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Appeal for Inclusivity in the Theory of Ecofeminism and Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands

 


Appeal for Inclusivity in the Theory of Ecofeminism and Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands

                                                                                   

Dr. Jasleen Kaur Nanda

Assistant Professor

Department of English

GSSDGS Khalsa College

Patiala, Punjab, India

Abstract:

All feminists are committed to exposing and eliminating sexism and many feminists have critiqued that sexism is intimately connected to other ‘isms of domination’ like racism, classism, and heterosexism. Ecofeminists extended this analysis to ‘naturism’ i.e., the unjustified exploitation of the natural environment. Val Plumwood, an ecofeminist, has critiqued that when the four pillars of liberation, those concerned with gender, race, class, and nature stand together; structure of oppression can be shaken. The ecofeminists identify patriarchy as the main cause of ecological destruction and women's oppression. The division of society into hierarchical dualisms like culture/nature, reason/nature, male/female, reason/emotion, human/nature, civilised/primitive, attributing more value to the former, also becomes a major factor in the domination of both women and nature. According to ecological feminists, important connections exist between the treatment of women and other oppressed people on one hand and the treatment of nonhuman nature on the other. Ecofeminism is a theory grounded on the structure of domination that exists not only in relation to humans but also in relation to nature. Gloria Anzaldua, an American author, raises her liberated voice through mode of writing and speaks for the rights of Chicanos, lesbians, women, and nature, in her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). Anzaldua highlights the hybrid existence of Chicanos and Latinos, and how they suffer due to mestiza consciousness. Anzaldua writes about Mexican culture in which women are suppressed. She gives importance to the formation of a new consciousness in which there is tolerance among all human beings irrespective of their race, gender and ethnicity, envisioning a better, ecologically stable and egalitarian society.

Keywords: Inclusivity, mestiza consciousness, women of color, egalitarianism

Gloria Anzaldua makes an appeal for inclusivity in Borderlands: La Frontera The New Mestiza; inclusivity in terms of languages, races, gender as well as cultures. Beginning her work from historical perspective, Anzaldua focuses on the illegal invasion of Texas by U.S. forces in 1800s. In 1846, U.S. troops occupied Mexico's large area, which is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California. Many Chicanos migrated to Mexico, leaving their lands in U.S. occupied territory, while many others stayed behind and protested against this uprooting. “Race hatred had finally fomented into an all-out war” (8). Anzaldua highlights the imbalance of nature created by Anglo agribusiness corporations, who cheated small Chicano landowners. “Later the Anglos brought in huge machines and root plows and had the Mexicans scrape the land clean of natural vegetation” (9).

 

Anzaldua brings to light the sufferings of Mexican women who migrate from Mexico to U.S. in search of work and are exploited by employers. Many such women are forced to live in unhygienic and life-threatening conditions. “Isolated and worried about her family back home, afraid of being caught and deported, living with as many as fifteen people in one room, the Mexicana suffers serious health problems” (12).Gloria Anzaldua negates her Mexican culture also, in which women are the 'Other' and rules are dictated by men. “ Woman is the stranger, the other. She is man's recognized nightmarish pieces, his Shadow-Beast” (17). There is zero tolerance towards homosexuals in Mexican culture. Homosexuals are even burned and beaten and 'being different' is considered a crime. 

 

Anzaldua lays emphasis on the plight of women of color living in America. A woman of color finds it an unsafe place to live. “Woman does not feel safe when her own culture, and white culture, are critical of her; when the males of all races hunt her as prey” (20). Anzaldua writes about her aspirations as a woman of color living in America. She wants to balance her identity with all three cultures, White, Mexican and Indian. She wants to discover herself and set her own rules of life.

 

For 300 years she was invisible, she was not heard. Many times she wished to speak, to act, to protest, to challenge. The odds were heavily against her. She hid her feelings; she hid her truths; she concealed her fire; but she kept stroking the inner flame. (23)

 

Anzaldua writes about the state of mind of Chicanos, who blame themselves for being hybrid and they even hate and terrorize themselves. As a Chicano living in America, Anzaldua feels like an alien in new territory. “No, it isn't enough that she is female- a second-class member of a conquered people who are taught to believe they are inferior because they have indigenous blood, believe in the supernatural and speak a deficient language” (48-9). When Anzaldua was in school, she remembers being beaten by an American teacher for speaking in her native Spanish language. Her mother scolded her for speaking English like a Mexican. All Chicano students studying in Pan American University were required to take two speech classes every week. Why couldn't Chicanos exercise the liberty to speak in their own native style? Why couldn't they feel their existence as that of equal citizens? Gloria Anzaldua gives the tyranny of language, the name of 'linguistic terrorism'. While teaching High School English to Chicano students, she was expected to teach only American and English literature. She was not allowed to teach Chicano literature. She also had to take her stand firmly when she wanted to take up Chicano literature as an area of focus for PhD. “Yet the struggle of identities continues, the struggle of borders is our reality still” (63). 

