Introduction to ecofeminism

[Karen J. Warren]

From Michael E. Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, George Sessions,Karen J. Warren, and John Clark (Eds.), Environmental Philosophy:From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall, 1993, pp. 253-267.


The past few decades have witnessed an enormous interest in boththe women’s movement and the ecology (environmental) movement. Manyfeminists have argued that the goals of these two movements aremutually reinforcing; ultimately they involve the development ofworldviews and practices that are not based on male-biasedmodels of domination. As Rosemary Ruether wrote in 1975 in her book,New Woman/NewEarth:

Women must see that there can be no liberation for them and nosolution to the ecological crisis within a society whose fundamentalmodel of relationships continues to be one of domination. They mustunite the demands of the women’s movement with those of theecological movement to envision a radical reshaping of the basicsocioeconomic relations and the underlying values of this [modernindustrial] society. (204)

Since the early 1970s, many feminists, especially ecologicalfeminists (“ecofeminists”), have defended Ruether’s basic point: theenvironment is a feminist issue.

Just what makes the environment (ecology) a feminist issue? Whatare some of the alleged connections between the domination of womenand the domination of nature? How and why is recognition of theseconnections important to feminism, environmentalism, andenvironmental philophy? Answering these questions is largely whatecofeminism is about.

In this essay I offer an introduction to the literature and issuesof ecofeminism. I begin with a characterization of ecofeminism. ThenI identify eight sorts of connections–what I call”woman-nature connetions”–that ecofeminists claim link thetwin dominations of women and nature. Discussion of these allegedconnections provides an overview of the scholarly literature inecofeminism and the sorts of reasons ecofeminists have given for thecentrality of ecofeminist insights to environmental philosophy andfeminism. It also helps to situate the four essays included in thissection (essays by Merchant, Plumwood, Salleh, and Warren) withinthat range of scholarly positions. I conclude by suggesting that thephilosophical significance of ecofeminism is that it challengesfeminism to take environmental issues seriously, environmentalphilosophy to take feminism seriously, and philosophy to take bothseriously.


Just as there is not one feminism, there is not one ecofeminism.”Ecological feminism is the name given to a variety of positions thathave roots in different feminist practices and philosophies. Thesedifferent perspectives reflect not only different feministperspectives (e.g., liberal, traditional Marxist, radical, socialist,black and Third World), they also reflect different understandings ofthe nature of and solution to pressing environmental problems (seeWarren 1987). So, it is an open question how many, which, and on whatgrounds any of the various positions in environmental philosophy thatacknowledge feminist concerns or claim to be feminist are properlyidentified as ecofeminist positions. What one takes to be a genuineecofeminist position will depend largely on how one conceptualizesboth feminism and ecofeminism.

For instance, suppose by “feminism” one means “liberal feminism.”Liberal feminism builds on a Western liberal political andphilosophical framework that idealizes a society in which autonomousindividuals are provided maximal freedom to pursue their owninterests. There are two main ecological indications of liberalfeminism: the first draws the line of moral considerability athumans, separating humans from nonhumans and basing any claims tomoral consideration of nonhumans either on the alleged rights orinterests of humans, or on the consequences of such consideration forhuman well-being. The second extends the line of moralconsiderability to qualified nonhumans on the grounds that they aredeserving of moral consideration in their own right: they, too, arerational, sentient, interest-carriers, right-holders.

Is either liberal feminist ecological implication acceptable froman ecofeminist perspective? It depends, in part, on what one means by”ecofeminism.” Many ecofeminists have argued that insofar as liberalfeminism keeps intact oppressive and patriarchal ways ofconceptualizing nature, including problematic human-naturedichotomies of the sort dlscussed by all four authors in thissection, it will be inadequate from an ecofeminist perspective.

Take another construal of feminism: traditional Marxist feminism.Traditional Marxist feminism views the oppression of women as a kindof class oppression, a direct result of the institution of classsociety and, under capitalism, private property. Since praxis (i.e., conscious physical labor of humans directed at transformingthe material world to meet human needs) is the distinguishingcharacteristic of humans, traditional Marxist feminism, followingtraditional Marxism, would seem to suggest that the primary value ofnature is its instrumental value in the production of economic goodsto meet human needs.

