Ecofeminism Rosemary Radford Reuther What is Ecofeminism? Ecofeminism represents the union of the radical ecology movement, or what has been called 'deep ecology', and feminism. The word 'ecology' emerges from the biological science of natural environmental systems. It examines how these nat ural communities function to sustain a healthy web of life and how they become disrupted, causing death to the plant and animal life. Human intervention is obviously one of the main causes of such disruption. Thus ecology emerged as a combined socio-econo mic and biological study in the late sixties to examine how human use of nature is causing pollution of soil, air and water, and destruction of the natural systems of plants and animals, threatening the base of life on which the human community itself dep ends.1 Deep ecology takes this study of social ecology another step. It examines the symbolic, psychological and ethical patterns of destructive relations of humans with nature and how to replace this with a life-affirming culture.2 Feminism also is a complex movement with many layers. It can be defined only as a movement within the liberal democratic societies for the full inclusion of women in political rights and economic access to employment. It can be defined more radically in a socialist and liberation tradition as a transformation of the patriarchal socio-economic system, in which male domination of women is the foundation of all socio-economic hierarchies.3 Feminism can be also studied in terms of culture and consciousness, c harting the symbolic, psychological and ethical connections of domination of women and male monopolization of resources and controlling power. This third level of feminist analysis connects closely with deep ecology. Some would say that feminism is the pr imary expression of deep ecology.4 Yet, although many feminists may make a verbal connection between domination of women and domination of nature, the development of this connection in a broad historical, social, economic and cultural analysis is only just beginning. Most studies of ecofem inism, such as the essays in the book edited by Judith Plant, Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism (New Society Publishers, 1989) are brief and evocative, rather than comprehensive.5 Fuller exploration of ecofeminism probably goes beyond the expertise of one person. It needs a cooperation of a team that brings together historians of culture, natural scientists, and social economists who would all share a concern for the interconnectio n of domination of women and exploitation of nature. It needs visionaries to imagine how to construct a new socio-economic system and a new cultural consciousness that would support relations of mutuality, rather than competitive power. For this one needs poets, artists and liturgists, as well as revolutionary organizers, to incarnate more life-giving relationships in our cultural consciousness and social system. A Platform for Deep Ecology Below is what I call "the platform of the Deep Ecology movement", or rather, one formulation of such a platfrom; it consists of eight common points to guide those who believe that ecological problems cannot be solved only by technical 'quick-fix' solution s. 1. The flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth has intrinsic value. The value of non-human life forms is independent of the usefulness these may have for narrow human purposes. 2. Richness and diversity of life forms are values in themselves and contribute to the flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth. 3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs. 4. Present human interference with the non-human world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening. 5. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires such a decrease. 6. Significant change of life conditions for the better requires change in policies. These affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. 7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of intrinsic value) rather than adhering to a high standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great. 8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes. -Arne Naess Such a range of expertise certainly goes beyond my own competence. Although I am interested in continuing to gain working acquaintance with the natural and social sciences, my primary work lies in the area of history of culture. What I plan to do here is to trace some symbolic connections of domination of women and domination of nature in Mediterranean and Western European culture. I will then explore briefly the alternative ethic and culture that might be envisioned if we are to overcome these patterns o f domination and destructive violence to women and to the natural world. Pre-Hebraic Roots Anthropological studies have suggested that the identification of women with nature and males with culture is both ancient and widespread.6 This cultural pattern itself expresses a monopolozing of the definition of culture by males. The very word 'nature' in this formula is part of the problem, because it defines nature as a reality below and separated from 'man', rather than one nexus in which humanity itself is inseparably embedded. It is, in fact, human beings who cannot live apart from the rest of nat ure as our life-sustaining context, while the community of plants and animal both can and, for billions of years, did exist without humans. The concept of humans outside of nature is a cultural reversal of natural reality. How did this reversal take place in our cultural consciousness? One key element of this