When feminism goes green

Ariel Salleh (ed.): Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology. Spinifex Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-7453-2863-8

Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology, Ariel Salleh (ed.), ISBN: 978-0-7453-2863-8In the age of equal opportunity and unisex underwear the once-great feminist movement seems about as incendiary as a lukewarm cup of tea.

That's not to say that the 'f' word went the way of dinosaurs completely. While we weren't looking (nor, perhaps, paying much attention) feminism managed to claw its way back into the wings — if not under the spotlight — by morphing into something at once profound and problematical.

Welcome to the hot topic (or hot potato, depending on your viewpoint) of ecofeminism: a 21st-century reaction to a 21-century 'crisis of democracy and sustainability'.

According to www.thegreenfuse.org, an environmental philosophy site based in the United Kingdom, ecofeminism centres on the belief that 'the domination of women and the domination of nature are fundamentally connected, and that environmental efforts are therefore integral to work to overcome the oppression of women'.

Although the movement has been criticised for being reactionary and for valuing inclusivity and difference, ecofeminists argue that their thinking is designed to establish a new balance by exposing the 'limits of current scholarship in political economy, ecological economics and sustainability science'.

The United States author and academic, Peter Dickens, writes: 'Marginalised groupings must be recognised as a source of new theoretical understandings, critical for social and environmental justice to be achieved.'

And so it was with a combination of thrill and trepidation that I approached the collection of essays, Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology, compiled and edited by Sydney researcher and author Ariel Salleh,

A few pages in, however, I found myself both on familiar ground but completely out of my comfort zone.

When I wasn't grappling with concepts such as 'energetics' or 'Marx's labour theory of value' in Ewa Charkiewicz's essay 'Who Is the 'He' of He Who Decides in Economic Discourse?', I was stumbling over the comprehensive European Union emission figures provided in Meike Spitzner's essay, 'How Global Warming Is Gendered'.

Of course, since I am neither the community leader nor the 'student of political studies, movement politics or critical geography' of whom Salleh writes in her introduction, I am clearly outside the book's primary audience.

'These essays are a call to people who care,' she writes, and though I understand that Salleh means to care in a professional sense, it rubs me up the wrong way.

I almost put the book down there and then. But there's enough veracity and purpose in Salleh's introduction to warrant further investigation. 'As I write this, sunlight glistens through morning rain and casuarinas bow to a soft north east breeze,' she muses.

'Whoever would guess that life on earth is falling into precarity — threatened by global free trade, militarism, climate change, sexual violence, genetic and nano technologies.'

It's difficult to remain impassive in face of the evidence. Several essays later, I'm more than rewarded for my persistence. How else would I have learnt of the terrible legacies left to the people of Marshall Islands after the United States detonated nuclear weapons there in 1946?

In Zohl dé Ishtar's shattering essay, 'Nuclearised Bodies and Militarised Space', I read that not only are the islands' women several times more likely to have abnormal births than western women, but that the destabilisation caused by the US militarisation 'undermined women's status; and young women and girls are particularly at risk of sexual violence'.

Mary Mellor's 'Ecofeminist Political Economy and the Politics of Money' provides further illumination. Ecofeminism, she writes, 'brings together the insights of feminism and ecology ... [It] seeks to expand the notion of the economy from narrow neoclassical focus on market determination ... to a much wider conception of human activities in meeting needs.'

Mellor airs her penultimate argument under the subhead: 'The precarity of global capitalism'. As she writes, despite the power of the dominant ME (masculine-experience) economy, 'it is a system in which people do not feel economically secure or happy, even in the richest countries'.

Although we can wave away the subjugation of women and nature as something that happens 'over there', our own happiness is a topic much closer to home and to our hearts.

Hits a nerve, doesn't it? Mellor's essay marries urgency with accessibility and so takes the air out of the rhetoric. This is where Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice proves to be most incendiary. But it does beg the question: Why preach almost exclusively to the converted when ready disciples are but a demystified paragraph away?

Jen VukJen Vuk is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Herald Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and The Good Weekend.


Topic tags: Ariel Salleh, Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice, Political Ecology, ISBN: 978-0-7453-2863-8



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Existing comments

Makes me think of this season's fashions - all new when I first tried it on in the 1980s. With more experience, I woudn't buy all of it.

Sandie Cornish | 22 May 2009  

Feminism 'as incendiary as a lukewarm cup of tea'?

Has violence against women been halted in its tracks? Do most Australians no longer 'justify' sexual and other violence against women and leap to the defence of perpetrators if they happen to be football heroes? Is date rape no longer tolerated? Have rape and mutilation of women ceased being used as weapons of war? Do women really have equal wages? Have we won abortion rights? Are women no longer the property of men in some societies? Are women no longer sidelined in most countries' political and economic structures? Does the Christian Church, and other faiths, now embrace the full participation of women?

What world are you living in Jen?

In fact, feminists and their supporters continue to chip away at patriarchal structures that deny women's human rights across the globe.

Anna McCormack | 22 May 2009  

Um, Anna, Jen implied that the feminist movement was no longer incendiary, not that it was inert or unimportant.

Charles Boy | 22 May 2009  

The feminist movement is alive and well, as evidenced by each new passage of a breastfeeding bill, and by the fight for patient's rights in the delivery room. The subjegation of women in this country has a new face - the face of a country which convinces women they'll be liberated if they cut out their babies and become dependant on a formula manufacturers to supply a lesser version of what they themselves are born to supply - so don't expect to find feminism focused in the old places it once was. Look for "freedom of choice" to be framed as a woman's right to use her own vagina to birth a baby, rather than undergoing surgical assault to have it done. Look for rape to be found in the delivery room, and not just in the back allies or college campuses.

No, No. Feminism is alive and well. It just may be concentrated in areas where it is the most needed right now, and unfortunately these areas are still bubbling under the mainstream.

TheFeministBreeder | 23 May 2009  

Jen Vuk's review of ECO-SUFFICIENCY & GLOBAL JUSTICE makes very interesting reading but the subject matter of the essays are not not new. Can I suggest a quick read of Joan D. Chittister's book HEART OF FLESH publish in 1998. Eco-Feminism has been around for quite some time.

Nick Agocs | 24 May 2009  

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