Karen Warren

Karen J. Warren is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her main philosophical interests are in ethics, feminism (particularly ecological feminism), and critical thinking. She has taught or conducted workshops on philosophy, environmental ethics, and critical thinking for grades K-12, college and university audiences, in prisons, and for public and civic groups. She has guest-edited a special issue of Hypatia: A Feminism Journal of Philosophy on "Ecological Feminism" (Spring 1991, vol. 6, no. 1) and three special issues of the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy, and co-edited the section on 'Ecofeminism' for Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology (Michael Zimmerman, general editor, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1993). In addition to this volume for Routledge, she is currently completing an anthology entitled Ecofeminism - Multi-disciplinary Perspectives for Indiana University Press, and she and Jim Cheney are coauthoring a book entitled Ecological Feminism: A Philosophical Perspective on What It Is and Why It Matters (Denver, CO, Westview, forthcoming).

The two essays that follow are Karen Warren's 1996 book Ecological Feminist Philosophies, Indiana Univ. Pr., Bloomington 137 ISBN 0-253-21029-1




Ecological feminism (ecofeminism) has begun to receive a fair amount of attention lately as an alternative feminism and environmental ethic. Since Francoise d'Eaubonne introduced the term ecofeminisme in 1974 to bring attention to women's potential for bringing about an ecological revolution, the term has been used in a variety of ways. As I use the term in this paper, ecological feminism is the position that there are important connections -- historical, experiential, symbolic, theoretical -- between the domination of women and the domination of nature, an understanding of which is crucial to both feminism and environmental ethics. I argue that the promise and power of ecological feminism is that it provides a distinctive framework both for reconceiving feminism and for developing an environmental ethic which takes seriously connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature. I do so by discussing the nature of a feminist ethic and the ways in which ecofeminism provides a feminist and environmental ethic. I conclude that any feminist theory and any environmental ethic which fails to take seriously the twin and interconnected dominations of women and nature is at best incomplete and at worst simply inadequate.


Whatever else it is, feminism is at least the movement to end sexist oppression. It involves the elimination of any and all factors that contribute to the continued and systematic domination or subordination of women. While feminists disagree about the nature of and solutions to the subordination of women, all feminists agree that sexist oppression exists, is wrong, and must be abolished. A "feminist issue" is any issue that contributes in some way to understanding the oppression of women. Equal rights, comparable pay for comparable work, and food production are feminist issues wherever and whenever an understanding of them contributes to an understanding of the continued exploitation or subjugation of women. Carrying water and searching for firewood are feminist issues wherever and whenever women's primary responsibility for these tasks contributes to their lack of full participation in decision making, income producing, or high status positions engaged in by men. What counts as a feminist issue, then, depends largely on context, particularly the historical and material conditions of women's lives. Environmental degradation and exploitation are feminist issues because an understanding of them contributes to an understanding of the oppression of women. In India, for example, both deforestation and reforestation through the introduction of a monoculture species tree (e.g., eucalyptus) intended for commercial production are feminist issues because the loss of indigenous forests and multiple species of trees has drastically affected rural Indian women's ability to maintain a subsistence household. Indigenous forests provide a variety of trees for food, fuel, fodder, household utensils, dyes, medicines, and income-generating uses, while monoculture-species forests do not. Although I do not argue for this claim here, a look at the global impact of environmental degradation on women's lives suggests important respects in which environmental degradation is a feminist issue. Feminist philosophers claim that some of the most important feminist issues are conceptual ones: these issues concern how one conceptualizes such mainstay philosophical notions as reason and rationality, ethics, and what it is to be human. Ecofeminists extend this feminist philosophical concern to nature. They argue that, ultimately, some of the most important connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature are conceptual. To see this, consider the nature of conceptual frameworks. A conceptual framework is a set of basic beliefs, values, attitudes, and assumptions which shape and reflect how one views oneself and one's world. It is a socially constructed lens through which we perceive ourselves and others. It is affected by such factors as gender, race, class, age, affectional orientation, nationality, and religious background. Some conceptual frameworks are oppressive. An oppressive conceptual framework is one that explains, justifies, and maintains relationships of domination and subordination. When an oppressive conceptual framework is patriarchal, it explains, justifies, and maintains the subordination of women by men. I have argued elsewhere that there are three significant features of oppressive conceptual frameworks: (1) value-hierarchical thinking, i.e., "up-down" thinking which places higher value, status, or prestige on what is "up" rather than on what is "down": (2) value dualisms, i.e., disjunctive pairs in which the disjuncts are seen as oppositional (rather than as complementary) and exclusive (rather than as inclusive), and which place higher value (status, prestige) on one disjunct rather than the other (e.g., dualisms which give higher value or status to that which has historically been identified as "mind," "reason," and "male" than to that which has historically been identified as "body," "emotion," and "female"): and (3) logic of domination, i.e., a structure of argumentation which leads to a justification of subordination. The third feature of oppressive conceptual frameworks is the most significant. A logic of domination is not just a logical structure. It also involves a substantive value system, since an ethical premise is needed to permit or sanction the "just" subordination of that which is subordinate. This justification typically is given on grounds of some alleged characteristic (e.g., rationality) which the dominant (e.g., men) have and the subordinate (e.g., women) lack. Contrary to what many feminists and ecofeminists have said or suggested, there may be nothing inherently problematic about "hierarchical thinking" or even "value-hierarchical thinking" in contexts other than contexts of oppression. Hierarchical thinking is important in daily living for classifying data, comparing information, and organizing material. Taxonomies (e.g., plant taxonomies) and biological nomenclature seem to require some form of "hierarchical thinking." Even "value-hierarchical thinking" may be quite acceptable in certain contexts. (The same may be said of "value dualisms" in non-oppressive contexts.) For example, suppose it is true that what is unique about humans is our conscious capacity to radically reshape our social environments (or "societies"), as Murray Bookchin suggests. Then one could truthfully say that humans are better equipped to radically reshape their environments than are rocks or plants -- a "value-hierarchical" way of speaking. The problem is not simply that value-hierarchical thinking and value dualisms are used, but the way in which each has been used in oppressive conceptual frameworks to establish inferiority and to justify subordination. It is the logic of domination, coupled with value-hierarchical thinking and value dualisms, which "justifies" subordination. What is explanatorily basic, then, about the nature of oppressive conceptual frameworks is the logic of domination. For ecofeminism, that a logic of domination is explanatorily basic is important for at least three reasons. First, without a logic of domination, a description of similarities and differences would be just that -- a description of similarities and differences. Consider the claim "Humans are different from plants and rocks in that humans can (and plants and rocks cannot) consciously and radically reshape the communities in which they live: humans are similar to plants and rocks in that they are both members of an ecological community." Even if humans are "better" than plants and rocks with respect to the conscious ability of humans to radically transform communities, one does not thereby get any morally relevant distinction between humans and nonhumans, or an argument for the domination of plants and rocks by humans. To get those conclusions one needs to add at least two powerful assumptions, viz., (A2) and (A4) in argument A below:

(Al) Humans do, and plants and rocks do not, have the capacity to consciously and radically chance the community in which they live.

(A2) Whatever has the capacity to consciously and radically change the community in which it lives is morally superior to whatever lacks this capacity.

(A3) Thus, humans are morally superior to plants and rocks.

(A4) For any X and Y, if X is morally superior to Y, then X is morally justified in subordinating Y.

(A5) Thus, humans are morally justified in subordinating plants and rocks.

Without the two assumptions that humans are morally superior to (at least some) non-humans, (A2), and that superiority justifies subordination, (A4), all one has is some difference between humans and some nonhumans. This is true even if that difference is given in terms of superiority. Thus, it is the logic of denomination, (A4), which is the bottom line in ecofeminist discussions of oppression. Second, ecofeminists argue that, at least in Western societies, the oppressive conceptual framework which sanctions the twin dominations of women and nature is a patriarchal one characterized by all three features of an oppressive conceptual framework. Many ecofeminists claim that, historically, within at least the dominant Western culture, a patriarchal conceptual framework has sanctioned the following argument B:

(BI) Women are identified with nature and the realm of the physical; men are identified with the "human" and the realm of the mental.

(B2) Whatever is identified with nature and the realm of the physical is inferior to ("below") whatever is identified with the "human" and the realm of the mental: or, conversely, the latter is superior to ("above") the former.

(B3) Thus, women are inferior to ("below") men; or, conversely, men are superior to ("above") women.

(B4) For any X and Y, if X is superior to Y, then X is justified in subordinating Y.

(B5) Thus, men are justified in subordinating women.

