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Bibliographic History

Margot Lauwers:

"Ecofeminism emerged on a global scale during the second half of the 1970s from crosslinking research on social justice and environmental health. At that time, several groundbreaking texts shed light upon the commonalities of oppressive structures based upon gender, ethnicity, species and the environment, notably The Lay of the Land by Annette Kolodny and New Woman, New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation by Rosemary Radford-Ruether, both published in 1975. These books were followed three years later by Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her, and Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Then, in 1980, Carolyn Merchant published The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution.

The ideas put forward by Mary Daly are often classified as pertaining to the radical side of feminism, despite the fact that she established a clear link between feminist thought and environmentalism. In her title, Daly already laid bare a liminal reflection on the concepts of women and ecology. By recalling the persecutions women suffered from in various historical eras and cultural areas—such as Chinese foot-binding, genital mutilation in Africa or witch-hunting in Europe—she underscores the existence of a link between environmental and feminine health problems. Daly also calls attention to another issue: language, a topic she deems far more insidious and difficult to expose because it is all too often put aside as being a fruitless contention. Daly exhibits what she considers to be the three facets of a single problem: the male-dominated medicalization of women’s bodies, the need to reconceptualize our relationships to women as well as to the environment, and the imperfection of language to which Daly opposes the necessity of a gyno-centered orientation of language and of thought.

The same year, in a somewhat similar spirit, Susan Griffin published Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. In a manner reminiscent of Daly, Griffin broke with the traditional academic style and produced an impassioned prose poem in which she exposes the hypocrisy of Western industrial thinking as regards women and the environment. Throughout the book, the author paraphrases and weaves into her own writing texts from very different origins such as gynecological treatises, forestry handbooks, poems and scientific essays. The result is a powerful denunciation of the idea—present from the beginning of Western Antiquity—that women are, supposedly, closer to nature and, as a consequence, are bound to be, like nature itself, subjected to male domination.

Like Daly, Griffin tackles patriarchal structures head-on. She deconstructs patriarchy’s voice from the inside, demonstrating how it can be full of prevarications, prejudice and metaphysical dishonesty. Here too, the author attacks language, which she considers as the pillar of the patriarchal system. By exposing the incoherencies of patriarchal discourse and the presumptions it managed to create through language, Woman and Nature reveals the absurdity and the authoritarianism of the discursive association which helped subordinate everything that did not fit into the “white male” category. Within her work, Griffin blurs traditional dualistic categorization through a polyphonic method as well as through the very nature of the book itself: partly academic treatise, narrative, and poem. These characteristics are both the strength and the weakness of this work.

What happened with this book was similar to what happened with the ecofeminist movement as a whole. The fact that the book was not clearly classifiable as being either an essay, a novel or a poem—but rather all these at once—forced the reader into rethinking his or her relationship to reading and to his or her tools for critical analysis. Studying this book in a fragmented way by concentrating, for example, only on its poetical or its essayist side is possible, of course, but something is then missing. This text should be approached in a trans-generic way, and the same goes for the movement it comes from. This all-encompassing perspective hindered the book’s entering academic circles: looked upon as not conventional enough, considered as too “radical” or, worse, as “essentialist”—because it dealt with the problem in the round—the book’s history is highly representative of ecofeminism’s pathway.

In a totally different but no less interdisciplinary style, Carolyn Merchant published The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution in 1980. Its author is a History of Sciences and Ethics professor at the University of Berkeley in California. Merchant defined the Enlightenment as being the time when science undertook to fragment and dissect nature. She claimed this resulted in nature’s conception as inert and empty, a simple vase ready to welcome human colonization, reminiscent of the feminine body often regarded as an empty vessel awaiting male semen to produce the miracle of life. By drawing from the cross-linking studies of social feminism and environmentalism, The Death of Nature allows for a complete historical panorama of the reason why the domination of women and the exploitation of nature have common roots within the scientific and economic rationalism that has existed since the Middle Ages. Merchant’s work, with its solid historical documentation, was then at the premises of what is now referred to as “material feminism”."


Source: Margot Lauwers, “Angles and “limes” in American Studies: Ecofeminism in the research field”, Angles [Online], 3 | 2016, Online since 01 November 2016, connection on 07 June 2022. URL: http:// ; DOI: