I begin this blog by asking you to think about your own identity. Think about the categories of gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, age, ethnicity, and ability and where you would align yourself. Now think, are you one without the other? Does one aspect of your identity take over one half of your body and the other the remaining? Or does each aspect of your identity simultaneously make up, you?
I ask you to reflect on this as we work to understand the interconnectedness of the ecofeminist perspective. Rather than understanding this theoretical framework to be a hierarchy of oppression, we must understand its relation to intersectionality as oppression is not felt singularly but rather multidimensionally.
Take a look at the image included to your right. Splicing the circular figure in half is the line of domination. Above domination represents the categories of identity deemed “superior” in societal context; along the lines are the “isms” in which those with privilege enact when perpetuating discrimination towards those outside of their identity. Below domination is the social categories in which oppression is felt most intensely. However, what is most important to note in this image is not the hierarchical aspect of social category but rather, the form of the image. All categories are in a circular shape, connected at a single point in the center. This is what intersectionality is to be understood as, “…a web of entanglement…each spoke of the web representing a continuum of different types of social categorization such as gender, sexuality, race, or class, while encircling spirals depict individual identities” (Kings 65). One may identify with multiple lines of the spiral but it is intersectionality that allows experiences of identity to occur simultaneously.
It is also important to note that all experiences are unique and oppression is felt differently depending on one’s place in society. The intersecting axes of privilege, domination, and oppression show that one may have privilege in one social category, but feel the effects of oppression in another. For example, a black heterosexual man may have privilege in the category of gender and sexuality but face marginalization in a society plagued with racism. Therefore, it is crucial to understand this perspective as a web of interconnectedness. As Kings describes, “The spirals collide with each spoke at a different level of the continuum, illustrating the context-specific privilege or discrimination experienced by the individual. A spider’s web preserves the necessary complexity of intersectionality and the potential ‘stickiness’ of cultural categories, which can often leave people stuck between two or more intersecting or conflicting social categories” (65-6).
When relating intersectionality to the ecofeminist perspective, it is important to understand its historical implications. Hobgood-Oster provides a Western perspective of ecofeminism in which “…oppression of the natural world and of women by patriarchal power structures must be examined together or neither can be confronted fully” (2005). This can be understood to analyze oppression as a hierarchy on the basis of sexism. While true, gender is not the only social category that experiences harmful effects in connection to environmental degradation.
We often analyze oppression based on a single category, this creates hierarchical thinking in terms of dominance; however, as Kings states, “Discrimination is not merely about gender or race or class, but rather an intersection of these different social identities which lead to the generation of various locations of vulnerability” (82). When applying intersectionality in an ecofeminist perspective, exploitation of the environment is viewed in connection to the oppression of women through an interconnected web as subjugation is not felt the same across populations as identity is diverse.
Leah Thomas touches upon the importance in understanding the difference between ecofeminism and intersectional environmentalism as although both understand the degradation of the environment to be in connection with deeply rooted societal problems, “…Intersectional Environmentalism considers all aspects of someone’s identity like race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality, wealth, and more” making it more inclusive (2020).
Taking a flashback to our previous sections, I correlate this closely to the work of Bina Agarwal in which focuses on a non-Western perspective of ecofeminism, feminist environmentalism. Agarwal expresses not only the link between women and nature in social context, but also through material realities as the connection between women and the environment is “…structured by a given gender and class (/caste/race) organization of production, reproduction, and distribution” (127). This works to relate ecofeminism to intersectionality as an analytical tool that recognizes the connection between oppression of the environment and the oppression of women is not biologically determined or based solely on the category of sex but rather, the differing aspects of one’s identity works interconnectedly to shape the experience of oppression faced. For example, a rural woman living in India is more likely to experience oppression of the environment closely due to the disadvantages of social identity as the dependence on the environment is linked to survival.
In this, we can use intersectionality as a tool to better understand the effects of degradation in varying communities and how to become activists in feminist environmentalism. Kings writes intersectional theory is important to recognize “…unequal experiences, not just between the North and South, but also within these very broad and non-homogenous categorizations…” (73). Western perspectives of ecofeminism can mistakenly focus on oppression of women as a whole rather than breaking down the varying social identities within this group of individuals. It is for this reason that intersecting oppressions prevent the elimination of other forms of oppression. Afterall, we are in an interconnected web. Working to abolish sexism will not solve the problems of patriarchal society as identities are simultaneously interacting to shape our experience. It is not until we eliminate each “ism” in the web that we will have a society free of exploitation.
Rachel Carson provides insight into the ecological importance of the ecofeminist interconnected perspective in her piece, Undersea. Carson takes the reader on a journey of life throughout the numerous layers of the ocean often forgotten in the disconnection between human and non-human life. She writes that we must “shed our human perceptions of length and breadth and time and place, and enter vicariously into the universe of all-pervading water” (Carson 63). That is, we must rid ourselves of the “superior species” perception and rather place ourselves in a world of diverse life that is often forgotten even though we share the same environment. In this piece, the ecological web of life is celebrated in its diversity as each living thing in the “place of paradoxes” (64) contributes to the well-being of another form of life. Just as intersectionality is important to recognize the various identities of human life oppressed by exploitation of the dominant, this ecofeminist perspective of interconnectedness is important in ecology as “Individual elements are lost to view, only to reappear again and again in different incarnations in a kind of material immortality” (Carson 67). If we continue to treat life as a hierarchy, ignoring the multiple layers of oppression connected in one’s identity, then we cannot effectively eradicate maltreatment of the natural world and all life forms within it.
I will leave you with a quote to consider as you go forth in a society that works to isolate and subjugate, “Engaging with intersectionality can help sensitize ourselves and others to the ways in which different forms of disadvantage can act as a method of silencing the most vulnerable and oppressed” (Kings 83).
Agarwal, Bina. “The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons from India.” Feminist Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1992, pp. 119–158., https://doi.org/10.2307/3178217.
Carson, Rachel. “Undersea.” Visions for Sustainability , vol. 3, 2015, pp. 62–67., https://doi.org/10.7401/visions.03.06.
Hobgood-Oster, Laura. “Ecofeminism: Historic and International Evolution.” Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, edited by Bron Taylor, Continuum, London & New York , 2005, pp. 533–539, http://www.religionandnature.com/ern/sample/Hobgood-Oster–Ecofeminism.pdf.
Kings, A.E. “Intersectionality and the Changing Face of Ecofeminism.” Ethics and the Environment, vol. 22, no. 1, 2017, pp. 63–87., https://doi.org/10.2979/ethicsenviro.22.1.04.
Thomas, Leah. “The Difference between Ecofeminism & Intersectional Environmentalism.” The Good Trade, 11 Aug. 2020, https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/ecofeminism-intersectional-environmentalism-difference/.