If sound, argument B establishes patriarchy, i.e., the conclusion given at (B5) that the systematic domination of women by men is justified. But according to ecofeminists, (B5) is justified by just those three features of an oppressive conceptual framework identified earlier: value-hierarchical thinking, the assumption at (B2): value dualisms, the assumed dualism of the mental and the physical at (B1) and the assumed inferiority of the physical vis-a-vis the mental at (B2); and a logic of domination, the assumption at (B4), the same as the previous premise (A4). Hence, according to ecofeminists, insofar as an oppressive patriarchal conceptual framework has functioned historically (within at least dominant Western culture) to sanction the twin dominations of women and nature (argument B), both argument B and the patriarchal conceptual framework, from whence it comes, ought to be rejected. Of course, the preceding does not identify which premises of B are false. What is the status of premises (BI) and (B2)? Most, if not all, feminists claim that (BI), and many ecofeminists claim that (B2), have been assumed or asserted within the dominant Western philosophical and intellectual tradition. As such, these feminists assert, as a matter of historical fact, that the dominant Western philosophical tradition has assumed the truth of (BI) and (B2). Ecofeminists, however, either deny (B2) or do not affirm (B2). Furthermore, because some ecofeminists are anxious to deny any ahistorical identification of women with nature, some ecofeminists deny (B1) when (B1) is used to support anything other than a strictly historical claim about what has been asserted or assumed to be true within patriarchal culture -- e.g., when (B1) is used to assert that women properly are identified with the realm of nature and the physical.' Thus, from an ecofeminist perspective, (B1) and (B2) are properly viewed as problematic though historically sanctioned claims: they are problematic precisely because of the way they have functioned historically in a patriarchal conceptual framework and culture to sanction the dominations of women and nature. What all ecofeminists agree about, then, is the way in which the logic of domination has functioned historically within patriarchy to sustain and justify the twin dominations of women and nature. Since all feminists (and not just ecofeminists) oppose patriarchy, the conclusion given at (B5), all feminists (including ecofeminists) must oppose at least the logic of domination, premise (B4), on which argument B rests -- whatever the truth-value status of (BI) and (B2) outside of a patriarchal context. That all feminists must oppose the logic of domination shows the breadth and depth of the ecofeminist critique of B: it is a critique not only of the three assumptions on which this argument for the domination of women and nature rests, viz., the assumptions at (BI), (B2), and (B4); it is also a critique of patriarchal conceptual frameworks generally, i.e., of those oppressive conceptual frameworks which put men "up" and women "down," allege some way in which women are morally inferior to men, and use that alleged difference to justify the subordination of women by men. Therefore, ecofeminism is necessary to any feminist critique of patriarchy, and, hence, necessary to feminism (a point I discuss again later). Third, ecofeminism clarifies why the logic of domination, and any conceptual framework which gives rise to it, must be abolished in order both to make possible a meaningful notion of difference which does not breed domination and to prevent feminism from becoming a "support" movement based primarily on shared experiences. In contemporary society, there is no one "woman's voice," no woman (or human) simpliciter: every woman (or human) is a woman (or human) of some race, class, age, affectional orientation, marital status, regional or national background, and so forth. Because there are no "monolithic experiences" that all women share, feminism must be a "solidarity movement" based on shared beliefs and interests rather than a "unity in sameness" movement based on shared experiences and shared victimization." In the words of Maria Lugones, "Unity -- not to be confused with solidarity -- is understood as conceptually tied to domination." Ecofeminists insist that the sort of logic of domination used to justify the domination of humans by gender, racial or ethnic, or class status is also used to justify the domination of nature. Because eliminating a logic of domination is part of a feminist critique -- whether a critique of patriarchy, white supremacist culture, or imperialism -- ecofeminists insist that natureism is properly viewed as an integral part of any feminist solidarity movement to end sexist oppression and the logic of domination which conceptually grounds it.

The discussion so far has focused on some of the oppressive conceptual features of patriarchy. As I use the phrase, the "logic of traditional feminism" refers to the location of the conceptual roots of sexist oppression, at least in Western societies, in an oppressive patriarchal conceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination. Insofar as other systems of oppression (e.g., racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism) are also conceptually maintained by a logic of domination, appeal to the logic of traditional feminism ultimately locates the basic conceptual interconnections among all systems of oppression in the logic of domination. It thereby explains at a conceptual level why the eradication of sexist oppression requires the eradication of the other forms of oppression." It is by clarifying this conceptual connection between systems of oppression that a movement to end sexist oppression-traditionally the special turf of feminist theory and practice-leads to a reconceiving of feminism as a movement to end all forms of oppression. Suppose one agrees that the logic of traditional feminism requires the expansion of feminism to include other social systems of domination (e.g., racism and classism). What warrants the inclusion of nature in these "social systems of domination"? Why must the logic of traditional feminism include the abolition of "naturism" (i.e., the domination or oppression of non-human nature) among the "isms" feminism must confront? The conceptual justification for expanding feminism to include ecofeminism is twofold. One basis has already been suggested: by showing that the conceptual connections between the dual dominations of women and nature are located in an oppressive and, at least in Western societies, patriarchal conceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination, ecofeminism explains how and why feminism, conceived as a movement to end sexist oppression, must be expanded and reconceived as also a movement to end "naturism." This is made explicit by the following argument C:

(CI) Feminism is a movement to end sexism.

(C2) But sexism is conceptually linked with naturism (through an oppressive conceptual framework characterized by a logic of


(C3) Thus, feminism is (also) a movement to end naturism.

Because, ultimately, these connections between sexism and naturism are conceptual -- embedded in an oppressive conceptual framework -- the logic of traditional feminism leads to the embracement of ecological feminism.

The other justification for reconceiving feminism to include ecofeminism has to do with the concepts of gender and nature. just as conceptions of gender are socially constructed, so are conceptions of nature. Of course, the claim that women and nature are social constructions does not require anyone to deny that there are actual humans and actual trees, rivers, and plants. It simply implies that how women and nature are conceived is a matter of historical and social reality. These conceptions vary cross-culturally and by historical time period. As a result, any discussion of the "oppression or domination of nature" involves reference to historically specific forms of social domination of non-human nature by humans, just as discussion of the "domination of women" refers to historically specific forms of social domination of women by men. Although I do not argue for it here, an ecofeminist defense of the historical connections between the dominations of women and of nature, claims (B1) and (B2) in argument B, involves showing that within patriarchy the feminization of nature and the naturalization of women have been crucial to the historically successful subordinations of both." If ecofeminism promises to reconceive traditional feminism in ways which include naturism as a legitimate feminist issue, does ecofeminism also promise to reconceive environmental ethics in ways which are feminist? I think so. This is the subject of the remainder of the paper.


Many feminists and some environmental ethicists have begun to explore the use of first-person narrative as a way of raising philosophically germane issues in ethics often lost or under-played in mainstream philosophical ethics. Why is this so? What is it about narrative which makes it a significant resource for theory and practice in feminism and environmental ethics? Even if appeal to first-person narrative is a helpful literary device for describing ineffable experience or a legitimate social science methodology for documenting personal and social history, how is first-person narrative a valuable vehicle of argumentation for ethical decision making and theory building? One fruitful way to begin answering these questions is to ask them of a particular first-person narrative. Consider the following first-person narrative about rock climbing:

For my very first rock climbing experience, I chose a somewhat private spot, away from other climbers and on-lookers. After studying "the chimney," I focused all my energy on making it to the top. I climbed with intense determination, using whatever strength and skills I had to accomplish this challenging feat. By midway I was exhausted and anxious. I couldn't see what to do next -- where to put my hands or feet. Growing increasingly more weary as I clung somewhat desperately to the rock, I made a move. It didn't work. I fell. There I was, dangling midair above the rocky ground below, frightened but terribly relieved that the belay rope had held me. I knew I was safe. I took a look up at the climb that remained. I was determined to make it to the top. With renewed confidence and concentration, I finished the climb to the top. On my second day of climbing, I rappelled down about 200 feet from the top of the Palisades at Lake Superior to just a few feet above the water level. I could see no one -- not my belayer, not the other Climbers, no one. I unhooked slowly from the rappel rope and took a deep cleansing breath. I looked all around me -- really looked -- and listened. I heard a cacophony of voices-birds, trickles of water on the rock before me, waves lapping against the rocks below. I closed my eyes and began to feel the rock with my hands -- the cracks and crannies, the raised lichen and mosses, the almost imperceptible nubs that might provide a resting place for my fingers and toes when I began to climb. At that moment I was bathed in serenity. I began to talk to the rock in an almost inaudible, child-like way, as if the rock were my friend. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what it offered me -- a chance to know myself and the rock differently, to appreciate unforeseen miracles like the tiny flowers growing in the even tinier cracks in the rock's surface, and to come to know a sense of being in relationship with the natural environment. It felt as if the rock and I were silent conversational partners in a long-standing friendship. I realized then that I had come to care about this cliff which was so different from me, so unmovable and invincible, independent and seemingly indifferent to my presence. I wanted to be with the rock as I climbed. Gone was the determination to conquer the rock, to forcefully impose my will on it; I wanted simply to work respectfully with the rock as I climbed. And as I climbed, that is what I felt. I felt myself caring for this rock and feeling thankful that climbing provided the opportunity for me to know it and myself in this new way.

There are at least four reasons why use of such a first-person narrative is important to feminism and environmental ethics. First, such a narrative gives voice to a felt sensitivity often lacking in traditional analytical ethical discourse, viz., a sensitivity to conceiving of oneself as fundamentally "in relationship with" others, including the non-human environment. It is a modality which takes relationships themselves seriously. It thereby stands in contrast to a strictly reductionist modality that takes relationships seriously only or primarily because of the nature of the relators or parties to those relationships (e.g., relators conceived as moral agents, right holders, interest carriers, or sentient beings). In the rock-climbing narrative above, it is the climber's relationship with the rock she climbs which takes on special significance-which is itself a locus of value-in addition to whatever moral status or moral considerability she or the rock or any other parties to the relationship may also have. Second, such a first-person narrative gives expression to a variety of ethical attitudes and behaviors often overlooked or under-played in mainstream Western ethics, e.g., the difference in attitudes and behaviors toward a rock when one is "making it to the top" and when one thinks of oneself as "friends with" or "caring about" the rock one climbs." These different attitudes and behaviors suggest an ethically germane contrast between two different types of relationship humans or climbers may have toward a rock: an imposed conqueror-type relationship, and an emergent caring-type relationship. This contrast grows out of, and is faithful to, felt, lived experience. The difference between conquering and caring attitudes and behaviors in relation to the natural environment provides a third reason why the use of first-person narrative is important to feminism and environmental ethics: it provides a way of conceiving of ethics and ethical meaning as emerging out of particular situations moral agents find themselves in, rather than as being imposed on those situations (e.g., as a derivation or instantiation of some pre-determined abstract principle or rule). This emergent feature of narrative centralizes the importance of voice. When a multiplicity of cross-cultural voices are centralized, narrative is able to give expression to a range of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors which may be overlooked or silenced by imposed ethical meaning and theory. As a reflection of and on felt, lived experiences, the use of narrative in ethics provides a stance from which ethical discourse can be held accountable to the historical, material, and social realities in which moral subjects find themselves. Lastly, and for our purposes perhaps most importantly, the use of narrative has argumentative significance. Jim Cheney calls attention to this feature of narrative when he claims, "To contextualize ethical deliberation is, in some sense, to provide a narrative or story, from which the solution to the ethical dilemma emerges as the fitting conclusion."" Narrative has argumentative force by suggesting what counts as an appropriate conclusion to an ethical situation. One ethical conclusion suggested by the climbing narrative is that what counts as a proper ethical attitude toward mountains and rocks is an attitude of respect and care (whatever that turns out to be or involve), not one of domination and conquest. In an essay entitled "In and Out of Harm's Way: Arrogance and Love," feminist philosopher Marilyn Frye distinguishes between "arrogant" and "loving" perception as one way of getting at this difference in the ethical attitudes of care and conquest." Frye writes:

"The loving eye is a contrary of the arrogant eye. The loving eye knows the independence of the other. It is the eye of a seer who knows that nature is indifferent. It is the eye of one who knows that to know the seen, one must consult some thing other than one's own will and interests and fears and imagination. One must look at the thing. One must look and listen and check and question. The loving eye is one that pays a certain sort of attention. This attention can require a discipline but not a self-denial. The discipline is one of self-knowledge, knowledge of the scope and boundary of the self... In particular, it is a matter of being able to tell one's own interests from those of others and of knowing where one's self leaves off and another begins.... The loving eye does not make the object of perception into something edible, does not try to assimilate it, does not reduce it to the size of the seer's desire, fear and imagination, and hence does not have to simplify. It knows the complexity of the other as something which will forever present new things to be known. The science of the loving eye would favor The Complexity Theory of Truth [in contrast to The Simplicity Theory of Truth] and presuppose The Endless Interestingness of the Universe."

According to Frye, the loving eye is not an invasive, coercive eye which annexes others to itself, but one which "knows the complexity of the other as something which will forever present new things to be known." When one climbs a rock as a conqueror, one climbs with an arrogant eye. When one climbs with a loving eye, one constantly "must look and listen and check and question." One recognizes the rock as something very different, something perhaps totally indifferent to one's own presence, and finds in that difference joyous occasion for celebration. One knows "the boundary of the self," where the self the "I," the climber-leaves off and the rock begins. There is no fusion of two into one, but a complement of two entities acknowledged as separate, different, independent, yet in relationship; they are in relationship if only because the loving eye is perceiving it, responding to it, noticing it, attending to it. An ecofeminist perspective about both women and nature involves this shift in attitude from "arrogant perception" to "loving perception" of the non-human world. Arrogant perception of nonhumans by humans presupposes and maintains sameness in such a way that it expands the moral community to those beings who are thought to resemble (be like, similar to, or the same as) humans in some morally significant way. Any environmental movement or ethic based on arrogant perception builds a moral hierarchy of beings and assumes some common denominator of moral considerability in virtue of which like beings deserve similar treatment or moral consideration and unlike beings do not. Such environmental ethics are, or generate, a "unity in sameness." In contrast, "loving perception" presupposes and maintains difference -- a distinction between the self and other, between human and at least some nonhumans -- in such a way that perception of the other as other is an expression of love for one who/which is recognized at the outset as independent, dissimilar, different. As Maria Lugones says, in loving perception, "Love is seen not as fusion and erasure of difference but as incompatible with them." "Unity in sameness" alone is an erasure of difference. "Loving perception" of the non-human natural world is an attempt to understand what it means for humans to care about the non-human world, a world acknowledged as being independent, different, perhaps even indifferent to humans. Humans are different from rocks in important ways, even if they are also both members of some ecological community. A moral community based on loving perception of oneself in relationship with a rock, or with the natural environment as a whole, is one which acknowledges and respects difference, whatever "sameness" also exists." The limits of loving perception are determined only by the limits of one's (e.g., a person's, a community's) ability to respond lovingly (or with appropriate care, trust, or friendship)-whether it is to other humans or to the non-human world and elements of it. If what I have said so far is correct, then there are very different ways to climb a mountain and how one climbs it and how one narrates the experience of climbing it matter ethically. If one climbs with "arrogant perception," with an attitude of "conquer and control," one keeps intact the very sorts of thinking that characterize a logic of domination and an oppressive conceptual framework. Since the oppressive conceptual framework which sanctions the domination of nature is a patriarchal one, one also thereby keeps intact, even if unwittingly, a patriarchal conceptual framework. Because the dismantling of patriarchal conceptual frameworks is a feminist issue, how one climbs a mountain and how one narrates -- or tells the story -- about the experience of climbing also are feminist issues. In this way, ecofeminism makes visible why, at a conceptual level, environmental ethics is a feminist issue. I turn now to a consideration of ecofeminism as a distinctively feminist and environmental ethic.


A feminist ethic involves a twofold commitment to critique male bias in ethics wherever it occurs, and to develop ethics which are not male-biased. Sometimes this involves articulation of values (e.g., values of care, appropriate trust, kinship, friendship) often lost or under-played in mainstream ethics. Sometimes it involves engaging in theory building by pioneering in new directions or by revamping old theories in gender sensitive ways. What makes the critiques of old theories or conceptualizations of new ones "feminist" is that they emerge out of sex-gender analyses and reflect whatever those analyses reveal about gendered experience and gendered social reality. As I conceive feminist ethics in the pre-feminist present, it rejects attempts to conceive of ethical theory in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, because it assumes that there is no essence (in the sense of some transhistorical, universal, absolute abstraction) of feminist ethics. While attempts to formulate joint necessary and sufficient conditions of a feminist ethic are unfruitful, nonetheless, there are some necessary conditions, what I prefer to call "boundary conditions," of a feminist ethic. These boundary conditions clarify some of the minimal conditions of a feminist ethic without suggesting that feminist ethics has some ahistorical essence. They are like the boundaries of a quilt or collage. They delimit the territory of the piece without dictating what the interior, the design, the actual pattern of the piece looks like. Because the actual design of the quilt emerges from the multiplicity of voices of women in a cross-cultural context, the design will change over time. It is not something static. What are some of the boundary conditions of a feminist ethic? First, nothing can become part of a feminist ethic -- can be part of the quilt -- that promotes sexism, racism, classism, or any other "isms" of social domination. Of course, people may disagree about what counts as a sexist act, racist attitude, classist behavior. What counts as sexism, racism, or classism may vary cross-culturally. Still, because a feminist ethic aims at eliminating sexism and sexist bias, and (as I have already shown) sexism is intimately connected in conceptualization and in practice to racism, classism, and naturism, a feminist ethic must be anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-naturist and opposed to any "ism" which presupposes or advances a logic of domination. Second, a feminist ethic is a contextualist ethic. A contextualist ethic is one which sees ethical discourse and practice as emerging from the voices of people located in different historical circumstances. A contextualist ethic is properly viewed as a collage or mosaic, a tapestry of voices that emerges out of felt experiences. Like any collage or mosaic, the point is not to have one picture based on a unity of voices, but a pattern which emerges out of the very different voices of people located in different circumstances. When a contextualist ethic is feminist, it gives central place to the voices of women.

Third, since a feminist ethic gives central significance to the diversity of women's voices, a feminist ethic must be structurally pluralistic rather than unitary or reductionistic. It rejects the assumption that there is "one voice" in terms of which ethical values, beliefs, attitudes, and conduct can be assessed. Fourth, a feminist ethic reconceives ethical theory as theory in process which will change over time. Like all theory, a feminist ethic is based on some generalizations. Nevertheless, the generalizations associated with it are themselves a pattern of voices within which the different voices emerging out of concrete and alternative descriptions of ethical situations have meaning. The coherence of a feminist theory so conceived is given within a historical and conceptual context, i.e., within a set of historical, socioeconomic circumstances (including circumstances of race, class, age, and affectional orientation) and within a set of basic beliefs, values, attitudes, and assumptions about the world. Fifth, because a feminist ethic is contextualist, structurally pluralistic, and "in-process," one way to evaluate the claims of a feminist ethic is in terms of their inclusiveness: those claims (voices, patterns of voices) are morally and epistemologically favored (preferred, better, less partial, less biased) which are more inclusive of the felt experiences and perspectives of oppressed persons. The condition of inclusiveness requires and ensures that the diverse voices of women (as oppressed persons) will be given legitimacy in ethical theory building. It thereby helps to minimize empirical bias, e.g., bias rising from faulty or false generalizations based on stereotyping, too small a sample size, or a skewed sample. It does so by ensuring that any generalizations which are made about ethics and ethical decision making include-indeed cohere with-the patterned voices of women." Sixth, a feminist ethic makes no attempt to provide an "objective" point of view, since it assumes that in contemporary culture there really is no such point of view. As such, it does not claim to be "unbiased" in the sense of "value-neutral" or "objective." However, it does assume that whatever bias it has as an ethic centralizing the voices of oppressed persons is a better bias-"better" because it is more inclusive and therefore less partial-that those which exclude those voices. Seventh, a feminist ethic provides a central place for values typically unnoticed, underplayed, or misrepresented in traditional ethics, e.g., values of care, love, friendship, and appropriate trust. Again, it need not do this at the exclusion of considerations of rights, rules, or utility. There may be many contexts in which talk of rights or of utility is useful or appropriate. For instance, in contracts or property relationships, talk of rights may be useful and appropriate. In deciding what is cost-effective or advantageous to the most people, talk of utility may be useful and appropriate. In a feminist qua contextualist ethic, whether or not such talk is useful or appropriate depends on the context; other values (e.g., values of care, trust, friendship) are not viewed as reducible to or captured solely in terms of such talk.

Eighth, a feminist ethic also involves a reconception of what it is to be human and what it is for humans to engage in ethical decision making, since it rejects as either meaningless or currently untenable any gender-free or gender-neutral description of humans, ethics, and ethical decision making. It thereby rejects what Alison Jaggar calls "abstract individualism," i.e., the position that it is possible to identify a human essence or human nature that exists independently of any particular historical context." Humans and human moral conduct are properly understood essentially (and not merely accidentally) in terms of networks or webs of historical and concrete relationships. All the props are now in place for seeing how ecofeminism provides the framework for a distinctively feminist and environmental ethic. It is a feminism that critiques male bias wherever it occurs in ethics (including environmental ethics) and aims at providing an ethic (including an environmental ethic) which is not male biased-and it does so in a way that satisfies the preliminary boundary conditions of a feminist ethic. First, ecofeminist is quintessentially anti-naturist. Its anti-naturism consists in the rejection of any way of thinking about or acting toward non-human nature that reflects a logic, values, or attitude of domination. Its anti-naturist, antisexist, anti-racist, anti-classist (and so forth, for all other "isms" of social domination) stance forms the outer boundary of the quilt: nothing gets on the quilt which is naturist, sexist, racist, classist, and so forth. Second, ecofeminism is a contextualist ethic. It involves a shift from a conception of ethics as primarily a matter of rights, rules, or principles predetermined and applied in specific cases to entities viewed as competitors in the contest of moral standing, to a conception of ethics as growing out of what Jim Cheney calls "defining relationships," i.e., relationships conceived in some sense as defining who one is.'o As a contextualist ethic, it is not that rights, or rules, or principles are not relevant or important. Clearly they are in certain contexts and for certain purposes." It is just that what makes them relevant or important is that those to whom they apply are entities in relationship with others. Ecofeminism also involves an ethical shift from granting moral consideration to nonhumans exclusively on the grounds of some similarity they share with humans (e.g., rationality, interests, moral agency, sentiencey, right-holder status) to "a highly contextual account to see clearly what a human being is and what the non-human world might be, morally speaking, for human beings."" For an ecofeminist, how a moral agent is in relationship to another becomes of central significance, not simply that a moral agent is a moral agent or is bound by rights, duties, virtue, or utility to act in a certain way. Third, ecofeminism is structurally pluralistic in that it presupposes and maintains difference among humans as well as between humans and at least some elements of nonhuman nature. Thus, while ecofeminism denies the nature/culture" split, it affirms that humans are both members of an ecological community (in some respects) and different from it (in other respects). Ecofeminism's attention to relationships and community is not, therefore, an erasure of difference but a respectful acknowledgment of it. Fourth, ecofeminism reconceives theory as theory in process. It focuses on patterns of meaning which emerge, for instance, from the storytelling and first-person narratives of women (and others) who deplore the twin dominations of woman and nature. The use of narrative is one way to ensure that the content of the ethic -- the pattern of the quilt -- may/will change over time, as the historical and material realities of women's lives change and as more is learned about women-nature connections and the destruction of the non-human world." Fifth, ecofeminism is inclusivist. It emerges from the voices of women who experience the harmful domination of nature and the way that domination is tied to their domination as women. It emerges from listening to the voices of indigenous peoples such as Native Americans who have been dislocated from their land and have witnessed the attendant undermining of such values as appropriate reciprocity, sharing, and kinship that characterize traditional Indian culture (updated by jody diangelo). It emerges from listening to voices of those who, like Nathan Hare, critique traditional approaches to environmental ethics as white and bourgeois, and as failing to address issues of "black ecology" and the "ecology" of the inner city and urban spaces." It also emerges out of the voices of Chipko women who see the destruction of "earth, soil, and water" as intimately connected with their own ability to survive economically. With its emphasis on inclusivity and difference, ecofeminism provides a framework for recognizing that what counts as ecology and what counts as appropriate conduct toward both human and non-human environments is largely a matter of context. Sixth, as a feminism, ecofeminism makes no attempt to provide an "objective" point of view. It is a social ecology. It recognizes the twin dominations of women and nature as social problems rooted both in very concrete, historical, socioeconomic circumstances and in oppressive patriarchal conceptual frameworks which maintain and sanction these circumstances. Seventh, ecofeminism makes a central place for values of care, love, friendship, trust, and appropriate reciprocity -- values that presuppose that our relationships to others are central to our understanding of who we are." It thereby gives voice to the sensitivity that in climbing a mountain, one is doing something in relationship with an "other," an "other" whom one can come to care about and treat respectfully. Lastly, an ecofeminist ethic involves a reconception of what it means to be human, and of what human ethical behavior consists. Ecofeminism denies abstract individualism. Humans are who we are in large part by virtue of the historical and social contexts and the relationships we are in, including our relationships with non-human nature. Relationships are not something extrinsic to who we are, not an "add on" feature of human nature; they play an essential role in shaping what it is to be human. Relationships of humans to the nonhuman environment are, in part, constitutive of what it is to be a human.