Is traditional Marxism fertile soil for ecofeminism? Again, itdepends, in part, on what one means by ecofeminism. If ecofeminism isa position that recognizes that nature has value in addition to itsuse value to humans, or if ecofeminism asserts that more thangender-sensitive class analyses are needed to explain theinterwoven dominations of women and nature, then traditional Marxistfeminism will be inadequate from an ecofeminist perspective.

Consider one last example. A radical feminist construal offeminism departs from both liberal feminism and traditional Marxistfeminism by rooting women’s oppression in reproductive biology andsex-gender systems. According to radical feminists, patriarchy(i.e., the systematic oppression of women by men) subordinates womenin sex-specific ways by defining women as beings whose primaryfunctions are either to bear and raise children or to satisfy malesexual desires. The liberation of women requires the dismantaling ofpatriarchy, particularly male control of women’s bodies.

Is radical feminism ecofeminist? While radical feministshistorically have had the most to say about ecofeminism, sometimesclaiming that “women are closer to nature than men,” someecofeminists have worried about the extent to which radical feminismboth mystifies women’s experiences by locating women closer to naturethan men, and offers ahistorically essentialist accounts of “women’sexperiences.” Furthermore, some ecofeminists worry that any view thatmakes any group of humans closer to nature than any other isconceptually flawed and methodologically suspect: it maintains justthe sort of value dualistic and hierarchical thinking that iscritiqued by ecofeminism (see Griscom 1981; Roach 1991; Warren 1987).Hence the extent to which radical feminism is an adequate theoreticalbasis for ecofeminism will depend partly on what one takes to be thedefining characteristics of ecofeminism.

What, then, can one say about ecofeminism? What characterizesecofeminism as a theoretical position and political movement? Despiteimportant differences among ecofeminists and the feminisms from whichthey gain their inspiration, there is something all ecofeministsagree about; such agreement provides a minimal condition account ofecofeminism: there are important connections between the dominationof women and the domination of nature, an understanding of which iscrucial to feminism, environmentalism, and environmental philosophy(Warren 1987). A main project of ecofeminism is to make visible these”woman-nature connections” and, where harmful to women andnature, to dismantle them.

If woman-nature connections are the backbone ofecofeminism, just what are they? And why is the alleged existence ofthese connections claimed to be so significant?


There are at least eight sorts of connections that ecofeministshave identified. These alleged connections provide sometimescompeting, sometimes mutually complementary or supportive, analysesof the nature of the twin dominations of women and nature. A casual,albeit philosophically uncritical, perusal of these eight allegedconnections helps to identify the range and variety of ecofeministpositions on woman-nature connections.

  1. Historical, Typically Causal, Connections. One allegedconnection between women and nature is historical. When historicaldata are used to generate theories concerning the sources of thedominations of women and nature, it is also causal. So pervasive isthe historical-causal theme in ecofeminist writing that Ariel Sallehpractically defines ecofeminism in terms of it: “Eco-feminism is arecent development in feminist thought which argues that the currentglobal environmental crisis is a predictable outcome of patriarchalculture” (Salleh 1988).

What are these alleged historical-causal connections? Someecofeminists (e.g., Spretnak 1990; Eisler 1988, 1990) trace theseconnections to prototypical patterns of domination begun with theinvasion of Indo-European societies by nomadic tribes fromEurasia about 4500 B.C. (see Lahar 1991, 33). Riane Eisler describesthe time before these invasions as a “matrifocal, matrilineal,peaceful agrarian era.” Others (e g., Griffin 1978; Plumwood 1991,this section; Ruether 1974) trace historical connections topatriarchal dualisms and conceptions of rationality in classicalGreek philosophy and the rationalist tradition. Still other feminists(e g., Merchant 1980, this section focus on cultural and scientificchanges that occurred more recently–during the scientific revolutionof the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: it was then that an olderworld order characterized by cooperation between humans and naturewas replaced by a reductionist, “mechanistic world view of modernscience,” which sanctioned the exploitation of nature, uncheckedcommercial and industrial expansion, and the subordination of women.

What prompts and explains these alleged historical and causalwoman-nature connections? What else was in place topermit and sanction these twin dominations? To answer thesequestions, ecofeminists have turned to the conceptual props that theyclaim keep these historical dominations in place.