 

Anzaldua highlights the dominance of Western culture and art. She writes that “Ethnocentrism is the tyranny of Western aesthetics” (68). She proposes an approach towards a new consciousness, to be adopted both by the dominant culture and the oppressed culture. Anzaldua quotes a Mexican philosopher, Jose Vascoceles, who envisaged a cosmic race, a fifth race, embracing the four major races of the world. He proposed a theory of inclusivity, against the politics of racial purity. Anzaldua writes that hybrid races, instead of being considered as inferior, should be accepted as having a rich gene pool. The hybrids are in the process of constructing a new mestiza consciousness. 

 

Because I, a mestiza

continually walk out of one culture

 and into another,

 because I am in all cultures at the same time, (77)

 

The new consciousness in mestiza seeks to develop tolerance for co-existence and this can be achieved by accepting plural personality and intermixing of cultures. “That focal point or fulcrum, that juncture where the mestiza stands, is where phenomena tend to collide. It is where the possibility of uniting all that is separate occurs” (79). The new mestiza consciousness breaks down the subject-object duality; the dualities of whites and colored, males and females. This is the struggle that needs to be pursued to end violence based on different kinds of discrimination.

Anzaldua writes that the mestiza have to begin a new journey and the first step of the journey is the refusal to become a sacrificial goat. She comments that she belongs to all countries, all cultures, and all races. As a feminist, she challenges the male dominated beliefs. She wants to be a participant of the formation of new culture and new value system that belongs to the planet Earth and connects the whole humanity and nature. “This step is a conscious rupture with all oppressive traditions of all cultures and religions” (82). Anzaldua appeals for adopting new perspectives toward the dark-skinned, women and the queers.

Deliberating on the ‘macho’ image of a man, Anzaldua writes that women are considered inferior when false egoism forces men to disrespect women. Women must stop tolerating male hatred and violence. There is a need of new masculinity that repudiates the false macho image. The misconception among men that being tender is a sign of weakness, must be deconstructed.  Equality of women, queers, hybrid races and nature, is the foundation of progress and only mutual respect and inclusivity is the solution to put an end to violence.

 

Ecofeminism is a movement that brings attention to the ‘logic of domination’ behind every kind of oppression, and how women can be agents of positive change. Francoise d'Eaubonne introduced the term ecofeminisme in 1974 to bring attention to women’s potential for bringing about an ecological revolution. She raised many ecofeminist issues like the crisis of modernity, patriarchy as the main oppressor, and the ability of women for being the agents of change. She emphasized upon the woman-nature affinity as a source of strength needed to make the world peaceful and harmonious. She also proposed the need for a new global movement of feminists that draws upon feminine power, in order to overcome the ecological crisis and to eradicate the systems of male dominance that gave rise to it. Ecofeminism has gained international recognition in the last thirty years as a grassroots movement. Ecofeminist philosophers are of the view that there are important connections between the domination of women (and other human subordinates) and the domination of nature.

 

Ynestra King defines that “Ecofeminism is potentially a global movement that is founded on common interests yet celebrates diversity and opposes all forms of domination and violence...” (Lahar 1). Ecofeminists have argued that women's movement and the ecology movement are mutually reinforcing and together they can develop practices and views which are not based on models of domination. One of the pioneering ecofeminists was Rosemary Radford Ruether and she wrote in New Woman/New Earth (1975) that there can be no liberation for women and no solution for ecological crisis if model of domination persists in society. Feminists and environmentalists should unite their demands to envision a radical reshaping of the agenda of peace.