identification of women with non-human nature lies in the early human social patterns in which women's reproductive role as childbearer was tied to making women the pr imary productive and maintenance workers. Women did most of the work associated with child care, food production and preparation, production of clothing, baskets and other artifacts of daily life, clean-up and waste-disposal.7 Although there is considerable variation of these patterns cross-culturally, generally males situated themselves in work that was both more prestigeous and more occasional, demanding bursts of energy, such as hunting larger animals, war and clearing field s, but allowing them more space for leisure. This is the primary social base for the male monopolization of culture, by which men re-enforced their privileges of leisure, the superior prestige of their activities and the inferiority of the activities asso ciated with women. Perhaps, for much of human history, women ignored or discounted these male claims to superiority, being entirely too busy with the tasks of daily life, and expressing among themselves their assumptions about the obvious importance of their own work as the primary producers and reproducers.8 But, by stages, this female consciousness and culture was sunk underneath the growing male power to define the culture for the whole society, socializing both males and females into this male-defined point of view. It is from the perspective of this male monopoly of culture that the work of women in maintaining the material basis of daily life is defined as an inferior realm. The material world itself is then seen as something sep-arated from males and symbolically linked with women. The earth, as the place from which plant and animal life arises, becomes linked with the bodies of women from which babies emerge. The development of plow agriculture and human slavery very likely took this connection of woman and nature another step. Both are seen as a realm, not on which men depend, but which men dominate and rule over with coercive power. Wild animals which are hu nted retain their autonomy and freedom. Domesticated animals become an extension of the human family. But animals yoked and put to the plow, driven under the whip, are now in the new relation to humans. They are enslaved and coerced for their labor. Plow agriculture generally involves a gender shift in agricultural production. While women monopolized food gathering and gardening, men monopolize food production done with plow animals. With this shift to men as agriculturalists comes a new sense of lan d as owned by the male family head, passed down through a male line of descent, rather than communal land-holding and matrilineal descent that is often found in hunting-gathering and gardening societies.9 The conquest and enslavement of other tribal groups created another category of humans, beneath the familiar community, owned by it, whose labor is coerced. Enslavement of other people through military conquest typically took the form of killing the males and enslaving the women and their children for labor and sexual service. Women's work becomes identified with slave work.l0 The women of the family are defined as a higher type slave over a lower category of slaves drawn from conquered people. In patriar chal law, possession of women, slaves, animals and land all are symbolically and socially linked together. All are species of property and instruments of labor, owned and controlled by male heads of family as a ruling class.ll Looking at the mythologies of the Ancient Near Eastern, Hebrew, Greek and early Christian cultures, one can see a shifting symbolization of women and nature as spheres to be conquered, ruled over and, finally, repudiated altogether. In the Babylon-ian Creation story, which goes back to the third millenium B.C., Marduk, the warrior champion of the gods of the city states, is seen as creating the cosmos by conquering the Mother Goddess Tiamat, pictured as a monstrous female animal. Mar duk kills her, treads her body under-foot and then splits it in half, using one half to fashion the starry firmament of the skies, and the other half the earth below.12 The elemental mother is literally turned into the matter out of which the cosmos is fa shioned (not accidently, the words 'mother' and matter have the same etymological root). She can be used as matter only by being killed; that is, by destroying her as 'wild', autonomous life, making her life-giving body into 'stuff' possessed and controll ed by the architect of a male-defined cosmos. The Reformation and the Scientific Revolution The Calvinist Reformation and the Scientific Revolution in England in the late 16th and 17th Centuries represent key turning points in the Western concept of nature. In these two movements the Medieval struggle between the sacramental and the demonic vi ews of nature was recast. Calvinism dismembered the Medieval sacramental sense of nature. For Calvinism nature was totally depraved. There was no residue of divine presence in it that could sustain a natural knowledge or relation to God. Saving knowledge of God descends from on high, beyond nature, in the revealed Word available only in Scripture, as preached by the Reformers. Populist Calvinism was notable for its iconoclastic hostility toward visual art. Stained glass, statues and carvings were smashed, and the churches stripped of all visible imagery. Only the disembodied word, descending from the preacher to the ear of the listener, together with music, could be bearers of divine presence. Nothing one could see, touch, taste or smell was trustworthy as