Ecofeminism and Fight for Animal Rights

Feminists are known to be some of the most progressive fighters for equality in the world. However, their endeavors do not only comprise human relationships. There is a branch of feminism that deals with defending the rights of animals. This ideology is called ecofeminism, and its supporters argue that animals should be treated equally to people. Ecofeminism involves a variety of schools and principles. The present paper aims to delineate the core ideas of ecofeminism in connection with the animal rights movement. The advocacy of animals will be analyzed from the point of view of intersectionality. Also, the depiction of cultural and religious links between feminism and animals will be offered. Next, animal rights in the perception of Native Americans will be analyzed. Finally, theological views on animals will be discussed. The conclusion will present a summary of the main points mentioned in the paper.

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Ecofeminism as the Ideology Dealing with Animal Rights: Schools, Ideas, and Principles

Ecofeminism is one of the most recent branches of feminist studies that focuses on the connection between women and nature. The basic idea of the ecofeminism movement is that the roots of nature and gender domination are in patriarchy (Ling, 2014). Ecofeminists believe that any form of oppression is the outcome of discrimination (Wright, 2015). Thus, the major theory of ecofeminism is concerned with the causes of natural and gender domination and the connection between these domains. Despite a variety of approaches and opinions, all theories agree that females and nature “have the same dominated status in the history” (Ling, 2014, p. 67). The evolution of ecofeminism has undergone several phases and involved a variety of schools, which presupposes the significance of this ideology and necessitates the analysis of its principles.

Schools of Ecofeminism

Being a wide concept combining in itself the defense of women’s and nature’s rights, ecofeminism is divided into several schools, each of which has a particular direction. Ling (2014) identifies four such schools: cultural, spiritual, social, and socialist. Each of these domains is significant for the investigation of connections between females and nature, in general, and women and animals, in particular. In the current paper, the most important role belongs to spiritual and socialist schools, but the overall presentation of each of them will be suggested.

All ecofeminism schools have different conceptual views, but they also have one issue in common. Each of the four branches deals with the position held by women and nature in society. Cultural ecofeminism explains “the subservient positions” of nature and females by “molding” of natural temperament and women’s “identity… by social culture” that is on men’s side (Ling, 2014, p. 68). In cultural ecofeminism, both gender domination and natural domination are generated by patriarchy. Thus, this feminist school emphasizes the relation between women and animals and aims to eliminate the male’s domination in regard to females and nature. Spiritual ecofeminism is associated with the exploration of the “ancient matriarchal culture of archeology” (Ling, 2014, p. 68). This ideology compares patriarchal and matriarchal cultures and argues that God’s religion is the patriarchal one (Ling, 2014). Thus, spiritual ecofeminism promotes worshipping to Goddess and aims to replace politics by means of religions.

Social and socialist ecofeminism ideologies both deal with gender and natural domination in terms of social factors. Social ecofeminism integrates social ecology and anarchist feminism (Ling, 2014). Socialist ecofeminism sees the cause of domination in social and political issues (Ling, 2014). Despite having some ideological differences, all four schools of ecofeminism agree that the status of both women and nature is underestimated (Ling, 2014). Therefore, the question of animal rights is one of the main issues of ecofeminism.

Ideas and Principles

The relation between females and nature is the main point of research in ecofeminism. According to Ling (2014), the recognition of the mentioned connection creates theoretical grounds for ecofeminism. The relation between nature and women is viewed differently by various scholars. For instance, Merchant outlines such dimensions as conceptual, historical, symbolic and literary, epistemological, ethical, political, linguistic, religious and spiritual, and social-economic (as cited in Ling, 2014, p. 69). One of the ecofeminism ideas states that there is a binary opposition between men and women and culture and nature (Ling, 2014). According to ecofeminists, these oppositions generate dominance and hierarchies that lead to the oppression of women and nature in society.

Ecofeminism presupposes the existence of a conceptual framework of their ideology. In particular, five crucial elements are included in the conceptual structure: “thinking mode of value level,” “value dualism,” “concept of power to dominate the subordinate,” “concept of privilege,” and “dominance logic” (Ling, 2014, p. 70). In this structure, the most prominent place belongs to the logic of domination. The core principle of ecofeminism is that the ideology is “female” (Ling, 2014, p. 71). Animal rights are inherent in this system since nature, as well as women, is considered to be oppressed by patriarchal domination. Therefore, ecofeminists believe that both animals and females need to be protected from underestimation, and they should have equal possibilities with men.

