Mies, M. & Shiva, V. (2014) EcoFeminism. London: Zed Books.
Here in this volume is this classic again, with a new preface this time from Vandana Shiva. This book is a must-read, a feminist 101. EcoFeminism is the logical analysis of and stance to take against the interdependent workings of capitalist patriarchy. Shiva and Mies make the links that have been staring us in the face; they join the dots and in so doing confirm all those suspicions you had but couldn’t quite express. What does Feminism have to do with environmentalism? What does Feminism have to do with animal rights? What does Feminism have to do with the logging industry, soil acidification, genetic crops, water diversion….? The answer of course, is, everything! This book explains why, and it does so persuasively.
Showing how ‘othering’ plays out to leave women, nature and non-human animals on the less fortunate side of ancient Cartesian dualisms, this book is as upsetting as it is motivational. Just when you thought that worrying about global male violence, rape in war or the criminalisation of abortion was enough to be going along with, Eco-Feminism demands that we apply a Feminist analysis to perhaps the most pressing issue of the day – the planet crisis that patriarchal governance has brought us to. The analysis makes sense. In fact, reading this book you cannot help but accept its wisdom and logic.
For too long men as a class and masculine cultures have exploited the natural world for profit, while women and children have paid a high price. As the majority of those responsible for caring work and food production globally, it is no surprise that environmental degradation hits first and hard on women; this book provides real examples of this, as well as inspiring examples of women’s resistance. The case-studies in this book are not of passive observers, but of environmental activism as life preservation, of resistance as a matter of sheer survival. From the Chikpo women encircling the trees in their forests to protect them from loggers, to the women blockading chalk mining in the Himalayas, there are uplifting stories of real action, which provide a slight balance to the depressing, and growing, list of assaults against the natural environment on which we all depend.
The book weaves urgent philosophies on othering, with scientific research and data on species loss, wildlife extinctions and irreversible climate damage. The message is simple, women and nature are the original others in patriarchy. The legacy of Enlightenment thought remains in the brutality shown towards the environment; a legacy, history and present which is racist, sexist and imperialist. Francis Bacon said of the scientific revolution that it would be “a force virile and powerful enough to penetrate and subdue nature, to bind nature to man’s service and make her his slave”. You don’t need to be an expert in discourse analysis to see some underlying messages in that statement! Shiva and Mies ask us to reflect on the history of science and technology, on its bloody roots in European colonialism, and consider what kind of spiritual overhaul is necessary to reclaim for good use the obvious, but often misused, talents, knowledge and skills of human beings – including the other half of the population for once.
I re-read this book in the week that the World Wildlife Fund published a report showing that the earth has lost nearly half of its natural wildlife in the last forty years alone. EcoFeminism was an urgent movement when this book was first published in 1993, today it is only more so. The issues in this book are Feminist concerns, and Feminism can provide some answers to the threats we face and also to the threats we pose to non-human animals and the environment. Basically, you don’t necessarily have to be a vegetarian environmental activist to be a Feminist…but it helps.
Finn Mackay is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of the West of England