“Toward A Queer Ecofeminism” by Greta Gaard
The following is a quick review of an article read for the Ecofeminism class in which I am a TA — yay! I’d like to figure out how to TA more… though apparently you cannot TA for a class you haven’t actually taken. Considering the changeover in classes occurring in my program in the past few semesters, that appears to leave all the older students out in the cold. I’m going to have to ask for clarification on that policy.
Re the article reviewed here, it’s quite fascinating and I recommend it strongly. It can be found on-line: Toward a Queer Ecofeminism by Greta Gaard. If you end up reading it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments below. Enjoy!
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In “Toward A Queer Ecofeminism,” Greta Gaard argues that application of queer theory to ecofeminism will strengthen both. I was fascinated to read her usage of the same statement I saw early on in some religious studies, when feminists were just beginning to address androcentrism in both the organized religions and the academy. In both cases these scholars note it is not enough to simply: “add [women/queers] and stir.”
Continuing reading, I was delighted by Gaard’s use of some of Plumwood’s theorising from her brilliant Feminism & the Mastery of Nature, which we’ll be reading soon. For example, while reading Gaard’s suggested dualisms — to be added to the specifically incomplete list provided by Plumwood — I felt almost a sort of relief at the addition of categorizations which my non-conscious mind knew were missing but didn’t yet know to recognize. Indeed, after re-reading the list of “white/nonwhite, financially empowered/impoverished, heterosexual/queer, and reason/the erotic” (p. 2) there was a part of me so aware of the rightness of their inclusion that I found myself perplexed at how we could ever have missed them in the first place. I felt a similar sense of recognition of rightness when I read: “The oppression of queers may be described more precisely, then, as the product of two mutually reinforcing dualisms: heterosexual/queer, and reason/the erotic” (p. 4). I wonder if there were men who felt a similar sense of intellectual relief upon first having the religiously based dualisms pointed out to them by feminists? I would like to hope so.
Regarding Gaard’s analysis of Plumwood’s “linking postulates that connect such dualisms” (p. 3), I was curious to see Gaard apparently did not consider queers to experience #5: Homogenization. On the other hand, perhaps what I’ve seen which I considered homogenizing was applied only to gays, and not to lesbians or transgender? I do not know enough about it — especially since I tend to ask a particular relative to stop, or get up and leave the room, when he starts speaking disparagingly of “the homosexuals.”
After establishing the conceptualization of the “master identity,” Gaard goes on to note the specifically cultural construction of sexuality, and the attendant cultural association of “natural” with “procreative.” She then explores the “crimes against nature” argument against queers, noting the historical construction of the linkage between any form of non-procreative, non-heteronormative eroticism as being “contrary to the order of nature” and “bestial” (p. 11), and thereby requiring the civilizing imposition of order by the master identity, via the justification of both Christian and nationalizing/colonizing ideologies.
I found Gaard’s examination of nationalism quite illuminating, as up until that point I’d not really considered its colonizing ramifications. However, as she quotes from Parker et al, “‘national identity is determined not on the basis of its own intrinsic properties but as a function of what it (presumably) is not.’ Inevitably ‘shaped by what it opposes,’ a national identity that depends on such differences is ‘forever haunted by [its] various definitional others'” (p. 11-12). Indeed, I find the close ideological ties between nationalism and masculinity quite fascinating: they are both defined by what they are not — feminine, of nature, and/or erotic — which says to me, tragically enough, that they cannot exist without a feminine/naturalistic erotics to subjugate.
Gaard closes with a call for a queer ecofeminism, which she asserts will both challenge and ultimately reject the endemically violent colonialist mentality. She suggests liberating the marvelous diversity of erotics so as to create a Western conception of it which fundamentally links it with reason, culture, humanity, and masculinity as well as emotion, nature, and femininity. In that way she believes we may finally create a society which is truly eco-egalitarian.
I close with some of my favorite excellent comments made by Gaard which I found particularly (and sometimes also creepily) perceptive:
“Attempts to naturalize one form of sexuality function as attempts to foreclose investigation of sexual diversity and sexual practices and to gain control of the discourse on sexuality… the eroticization of nature emphasizes its subordination” (p. 6).
“The native feminized other of nature is not simply eroticized but also queered and animalized, in that any sexual behavior outside the rigid confines of compulsory heterosexuality becomes queer and subhuman. Colonization becomes an act of the nationalist self asserting identity and definition over and against the other…. The metaphoric “thrust” of colonialism has been described as the rape of indigenous people and of nature because there is a structural – not experiential — similarity between the two operations, though colonization regularly includes rape” (p. 12).
“In patriarchal Western culture… masculinity is defined not only as independence but as ‘not-dependent.’ The process of socializing boys into men involves denying dependence on the mother; that dependence is then transferred to the wife. Male superiority is preserved by the social construction of a ‘wife’ as ‘submissive… economically impotent, and in many other ways… inferior and nonthreatening to her man. In short, a wife is to be below her man, not above.’ Men have… by their technologies worked steadily and for generations to transform a psychologically intolerable dependence upon a seemingly powerful and capricious ‘Mother Nature’ into a soothing and acceptable dependence upon a subservient and non-threatening ‘wife.’ This ‘need to be above’ and to dominate permeates male attitudes toward nature…. Colonization can therefore be seen as a relationship of compulsory heterosexuality whereby the queer erotic of non-westernized peoples, their culture, and their land, is subdued into the missionary position — with the conqueror ‘on top'” (p. 12-13, quoting Elizabeth Dodson Gray).
“[I]n a patriarchal system that conceives of nature as female, there is a clear and necessary connection between the development of science as the rational control of a chaotic natural world and the persecution of women as inherently irrational, erotic, and therefore evil creatures” (p. 13).
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