Woman and Nature: Interpreting Ecofeminism

The first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970.

Although the connections between the conditions of women and nature were first identified in the United States as early as the late 1800’s, the term ecofeminism was first proposed in 1974 by the French feminist Francoise d’Eaubonne in Feminism or Destruction (Le Feminisme ou la mort). She called on women to lead an ecological revolution and to recreate a relationship of reciprocity between humanity and nature as well as men and women. Nevertheless, ecofeminism as a movement branched out across the world, reaching the United States in the midst of the emerging Second Wave Feminist Movement and the Ecological Movement of the 1970’s. The beginning of the modern environmental movement can be traced back to the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, which raised concerns that capitalism and its intrinsic need for the exploitation of the earth’s resources threatened human health and endangered natural ecosystems and their inhabitants. To raise awareness about environmental issues such as oil spills, pollution, soil contamination, and toxic waste, the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, symbolizing a turning point in the growing ecological consciousness that recognized the interdependence of living beings. Inspired by the culture of political activism developed by the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement in the 1960s, the 1970s became a critical decade for the introduction of federal legislation concerning the environment, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973, among others. 

The first edition of Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her, published in 1978.

One of the most influential texts written during this period and credited for inspiring the birth of the ecofeminist movement in America was Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her by Susan Griffin, a book-length prose poem published in 1978. In the preface of this book, Griffin states that “the fact that man does not consider himself as part of nature, but indeed considers himself superior to matter, seemed to [her] to gain significance when placed against man’s attitude that woman is both inferior to him and closer to nature,” (xv) and hence, this book was written. The book is separated into four sections: Book One: Matter (How man regards and makes use of woman and nature); Book Two: Separation (The separations in his vision and under his rule); Book Three: Passage (Her Journey through the Labyrinth to the Cave where she has Her Vision); and Book Four: Her Vision (Now she sees through her own eyes). 

In Book One: Matter, Griffin identifies how the root of patriarchal oppression is the relegation of women to the realm of matter–of the body, of nature– and the dichotomy itself that fragmented reality into the spirit/matter duality, with the former oppressing the latter. Because of women’s cyclical biological functions and life-giving properties, such as pregnancy and menstruation, they were associated with nature. Hell, observes Griffin, is “under our feet” and the demon “resides in the earth” (7). Hence, it is said that women are the gateway to the devil, leading to the corruption of man, because “all sin originated in the flesh of the body of a woman and lives in her body” (11). Griffin highlights the patriarchal belief that all of nature, including women, was designed by God for the benefit of man. Fossil fuels were placed under his feet for him to extract, animals were created to be hunted, the wilderness was meant to be civilized,  and women existed solely for the propagation of the human race. 

In Book Two: Separation, Griffin illustrates how the patriarchy separates women from their own bodies, which have been deemed impure, unholy, and unclean. The womb is separated from her body, as the woman is merely a vessel that carries the seed of man, who is the true giver of life. Women are told that they exist solely for the needs of men, and that it is in their nature to be needed, to be reduced to their reproductive capabilities as resources for men. Traveling through the epochs of history, she outlines how the scientific revolution in the Age of Enlightenment led to the reduction of living organisms into mere resources to be measured, mutilated, and exploited by man. In the third and fourth books, the woman emancipates herself from the shackles of the patriarchal cave of illusions and steps into the light of feminist consciousness. Griffin reimagines the patriarchal world we live in by resurrecting a new age wherein women reclaim their interconnectedness with nature. Like the tree of life, all living beings branch out from the same tree. The consequences of destructive activities inflicted by mankind will reverberate across all levels of the ecosystem, which all species on earth are intrinsically part of. The core of ecofeminism recognizes that “we are all a part of this motion, we say, and the way of the river is sacred, and this grove of trees is sacred, and we ourselves, we tell you, are sacred” (186).


“Environmental Movement.” Encyclopedia.com, 18 May 2018, https://www.encyclopedia.com/earth-and-environment/ecology-and-environmentalism/environmental-studies/environmental-movement. Accessed 5 December 2021.

Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature : The Roaring Inside Her. 1st ed., Harper & Row, 1978.

Miles, Katherine. “Ecofeminism.” Britannica, 9 October 2018, https://www.britannica.com/topic/ecofeminism#ref313489. Accessed 3 December 2021. 


