Women and the Environment – Part 2

Words by Helena (she/her), 20 QLD 

As explored in Part 1, nature and corporeality is projected upon all women in the West, and immanence is epitomised in the female body.

Ecofeminist philosophical theory draws attention to a connection between the subjugation of women and the subjugation of the natural world.

Women and nature are aligned by the traditional Western binary that places femininity with nature, the body, the material, the emotional, and the particular, and masculinity with culture, the mind, the nonmaterial, the rational, and the abstract.

Both women and the natural world – vegetal, animal or otherwise – are anterior to this ‘realm of the proper.’ Or rather, they are that which is used in making and sustaining the proper, as man – transcendent, rational, free – wrests cities of forests and makes meals of animals.

The oppressions of the subjugated female body and the subjugated natural world are commensurate with and regulated through one another. Both women and the animal are abject bodies whose objectification and violation is the source of power wielded by patriarchal society.

As with the mother, man tries his hardest not to acknowledge nature, plundering its resources in order to move as far away from it as possible. Man’s ties to mother and nature are deliberately unobserved.

When society looks to develop further, natural environments are seen either as obstacles to be overcome or resources to be exploited. We must move away from the environment, constructing cities, establishing capitalism, colonising peoples and lands.

In Western traditional metaphysics, as immanence is the female body and also the Earth, people considered to be ‘of the earth’ in this framework (indigenous, the global South) are seen to be occupying this space of immanence.

Colonised peoples are forced away from the land as quickly as possible, in order to become ‘rational subjects’ as Western patriarchal and colonial culture demands. ‘Civilisation’ established through colonisation denies any prehistorical connections to land, with colonial and patriarchal culture both working to silence the land and mother respectively.

This subjugation in the many forms highlighted above is sanctioned and made permissible through a ‘logic of domination.’ This logic involves a substantive value system, as an ethical premise is needed to permit ‘just’ subordination of that which is subordinate. This justification is typically given on the grounds of some alleged characteristic (e.g. rationality) which the dominant (e.g. men) have and the subordinate (e.g. women, nature) lack.

As such, using the same logic as patriarchal ideology, which subordinates women on account of their ‘natural’ lack of reason, humans are morally justified in the subordination of non-human animals and vegetation as pure resource.

In the words of novelist Jane Smiley, “the categories of woman and animal serve the same symbolic function in patriarchal society. Their construction as dominated, submissive, other, in theoretical discourse has sustained human male dominance. The role of women and animals in post-industrial society is to serve/be served up, women and animals are the used.”

In this way, it is revealed that the exclusion of women and mothers from the mono-symbolic order, and hence the denial of their subjectivity and their role of pure resource, can be extrapolated to understand our cultural treatment of the environment.

In order to solve these issues posed, we have to make visible the patriarchy’s symbolic distribution, and call it into question.

Men must accept the part of themselves which is nature and body, without attributing this to women. Women must accede to transcendental functions which were previously allotted only to men. We must undo the strict oppositional hierarches of transcendental/immanent, nature/culture, and rationality/disorder, and acknowledge that we all are and can be both. We must embrace our materiality, embrace that we are both nature and culture, and enact the transcendental process of finding our subjectivity through both nature and culture.

We must acknowledge the mother as a fully realised subject, building and celebrating relations among women. We should reintegrate our relationship with the mother into symbolic representation, using art to acknowledge and honour our relationships with mothers by reinstating what has been omitted from culture. As there is an eclipse of the woman under the function of mother, we must face our mothers as women and as having their own subjectivity. If a mother only plays the role of nourishment, shelter and resource, she disappears.


Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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