bearer of the divine. Even the bread and wine was no longer the physical embodiment of Christ, but intellectual reminders o f the message about Christ's salvific act enacted in the past. Calvinism dismantled the sacramental world of Medieval Christianity, but it maintained and reenforced its demonic universe. The fallen world, especially physical nature and other human groups outside of the control of the Calvinist church, lay in the grip of the Devil. All that was labeled pagan, whether Catholics or Indians and Africans, were the playground of demonic powers. But, even within the Calvinist church, women were the gateway of devil. If women were completely obedient to their fathers, husban ds, ministers and magistrates, they might be redeemed as goodwives. But in any independence of women lurked heresy and witchcraft. Among Protestants, Calvinists were the primary witchhunters.24 The Scientific Revolution at first moved in a different direction, exorcising the demonic powers from nature in order to reclaim it as an icon of divine reason manifest in natural law.25 But, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the more animist natural scienc e that unified material and spiritual lost out to a strict dualism of transcendent intellect and dead matter. Nature was secularized. It was no longer the scene of a struggle between Christ and the Devil. Both divine and demonic spirits were driven out of it. In Cartesian dualism and Newtonian physics it becomes matter in motion, dead stuff moving obediently according to mathematical laws knowable to a new male elite of scientists. With no life or soul of its own, nature could be safely expropriated by th is male elite and infinitely reconstructed to augment their wealth and power. In Western society the application of science to technological control over nature marched side by side with colonialism. From the 16th to the 20th centuries, Western Europeans would appropriate the lands of the Americas, Asia and Africa, and reduce its h uman populations to servitude. The wealth accrued by this vast expropriation of land and labor would fuel new levels of technological revolution, transforming material resources into new forms of energy and mechanical work, control of disease, increasing speed of communication and travel. Western elites grew increasingly optimistic, imagining that this technological way of life would gradually conquer all problems of material scarcity and even push back the limits of human mortality. The Christian dream o f immortal blessedness, freed from finite limits, was translated into scientific technological terms.26 Ecological Crisis However, in a short three-quarters of a century this dream of infinite progress has been turned into a nightmare. The medical conquest of disease, lessening infant mortality and doubling the lifespan of the affluent, insufficiently matched by birth limita tion, especially among the poor, has created a population explosion that is rapidly outrunning the food supply. Every year ten million children die of malnutrition.27 The gap between rich and poor, between the wealthy elites of the industrialized sector a nd the impoverished masses, especially in the colonized continents of Latin America, Asia and Africa 28, grows ever wider. This Western scientific, industrial revolution has been built on injustice. It has been based on the takeover of the land, its agricultural, metallic and mineral wealth, appropriated through the exploitation of the labor of the indigenous people. This wea lth has flowed back to enrich the West, with some for local elites, while the laboring people of these lands grew poorer. This system of global affluence, based on exploitation of the land and labor of the many for the benefit of the few, with its high consumption of energy and waste, cannot be expanded to include the poor without destroying the basis of life of the planet i tself. We are literally destroying the air, water and soil upon which human life and planetary life depends. In order to preserve the unjust monopoly on material resources from the growing protests of the poor, the world became more and more militarized. Most nations have been using the lion's share of their state budgets for weapons, both to guard against each other and to control their own poor. Weapons also become one of the major exports of wealthy nations to poor nations. Poor nations grow increas-ingly indebted to wealthy nations while buying weapons to repress their own impoverished masses. In spite of mu ch toted arms reduction treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union, what is happening is more of a unipolar consolidation of military hegemony on the side of the United States, and not a real commitment to demilitarization. Population explosion, exhaustion of natural resources, pollution and state violence are the four horsemen of the new global apocalypse. The critical question of both justice and survival is how to pull back from this disasterous course and remake our rela tions with each other and with the earth. Toward an Ecofeminist Ethic and Culture There are many elements that need to go into an eco-feminist ethic and culture for a just and sustainable planet. One element is to reshape our dualistic concept of reality as split between soulless matter and transcendent male consciousness. We need to d iscover our actual reality as latecomers to the planet. The world of nature, plants and animals existed billions of years before we came on the scene. Nature does not need us to rule over it, but runs itself very well and better without humans. We are the parasites on the food chain of