By making visible the interconnections among the dominations of women and nature, ecofeminism shows that both are feminist issues and that explicit acknowledgment of both is vital to any responsible environmental ethic. Feminism must embrace ecological feminism if it is to end the domination of women because the domination of women is tied conceptually and historically to the domination of nature. A responsible environmental ethic also must embrace feminism. Otherwise, even the seemingly most revolutionary, liberational, and holistic ecological ethic will fail to take seriously the interconnected dominations of nature and women that are so much a part of the historical legacy and conceptual framework that sanctions the exploitation of non-human nature. Failure to make visible these interconnected, twin dominations results in an inaccurate account of how it is that nature has been and continues to be dominated and exploited and produces an environmental ethic that lacks the depth necessary to be truly inclusive of the realities of persons who at least in dominant Western culture have been intimately tied with that exploitation, viz., women. Whatever else can be said in favor of such holistic ethics, a failure to make visible ecofeminist insights into the common denominators of the twin oppressions of women and nature is to perpetuate, rather than overcome, the source of that oppression. This last point deserves further attention. It may be objected that as long as the end result is "the same" -- the development of an environmental ethic which does not emerge out of or reinforce an oppressive conceptual framework -- it does not matter whether that ethic (or the ethic endorsed in getting there) is feminist or not. Hence, it simply is not the case that any adequate environmental ethic must be feminist. My argument, in contrast, has been that it does matter, and for three important reasons. First, there is the scholarly issue of accurately representing historical reality, and that, ecofeminists claim, requires acknowledging the historical feminization of nature and naturalization of women as part of the exploitation of nature. Second, I have shown that the conceptual connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature are located in an oppressive and, at least in Western societies, patriarchal conceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination. Thus, I have shown that failure to notice the nature of this connection leaves at best an incomplete, inaccurate, and partial account of what is required of a conceptually adequate environmental ethic. An ethic which does not acknowledge this is simply not the same as one that does, whatever else the similarities between them. Third, the claim that, in contemporary culture, one can have an adequate environmental ethic which is not feminist assumes that, in contemporary culture, the label feminist does not add anything crucial to the nature or description of environmental ethics. I have shown that at least in contemporary culture this is false, for the word feminist currently helps to clarify just how the domination of nature is conceptually linked to patriarchy and, hence, how the liberation of nature, is conceptually linked to the termination of patriarchy. Thus, because it has critical bite in contemporary culture, it serves as an important reminder that in contemporary sex,gendered, raced, classed, and naturist culture, an unlabelled position functions as a privileged and "unmarked" position. That is, without the addition of the word feminist, one presents environmental ethics as if it has no bias, including male-gender bias, which is just what ecofeminists deny: failure to notice the connections between the twin oppressions of women and nature is male-gender bias. One of the goals of feminism is the eradication of all oppressive sex-gender (and related race, class, age, affectional preference) categories and the creation of a world in which difference does not breed domination say, the world of 4001. If in 4001 an "adequate environmental ethic" is a "feminist environmental ethic," the word feminist may then be redundant and unnecessary. However, this is not 4001, and in terms of the current historical and conceptual reality the dominations of nature and of women are intimately connected. Failure to notice or make visible that connection in 1990 perpetuates the mistaken (and privileged) view that "environmental ethics" is not a feminist issue, and that feminist adds nothing to environmental ethics.


I have argued in this paper that ecofeminism provides a framework for a distinctively feminist and environmental ethic. Ecofeminism grows out of the felt and theorized-about connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature. As a contextualist ethic, ecofeminism refocuses environmental ethics on what nature might mean, morally speaking, for humans, and on how the relational attitudes of humans to others-humans as well as nonhumans-sculpt both what it is to be human and the nature and ground of human responsibilities to the non-human environment. Part of what this refocusing does is to take seriously the voices of women and other oppressed persons in the construction of that ethic. A Sioux elder once told me a story about his son. He sent his seven-year-old son to live with the child's grandparents on a Sioux reservation so that he could "learn the Indian ways." Part of what the grandparents taught the son was how to hunt the four leggeds of the forest. As I heard the story, the boy was taught "to shoot your four-legged brother in his hind area, slowing it down but not killing it. Then, take the four legged's head in your hands, and look into his eyes. The eyes are where all the suffering is. Look into your brother's eyes and feel his pain. Then, take your knife and cut the four-legged under his chin, here, on his neck, so that he dies quickly. And as you do, ask your brother, the four-legged, for forgiveness for what you do. Offer also a prayer of thanks to your four-legged kin for offering his body to you just now, when you need food to eat and clothing to wear. And promise the four-legged that you will put yourself back into the earth when you die, to become nourishment for the earth, and for the sister flowers, and for the brother deer. It is appropriate that you should offer this blessing for the four-legged and, in due time, reciprocate in turn with your body in this way, as the four-legged gives life to you for your survival." As I reflect upon that story, I am struck by the power of the environmental ethic that grows out of and takes seriously narrative, context, and such values and relational attitudes as care, loving perception, and appropriate reciprocity, and doing what is appropriate in a given situation-however that notion of appropriateness eventually gets filled out. I am also struck by what one is able to see, once one begins to explore some of the historical and conceptual connections between the dominations of women and of nature. A re-conceiving and re-visioning of both feminism and environmental ethics, is, I think, the power and promise of ecofeminism.

This essay first appeared in Environmental Ethics 12(2), 1990: 125-46.

Warren, Karen 1994 Ecological Feminism,
Routledge, London 88 ISBN 0-415-07298-0



Karen J. Warren


Consider several scenarios offered by Jo Vellacott in her 1982 work, 'Women, peace, and power,' which link violence with resourcelessness:

I am a member of an oppressed minority; I have no way of making you listen to me; I turn to terrorism. I am a dictator, yet I cannot force you to think as I want you to. I fling you in jail, starve your children, torture you. I am a woman in a conventional authoritarian marriage situation; I feel helpless and inferior and powerless against my husband's constant undermining; so I in turn undermine him, make him look foolish in the eyes of his children. Or I am a child unable to prevent her parents' constant quarrelling and to defend herself against her mother's sudden outbursts of rage. I smash something precious and run away, or I take to thieving or I may even kill myself. Or I am the President of the United States; with all the force at my command I know of no way to make sure that the developing nations especially the oil-rich nations will dance to my rune; so I turn to the use of food as a political weapon, as well as building ever more armaments. Violence is resourcelesssness. (Vellacott 1982: 32)

Vellacort characterizes violence in terms of resourcelessness. It is an innovative and provocative way to begin to rethink the notions of peace and violence. By making considerations of power central to discussions of resourcelessness, one can begin to see violence as a sort of power play whereby there is dominance, conquest, manipulation, mastery, or other forms of social control exercised by some (individuals or institutions) over others or the non-human natural environment. The scenarios offered by Vellacott suggest that people in subordinate positions often turn to violence when they feel helpless, powerless, do not see, or genuinely do not have other viable options for gaining or exercising control in their lives. Whereas people in dominant positions, e.g. presidents and dictators, also may rum to violence when they cannot make others do what they want them to do when they want them to do it, the issue is raised whether people in dominant positions, by virtue of being dominant, have other viable options than violence. 'Violence is resourcelessness.' In so far as violence involves a failure to see or utilize options other than power over subordinates, or power to achieve sought-after ends, violence does seem to be a failure to use or be (nonviolently) resourceful. What, then, are the connections between violence, power, and systems of domination or subordination? The scenarios given by Vellacott suggest to me that there are important connections between how one treats those in dominant positions ('dominates' or 'Ups') and how one treats those in subordinate positions ('subordinates' or 'Downs') in unjustified systems of dominance and subordination which any adequate feminist or ecofeminist peace politics must address. In this chapter I suggest that, at least in Western societies, these connections he ultimately in patriarchy. I propose that overcoming patriarchy requires an ecofeminist peace politics, and conclude by sketching the nature of such a politics. My goal here is as much suggestive as argumentative: using the metaphor of theorists as quilters and theory-building as quilting (see Warren 1990), 1 suggest what at least some patches of an ecofeminist peace quilt must look like, what threads might be used to sew the different patches together, and why a multilayered or multi-tiered theory rather than a universal, univocal theory of violence is necessary to any ecofeminist peace politics. I do this without specifying what the actual design of any particular ecofeminist peace quilt does or must look like. In fact, as I hope will become clear, the metaphor of theory-budding as quilt-making engaged in by particular quilters in particular historical, socioeconomic circumstances is deliberately intended to challenge the more familiar view of theory-building in terms of abstract, ahistorical, necessary, and sufficient conditions whose terms apply equally and with equanimity to all individuals, regardless of their position in dominant-subordinate structures. As an aside, it also thereby challenges popular philosophical positions such as just War Theory or 'War realism" which assume a univocal theory of necessary and sufficient conditions which justify war and the violence war involves.


All feminists are committed to exposing and eliminating sexism what I mean by "male-gender privilege and power. Many feminists have successfully argued that sexism is intimately connected to other 'isms of domination,' e.g. racism, classism, heterosexism, militarism; ecological feminists have extended these analyses to include "naturism," or the unjustified exploitation of the natural environment (see, for example, Frye 1983; Shiva 1988; Plant 1989; Warren 1990). While I do not defend those feminist and ecofeminist claims here, I do assume that seeing these connections and understanding their significance is crucial to the development of an adequate peace politics. My focus in this chapter is on those conceptual connections of special interest to philosophers in order to clarify some of the interconnecting, mutually reinforcing roles that conceptual connections play in maintaining and justifying unjustified systems of domination and subordination.


Patriarchy is the systematic, structural unjustified domination of women by men. Patriarchy consists of those institutions (including, in a Rawlsean sense, those policies, practices, positions, offices, roles, and expectations) and behaviors which give privilege (higher status, value, prestige) and power (power-over power) to males or to what historically is male-gender identified, as well as a sexist conceptual framework needed to sustain and legitimize it. At the heart of patriarchy is the maintenance and justification of male gender privilege and power (that is, power-over power).

