Special Issue "Reconstructing Ecofeminism"
A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (28 February 2023) | Viewed by 8072
Interests: feminist theory; environmental humanities; ecofeminist theory; utopian literature and theory; racial theory
Over the years, many feminists have shied away from the concept of ecofeminism, a submovement that began in the 1970s and received a boost from Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, published in 1980. Critiques of ecofeminism have varied. They include the perception that ecofeminists have historically focused more on spiritual than material solutions to the environmental crisis. In addition, white ecofeminists were charged with essentializing women and paying too little attention to the many differences of race, class, sexuality, and cultural perspectives. In particular, they failed to recognize the disproportionate impact of environmental degradation on women of color in impoverished regions and communities and, conversely, ignored the positive effects of marginalized women’s ways of life on preserving the health of the biosphere.
Moreover, some feminists worried that any association of women with nature, including ecofeminists’ arguments about their linked exploitation, would not only obscure many women’s life experiences, especially those of non-heterosexual women, but also reinforce damaging social constructions of women’s identities that would impede feminist progress. Others feared that ecofeminists’ focus on female reproductive capacities and associations with nurture and domestic duties would likewise reinforce conventional gendered divisions of identities and labor. Still others tried to capture some basic insights of ecofeminism without the label, by developing terms such as ecowomanism or environmental feminism instead.
As the environmental crisis has worsened and the catastrophic social and environmental effects of the era variously called the Anthropocene, the Capitalocene, or the Plantationocene have cascaded, however, attention to ecofeminist concepts is enjoying a revival. These crises have made it increasingly apparent that the violation of interdependent natural systems that characterize the geochemical transformation of the Earth through human activity are gendered. In literal translation, the common term Anthropocene points to men rather than all humans—in particular to powerful Euro-American imperialists who developed and imposed the exploitative and unjust colonialist economies driving much climate change and environmental destruction. That same sense of entitlement has also driven the intersecting social and environmental crises laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, gender and racial injustice and often abusive extractive labor practices have both contributed to and enabled the exploitation and abuse of the biosphere.
Given these interconnections and others, contemporary ecofeminists/ecowomanists/environmental feminists increasingly recognize the unequal and unjust impacts of environmental exploitation that “feeds on Black disposability”. Some, including Maria Mies and Silvia Federici, argue that, despite the many differences among women’s lives, identities, and affiliations, the fact that women “are those who, in every time and in every society, have produced life on this planet and on whose work, therefore, all other activities depend” cannot be ignored. The exploitation of that gendered sine qua non through everyday divisions of labor and economic and social inequities, as well as through carceral practices such as slavery, has enabled and supported extractive cultures that deplete the Earth and exploit marginalized populations in general, and Black women’s bodies in particular. Ariel Sallah observes that both women and nature suffer together from those practices, especially when women are deprived of education and opportunity and confined to reproductive and domestic roles. For such reasons, environmental struggles cannot succeed without combatting patriarchy and the capitalist and colonialist abuses against nature and disempowered people—especially women—that it has unleashed. For some contemporary thinkers and activists, contesting these intersecting forces may be the “suffrage” cause of the 21st century: ecofeminism (redefined) as the ultimate common ground that women around the world can rally around.
This Special Issue of Humanities is devoted to examining that proposition through research papers, reflections, and review articles that consider or address topics and questions such as (but not limited to) the following:
- How might ecofeminism be defined for the 21st century, in order to capture the urgency of its mission and to respect both commonalities and differences among women’s identities, lifeways, experience of environmental hazards, and contributions of sustainable environmental practices? What does the term ecowomanism contribute to that definition that ecofeminism omits or overlooks?
- What actions, movements, stories, narratives, or theoretical perspectives in the contemporary world best exemplify a 21st-century vision of ecofeminism? What role might utopian fiction play in providing scenarios for conceptualizing that vision?
- Can contemporary ecofeminism emphasize or prioritize women’s reproductive capacities or the parallels between the exploitation of women and nature without reinforcing conventional views of women’s life purpose or reducing women to nature? How might cultural reproduction figure in this reconfiguration?
- Is socialism the only or best economic/social system for achieving ecofeminists’ goal of simultaneous human and planetary health? If not, what other ways of conceptualizing systems for social and economic change might be preferable?
- How might ecofeminism reconcile the interests of women in the Global South, who have suffered much of the collateral damage from imperialist attitudes and economies, with those of women in the Global North, or vice versa?
- Within the U.S., might ecofeminism or ecowomanism become a common ground for uniting the interests and injustices experienced by white women and women of color? If so, what would that common ground look like?
- Some feminists complain that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are symptoms of the failure of both feminism and sustainability, even though a few key SDGs address gender inequity and social injustice. How might SDGs be made more effective at addressing linkages among social injustices, reproductive oppression, and patriarchal entitlement that underlie the environmental crisis?
- How can ecofeminism’s concerns and insights best be integrated into environmental movements, such as organic food/farming, which do not foreground gender in their analyses and activism?
Prof. Dr. Sally Kitch
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- utopian literature
- cultural reproduction