout again, she is the continuum in which different states are experienced as transformations of one energy. The underworld is a place where potential life lies motionless but in the pangs of birth, the state entails rot, decay, and gestation. Patriarchy has repressed life energies; the return of the goddess onto Western culture is necessary earth’s life and renewal. Contrary to western dualism life is not the opposed to life. Inanna’s descend represents the cycle of nature; life, death and rebirth; she maintains the balance of life.

Nothing changes or grows without the food of some other sacrifice (Perera 1981, p. 54). We are all part of nature and our destiny is to participate fully in the cycles that characterize life on earth. Goddess worship entail rituals, they bring her power into our lives. Inanna descends to witness the death of the bull of heaven, the masculine primordial energy, the fertilizing power of nature. She becomes a sacrifice to replenish the lost source, witnessing the death of fertility and bringing herself as seed. Celebrating Inanna’s descent/sacrifice means celebrating seasonal transitions.

The rhythms of a healthy human life echo the rhythm of the universe. Participants affirm that they are not alone, but part of a great communion of being that includes plants, animals, other humans, the earth itself. Rituals take root in the body, shaping body wisdom, so that acting in the light of the conceptions they express becomes second nature. When shared, rituals create and confirm community. Commitment to the goddess requires taking political action against environmental damage. Goddesses provide an orientation that can help us save the planet from ecological destruction.

The Pagan movement, by asserting that sexuality and pleasure are sacred, stands as an important counterbalance to repressive religions. Paganism offers a home to people of all sexual orientations. Paganism invites us to reclaim our place in Nature and to reclaim our bodies. It invites us to include our sexuality in our spirituality “Flesh and spirit are one” (Starhawk, 1979, p. 8). We can find a way to bring dignity, grace, power, and integrity to the way we celebrate our sexuality. Then we can ad another dimension to our experience of being human and become more conscious and valuable members of the circle of Nature

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