Power-over power relations

One way to understand power is in terms of resourcefulness: power is the ability to mobilize resources to accomplish desired ends (Kanter 1977: 116). People who lack power or who are in some respects 'powerless" (e.g. 'a child unable to prevent her parents' constant quarrelling') lack this ability to mobilize the requisite resources (e.g. to stop the quarrelling) in ways which do not reinforce structures of domination and subordination. What, then, is "power-over power"? There are at least five important senses of "power"; whether or not the exercise of any of these instances of power is oppressive or justified is an open question.

  1. Power-over power serves to maintain, perpetuate, and justify relations of domination and subordination by the coercive use or threat of force, imposition of harms and sanctions, expression of disapproval or displeasure, or restriction of liberties of the Downs by the Ups. This power-over power may be overt or covert, individual or institutional, intentional or unintentional, malicious or benevolent; its key feature is that it is exercised by Ups over Downs.
  2. Power-with power shares or maintains coalitionary, solidarity, or other relatively equalizing power relations with others; it is the sort of "coalition building' power or 'solidarity' power people share with others. Sometimes this power-with power is liberating, for example when a rainbow coalitionary 'politics of difference' recognizes 'the other' as distinct, different, unique, perhaps even indifferent to one's presence, while nonetheless based on a commitment to the intrinsic value, equality, worth, or independence of the other (Warren 1990). This is a sort of "solidarity through respect for difference," rather than "unity through sameness" view of 'power-with power' towards another that is not oppressive. Coalitionary politics used to mobilize resources to keep intact the oppression of some others is oppressive, e.g. the coalitionary politics between the Ku Klux Klan and certain religious groups.
  3. Power-within power is about "inner resources"; it may be life affirming or life-denying, contribute to life's manageability or unmanageability, ecological sustainability or unsustainability. When such power is exercised in self or other-respecting ways, it can be an 'empowering' relationship (e.g. some forms of ecofeminist spirituality) (Warren 1993); when it is exercised in life-destroying ways, it can be a destructive relationship (e.g. active anorexia nervosa or wanton destruction of the earth's 'resources').
  4. Power-towards power is the sort of power individuals and groups of individuals exercise when they make changes in their lives, when they give up something for something else, when they move from something to something else. It can be liberating, e.g. when one lets go of harmful habits or behaviors (such as smoking or forest clear-cutting) and moves toward more healthful behaviors (such as appropriate exercise, ecologically sensible forest management), or non-liberating, e.g. when one moves towards over-consumption of food and natural 'resources.'
  5. Power-against power is reserved for what is left. It is the power exercised by Downs against Ups in an already existent Up Down set of relationships. I say more about this sort of power in a moment.

A use of power is appropriate or morally permissible when it is exercised to produce needed or desired change in ways which do not create or maintain oppressive relationships of dominance and subordination. For example, when 'power-with power' is the power of the Ku Klux Klan in coalition with the John Birch Society, the sort of power exercised may be successfully designed to keep intact oppressive relationships of dominance of white, Euro-Americans over African Americans. They would thereby fail the test. In contrast, the 'power-with power' shared by feminists, peace activists, and environmentalists may, in fact, challenge and be designed to challenge relationships of dominance of humans over non-human nature. They would thereby pass the test. In so far as patriarchy sanctions, perpetuates, and justifies oppressive "power-over" relationships, patriarchy involves the illegitimate uses of power. To see how patriarchy creates, maintains, and sanctions justifiable uses of power-over relationships, consider the nature of patriarchal conceptual frameworks.

Patriarchal conceptual frameworks

I have argued elsewhere (Warren 1987, 1990) that a 'conceptual framework' consists in those basic beliefs, values, attitudes, and assumptions which shape and reflect how one views oneself and one's world. It is a socially constructed lens through which one perceives oneself and one's world. A conceptual framework is 'oppressive' when it functions to explain, justify, and maintain systems and relationships of domination and subordination. A "patriarchal conceptual framework" is an oppressive conceptual framework which functions to explain, justify, and maintain the subordination of women by men. There are five interrelated characteristics of an oppressive, including patriarchal, conceptual framework:

  1. Value-hierarchical ("Up-Down") thinking, which places higher value, prestige, or status on what is "Up" (e.g. men, whites, heterosexuals) than on what is 'Down' (e.g. women, Americans of color, gays, and lesbians);
  2. Value dualisms ("either-or" thinking) which organize reality into oppositional (rather than complementary) and exclusive (rather than inclusive) pairs, and which place higher value, prestige, or status on one member of the pair (e.g. dualisms which give higher status to "mind," "reason" and "male" in alleged contrast and opposition to that which is "body," "emotion," and "female," respectively);
  3. Power-over conceptions of power which function to maintain relations of dominance and subordination;
  4. Conceptions of privilege which systematically advantage Ups in Up-Down relationships; and, most importantly,
  5. A logic of domination, that is, a structure of argumentation which justifies relations of dominance and subordination on the grounds that superiority (or being "Up") justifies subordination (or being "Down"). Within a patriarchal conceptual framework, difference breeds domination. It is the last characteristic of patriarchal conceptual frameworks, a logic of domination, which "justifies" power-over power relations within patriarchy. A logic of domination legitimates the unequal distribution of power in ways which serve to reinforce and maintain systems of oppression: who or what is "Up" is who or what has power over others. The justification of the Ups' power over the Downs' typically is given on grounds of some alleged characteristic (e.g. reason or rationality) which the Up or dominant group (e.g. men) have which the Down or subordinate group (e.g. women) lacks. So it is easy to find out who deserves to be Up: it is whomever is Up! A logic of domination is necessary to maintain and justify patriarchy. Since all feminists oppose patriarchy, all feminists must oppose a logic of domination.

Furthermore, power-over relationships are wrong in so far as they are oppressive, and they are oppressive in so far as they presuppose, maintain, or sustain a logic of domination. A caveat is in order. Note what a rejection of a logic of domination does and does not say. It does say that superiority does not justify subordination, that difference does not justify domination, even if superiority and difference are conceded. It thereby rules out a moral justification for power-over relationships of domination and subordination. It also does say that power-over relationships of domination maintained by the "Up" group to keep the "Down" group down are unjustified. What it does not say is what the "Down" group is justified in doing to end its domination by the "Up" group. It may well be, for instance, that people "Down" in an "Up-Down" hierarchy of power and privilege are justified in using whatever means are necessary, including violence, to get their legitimate needs met. (A new twist on the familiar just War Doctrine that permits violence by the Downs but not by the Ups.) This might be defended on the grounds that, as "Downs," they lack the relevant privilege and power (that is, access to resources) necessary to exercise power-over relationships of domination toward the dominant group, and thereby are not covered by the principle prohibiting use of oppressive power-over relationships of control and domination by "Up" groups. How, then, does one talk about "power" exercised by "Downs" against "Ups"? This is part of what the fifth sense of "power" (power-against power) is meant to capture. "Power-against" power presupposes socioeconomic situations or relationships of dominance and subordination; it is the sort of power used by those who are, or who perceive themselves to be, "Downs" against "Ups." Lacking access to the requisite resources and options of "Up" groups, whatever power is exercised by "Downs" against "Ups" is exercised in the larger context of oppressive Up-Down hierarchies of power (that is, power-over power of "Ups") and privilege. In the case of power-against power exercised by "Downs" against "Ups," it is left open whether such exercises of power are ever justified. (Perhaps violent exercises of power by Blacks in Apartheid may be justified even if violence against Blacks by white supremacists in Apartheid is not ever justified.) In any case, the standard for assessing these power-against power relationships is the same as for power-over power relationships: they cannot be used to perpetuate, maintain, or justify oppression or oppressive systems, relationships, or conceptual frameworks. When power-against power relationships do that, they too are unjustified.


Patriarchalism refers to any ideology, attitude, prejudice, or behavior which functions to sanction, perpetuate, or justify patriarchy, patriarchal conceptual frameworks, and oppressive power-over relationships of power (that is, roughly, (l)-(3) above). Patriarchalism is both the symptom and evidence of unjustified male gender power and privilege over women, that is, sexism.

An ecofeminist peace politics

An ecofeminist peace politics is a repudiation of patriarchalism and a commitment to the development of anti-patriarchalist philosophies and practices. In what follows I offer suggestions for conceiving an ecofeminist peace politics. I do so by conceiving of feminist theory and feminist theory-building on the metaphor of quilting: individual persons located in different historical and socioeconomic circumstances who quilt quilts (or patches for quilts). The quilts (or patches) tell unique, individualized stories about the quilters and the circumstances of their lives; they are candidate patches for a larger, global mosaic an ecofeminist quilting-the-making in much the way that the AIDS memorial quilt is a patchwork of 10,500 panels of individual quilts which record and commemorate lives lost to AIDS. Like the AIDS Names Quilt, an ecofeminist peace politics quilt collectively represents and records the stories of people of different ages, ethnicities, affectional orientations, race and gender identities, and class backgrounds committed to nonviolence, or (as we shall now see) appropriate resourcefulness. As feminist quilts, the ecofeminist peace quilts I envision have no jointly necessary and sufficient conditions which define them. Nonetheless, they are feminist quilts. As feminist quilts, there are some necessary conditions, what I prefer to call 'border' or 'boundary' conditions, which each quilt must satisfy. They function like the boundaries of a quilt. They delimit the territory of the piece without dictating what the interior, the design, the actual pattern of the piece looks like. I offer them here without attempting to defend them. My hope is that what I have said already is adequately suggestive of what they mean and why I might think they are true. An ecofeminist peace quilt has a number of features.