 

Deborah Slicer, in her article “Wrongs of Passage: Three Challenges to the Maturing of Ecofeminism,” writes about the androcentric bias attitude of the writers of environmental philosophy who have omitted the issues that are of special concern to women and their subordination. Violence against women, rape, pornography, and environmental hazards damaging to women's reproductive lives, are the issues not mentioned deliberately by the biased male writers. Slicer is of the opinion that environmental philosophy when collaborates with feminism, holds a better perspective of covering wide range of issues related to environment. She writes, “... in order to be feminist, an environmental philosophy must, at the very least, acknowledge, condemn, and expunge androcentrism from its own critical analyses and revisionary theories and incorporate analyses of other oppressed peoples into their analysis of oppressed nature” (Slicer 39).

 

The 'ecofeminist framework' includes development of liberation theory that is capable of addressing the interconnection of all forms of domination, focusing especially on race, class, gender, and environment issues. Val Plumwood argues that the hope for peace in the world lies in having a complete and connected understanding of the web of domination. She writes that “The formulation of a theoretical framework which takes account of the oppression of women in the context of a multiplicity of oppressions has been a major concern of many feminist theorists in the last decade” (Plumwood 72). This project has been undertaken by ecofeminists with the vision of a better, ecologically stable, and egalitarian society.

 

In 1962, Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and scientific journalist, initiated her efforts to save the environment from the harmful effects of pesticides and herbicides. She published her warnings in her book Silent Spring (1962). She wrote about her utmost concern for birds and animals which were suffering due to the accumulation of harmful chemicals in the food chain. This was the beginning of an ecofeminist political movement that was to take its actual form later in criticism and activism.

 

The 'Chipko' movement was a movement that gave worldwide publicity to the women of Garhwal Himalayas, belonging to the village of Reni. They hugged the trees in 1974 as a protest against the people who wanted to cut them. This particular action by those women inspired Vandana Shiva to set up ‘Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy’. Since then, she has promoted her ecofeminist concerns and she is of the firm opinion that the poor rural women are closely linked to the natural world for their daily needs. She emphasizes upon the importance of the political role of women in making the policies of environment.

 

Ecofeminism is a contemporary political movement based on the theory that the ideologies which authorize injustices based on gender, race, and class are related to the ideologies which sanction the exploitation and degradation of the environment. The ecofeminist movement arose in the United States primarily out of a movement against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. A thought-provoking event was the conference on “Women and Life on Earth: A Conference on Ecofeminism in the Eighties” at Amherst, Massachusetts in March 1980. Six hundred women who attended the conference were fearful about the future due to the ecological imbalance.

 

In 1984, a group called DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), comprising twenty-two activists, researchers, and policy makers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, met at Bangalore to prepare a report on the position of women in the South. They concluded after the survey that women's position had worsened, their work burden had increased, and environmental degradation was affecting them badly. Women's social and economic marginalization along with the environmental crisis was reducing the basic means of survival for poor women. Loss of fertile land and tree-felling were also the factors that were playing role in paralysing rural women.

 

James P. Sterba has highlighted some important aspects of society that need attention by the theorists and activists in order to radically restructure a gender-free society. The first fundamental change needed is regarding the education of children in a family. The children, irrespective of their sex, must be subjected to same type of upbringing. Secondly, to achieve global peace, violence against women must be put to an end. The inequalities suffered by women in their families and in the economic sphere become a major source of structural violence against them. The same traits that foster violence against women happen to be the cause of violence at other levels.

 

Understanding the origin of dualism brings a broader perspective to the analysis of social dysfunction and formation of political agenda. Val Plumwood sees the origin of dualism with the Greeks, particularly Plato. Women were not part of the world of ideas in Greek culture and they were separated by associating them with household activities only. The society gave more value to the life of fighting wars and dying gloriously in battle. Such a society conceptualized dualism as inseparable part of their basic ideologies. In present time, science and technology have extended the dualistic thinking by controlling the rhythm of nature. Many projects are accomplished at the cost of nature by giving less preference to the natural phenomena. This has been the cause of environmental imbalance and destruction.

 

Plumwood's political vision is to dismantle the processes that create dualisms. Women, men, and nature are socially structured through dualisms. Catriona Sandilands argues, “It is only through deconstructing the dualisms themselves that a future harmony can be reached...” (Sandilands 145). Ecofeminists are trying to find the ways that would bring humanity back to equality-based paradigms and to the path of ecological balance. Due to less importance given to nature by humans, earth is rapidly on the path of destruction. Forests, soils, water, and air have been subjected to polluting elements. The forests are disappearing at a fast rate and along with them is disappearing the diversity of life they support. Vandana Shiva claims, “The violenceto nature, which seems intrinsic to the dominant development model, is also associated with violence to women who depend on nature for drawing sustenance for themselves, their families, their societies” (Shiva xvi). The need of the hour is to nurture and actively participate in the formation of egalitarian and ecologically balanced global policies. Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai was the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. While working for the National Council of Women in 1976, she introduced the practice of planting trees to conserve the environment. She has helped women plant more than 30 million trees and runs an organization named Green Belt Movement.