life, consuming more and more, and putting too little back to restore and maintain the life system that supports us. We need to recognize our utter dependence on the great life-producing matrix of the planet in order to learn to reintegrate our human systems of production, consumption and waste into the ecological patterns by which nature sustains life. This might begin by revisualizing the relation of mind or human intelligence to nature. Mind or consciousness is not something that originates in some transcendent world outside of nature, but is the place where nature itself becomes conscious. We need to think of human consciousness, not as separating us as a higher species from the rest of nature, but rather as a gift to enable us to learn how to harmonize our needs with the natural system around us, of which we are a dependent part. Such a reintegration of human consciousness and nature must reshape the concept of God. Instead of modeling God after alienated male consciousness, outside of and ruling over nature, God in ecofeminist spirituality is the immanent source of life that sust ains the whole planetary community. God is neither male nor anthropomorphic. God is the font, from which the variety of plants and animals well up in each new generation, the matrix that sustains their life-giving interdependency with each other.29 In ecofeminist culture and ethic mutual inter-dependency replaces the hierarchies of domination as the model of relationship between men and women, between human groups and between humans and other beings. All racist, sexist, classist and anthropocentric assumptions of the superiority of whites over blacks, males over females, managers over workers, humans over animals and plants must be culturally discarded. In a real sense the so-called superior pole in each relation is actually the more dependent side of the relationship. But it is not enough simply to humbly acknowledge dependency. The pattern of male-female, racial and class inter-dependency itself has to be reconstructed socially, creating more equitable sharing in the work and the fruits of work, rather than making one side of the relation the subjugated and impoverished base for the power and wealth of the other. In terms of male-female relations this means, not simply allowing women more access to public culture, but converting males to an equal share in the tasks of child-nurture and household maintenance. A revolution in female roles into the male work world, w ithout a corresponding revolution in male roles, leaves the basic pattern of patriarchal exploitation of women untouched. Women are simply overworked in a new way, expected to do both a male work day, at low pay, and also the unpaid work of women that sus tains family life. There must be a conversion of men to the work of women, along with the conversion of male consciousness to the earth. Such conversions will reshape the symbolic vision of salvation. Instead of salvation sought either in the disembodied soul or the immorta lized body, in a flight to heaven or to the end of history, salvation should be seen as continual conversion to the center, to the concrete basis by which we sustain our relation to nature, and to one another. In every day and every new generation we need to remake our relation with each other, finding anew the true nexus of relationality that sustains, rather than exploits and destroys, life.30 Finally ecofeminist culture must reshape our basic sense of self in relation to the life cycle. The sustaining of an organic community of plant and animal life is a continual cycle of growth and disintegration. The western flight from mortality is a fligh t from the disintegration side of the life cycle, from accepting ourselves as part of that process. By pretending that we can immortalize ourselves, souls and bodies, we are immortalizing our garbage and polluting the earth. In order to learn to recycle o ur garbage as fertilizer for new life, as matter for new artifacts, we need to accept our selfhood as participating in the same process. Humans also are finite organisms, centers of experience in a life cycle that must disintegrate back into the nexus of life and arise again in new forms. These conversions from alienated, hierarchical dualism to life-sustaining mutuality will radically change the patterns of patriarchal culture. Basic concepts, such as God, soul/body and salvation, will be reconceived in ways that may bring us much closer to the ethical values of love, justice and care for the earth. These values have been proclaimed by patriarchal religion, yet contradicted by patriarchal symbolic and social patterns of relationship. But these tentative explorations of symbolic changes must be matched by a new social practice which can incarnate these conversions in new social and technological ways of organizing human life in relation to one other and to nature. This will require a n ew sense of urgency about the untenability of present patterns of life and compassionate solidarity with those who are its victims. Rosemary Radford Ruether is a writer and active campaigner for women's spirituality. She authored the first ecofeminist book, New Woman/ New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation in 1975. Her most recent book is Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theolo gy of Earth Healing. (Send stamped S.A.E. if you would like notes and excised mid-section.) The Women's Environmental Network runs a number of green campaigns and also organises occasional talks by prominent ecofeminists: WEN, Aberdeen Studios, 22 Highbury Grove, London, N5 2EA (Tel. 071 354 8823).