  1. Conceptual Connections. Many authors have argued that,ultimately, historical and causal links between the dominations ofwomen and nature are located in conceptual structures of dominationthat construct women and nature in male-biased ways. Basicallythree such conceptual links have been offered.

One account locates a conceptual basis of the twin dominations ofwomen and nature in value dualisms, i.e., indisjunctive pairs in which the disjuncts are seen as oppositional(rather than as complementary) and as exclusive (rather than asinclusive), and value hierarchies, i.e., perceptions ofdiversity organized by a spatial Up-Down metaphor, whichattributes higher value (status, prestige) to that which is higher(“Up”) (see Gray 1981; Griffin 1978, Plumwood 1991, this section;Ruether 1974). Frequently cited examples of these hierarchicallyorganized value dualisms include reason/emotion, mind/body,culture/nature, human/nature, and man/woman dichotomies. Thesetheorists argue that whatever is historically associated withemotion, body, nature, and women is regarded as inferior to thatwhich is (historically) associated with reason, mind, culture, human(i.e., male) and men.

A second account expands on the first by housing the problematicvalue dualisms and value hierarchies in larger, oppressive conceptualframeworks–ones that are common to all social “isms of domination”(e.g., sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism as well as “naturism,”i.e., the unjustified domination of nonhuman nature (see Warren1987,1988, 1990, this section) A conceptual framework is a sociallyconstructed set of basic beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptionsthat shapes and reflects how one views oneself and others. It isoppressive when it explains, justifies, and maintains relationshipsof domination and subordination. An oppressive conceptual frameworkis patriarchal when it explains, justifies, and maintains thesubordination of women by men.

Oppressive and patriarchal conceptual frameworks are characterizednot only by value dualisms and hierarchies but also by “power-over” conceptions of power and relationships of domination (Warren1991b) and a logic of domination, i.e., a structure ofargumentation that provides the moral premise that superiorityjustifies subordination (Warren 1987, 1990, this section). On thisview, it is oppressive and patriarchal conceptual frameworks, and thebehaviors that they give rise to, that sanction, maintain, andperpetuate the twin dominations of women and nature.

A third account locates a conceptual basis in sex-genderdifferences, particularly in differentiated personality formation orconsciousness (see Cheney 1987; Gray 1981; Salleh, 1984). The claimis that female bodily experiences (e.g., of reproduction andchildbearing), not female biology per se, situate womendifferently with respect to nature than men. This sex-genderdifference is (allegedly) revealed in a different consciousness inwomen than men toward nature; lt is rooted conceptually in “paradigmsthat are uncritically oriented to the dominant western masculineforms of experiencing the world: the analytic, non-related,delightfully called ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’ approaches” (Salleh1988, 130)–just those value dualisms that are claimed to separateand inferiorize what is historically female-gender identified.These sociopsychological factors provide a conceptual link insofar asthey are embedded in different conceptualization structures andstrategies (“different ways of knowing”), coping strategies and waysof relating to nature for women and men. A goal of ecofeminism then,is to develop gender-sensitive language, theory, and practicesthat do not further the exploitative experiences and habits ofdissociated, male-gender identified culture toward women and nature.

One project of ecofeminism is to expose and dismantle theconceptual structures of domination which have kept various “isms ofdomination,” particularly the dominations of women and nature, inplace. If ecofeminists who allege various conceptualwoman-nature connections are correct, this will involvereconceiving those mainstay philosophical notions which rely on them(e.g., notions of reason and rationality, knowledge, objectivity,ethics, and the knowing, moral self).

