Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction


Summary, Chapter 8, Part I

Chris Ammon


Rosemarie Tong’s chapter on ecofeminism begins with a discussion of the close relationship between women and nature. She states that, in patriarchal culture, “women have been ‘naturalized’ and nature has been ‘feminized.’” Tong draws on the work of Karen Warren to solidify this assertion: “Warren emphasized that women are ‘naturalized’ when they are described in animal terms such as ‘cows, foxes, chicks, serpents, bitches, beavers, old bats, cats, bird-brains, hare brains. Similarly, nature is ‘feminized when “she” is raped, mastered, conquered … or when “she” is venerated …as the grandest “mother” of all.” If this is true&emdash;that women and nature are symbolically interchangeable--it follows that what man does to nature, he may also do to woman. Francoise d’Eaubonne, an early ecofeminist, saw a direct link between the oppression of nature and the oppression of women. She claimed that the liberation of one could not occur without the liberation of the other. The ecology movement and the feminist movement are intertwined. This is the bedrock assumption of ecofeminism.

Tong points out that ecofeminists are often likened to deep ecologists. Deep ecologists believe that nature has intrinsic value apart from human the values human place on it. It is human-centeredness (anthrocentrism), deep ecologists feel, that is at the root of the earth’s degradation. Humans only care about the aspects of the earth that contribute directly to their own comfort and welfare. Eco-feminists differ, however, in that they feel that the problem is not human-centeredness but rather male-centeredness, or androcentrism.

Tong points out that although ecofeminists agree that the woman-nature association is the cause of both sexism and naturism, they are uncertain about whether the connection is biological, cultural, psychological, or social. They are also conflicted on whether to de-emphasize, emphasize, or reconceive their connection to nature. Simone de Beauvoir (not considered and ecofeminist) argued that women should transcend their links to nature in order to overcome their status. She viewed a woman’s biology as “fundamentally alienating, as and energy drain leaving women to tired to participate in the kind of creative activity that men enjoy.” The result of enacting de Beauvoir’s view would be that women join with men in exploiting the earth’s resources.

Generally, ecofeminists seek to strengthen women’s ties to nature rather than weaken them. They feel that womens’ physiological experiences lead to traits such as caring, nurturing, and intuitiveness and that these traits are undervalued in a male dominated society. Tong states that they believe “traditional female virtues, not traditional male virtues, can foster improved social relations and less aggressive more sustainable ways of life.” Mary Daly was a particularly fiery proponent of this belief feeling that men were death and destruction loving whereas women were life-giving and life-loving. According to Daly, nature is doomed unless women take action.

Susan Griffin, another ecofeminist, asserted that humans needed to transcend the dualistic and linear thinking of patriarchy and embrace the passionate, subjective voice of female culture. Women, Griffins feels need to speak up and integrate their unique perspective into the cultural dialogue. It is the only way to transcend the dualistic thinking that deems women and nature as inferiors.

Ynestra King also seeks to transcend the dualism of patriarchal thinking. Tong writes: “Implicit in King’s understanding of true ecofeminism is the postmodern feminist belief that ultimately all forms of human oppression are rooted in those dichotomous conceptual schemes that privilege one member of a dyad over another (eg., male over female, nature over culture, science over magic).