Karen J. Warren, an ecofeminist, opposes hierarchical thinking based on class, race, age, sexual preference or any kind of power-over relationship. She highlights five inter-related characteristics of an ‘oppressive patriarchal conceptual framework’: 1) value-hierarchical thinking (Up- Down relationship); 2) value dualisms (either-or thinking); 3) power-over relationship; 4) conceptions of privilege; 5) logic of domination (superiority justifies subordination). Ecofeminists critique that the domination of nature by human beings is guided by patriarchal world view, the same world view that justifies the domination of women. Rape, sexual harassment, spouse-beating, and pornography are practices that are the outcome of patriarchy.

 

Karen J. Warren argues in her article “Toward an Ecofeminist Peace Politics” that the connections of violence lie ultimately in patriarchy. She proposes ecofeminist peace politics for uprooting patriarchal practices and to envision peace in the world. She suggests that this theory of peace politics should be built like sewing a quilt to get a multi-layered theory with various patches. This theory proposes various guidelines and primarily aims at the development of anti-patriarchal philosophies and practices, Warren writes, “... 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...” (Warren 186).Warren clarifies that the agenda of ecofeminist peace politics makes a central place for values of care, love, friendship, and trust in human relationships and human- nature relationship. By repudiating dualisms and hierarchy, it aims at promoting anti- domination practices. Working against various activities connected to sexual assault, racism, toxic dumping etc., becomes a part of ecofeminist peace agenda. Warren argues that the creation of hierarchies and violence are inter-connected. Hence, ecofeminist peace politics opposes unjustified systems of dominance and subordination related to 'value-hierarchies. It also stresses upon valuing the perspectives of local and indigenous people.

 

Karen Warren proposes to develop analyses of violence and nonviolence. She refers to various kinds of violence like violence against self, violence against others, violence against earth, and systemic or economic violence. Warren argues that patriarchy underlies all such kinds of violence. Ecofeminists envision the kind of society that complies with the agenda of ecofeminist peace politics. “An ecofeminist society would be egalitarian and ecologically sustainable. There would be no sexual/gender division of labour, and any necessary work would be integrated with all aspects of communal life” (Mellor 69). The aim of this politics is to break apart the dualisms and hierarchical structures in order to bring balance in human relationships. Murray Bookchin, a social ecologist, has also given his viewpoints regarding ways to maintain balance in society. He is of the opinion that domination of nature by man stems from the domination of human by human. The solution lies in having an egalitarian and eco-friendly society. Bookchin proposes to create a harmonious society in which people do not cross ecological boundaries and repudiate the domination of humans by humans. Vandana Shiva lays emphasis upon ‘feminine principle’ that should serve as the principle of activity and creativity in both women and men. This principle is based on inclusiveness and includes nature as a living entity, women as productive, and men as relocating their activities to create life-enhancing societies. The recovery of this principle is needed for a non-patriarchal, non-gendered, and non- violent society.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987. Print. 

 

Lahar, Stephanie. “Ecofeminist Theory and Grassroots Politics.” Ecological Feminist Philosophies. Ed. Karen J. Warren. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. 1-18. Print.

 

Mellor, Mary. Feminism & Ecology. U.K: Polity Press, 1997. Print.

 

Plumwood, Val. “The Ecopolitics Debate and the Politics of Nature.”Ecological Feminism. Ed. Karen J. Warren. London: Routledge, 1994, 64-87. Print.

 

Sandilands, Catriona. The Good-Natured Feminist. London: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Print. 

 

Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India. London: Zed Books Ltd., 1988. Print.

 

Slicer, Deborah. “Wrongs of Passage: Three Challenges to the Maturing of Ecofeminism.”Ecological Feminism. Ed. Karen J. Warren. London: Routledge, 1994, 29-41. Print.

 

Warren, Karen J. “Toward an Ecofeminist Peace Politics.”Ecological Feminism. Ed. Karen J. Warren. London: Routledge, 1994. 179-99. Print.