  1. Empirical and Experiential Connections. Manyecofeminists have focused on uncovering empirical evidence linkingwomen (and children, people of color, the underclass) withenvironmental destruction. Some point to various health and riskfactors borne disproportionately by women children, racial minoritiesand the poor caused by the presence of low-level radiation,pesticides, toxics, and other pollutants (e.g., Caldecott and Leland1983; Salleh 1990, this section; Shiva 1988; Warren 1991a). Othersprovide data to show that First World development policies result inpolicies and practices regarding food, forest, and water, whichdirectly contribute to the inability of women to provide adequatelyfor themselves and their families (e.g., Mies 1986; Shiva 1988;Warren 1988, 1989 1991a). Feminist animal rights scholars argue thatfactory farming, animal experimentation, hunting, and meat eating aretied to patriarchal concepts and practices (e.g., Adams 1990, 1991;Kheel 1985; Slicer 1991). Some connect rape and pornography withmale-gender identified abuse of both women and nature (e.g.,Collard with Contrucci 1988; Griffin 1981). Appeal to such empiricaldata is intended both to document the very real, felt, lived”experiential” connections between the dominations of women andnature and to motivate the need for joining together feministcritical analysis and environmental concerns.

Sometimes, however, the empirical and experiential connectionsbetween women and nature are intended to reveal important culturaland spiritual ties to the earth honored and celebrated by (some)women and indigenous peoples. This suggests that somewoman-nature connections are features of important symbolsystems.

  1. 4. Symbolic Connections. Some ecofeminists have exploredthe symbolic association and devaluation of women and nature thatappears in religion, theology, art, and literature. Documenting suchconnections and making them integral to the project of ecofeminism isoften heralded as ecofeminism’s most promising contribution to thecreation of liberating, life-afffirming, and postpatriarchalworldviews and earth-based spiritualities or theologies.Ecofeminism is then presented as offering alternative spiritualsymbols (e.g., Gaia and goddess symbols), spiritualities ortheologies, and even utopian societies (e.g., see Gearhart).Appreciating such symbolic woman-nature connections involvesunderstanding “the politics of women’s spirituality” (Spretnak 1981).

Some ecofeminist theorists draw on literature, particularly”nature writing,” to unpack the nature of the woman-naturelinguistic symbolic connections (see Bell 1988; Kolodny 1975; Murphy1988, 1991). Literary criticism of the sort offered by Patrick Murphyclaims that patriarchal conceptions of nature and women havejustified “a two-pronged rape and domination of the earth andthe women who live on it” (Murphy 1988, 87), often using this asbackground for developing an ecofeminist literary theory (Murphy1991).

Some theorists focus on language, particularly the symbolicconnections between sexist and naturist language, i.e., language thatinferiorizes women and nonhuman nature by naturalizing women andfeminizing nature. For example, there are concerns about whethersex-gendered language used to describe “Mother Nature” is, inYnestra King’s words, “potentially liberating or simply a rationalefor the continued subordination of women” (Y. King 1981). There areconcerns about connections between the languages used to describewomen, nature, and nuclear weaponry (see Cahn 1989; Strange 1989).Women are often describe in animal terms (e.g., as cows, foxes,chicks, serpents, bitches, beavers, old bats, pussycats, cats,bird-brains, hare-brains). Nature is often described infemale and sexual terms: nature is raped, mastered, conquered,controlled, mined. Her “secrets” are “penetrated” and her “womb” isput into the services of the “man of science.” “Virgin timber” isfelled, cut down. “Fertile soil” is tilled and land that lies”fallow” is “barren,” useless. The claim is that language that sofeminizes nature and naturalizes women describes, reflects, andperpetuates the domination and inferiorization of both by failing tosee the extent to which the twin dominations of women and nature(including animals) are, in fact, culturally (and not merelyfiguratively) analogous. The development of theory and praxis infeminism and environmental philosophy that does not perpetuate suchsexist-naturist language and the power over systems ofdomination they reinforce is, therefore, a goal of ecofeminism.

  1. 5. Epistemological Connections. The various allegedhistorical, causal conceptual, empirical, and symbolicwoman-nature connections (discussed above) have also motivatedthe need for new, ecofeminist epistemologies. Typically theseemerging epistemologies build on scholarship currently under way infeminist philosophy, whigh challenges mainstream views of reason,rationality, knowledge, and the nature of the knower (see APANewsletter on Feminism and Philosophy 1989). AsValPlumwood suggests in this section, if one mistakenly construesenvironmental philosophy as only or primarily concerned with ethics,one will neglect “a key aspect of the overall problem, which isconcerned with the definition of the human self as separate fromnature, the connection between this and the instrumental view ofnature, and broader political aspects of the critique ofinstrumentalism” (1991, this section). For Plumwood, ecofeministepistemologies must critique rationalism in the Western philosophicaltradition and develop views of the ethical, knowing self that do notmaintain and perpetuate harmful value dualisms and hierarchies,particularly human-nature ones.

Some feminists (e.g., Mills 1987, 1991) appeal to thecritical theory of Horkheimer, Adorno, Balbus, and the Frankfurtcircle, claiming that “their epistemology and substantive analysisboth point to a convergence of feminist and ecological concerns,anticipating the more recent arrival of eco-feminism” (Salleh1988, 131). For these feminists, “critical theory” provides acritique of the “nature versus culture” dichotomy and anepistemological structure for critiquing the relationships betweenthe domination of women and the domination of nature.

  1. 6. Political (Praxis) Connections.Francoised’Eaubonne introduced the term “ecofeminisme” in 1974 to bringattention to women’s potential for ecological revolution (1974,213-52). Ecofeminism has always been a grassrootspolitical movement motivated by pressing pragmatic concerns (seeLahar 1991). These range from issues of women’s and environmentalhealth, to science, development and technology, the treatment ofanimals, and peace, antinuclear, antimilitarist activism. Thevarieties of ecofeminist perspectives on the environment are properlyseen as an attempt to take seriously such grassroots activism andpolitical concerns by developing analyses of domination that explain,clarify, and guide that praxis.
  2. Ethical Connections.To date, most of thephilosophical literature on woman-nature connections hasappeared in the area of environmental philosophy known as”environmental ethics.” The claim is that the interconnections amongthe conceptualizations and treatment of women, animals, and (the restof) nature require a feminist ethical analysis and response.Minimally, the goal of ecofeminist environmental ethics is to developtheories and practices concerning humans and the natural environmentthat are not male-biased and provide a guide to action in theprefeminist present (Warren 1990). This may involve developing anecofeminist ethic of care and appropriate reciprocity (Cheney 1987,1989; Curtin 1991, Warren 1988, 1990, this section),ecofeminist kinship ethics (Plumwood 1991, this section), ecofeministanimal rights positions (Adams 1991; Slicer 1991), an ecofeministsocial ecology (Y. King 1981,1983,1989, 1990) or ecofeministbioregionalism (Plant 1990). As Plumwood and Warren claim in theiressays in this section, mainstream environmental ethics areinadequate to the extent that they are problematicallyanthropocentric or hopelessly androcentric.
  3. Theoretical Connections. The varieties of allegedwoman-nature connections discussed above have generateddifferent, sometimes competing, theoretical positions in all areas offeminist and environmental philosophy. Nowhere is this more evidentthan in the field of environmental ethics. Primarily because of spacelimitations, the discussion of “theoretical connections” offered hereis restricted to environmental ethics.

In many respects, contemporary environmental ethics reflects therange of positions in contemporary philosophical ethics. The latterincludes traditional consequentialist (e.g., ethical egoist,utilitarian) and nonconsequentialist or deontotogical (e.g., Kantian,rights-based, virtue-based) positions, as well as challengesto them by nontraditional (e,g., some feminist, existentialist,Marxist, Afrocentric, non-Western) approaches. Such is alsothe case in environmental ethics. There are consequentialist (e.g.,ethical egoist, eco-utilitarian, utilitarian-basedanimal liberation ethics) and nonconsequentailist (e.g.,rights-based animal liberation, stewardship ethics) approachesthat extend traditional ethical considerations to include animals andthe nonhuman environment. (Some would argue that these are notbona fide environmental ethics, since they do not make thenatural environment itself deserving of moral consideration.) Therealso are nontraditional approaches (e.g., holistic Leopoldian landethics, social ecology, deep ecology, ecological feminism) that raiseconsiderations underplayed or omitted entirely from mainstreamphilosophical ethics. Feminists who address environmental issues canbe found advocating positions within this broad philosophical range.So where do ecological feminists fit in?