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Animal Advocacy Within the Frame of Feminism: Intersectional Dimensions

Animal advocacy is frequently viewed from the point of view of feminism. Deckha (2013) emphasizes the interrelation between feminism and animal rights protection. The scholar analyzes animal advocacy through intersectionality ─ the theory that examines the power of social identities, as well as relations, hierarchies, and structures that they generate (Deckha, 2013). The particular prominence in the theory of intersectionality is given to human lives and the oppression of animals.

There are different arguments in favor of considering the animal advocacy movement as the feminist one. In particular, Deckha (2013) believes that both ideologies deal with “gendered, class, and racialized practices” influencing the lives of their members (p. 50). As a result, the scholar argues that the animal advocacy movement should have a “feminist and intersectional concern” (Deckha, 2013, p. 50). The primary goals of animal rights activists are the abolition of animal-based research, better regulation of factory farming, and the elimination of using animals for entertainment (Deckha, 2013). These goals seem rather crucial, and it is necessary to continue working on their fulfillment in order to eradicate the unfair treatment of animals.

There are several aspects of the belief that the animal advocacy movement should be viewed as the women’s movement. A variety of research papers is focused on finding links between the types of oppression undergone by women and animals as the dominant groups. However, even within animal advocacy movements, there are some issues that women have to face (Deckha, 2013). First of all, although females tend to be more earnest defenders of animal rights, the leaders of such actions are usually men (Deckha, 2013). Secondly, despite females’ activity in the movement, they are still underrepresented in terms of numbers. Next, out of all organizations that deal with animal rights, women usually are leaders in those which involve fewer financial resources (Deckha, 2013). Thus, even though women are active participants of the animal rights movement, even within the campaign, their role is frequently underestimated.

Intersectionality raises a variety of debates regarding the nature of this issue. Deckha (2013) delineates three aspects that are considered as the most debatable: what imagery should be employed for the conceptualization, the significance of categories, and the need for a particular difference marker in intersectional studies. According to the scholar, there is some ambiguity concerning the image best-representing intersectionality (Deckha, 2013). There are intersecting and interlocking images offered. However, some scholars consider it wrong to focus only on one concept (Deckha, 2013). The second debatable issue includes the critique of categories in intersectionality. Deckha (2013) argues that categorization is important since intersectionality deals with the difference between species. Concerning the third debate, Deckha (2013) finds it crucial to employ markers of identity when speaking of animal rights. Thus, intersectionality comprises significant components, the analysis of which helps scholars to defend their positions and explain the premises of the animal rights movement within feminism.

Cultural and Religious Connections Between Feminism and Nature

Some of the most crucial links between feminism and animal rights are based on religious premises. Admitting that feminism is a multi-layered and complex movement, scholars note that it is necessary to analyze ecofeminism from the perspective of religion. Ruether (1993) indicates that the substantial exploration of ecofeminism “goes beyond the expertise of one person (p. 14). The scholar considers it crucial to investigate the variety of views in order to come to a substantial solution. Thus, the analysis of ecofeminism from the point of view of different religious stages will promote the understanding of this ideology.

One of the reasons why animal rights are interwoven with the women’s movement is that there exist ancient beliefs on the difference between men’s and women’s identification. Whereas the latter is believed to be associated with culture, the former is identified with nature (Ruether,1993, p. 14). Therefore, in pre-Hebraic understanding, males are separated from nature while females are closely connected with it (Ruether,1993, p. 14). The problem with this belief is that all humans are dependent on nature, and claiming that men are not related to it is wrong (Ruether,1993, p. 15). There is the opinion that women have “ignored or discounted” men’s superiority pleas due to “being entirely too busy with the tasks of daily life” (Ruether,1993, p. 15). However, gradually, females started realizing that their role was made inferior, and they did not want to allow such a practice to continue.

Another link between females and animals appeared with the advent of slavery. Both animals and women were considered as “a realm” (Ruether,1993, p. 15). Moreover, these two groups of species were viewed not a something on what males depended but as something they dominated and ruled over “with coercive power” (Ruether,1993, p. 15). The similarity between women’s and animals’ work was seen in the functions that they had to perform without being asked whether they wanted to do that or not (Ruether,1993, pp. 15-16). Therefore, ancient religious history explains the beginning of the connection between females and animals and emphasizes the logic of incorporating animal rights in feminism.

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Animal Rights in the Perception of Native Americans Versus Westerners and Europeans

A particular place in understanding animal rights through the prism of ecofeminism belongs to the conception of Native Americans. According to Sanchez (1993), these people gave the world the core principles of democracy, freedom, and equality “among the people of both genders” (p. 209). Sanchez (1993) investigates the problems of animal rights as well as the whole environment from the perspective of ecofeminism (p. 209). The biggest challenge of the modern men-dominated society, according to the scholar, is that Westerners and Europeans are focused on economic gain rather than the preservation of the environment (Sanchez, 1993, p. 209). As a result, people neglect the need to protect resources and destroy them thoughtlessly. Such a type of conduct is bound to lead to detrimental consequences to which the society does not pay enough consideration.