  1. First and foremost, it opposes all "-isms of domination," e.g. sexism, racism, classism, ageism, ableism, anti-Semitism, hetero sexism, ethnocentrism, naturism, and militarism (that is, the unjustified use of military power-over power to maintain relationships of domination by Ups over Downs). Stated differently, no "-isms of domination" belong on an ecofeminist peace quilt, including any policies and practices (for instance, clear cutting, factory farming, toxic pollution by industrial complexes) which cause unnecessary harm to the non-human natural environment.

  2. It makes visible how "-isms of domination" are maintained and reinforced by patriarchalism, especially the explanatorily basic role played by a logic of domination in maintaining and perpetuating patriarchal conceptual frameworks. In environmental contexts, the extent to which the assumptions of orthodox forestry that "the outsider knows best": e.g. that the Western forester or Western PhD ecologist sent to rural India to solve India's tree shortage problem knows best without knowing anything about "women's indigenous technical knowledge" (ITK) or including women in the decision-making process about the future of indigenous multiple species tree populations reinforces patriarchalism and, in fact, bad environmental policy and practice imposed by Ups on Downs.

  3. It reconceives theory as theory-in-process. Theory-building is always undertaken within a set of historical, socioeconomic, environmental circumstances and particular conceptual contexts. It does not conceive of theory as something static, ahistorical, non-ecological, or "good for all times." Nor does it conceive of theory-building in 1994 as a gender-neutral, universalizing attempt to specify the "essence" of a feminist peace politics, since it is assumed that, in contemporary patriarchal culture, there either is no such "essence," or, if there is, it is not currently knowable by any human. As a consequence, what is ecologically feasible and justified in one part of the globe may not be in another part; whether any action is ecologically feasible will depend on whether it contributes to the maintenance of structures or situations of dominance and subordination. For example, the environmental effects of the Persian Gulf War become crucially relevant in any assessment of the justification of that war.

  4. It is structurally pluralistic, rather than structurally reductionist or unitary: it emerges from a multiplicity of voices, especially women's voices (and women's ITK), across cross-cultural contexts. As such, it affirms difference in an inclusivist and non-dominating way by making a central place for difference that does not breed domination and inferiorization. Recognizing and honoring the voices of the disenfranchised (dominated, oppressed) is one step in redistributing power and privilege, since it recognizes that who has voice and the privilege to exercise their voice in their own voice is about who has what power. In environmental contexts, this condition requires that the perspectives of local, native, and indigenous peoples be taken into account in the formation of any adequate environmental action; to overlook such perspectives is to engage in non-peacemaking.

  5. It assesses the claims of an ecofeminist peace politics partly in terms of their anti-patriarchalist inclusiveness: those claims are morally, epistemologically, and politically favored (preferred, better, less biased) which are more inclusive of the felt experiences and perspectives of oppressed persons from a non-patriarchalist perspective. Those claims which exclude or conflict with such perspectives are viewed as more biased, more partial, less preferred. So, failure to include what women know about food as producers of at least 60 percent of the world's food, or what women know about the root crop cassava as those who do 100 percent of the processing of the crop containing natural cyanide, or the role of women and children in the collection and distribution of unpotable water when designing water irrigation systems, pumps, filter systems, or collection systems is to perpetuate patriarchalist, non-inclusivist bias.

  6. It exposes and challenges uses of power which function to maintain, perpetuate, and justify "-isms of domination" and other oppressive relationships. As such, it rules out power-over relations of domination exercised by the "Up" group to control, manipulate, or in any other way keep down the "Down" group. Notice that, on this view, the "Ups" always have other options to domination, namely rejecting Up-Down socioeconomic hierarchies by shedding the privilege of being Up and redistributing socioeconomic power in ways that create non-oppressive power-with and power-within opportunities for the Down groups. In environmental contexts, this would certainly require recognizing and ending the United States' grossly disproportionate percentage (roughly, one-quarter) of the earth's natural resources by radically altering our current patterns of over-consumption at the expense of the people and countries of the Southern hemisphere ('the South').

  7. It conceives of humans as essentially, and not accidentally, socially constructed beings-in-relationships; whatever uniqueness, peculiarity, or individuality humans properly may be said to have is viewed in terms of their being beings-in-relationships (rather than vice versa). This might be put by describing particular individuals as unique 'knots' in a web of relationships.

  8. Because of 7, it makes a central place for considerations of care, appropriate reciprocity, friendship, kinship, appropriate trust, and love in addition to whatever place more traditional considerations of rights, utility, or fairness have in contexts of justice. These considerations centralize "relationship" or "relational" values which apply to and describe humans in relationships to others, including the nonhuman natural environment.

  9. It provides a place for "psychologies" and "theologies (or spiritualities) of liberation" as part of a theoretical and practical antidote to patriarchalism in the pre-feminist present. In this respect, it respects ways in which emotions and spiritualities may be appropriate, non-oppressive tools of empowerment, power-with- others, and power-against 'Up' groups by 'Downs' in Up-Down hierarchies.

  10. It provides a guide to action in the pre-feminist present. This condition ensures that a feminist peace politics is serviceable within patriarchy, even while, as a feminist project, it is aimed at dismantling patriarchy (in the future).


Realizing an ecofeminist feminist peace politics

How, then, can one begin to realize an ecofeminist feminist peace politics in the pre-feminist and patriarchal present? One place to begin is to build on feminist projects already begun in other contexts. I conclude by noting the relevance of three such projects to discussions of sexism, naturism, and nuclearism.

  1. First, feminists have provided powerful critiques of dominant Western conceptions of reason, rationality, and rational behavior (Cohn 1989: 129, n. 5; Warren 1989). These critiques need to be extended to show how so-called "rational behavior" towards women, nature, and nuclear issues, as well as the dominant discourse language associated with each, is patriarchalist. Consider, for instance, the way in which Vance Cope-Kasten unpacks the domination metaphors, sexist language, and sexual rhetoric of standard philosophical descriptions of arguments, good reasoning, and rational decision-making (Cope-Kasten 1989). Good reasoners knock down arguments; they tear, rip, chew, cut them up; attack them, try to beat, destroy, or annihilate them, preferably by nailing them to the wall. Good arguers are sharp, incisive, cutting, relentless, intimidating, brutal; those not good at giving arguments are wimpy, touchy, quarrelsome, irritable, nagging. Good arguments have a thrust to them: they are compelling, binding, air-tight, steel-trap, knock-down, dynamite, smashing, and devastating bits of reasoning which lay things out and pin them down, overcoming any resistance. 'Bad' arguments are described in metaphors of the dominated and powerless: they 'fall flat on their face,' are limp, lame, soft, fuzzy, silly, and 'full of holes.' Similar critiques have been provided, especially by ecofeminists, of the language used to describe women, nature, and nuclear weaponry (see, for example, Adams 1990; Cohn 1989; Strange 1989). Women are often described in animal terms (e.g. as cows, foxes, chicks, serpents, bitches, beavers, old bats, pussycats, cats, birdbrains, hare-brains), sexual terms (e.g. as lays, fucks, screws, cunts) and plaything terms (e.g. as babes, dolls, girls, pets) terms which contribute to viewing women as inferior, not fully rational, and child-like. just as women are naturalized in the dominant discourse, so, too, is nature feminized. 'Mother Nature' is raped, mastered, conquered, mined; her secrets are 'penetrated" and her 'womb' is to be put into service of the 'man of science.' Virgin timber is felled, cut down; fertile soil is tilled and land that lies fallow is 'barren,' useless. Language fuses women's and animal's or nature's inferior status in a patriarchal culture. We exploit nature and animals by associating them with women's lesser status, and, conversely, dominate women by associating women with nature's and animals' inferior status. As Carol Adams argues so persuasively in The Sexual Politics of Meat, language which feminizes nature and naturalizes women describes, reflects, and perpetuates oppression by failing to see the extent to which the twin dominations of women and nature, especially of animals, are, in fact, culturally analogous and not simply metaphorically analogous (Adams 1990: 61). Stereotyping through 'power dualisms of domination' occurs with both women and nature in language that is both sexist and naturist. Nuclear parlance employs 'nature language.' Nuclear missiles are stored on 'farms,' 'in silos.' That part of the submarine where twenty-four multiple warhead nuclear missiles are lined up, ready for launching, is called 'the Christmas tree farm'; BAMBI is the acronym developed for an early version of an antiballistic missile system (for BAllistic Missile Boost Intercept). Nuclear parlance also uses female imagery, often in conjunction with naturalizing metaphors, to describe and refer to nuclear weaponry and strategies. In her wonderfully illuminating article, "Sex and death in the rational world of defense intellectuals", Carol Cohn describes her one year immersion in a university's center on defense technology and arms control. She relates a professor's explanation of why the MX missile is to be placed in the silos of the new Minuteman missiles, instead of replacing the older, less accurate ones: "because they're in the nicest hole you're not going to take the nicest missile you have and put it in a crummy hole" (Cohn 1989: 133). Cohn describes a linguistic world of vertical erector launchers; thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, deep penetration, penetration aids (devices that help bombers of missiles get past the "enemy's' defensive system, also known as apenaids"), the comparative advantages of protracted versus spasm attacks or what one military advisor to the National Security Council has called "releasing 70 to 80 percent of our megatonnage in one orgasmic whump" where India's explosion of a nuclear bomb is spoken of as 'losing her virginity' and New Zealand's refusal to allow nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered warships into its ports is described as 'nuclear virginity' (Cohn 1989: 133-7). Such language and imagery creates, reinforces, and justifies nuclear weapons as a kind of sexual dominance. The incredible distortions of nuclear parlance are reinforced by such misnomer's as Ronald Reagan's dubbing the MX missile 'the Peacekeeper,' terminology whereby 'clean bombs' are those which announce that 'radioactivity is the only 'dirty' part of killing people' (Cohn 1989: 132) and the Pentagon position that human deaths are only "Collateral damage" (since bombs are targeted at buildings, not people). Such distortions leave little room for acknowledging, in nuclear parlance, a total disregard for the effects of nuclear technology on the natural environment or the objectionable female sexual domination metaphors used to describe and justify the deployment of nuclear weapons. An ecofeminist feminist peace politics can build on this important work already being done with regard to sexism, naturism, and nuclearism by showing how this language and imagery grows out of and perpetuates patriarchalism. Under patriarchalism, naturist-sexist language provides a historical justificatory strategy for domination (Adams 1990: 82).

