Ecofeminism on the Modern Campus

By. Sara Eddy

Ecofeminism is a feminist theory that intertwines female symbols, concepts and linguistics to those of the environmental movement. However, there is no concrete definition of ecofeminism and it is open to interpretation.  Do theories like these still lead to progress in our society, or are they better left in textbooks?

Socially aware college students on the Cal Poly campus are now beginning to think that these theories may be antiquated.

For centuries women have not been given equal educational, economic or societal opportunities. And for more than centuries, the environment has withstood the brash development of the human race. Man has historically viewed women and our natural environment with a lack of esteem. Many feel that it is easier for women, rather than men, to associate with the degradation of the environment because they too know the prolonged struggle of oppression. Both paradigms press society to move away from the values of dualism and towards inclusivity. 

American society capitalizes on the following dichotomies: males versus females and humans versus the environment. We live in a system that castes men as the elite and the latter, women or the environment, as the subordinate.

Ecofeminism urges us to think systematically and in terms of the future. Similarly, women have historically been forced to think and act in the long term because of child-rearing expectations. Women do not have the same biological option as men; to simply reproduce and then walk away. Infants are voiceless and cannot defend themselves, so someone else, most likely their mothers, must stay by their side until they can care for themselves. By this logic, it is easy to see why women naturally gravitate towards environmental issues: our environment is also voiceless and cannot care for itself.

But anyone, not just a mother, can stand up for the environment.

With each generation becoming more open to fluid gender roles than the last, do we still need theories like ecofeminism? Charlotte Jackman, a student at Cal Poly Pomona, says, “Creating more social constructs will not lead us to desirable results. It never has. As far as environmental issues go, they obviously pertain to us all. We all cohabitate this Earth. Ecofeminism is great in that [it] empowers women, but I think it often deters men from participating, which is far from ideal. Personally, I feel the gender binary should not exist.”

No matter what your opinion may be, protecting our environment and gender equality will be most successful if the issues become androgynous. By limiting ourselves through the scope of our gender or politics, we are not only depriving ourselves of our full potential, but we are depriving society as a whole.

It is easy to connect feminism and environmentalism in theory, but real-world applications are more interesting. Students on the Cal Poly campus are far from passive when it comes to environmental matters. There are over 20 environmental related clubs on campus, all specializing in different realms. Despite their different areas of interest, the students from all clubs have banded together to decide that Earth Day alone will not suffice and an entire week is necessary to honor the Earth.

Students held sustainability related educational activities, clothing swaps and guest speaker events. Walking around the festivities and environmental club events, there was no significant difference in the number of males in attendance versus the number of females. Cal Poly as a whole has made it clear that they are striving for inclusivity.

But where does this leave ecofeminism?

Cal Poly’s 2017 Earth Week proved that students are ready to invoke change. With more than just environmentalists in action, student groups revolving around social justice issues also played key roles. Seeing students from diverse majors and backgrounds was part of what made this event such a success. The common goal of Earth Week was for everyone to raise awareness and take action.

Many students of the Millennial generation feel that a more humanistic approach is the right one. Erin O’Connell, a Cal Poly student, states, “I feel that feminists need to restructure their arguments to make them more applicable to other groups. Feminism benefits everyone, not just women. I feel the same way about the environmental issue. Our pollutants aren’t going away. Even if we don’t see them, someone else does. Environmentalism isn’t just for a certain type of person and we need to stop making it a political issue.”

People identify by many things, including gender, race or religion. These identifiers allow us to foster communities and build relationships with those who share similar physical attributes or ideals. The problem with this natural segregation is that people often put their group identities before larger, global issues at hand. Individuals must see past their identifiers to make lasting change when it comes to environmentalism and female rights. Many students on the Cal Poly campus embody this ideal and put it into practice during the Earth Week event.

Posted in _Featured, CSSC Blog, CSU Campuses.