In Honor of International Women’s Day, a guest post from my colleague Darrin Gunkel

–Thomas Doherty

While International Women’s Day is technically a labor-oriented holiday, with roots in the communist world, women’s work is often at the heart of ecofeminist discussion. Or perhaps I should say ecofeminism discussions, since painting the movement with one sweeping stroke effectively flattens with reductionist zeal the whole constellation of ideas. As with the environmental movement 1970s feminists who created ecofeminism saw a clear affinity with, approaches can be as varied as adherents.

At its most basic, ecofeminism describes the movements and philosophies intended to explain and address common root causes of oppression of women and ruinous exploitation of the environment. Tease out these theories enough and I believe they can address dominance of all kinds, from the structural underpinnings of society and economy to individual responses to domination. And as such, exploring ecofeminism(s) can be a powerful tool for understanding alternative avenues of resistance. Whereas environmentalism often undermines assumptions about what we do, many contemporary feminisms have a similar effect on assumptions about not just how we behave, but who we are. There’s a logical intersection here.

Frequently when I tell people I have a minor in Women Studies, they ask, “Are you gay?” or, “Did you do it to pick up women?” While I generally don’t expect people to have a nuanced understanding of identity theory and what it means for social and environmental justice, it gets exasperating when people leap right to sad clichés. While I understand this probably qualifies as a “first world problem,” it speaks to how far we have yet to go in dismantling a social and intellectual order built largely around the dualism that casts as “Other” people, the way they think and feel, what they do, and the environment they live in.

Still, I think there’s an interesting kernel in those silly questions. Suggested is a a question of authority: who has the authority to do scholarship, to write or speak, about ecofeminism, or any feminism? Because of my background, I may have plenty of scholarly knowledge of ecofeminism, but many might ask if I lack the most essential knowledge, that of a woman’s body and experience.

And so we come to the tricky topic of essentialism, the assumption that there are innate and universal qualities that make women women. It’s a question that cropped up a lot in the 1990s as the influence of post-colonial studies inspired feminists to question the location of authority and the origin of the assumptions underpinning ecofeminism specifically and feminisms in general. Some deep rethinking and eloquent rebuttals followed. That spirit of inquiry is what drew me to Women Studies in the first place. Far from doctrinaire, the whole field seemed to offer an intellectual fluidity not found in a lot of other areas of study. Is it Women Studies or Gender Studies? Can a man be a “real” feminist or not? Is environmentalism a natural or strategic ally to feminism? Four years of study later and the only answer I could come up with to all the above was often, and less than simply, “Yes.”

I think that sort of nimbleness may hold crucial lessons about the flexibility we’ll need as a species to deal with issues as large as, say, climate change.


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Darrin Gunkel at Mt. Pilchuck
Darrin Gunkel

I believe my job as writer and editor is to make sure words don’t get in the way of communication.

Experience includes contracting for Gale/Cengage, freelancing for various SEOs, covering City Hall for Seattle’s NPR affiliate, KUOW, and producing stories for Washington News Service, a radio news agency reporting on environmental and social issues.

My B.A. is in Comparative History of Ideas, from the University of Washington. Reading about, photographing and climbing mountains in the Pacific Northwest takes up many of my weekends. I own a Westfalia and have traveled in it to the Arctic Circle and Tropic of Cancer with my wife, Karin and our pug, Lola.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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