Where one thinks ecological feminists fit in will depend largelyon what one means by “ecological feminism.” If ecological feminism isan umbrella term for any feminism that raises feminist concerns aboutthe environment, then presumably ecofeminists can be found along thecontinuum of feminist-inspired and advocated environmentalethics (or, environmental philosophy). If, however, the term”ecological feminism” is used as I am using the term and as it isused by the authors in this section, viz., as the name for a varietyof positions expressly committed to exploring woman-natureconnections (of the sort identified above) and to developing feministand environmental philosophies based on these insights, thenecological feminism is best viewed as one of several nontraditionalapproaches to environmental ethics and philosophy. We are back towhere we began: “ecological feminism” is the name of a variety ofpositions that make visible different sorts of woman-natureconnections, claiming that an understanding of these connections isnecessary for any adequate feminism, environmentalism, orenvironmental philosophy. Whether the connections alleged and thearguments advanced in support of them are accepted on feminist andphilosophical grounds is a question the friendly critic must answer.


As review of the literature overview given above reveals, the fouressays included in this section provide only a glimpse of thepositions advocated by ecofeminists. Still, together they raiseissues across all eight categories of woman-nature connectionsthat were identified above. Their inclusion here provides a sample ofthe philosophically relevant contributions ecofeminist historians,sociologists, and philosophers have made to ecofeminist andenvironmental philosophy.

Historian of environmental science Carolyn Merchant published herhighly influential book The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology andthe Scientific Revolution in 1980. In it she argues that priorto the seventeenth century, nature was conceived on an organic modelas a benevolent female and a nurturing mother; after the scientificrevolution, nature was conceived on a mechanistic model as (mere)machine, inert, dead. On both models, nature was female. Merchantargues that the move from the organic to the mechanistic modelpermitted the justified exploitation of the (female) earth, byremoving the sorts of barriers to such treatment that the metaphor ofnature as alive previously prevented; the mechanistic worldview ofmodern science sanctioned the exploitation of nature, unrestrainedcommercial expansion, and socioeconomic conditions that perpetuatedthe subordination of women. The Death of Nature wovetogether scholarly material from politics, art, literature, physics,technology, philosophy and popular culture to show how thismechanistic worldvlew replaced an older, organic worldview, whichprovided gendered moral restraints on how one treated nature.

The essay by Merchant which appears in this section, “The Death ofNature,” is culled from The Death of Nature. This essayrepresents an edited version of the philosophically significantaspects of Merchant’s main argument in The Death of Nature; it sidesteps some of the more technical, literary, orscientific specifics that receive extensive attention in the book.Inclusion of the Merchant essay in this section ensuresrepresentation of an early and classic, although not universallyaccepted (see Plumwood 1986), historical ecofeminist position on thepatriarchal source of the domination of nature.

In “Nature, Self, and Gender: Feminism, Environmental Philosophy,and the Critique of Rationalism,” Val Plumwood argues that the key towoman-nature connections in the Western world is found in”rationalism,” that long-standing philosophical tradition thataffirms the human/nature dichotomy and a network of other relateddualisms (e.g., masculine/femiine, reason/emotion, spirit/body) andoffers an account of the human self as masculine and centered aroundrationality to the exclusion of its contrasts (especiallycharacteristics regarded as feminine, animal, or natural). Plumwoodcriticizes both deep ecology and environmental philosophy generallyfor missing entirely the ecofeminist critique that “anthropocentrismand androcentrism are linked.” She claims,

The failure to observe such connections is the resultof an inadequate historical analysis and understanding of the way inwhich the inferiorization of both women and nature is grounded inrationalism, and the connections of both to the inferiorizing of thebody, hierarchical concepts of labor, and disembedded andindividualist accounts of the sel£

Plumwood concludes that “the effect of ecofeminism is not toabsorb or sacrifice the critique of anthropocentrism, but to deepenand enrich it.”

In “Working with Nature: Reciprocity or Control?” Ariel Sallehdocuments empirically women’s involvement in the environmentalmovement and argues that it is a “patriachal belief system” thatmaintains and justifies both the invisibility of both what women doand the continued destruction of the natural environment. Accordingto Salleh, the rationale of the exploitation of women and of nature”has been uncovered by the ecofeminist analysis of patriarchy.” Whatis needed, she argues, is that “the unconscious connection betweenwomen and nature needs to be made conscious, and the hierarchicalfallacies of the Great Chain of Being acknowledged, before there canbe any real growth toward a sane, humane, ecological future. “Feminists, environmentalists, and philosophers must see thatstruggles for equality of women and ecological sustainability areinterlinked.

