Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vanana Shiva
"The new world"
By Elisa Gratias
"The book makes clear that a better world is not only necessary, but that it has already begun." So it says on the spine of the book. After that sentence, I couldn't wait to read it, even though the title didn't sound very tempting: "Ecofeminism". What is that supposed to be? The union of two dogmatic currents?
The fact is: I devoured the book, and describing ecofeminism in a few words in a way that does justice to the magnificence of the approach does not succeed. My interlocutors almost look disgusted, or at least sceptical, when I go out of my way to tell them about my discovery. Oh, how annoying it is when terms are loaded and hijacked with a different meaning and helpful ideas have to be awkwardly dressed up in new words so as not to scare people off.
For me, ecofeminism embodies a clear view of all the interconnections in our society - from my personal sense of inner emptiness in the midst of consumerism, to the problems of modern science (religion), to world politics and environmental destruction. Everything is complexly intertwined and influences each other. So where to start to make a difference? The editorial added in 2016 for the second, revised and updated edition states:
"The patriarchal-capitalist system has built its rule on the exploitation and subjugation of nature, foreign lands and women from the beginning. Nature, women and foreign countries are still the colonies of this system today. The aim of this colonisation is to gain unlimited power of an elite over all living and inanimate things. Without this exploitation and subjugation of these colonies, modern industrial society would not exist" (1).
The book was first published in English in 1993 - a few years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and shortly after the end of the Cold War.
Even then, in the 1980s, there must have been a kind of doomsday mood in society. How did people feel about the constant threat of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe, which have not disappeared to this day (2)?
Then in the nineties there was a sigh of relief and a mood of optimism, only to feel again today that there is no way out and that we may not survive the next few years when the economic consequences of the current crisis are felt. That at least our accustomed world and order will collapse and we will be thrown out of our bubble of comfort and prosperity without knowing what kind of situation.
This looming uncertainty paralysed me just last year, when the "Corona crisis" was creeping over the world like an impenetrable, threatening fog.
"Ecofeminism" by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva awakened me from this paralysis and pumped new creative urge and joyful liveliness through my veins, without hiding or glossing over the dangers to humanity - which they describe from the perspective of the time and which have lost none of their topicality. On the contrary. The authors Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva draw the reader's attention to the greatest dangers and grievances:
Reductionism and Regeneration: A Crisis of Science.
The myth of "catch-up development"
Who made nature our enemy?
Homeless in the "global village"
They long for what they have destroyed
Women's indigenous knowledge and the preservation of biodiversity
Sexist and racist foundations of the new reproductive technologies
Self-determination - the end of a utopia?
GATT, Agriculture and Third World Women
Liberation from Consumption
Decolonising the North
The Need for a New Vision: The Subsistence Perspective
These are just some of the chapters from this comprehensive concentrate of enlightenment and inspiration. I soaked up the information from the book like a sponge. The radical and complex systemic critique was similar to what we publish in Rubikon magazine, but in a different tone. While some of the articles in the alternative media I read from time to time resonate with a certain alarmism - rightly so, one might say - Maria Mies' and Vandana Shiva's critique of the system is embedded in the warm wisdom of two women who seem deliberately careful not to bludgeon their readers with the hard-to-digest information.
The chapter "A-moral science" brought tears to my eyes. That seems to me to be an important point. How many people consume information like fast food and don't even let it sink in? What is the point of informing ourselves if we immediately repress the knowledge emotionally and only use it to be right in debates?
Wouldn't it make more sense to consciously deal with news and educational articles, to take time to digest what we have read or heard and also to allow the feelings it triggers in us? Isn't it precisely the lack of feeling, of unpleasant sensations, that prevents us from acting?
This is exactly why I now prefer to read books rather than online news. At the Rubikon, we always invite our readers to re-examine and deepen what they have read through books. By now I understand why. The issues are so complex that one article is hardly enough to form a helpful, constructive opinion that inspires us to take our own action.
Reading news without drawing any conclusions from it for one's own life seems total nonsense to me. Because they only drag people down. Then they are not only inactive, but also in a bad mood or even depressed, powerless. In the same way, despite all their enlightenment, they no longer represent a danger to the existing system.
Together we are strong
According to the book, "ecofeminism" is "a new term for an old wisdom. It emerged from various social movements - the women's, peace and environmental movements - in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It became popular in the context of numerous protests and activities against environmental degradation (...) and the struggle against nuclear power" (1). And further:
"Ecofeminism is about the connectedness and wholeness of theory and practice. It emphasises the special power and integrity of every living being. (...) We consider the devastation of the earth and its living beings by industrial warriors and the threat of nuclear annihilation by military warriors to be feminist concerns. This is the same masculinist mentality that denies us the right to our own bodies and sexuality, and depends on multiple systems of domination and state power to prevail."