  2. Feminists also can draw on the work of psychologists, theologians, and philosophers who reveal the psychological dimensions of "-isms of domination." For example, consider "nuclearism," defined by Robert Jay Lifton and Richard Falk in their book Indefensible Weapons as 'the psychological, political, and military dependence on nuclear weapons, the embrace of nuclear weapons as a solution to a wide variety of human dilemmas, most ironically that of 'security' (Lifton and Falk 1982: ix). Nuclearism is 'the embrace of the bomb as a new 'fundamental,' as a source of 'salvation' and a way of restoring our lost sense of immortality' (Lifton and Falk 1982: 87). Lifton and Falk describe nuclearism as "a disease" (Lifton and Falk 1982: ix) and "an addiction" (Lifton and Falk 1982: 113), which only can be ended through "nuclear awareness":

    "Nuclear awareness has certain specific requirements. It means breaking out of the illusory system ... extricating ourselves from our deadly dependence on and worship of the weapons, extricating ourselves from nuclearism. This process is psychologically difficult because our relationship to ... nuclearism has had the quality of an addiction. Addiction is always a life-death pattern. That is, one's emotions become so invested in one's relationship (or 'connection') to a particular object that all vitality and attachment one's existence itself are at stake in that relationship." (Lifton and Falk 1982: 112-13)

    For Lifton and Falk, nuclear awareness involves abandoning so-called 'rational discourse' and 'rational deliberation' about nuclear war, recognizing that the 'psychological is also profoundly political,' and challenging and overcoming 'the power base of these illusions.' In a similar vein, Paula Smithka argues that sexism, naturism, nuclearism, and other "-isms of domination" are symptoms of the disease of dissociation by which humans attempt to sever their relationships with others and with nature (Smithka 1989). In the terminology introduced here, patriarchalism constructs one's perception of the "other" as inferior, permits the psychological and conceptual distancing (dissociation) of "the other," and justifies the inferiorizing of "the other." Suppose nuclearism is indeed an "addiction," as Lifton and Falk claim, or unhealthy dissociation, as Smithka claims - partly psychological conditions. How does one recover from it? Addictions and dissociation ultimately involve faulty beliefs which, for recovery to occur, must be seen and rejected (Warren 1990). Nuclear awareness, then, involves seeing the insanity of nuclear confrontation. For a feminist peace politics, this involves seeing the patriarchalist biases of nuclear parlance (in addition to whatever other biases must be seen). The case is the same for sexism, racism, classism, naturism, and any other "-isms of domination" based on faulty belief systems what I have called oppressive and patriarchal conceptual frameworks. They must be seen to be rejected. What is involved in seeing and breaking through the addictions, the illusions, the dissociation? To employ the familiar language of recovery from addictions such as alcoholism, to recover from nuclearism and other "-isms of domination" we can and must now, in the pre-feminist patriarchal present, choose to become recovering nuclearists, recovering naturists, recovering sexists and racists. And we can start to do that by seeing and changing the faulty patriarchalist thinking that underlies and sustains these "-isms." Seen in terms of the psychological phenomena of dissociation, addiction, or dysfunctional systems generally, then, patriarchalism might be also viewed as ecofeminist Charlene Spretnak views it: as a primary, progressive, terminal disease, the "logical" because predictable consequence of which could quite literally be the death of the planet. Seen from a psychological perspective, nuclear madness needs to be taken seriously as a madness, that is, as a craziness which has delusion, denial, and dissociation at its core. An ecofeminist feminist peace politics would help explore and clarify the nature of the conceptual, psychological and behavioral ties of nuclearism and other "-isms of domination" to this flawed thinking patriarchalism.

  3. Feminists can begin to develop analyses of violence and nonviolence which show the interconnections among kinds of violence: violence against the self (e.g. anorexia and bulimia, suicide); violence against others (e.g. spousal and child abuse, rape); violence against the earth (e.g. "rape of the land"); perhaps even global, systemic, economic violence (e.g. poverty). This would involve showing ways in which patriarchalism underlies all such kinds of violence and itself breeds violence. A.n ecofeminist peace politics also could explore conceptions of nonviolence in terms of appropriate and resourceful uses of emotions, thereby underscoring the political and moral significance of emotions. Consider, for instance, anger. The presence of anger as a felt emotion often announces "I deserve better!" "No; stop this!" An appropriate use of anger, like an appropriate use of power, is resourceful and respectful when it produces needed change ('is resourceful') while at the same time challenging and refusing to adopt oppressive, disrespectful, or dysfunctional attitudes or behaviors. The use of anger is inappropriate when it is used to shame, manipulate, or otherwise attempt to dominate or control another being (human or non-human). It is this notion of the appropriate use of anger which is at the root of Pam McAllister's claim that feminist nonviolence involves the merging of 'rage with compassion,' the offering of respect toward oneself and the oppressor, on the one hand, and a refusal to cooperate with or adopt the oppressor's violent power-over ways, on the other hand. McAllister writes,

    "The peculiar strength of nonviolence comes from the dual nature of its approach the offering of respect and concern on the one hand and of defiance and stubborn noncooperation with injustice on the other. Put into the feminist perspective, nonviolence is the merging of our uncompromising rage at the patriarchy's brutal destructiveness with a refusal to adopt its ways ... to focus on rage alone wig exhaust our strength ... force us to concede allegiance to the path of violence and destruction. On the other hand, compassion without rage renders us impotent, seduces us into watered-down humanism, stifles our good energy... By combining our rage with compassion, we live the revolution every day." (McAllister 1982: iii-iv)

    McAllister's conception of nonviolence makes a central place for the appropriate, respectful, and empowering ("power-within" and "power-with") uses of anger. The appropriate use of anger is thereby a healthy response to "learned helplessness," "learned victimization," "blaming the victim," and experiences of resourcelessness that contribute to people being stuck in oppressive, addictive, or otherwise dysfunctional systems or relationships. Taking emotions seriously, as McAllister does, could be very helpful to the development and practices of an ecofeminist peace politics.


    I began this chapter with several scenarios linking violence with resourcelessness. Looking back, just what does a feminist peace politics contribute to an understanding of "Violence as resourcelessness"? I have suggested that the answer lies in the nature of patriarchalism, and the power-over relationships it justifies. What an ecofeminist feminist peace politics does is challenge the very conceptual framework necessary to sustain Up-Down relationships of domination, and the presumed legitimacy of uses of violence by the "Up" group as a means of control over the "Down" group. It also provides ways of explaining why people in "Down" positions may turn to violence to attempt to gain power in their lives and situations within oppressive systems. What an ecofeminist peace politics does, then, is expose patriarchalism and provide anti-patriarchalist solutions in the pre-feminist present. An ecofeminist peace politics is a quilt worth quilting now.

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