In “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism,” Karen J.Warren, like Plumwood, focuses on the conceptual connections betweenthe dominations of women and nature. She argues that because theconceptual connections are located in an oppressive patriarchalconceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination, first,the logic of traditional feminism requires the expansion of feminismto include ecological femimsm, and, second, ecological feminismprovides a distinctively feminist environmental ethic. Appealing tothe argumentative significance of first-person narrative and emergingecofeminist ethics of care, kinship, and appropriate reciprocity,Warren concludes that any feminism, environmentalism, orenvironmental philosophy that fails to recognize importantwoman-nature connections is simply inadequate.


The preceding account identifies eight sorts of connectionsbetween the domination of women and the domination of nature thathave been defended by ecofeminists. It also indicates both generallyand specifically (in terms of the four essays included in thissection) the nature of the challenges that acceptance of theseconnections poses for contemporary feminism, environmentalism, andenvironmental philosophy. But if the power and promise of ecologicalfeminism runs as deep as many ecofeminists suppose, there must beimplications of ecofeminism for mainstream philosophy as well. Whatare some of these?

The historical lmks suggest that data from the social sciences onwomen, development, and the environment are important undertakings inmany areas of philosophy. For instance, in ethics such data raiseimportant issues about anthropocentric and androcentric bias. Canmainstream normative ethical theories generate an environmental ethicthat is not male-biased? In epistemology, data on the”indigenous technical knowledge” of women m forestry, watercollection, farming and food production (see Warren 1988, 1991a)raise issues about women’s “epistemic privilege” and the need for”feminist standpoint epistemologies.” In metaphysics, data on thecross-cultural variability of women-nature connectionsraise issues about the social constructions of conceptions of bothwomen and nature and the human-nature dichotomy of at leastdominant Western philosophy (see Warren 1990, this section). Inpolitical philosophy, data on the inferior standards of living ofwomen globally raise issues about political theories and theorizing:What roles do unequal distributions of power and privilege play inthe maintainance of systems of domination over both women and nature.How do they affect the content of political theories and themethodology of political theorizing? In the history of philosophy,data on the historical inferiorization of what is both female-genderand nature identified raise issues about the andthropocentric andandrocentic biases of philosophical theories in any given timeperiod. In philosophy of science, particularly philosophy of biology,such data raise issues about the relationships between feminism andscience, particularly ecological science. As Carolyn Merchant asks,”Is there a set of assumptions basic to the science of ecology thatalso holds implications for the status of women? Is there anecological ethic that is also a feminist ethic?” (Merchant 1985,229). Are there important parallels between contemporary ecofeministethics and ecosystem ecology that suggest ways in which the two areengaged in mutually supportive projects (see Warren and Cheney 1991)?These are the sorts of questions ecofeminism raises for traditionalfields in mainstream philosophy.

Perhaps the most serious challenges to mainstream philosophy areat the level of conceptual analysis and theory. Ecofeminism raisessignificant issues about the philosophical conceptions of the self,knowledge and the knower, reason and rationality, objectivity, and ahost of favored dualisms that form the backbone of philosophicaltheorizing, even the conception of philosophy itself. These notionswill need to be reexamined for posslble male-gender bias. Thechallenge to philosophy is to replace conceptual schemes, theories,and practices that currently feminize nature and naturalize women tothe mutual detriment of both with ones that do not. That is whatecofeminists generally, and the authors in this section specifically,argue is needed from feminism, environmentalism, environmentalphilosophy, and philosophy.


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Karen J. Warren is a feminist philosopher who has published essayson ecofeminism and edited several special issues on ecofeminism forHypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy and the AmericanPhilosophical Association Newsletter on Feminism andPhilosophy. Warren is completing three books on ecologicalfeminism, one co-authored with Jim Cheney and entitledEcological Feminism, and two anthologies on ecofeminism.Warren also conducts workshops on environmental ethics and criticalthinking for elementary and secondary school teachers and students,and is co-creator of an environmental ethics simulation game.

An earlier version of this essay appeared in the AmericanPhilosophical Association Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy (Fall 1991).