That sounded combative and accusatory, like the feminism I never knew what to do with. I hardly notice the meaning of the words and feel a certain rejection towards this attitude. Because I have the impression that I can decide about my body ... whereas ... since the mask obligation, which also applies outdoors here in Spain, i.e. everywhere, I de facto cannot do exactly that. Only this time it also affects men. Even white and rich men.
Maybe I - like many others - am put off by the aggresive feminists and hardcore ecologists as I perceived them again and again in the media, where they were portrayed as dogmatists and naive cranks - just like Rubicon and other alternative media at the moment because of the criticism of the Corona measures?
Why does hardly anyone know about the "ecofeminism" movement, when it voices exactly the same system criticism that drives us - especially in my filter bubble around the Rubicon - and also actively acts? Is it because of the powerful message and practical successes of this movement described in the book? Did it have to be prevented by all means that more people learn about it? Or are intellectual, hardened men too uncomfortable to deal with their own shame and feelings in view of the world situation?
Wouldn't that be precisely a sign that even system critics have fully internalised the ideology underlying the system they criticise? After all, it is not only women, nature and other peoples who are victims of patriarchy, but also men who are deprived of any emotion from an early age, who feel ridiculous and ashamed or even perceived as weaklings or wimps if they are too sensitive and express feelings, while at the same time they are always picked on, even by their wives, if they cannot talk about their feelings.
One of the most powerful aspects of ecofeminism's insights is thus to also invite men to deal with themselves and their inner-emotional states, to deal more lovingly with men if this is difficult for them, as it is contrary to their upbringing and imprinting - in most cases. I observe more and more men who allow their sensitivity and who seem strong and powerful to me precisely because of this. It is a healing process for all of us.
The lie of life
Another sentence that particularly excited me is in the chapter with the telling title "Divide and conquer - the secret of modern industrial society and its definition of the 'good life'":
"The life lie that a high standard of living is identical with a 'good life' is the necessary ideological safeguard of modern industrial societies, whether they see themselves as capitalist or socialist. Without the mass approval of this life lie, the system could not function. It represents the actual political-ideological hegemony over people's everyday lives."
Maria Mies also points out the obvious: The high standard of living of the industrialised countries is not possible for all countries. The earth's resources would be used up in no time. At the same time, she leads us to realise that this standard of living is not at all desirable even for us, the modern industrial societies. She describes the experience of a student from the Philippines who visited Europe as part of a project and learned about the problems of middle-class women in the rich North:
"She had had no idea of the psychological misery of these women, their fears, depressions, their addictions, especially their dependence on the terror compound they called 'love'. After all, these women were educated, were modern, were even employed and did not need to fear starvation. (...) Why were they not happy, not free, not self-confident? Didn't they have everything?
The psychological misery, the loneliness, the fears, the addictions and dependencies, the unhappiness and the loss of identity are the price that people in the rich industrialised countries pay for their ever-increasing standard of living. (...)
Those who have realised this can confidently give up this lie of life, not only out of solidarity with the 'third world', not only out of a sense of responsibility for nature, children and future generations, but also out of love for themselves and for life."
She spoke from my soul. Out of my personal experience of inner emptiness, I created Flohbair at that time to inspire other people of the revolutionary power of self-love. Intuitively, I felt that one of the causes of our destructive behaviour lay in the lack of appreciation and recognition of ourselves.
Joie de vivre is political
With my politicisation through the Rubicon three years ago, I am now discovering how political our relationship to ourselves is. For it determines our relationship to our fellow human beings, to other living beings and to the earth.
Again and again I ask myself why, despite all the knowledge and despite all the enlightenment, so little changes in the sense of humanity and nature and why not more people enthusiastically adopt this philosophy of life for their everyday lives.
Life is simply more fun in a loving attitude towards oneself and one's fellow world, not to say that this is how I enjoy it for the first time ever. Of course, the path is accompanied by shame, sadness, anger and pain - again and again. They all go hand in hand with joy, so to speak. And they don't kill me. A life devoid of meaning, on the other hand, feels as if I were dead, a lifeless shell, a zombie, existence a boring, silent torment.
