Reading report by Hélène Coron
'Reclaim' means 'to recover', 'to rehabilitate', or 'to reclaim' something that has been taken away from us: "Reclaim", "rehabilitate", or "reappropriate" something that has been dispossessed. This term brings together movements in the field, researchers, historians and theorists who reclaim what has been put aside for women (nature, emotions, the home, etc.) in a logic of devaluation, of reciprocal destruction of the feminine and everything associated with it. Reclaim is an anthology of 15 texts, 14 American, 1 Indian ecofeminist, whose plurality of forms expresses the multiplicity of experiences, origins and activism of the women who embody the movement.
The scientific revolution of the 16th century changed our relationship with the earth and, by the same token, with nature. Where society had for centuries been based on the uniqueness of the human body, the cosmos and the earth, cultural constraints linked to productivity and the commercialisation of goods in a desire for economic and individual enrichment led to the exploitation of resources. This gave rise to a nature-culture dualism, with matter on the one hand symbolising 'corruption' and 'impurity' and 'reason, purity and spirit' on the other (p.20).
The earth - the nurturing mother - is paralleled - in historical and philosophical writings across cultures and continents - with the woman's body through its relationship to life. Through this approach, the legitimisation of the coercive extraction of resources from the depths of the earth is an implicit authorisation of violence and domination of the female body. Ecofeminism builds on this to establish a first link between capitalism and patriarchy.
Traditional liberal feminist activism will seek to detach itself, to reject this Nature defined by modern societies as worthless and dominated and with which women have long been associated by patriarchy. However, to reject this linkage is to exclude the majority of women who identify with it through the role that our modern society has historically assigned to them, and also to neglect the current ecological context. Ecofeminist activists, on the other hand, seek to reclaim and redefine this Nature, and by the same token revalue the female body and its relationship to it. However, the task is not the least difficult: "how to rebuild a link with a nature from which one has been excluded because one has been forcibly identified with it? (p.51). Also, these women seek to undo the notion of "white, masculine, heteronormative capitalist nature" and proclaim themselves "feminist, black, sacred and living nature" (p.55)
Reclaiming the notion of politics by taking its essence from the multiple experiences of women
Women in the Women's Pentagon Action weaving skeins of wool, separatist lesbians in Oregon reclaiming rurality, working class activists in the US mobilising against toxic waste, women in the Chipko social movement fighting deforestation: ecofeminism brings together multiple women's experiences that do not always claim to belong to this movement. Their activism is rooted in their history, culture and social experience, far from traditional environmental activism. They share a common desire - more or less conscious but very concrete - to protect themselves, their families and/or their communities.
These movements use their own language and codes, which are neither bureaucratic nor technical nor large-scale, and are therefore denigrated by politicians. Yet their politicisation is fundamental. Far from being disconnected from it, they redefine politics: "if I can't dance, I don't want to take part in your revolution" by bringing "their private pain to the public sphere" (p.105 and 122 Ynestra King) and by drawing their energy from their emotions, art or spirituality.
More generally, they reappropriate the notion of power, moving away from the patriarchal system of "power over" based on domination and competition to a dynamic of "power with" that acts through us, so that we become "the channel of the other, his midwife" (p. 180 Joanna Macy).
Reconnecting with spirituality by reinventing our myths
Symbols and myths have a strong influence on psychology and politics through their impact on thought patterns. A woman cannot fully identify with a male God, and therefore remains spiritually and psychologically dependent on the man. This God's dominion over the universe legitimises by reproduction the man's dominion over society and the home. In the writings of patriarchal religions women are presented as a weak and vicious vessel; through Eve's sin, they "lead to the corruption of humanity" and are "the gateway to the devil" (p.62 Susan Griffin).
For centuries women have been deprived of religious symbols, and one of the keys to their emancipation, according to the so-called cultural ecofeminists, is the reappropriation of the ancient goddess cult. And "the simplest and most fundamental meaning of the symbolic power of the Goddess is the legitimate recognition of women's power as beneficent and independent" (p.89 Carol P. Christ). This cult runs through non-hierarchical spiritual circles and values both the cycles of nature, of life, of the female body, and the will of women. It is the symbol of their power and autonomy. Contrary to patriarchal religions which systematically conceive of women in their links with men, the cult of the Goddess independently values the links between women, notably the powerful link between a mother and her daughter.
Bringing constructivist and essentialist approaches together in a common politicised goal
Ecofeminism is rooted in multiple political movements and experiences, but also in several philosophical, theoretical and historical approaches. While all these women are driven by the common desire "to resist the various forms of domination for human emancipation and to save the planet", ecofeminist work is "heterogeneous in its way of thinking" (p.320 Elisabeth Carlassare).
Two currents can be distinguished: social/socialist ecofeminism, which militates for political, economic and social change, and cultural ecofeminism, for which the emancipation of women is achieved through spirituality and the evolution of self-awareness. Social ecofeminism claims a constructivist approach by attributing women's closeness to nature to a construction of modern society: women do not advocate for nature because of their privileged relationship with it, but because they are the most affected by the place that patriarchal society has given them.
This movement dissociates itself from cultural ecofeminists by reproaching them for their essentialism, which is used by the patriarchy to oppress women. However, where cultural ecofeminists establish a link between the feminine and the life principle, they do so by reappropriating the notion of nature and spirituality. Also, the systematic attribution of the feminine principle to the female sex and gender is a shortcut of our modern societies that the cultural approach invites to reinvent. Their essentialist approach must be understood above all in terms of its degree of political effectiveness and reveals itself as a strategy of conscious opposition, in a particular historical and political context.