Moreover, the global neglect of women (in terms of science) is reflected in the fact that women have been excluded as experimental subjects in drug research, Rosser continues. Certainly pregnant women have been excluded from experiments with pesticides and radioactive materials, but beyond that Rosser explains that “these drugs and materials are then used without ever having been tested on women” (1991, p. 143). And yet notwithstanding their exclusion from testing, womens research has led to a vast resource of knowledge vis-a-vis the natural environment.
To wit, Rachel Carson correctly extrapolated the deadly effects on the environment due to agricultural pesticides (DDT in particular), and in fact changed the way the government approached pesticides (1991, p. 144). Indeed, Carsons books (“Silent Spring,” “Under the Sea-Wind,” and others) had an enormous impact on the nations grasp of environmental dangers and led eventually to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ellen Swallow Richards is credited with developing the evaporation tests for “volatile oils” — and her work has become the world standard (called the “Normal Chlorine Map”). Her standard is used to detect pollution caused by humans, cities and industry; indeed, Rosser goes on, Richards innovation led to the very first food laws and water purity measurements in the U.S. (1991, p. 144).
The point of bringing these womens accomplishments into her scholarly spotlight is to show that when women succeed in important research ventures their success is nearly always linked to science in a positive, helpful way. Their important work, Rosser points out, has aimed to “eliminate research that leads to the exploitation and destruction of nature” and also seeks to reverse trends that lead to “the destruction of the human race and other species, and that justifies the oppression of people because of race, gender, class, sexuality or nationality” (Rosser quoting Bleier, 1991, p. 144).
In spite of the fact that women tend to be neglected on a global level with reference to their ability to affect policies and governments, they nonetheless have authored research projects that challenge and change the damage done to the natural environment done by male “leaders” and politicians.
Another example Rosser uses is how housewife Lois Gibbs — with nothing more than a high school diploma — made a very positive discovery relative to the toxic dangers at the Love Canal in New York State. Her science, her ability to rally people to her cause, and her perseverance let the State of New York to recognize that illnesses were in fact caused by the toxic waste in the Love Canal. The state and federal government ended up buying all the homes in the Love Canal area (Rosser, 1991, p. 144).
The salient point taken from Rossers work is that ecofeminists have made “explicit” the link between “the domination of women and of the environment through the androcentrism of modern science” (p. 144). She carries the point to another level by positing that while science and ecology have learned — and benefited — a great deal from feminism, what, in turn, can feminism learn from ecology and science? (p. 144). As an illustration of her point, Rosser first goes into great detail criticizing previous feminist movements for being mainly concerned with the lives and viewpoints of middle class, white women — and largely ignoring, or seemingly so, those women of diversity from third world nations and other cultures.
Indeed, working class women, clerical women, and housewives have felt left out because many middle class white women have “exploited feminism for their own career advancement to the exclusion of other women” (Rosser, 1991, p. 148). That having been said, Rosser insists that to be truly relevant, feminists must be more like creatures in the natural world (learning from science). Those white, middle class, educated feminists must eschew elitism; they must change and interact with women of all socioeconomic and political leanings. Feminists must adapt to this larger world of women that are not like them, just as the creatures in the natural world adapt to radical changes in their environment.
This is the crux of her poignant analogy: for example, when earthquakes, volcanoes and other “natural phenomena” produce new and “uninhabited” land, soon a new species will evolve and establish a niche, and even thrive. The classic example of this kind of adaptation is the finches on Galapagos Islands, a species that was originally documented by Charles Darwin and later made dramatic adaptive adjustments to other totally new ecosystems (Rosser, 1991, p. 149). In summarizing Rossers narrative, the author (at the time she wrote her essay she was director of womens studies and professor of family and preventative medicine) believes that while ecological theory has certainly benefited from feminist research and critiques, so too can feminist theory benefit from critiques “based on the principles of ecological theory” (Rosser, 1991, p.
149). Her 1991 position is plausible, plainly stated and a valuable contribution to the discussion of ecofeminism.
Chapter Two: What are the core differences between various scholarly positions on the subject of ecofeminism?
Going after understanding rather than theory. Activist and author Marti Kheel writes that ecofeminists have “by and large,” decided not to join the search for an “environmental ethic” or “savior theory”
(Kheel, 1993, p. 243). Kheel, writing seventeen years ago, asserts that the “vast majority” of ecofeminist writings up to the time of her essay reveals “a tendency to concentrate on exposing the underlying mentality of exploitation that is directed against women and nature within the patriarchal world” (p. 243). This criticism of course may not stand the test of time, but still Kheel hammers on the theme that no one, single theory has been sought after, or is “expected to emerge,” as the “most powerful or compelling” ecofeminist theory (p. 243).
There is a good and plausible reason for the approach that ecofeminists have taken, Kheel is quick to point out on page 244. That is, prior to being in a position to change the “current destructive relation to nature” individuals must “understand the world view upon which this relation rests” (Kheel, 1993, p. 244). When ecofeminists come to grips with that above-mentioned understanding they may find the “disease that has infected the patriarchal mind” has no cure.
Meanwhile Pam Alldred and Sarah Dennison suggest that feminists — embracing their ecological analyses — tend “increasingly” toward theory, while hard-core environmentalist (male and female) turn more and more to action. The writers believe third wave feminism has gone well beyond demands for equality and criticisms of dominant values and into the field of eco-action.
The two ask pertinent questions in Feminist Review, queries that cry out for further understanding because they depart from other feminist analyses. For example, they wonder if perhaps feminism has made such powerful inroads into Britains political consciousness that the contributions of feminism “have been taken on board in current movements”?
And if that is so, they continue, has the need for “specific feminist theory or politics” become ambiguous or irrelevant? This is a vastly different approach to ecofeminism; Dennison believes in fact that feminine analyses of environmental issues have been very important historically, and have helped “form eco-activism as it is today” (Alldred, et al., 2000, p. 124).
Alldred insists that the ecology movement has moved past the ignorance and chauvinistic negativity she witnessed at a campground session that was part of a protest sit-in a few years earlier. In that scene, there was “militaristic machismo and misogynistic campfire humor” which suggested to her that a coalition of ecofeminists and hard-core, radical ecologists could not be sustained (Alldred, 2000, p. 125). However, subsequent to that event, pro-feminist eco-warriors in England have endeavored to educate their colleagues of the need to work with ecofeminists for the greater good — preserving the natural world and educating the public about the need to be environmentally responsible, according to Alldred (p. 125).
Chapter Three: What ecofeminist positions are the most conclusive and plausible?
Plausible positions. Dianne Rocheleau and colleagues take the ecofeminism issue into a little different context, calling it “a new conceptual framework”: “feminist political ecology”
(Rocheleau, et al., 1996, p. 4). The “new” part of this approach to ecofeminism is explained in three themes: a) “gendered knowledge” (this includes the creation, maintenance, and protection of healthy environments “at home, at work, and in regional ecosystems”; in other words, environmental activism should begin in the home); b) “gendered environmental rights and responsibilities” (this includes property, resources, space “and all the variations of legal and customary rights that are “gendered”); and c) Rocheleau calls this theme “gendered environmental politics and grassroots activism” (by this the author alludes to womens new and vigorous activism in the “collective struggles” regarding the natural resources of the world and the need to protect them.
Applying new titles to the theme of ecofeminism is the authors way of finding a better means of bringing these issues into focus. The bottom line reality that women must face in.