When I read Maria Mies' suggestion to encourage people to liberate themselves from consumption instead of abstaining from it, I would have loved to throw my arms around the elderly author's neck.
She describes how people in rich countries try to satisfy their basic needs, such as recognition and love, through consumption, always nicely fuelled and incited by the media and advertising posters lurking everywhere. If we finally consciously recognise these needs, communicate them and satisfy them through interpersonal and inner-soul relationships, we will be freed from the eternal rush to consume.
So the conclusion for me is that every system critic should finally also dedicate himself to himself if he does not want to continue to be a cog in the destructive wheel of neoliberalism and see his justified criticism fizzle out in a vacuum.
Because "self-love" or "self-care" are worthwhile either way. For the individual in any case, and if enough people discover it for themselves, for society towards a real systemic change that develops organically out of itself - just as grass and daisies grow through concrete deserts.
System critique and self-love
Only each person can find out for themselves how to implement self-care in everyday life. In any case, this requires openness, patience and courage. How often I am overcome by this unpleasant shame when I consciously perceive myself as this vulnerable human being who is digested, who is silly, who is cocky and fearful, who is clearly separated from the world by a body and spongily entangled with it and everyone else by a spirit and a soul....
In some, precious moments, when I can simply endure and feel all this for a few seconds, I am filled with inner peace and a kind of trust in God.
Intellectual system criticism and practical self-love paired with concrete action at the local level are lived change.
Thank you, Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, for all the insights and inspirations.
Inspiration from the practice
And since it is of course also not expedient to only occupy oneself with oneself now, and being involved in projects also inspires the soul, here are two examples of successful actions that inspire one to imitate:
1. Die Sozialistische Selbsthilfe Köln (SSK) in Germany
The strength of the SSK lay "in its quick, direct, unbureaucratic actions, its public relations work through wall newspapers, a direct link between reflection and action, and its commitment to live out of its own strength and be open to all the oppressed, to the 'social waste' of our industrial society".
"Neither the government nor any other party in office" had succeeded in "solving so many interconnected problems in a single project, namely: solving ecological and social problems, healing both the earth and people and communities by creating meaningful work and opening up a new sphere of action for socially disadvantaged women and men.
New adapted technology is developed from discarded, obsolete things; wastelands are re-cultivated; a new sense of community is rekindled among people who care and feel responsible for future life on this planet; and finally, new hope is created, not only for those directly involved in the project, but for countless others who have lost their bearings. This synergetic character of the project was not planned, but arose from the need to keep it going and therefore guarantees its survival. (...)
Guided by the subsistence perspective and the need to get more hay for the animals, the next step was to buy the old farmhouse and repair the old buildings and equipment for subsistence farming. At the same time, the group secured a contract regarding composting of kitchen waste for a number of villages" (1).
2. The Chipko Movement in India
The women of the Chipko movement "declared that they did not expect the slightest thing from 'development' or from the money economy. They only wanted to maintain autonomous control over their subsistence base, their common property: land, water, forests, mountains.
They know from history and from their own experience that their survival (their bread) and their freedom and dignity can only be maintained as long as they retain control over the resources. They do not need the money offered by the government or industrialists to survive.
Their concept of freedom and of the 'good life' is fundamentally different from what the global supermarket of the capitalist-patriarchal industrial system offers. Remarkably, not even their sons are enthusiastic about this supermarket model, unlike countless men in the South who are the first to be seduced by the lure of the market and the money economy. Very few men today are willing to say: 'Money can't buy my mother's dignity'" (1).
"In many places, the Chipko movement succeeded in preventing deforestation. The Chipko movement's protests led to a 15-year ban in Uttar Pradesh in 1980 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on cutting trees in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas. A similar ban was later imposed in the states of Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh. Indira Gandhi believed that the Chipko movement showed India's social conscience. In 1987, the Chipko movement was awarded the Right Livelihood Award" (3).
Sources and notes:
(1) "Ecofeminism - The Liberation of Women, Nature and Oppressed Peoples. A new world is born", Maria Mies, Vandana Shiva, 2016.
(2) "At the height of the Cold War, the United States stationed some 7,300 nuclear weapons in Europe to provide NATO allies with extended deterrence and security guarantees. Since the end of the Cold War, the number of US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe in support of NATO has been reduced by 90 per cent. Between 1991 and 1993 alone, the United States withdrew some 3,000 nuclear weapons from Europe. Between 2000 and 2010, the US further reduced the nuclear weapons stationed in Europe and consolidated them at a few bases. This limited deployment remains in place today.", nato.int