Probably the greatest obstacle to reaching equality between all species is that people consider themselves more important and valuable than animals. Ecofeminists reject such an opinion, stating that the balance should be achieved between all species. While Native Americans see themselves as the inseparable part of nature, Western people separate themselves from nature and “rank humans above animals” (Sanches, 1993, p. 211). This is a big mistake since respectful treatment of animals could help people maintain the stability of ecosystems and reach the so much-needed balance.

Ecofeminists aim to restore the equality of all species since they know, on their own example, what inequality means. The use of animals for entertainment, clothing and food is frequently unjustified. The similarity between ecofeminists and Native Americans in this respect is that both groups find harmony between humans and nature the most important element of existence. People should realize that their place is “within rather than above the rest of creation” (Sanches, 1993, p. 217). Additionally, men should understand that women, as well as animals, should be treated with equality and respect. When this equilibrium is attained, the goals of ecofeminism will be considered as fulfilled.

Theological Views on Animals

The ideas of ecofeminism concerning the wrongness of consuming animals for food seem to be connected with theological views on the need to reject cruelty. However, as Adams and Procter-Smith (1993) remark, animals are not given sufficient consideration in theology (p. 296). While women are admitted to have a closer connection with animals than men, their endeavors to inaugurate animals as the governors of their own lives meet obstacles. The biggest of such constraints is that to reach their won liberation and equality with males; females would have to constitute their difference from animals (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 296). Thus, the ecofeminism approach to understanding animal rights may not always be clear-cut and easy to understand and implement.

In theology, animals are not considered as entirely similar to humans. Although ecofeminism had managed to confront the positivistic scientific opinions on animals, feminists also agree with such a characterization (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 297). Natural selection tends to concentrate on the individual organic level rather than culture. Thus, animals’ culture is frequently not taken into consideration when discussing their rights (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 298). Due to this, animals are deprived of inventiveness, consciousness, and cultural context (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 298). The process of de-animalizing animals is completed through meat-eating. Meat is regarded as a mass term, but such an approach is considered wrong by ecofeminists (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 298). The problem is that when people are consuming meat, they are turning someone ─ a unique being ─ into something (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 298). By doing so, humans deprive animals of their uniqueness and turn them into mass terms, which is wrong.

Probably the closest link between theological and ecofeminist views on animal rights is that both ideologies find it crucial to treat animals with respect. In theology, it is regarded as necessary to handle the “Other” seriously (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 299). What should be done next is to admit that animals are included in this category of “Other” rather than allocating only humans in it (Adams & Procter-Smith, 1993, p. 299). Therefore, although theological views on animal rights are currently not as progressive as ecofeminists’ ones, they have a tendency to evolve.

Conclusion

The paper has focused on the relationship between ecofeminism and the animal rights movement. It has been revealed that scholars emphasize numerous links between females’ and animals’ rights oppression in society. Women are commonly identified with nature, which explains why feminism has become the starting point of protecting animals. Although the vast majority of ideologies agree with the need to stop treating animals as a means of entertainment and food, not all philosophies are ready to accept this viewpoint. For instance, in theology, animal rights have not gained sufficient attention yet. The findings of the paper allow concluding that ecofeminism has very good prospects of enhancing the position of animals in society through raising public awareness and altering men’s attitudes towards both women and animals.

References

Adams, C. J., & Procter-Smith, M. (1993). Taking life or “taking on life?”: Table Talk and animals. In C. J. Adams (Ed.), Ecofeminism and the sacred (pp. 295-310). New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Company.

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Deckha, M. (2013). Animal advocacy, feminism, and intersectionality. Deportate, Esuli, Profughe, 23, 48-65.

Ling, C. (2014). Ecological criticism based on social gender: The basic principles of ecofeminism. Higher Education of Social Science, 7(1), 67-72.

Ruether, R. R. (1993). Ecofeminism: Symbolic and social connections of the oppression of women and the domination of nature. In C. J. Adams (Ed.), Ecofeminism and the sacred (pp. 13-23). New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Company.

Sanchez, C. L. (1993). Animal, vegetable, and mineral: The sacred connection. In C. J. Adams (Ed.), Ecofeminism and the sacred (pp. 207-228). New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Company.

Wright, L. (2015). The vegan studies project Food, animals, and gender in the age of terror. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

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