Gynocide: The Murder of the Goddess

The historical inception of the patriarchy as we know it today can be dated back thousands of years ago with the nascent of Abrahamic religion and the consequent oppression of pagan religions, which were notably matriarchal paradigms of the belief that revolved around nature goddess worship. As far back as antiquity as western religion can be traced, the supreme deity was female. The Great Goddess was not only an earth mother or an extension of a male god, she was the Source of life itself. The new male ruling class ushered in the patriarchal revolution, imposing a patrilineal kinship system that sanctified the oppression of women (Eller 285). It is of no surprise that the second version of the creation myth presents the creator as an omnipotent male deity, creating a male human being, from whose ribcage a woman is “born”, although every man is born from a woman’s womb. The creationist myth achieves the mythical transference of the power of creation and fertility from Goddess to God and from woman to man. The woman’s “original sin” is also held culpable for man’s fall from morality, thus justifying his dominion over her inherent sinfulness. Thus, the dichotomy of the gender binary was solidified– there was the male divine creator (spirit) and female natural creation (body) wherein other dichotomies were characterized as masculine/feminine (superior/inferior).

An excerpt from Judy Grahn’s poem “A Woman is Talking to Death” published in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism in 1978.

First published in the second issue of the lesbian radical feminist periodical Amazon Quarterly, in the epic nine-part poem “A Woman is Talking to Death,” Judy Grahn implicitly elucidates how the gynocide of women was a result of their association with nature. The narrator parallels the endemic lynching of African-Americans in the United States to one of the most notorious manifestations of the subjugation of female power, the witch hunts of medieval Europe, which were carried over with the pilgrimage of the Puritans. Indeed, the white patriarchs are no longer “[lynching] the women anymore” because they found a new class of people to subordinate (8). There is a long history of women holding positions of power or of stepping out of the boundaries imposed by patriarchal norms being discredited and persecuted that is evident throughout the pages of European history, and which formed the blueprint for the genocide of Native Americans and the ecocide of their lands during the colonization of the Americas. Threatened by the power women healers possessed with their knowledge of herbal remedies, the sons of the church “had to erase women with the power to heal, not only by killing them, but by denying that they healed of their own power,” attributing their healing powers instead to devil worship (Daly 218). Nonetheless, most of the women burned at the stake were not practitioners of witchcraft, but merely the victims of the patriarchs’, “the lord and his men,” paranoid obsession with “independent people,” as women are deemed to be “witches” for defying gender norms imposed by Judeo-Christian doctrines (8-9). According to Mary Daly, a prominent feminist scholar of religion, the sole intent of the witchunt was “to break down and destroy strong women, to dis-member and kill the Goddess, the divine spark of be-ing in women” (183). The poet then anthropomorphizes Death as the patriarchy itself. The abstract entity of “Death” is literally given he/him pronouns and is manifested in domestic violence, as exemplified by “death [sitting] in her bedroom, loading / his revolver”), presumably to murder his wife and the mother of his “6 young children” (8), the modern incarnation of the mass genocide of women in the name of Christendom during the European Crusade. Because of the creationist myth perpetuated by the Bible, the woman’s original sin, attributed to her “carnal, bodily desire,” is held culpable for man’s fall from morality, thus justifying his dominion over her inherent sinfulness (Daly 180). 

Woodcut depicting witches giving offerings to the Devil.

Grahn implicitly articulates how the root of patriarchal oppression is the dichotomy that fragments reality into the male/female duality, with the former oppressing the latter. This results in not only the patriarchal subjugation of females, but to conflicts and wars between nations, to racism and the colonization of civilizations deemed as inferior, and the exploitation of the environment by humankind who seeks to dominate the untamed wilderness. The patriarchy is the “father” of oppression experienced by humanity and nature and has historically been constructed on the foundation and learned from the exploitation of women. This idea is echoed by “Toward a Woman Vision,” a critical essay purposefully situated right after Grahn’s poem. In this essay, the editor, Laurel, emphasizes that the women’s liberation movement and ecological concern are “inextricably linked”– the only solution to end the “rape of [our] sister earth” is to shatter the male mirror and to resurrect a “womanvision” (33). Just like how Grahn personifies patriarchal capitalist society as the character of “Death,” Laurel compares the exploitation of the source of life itself, the earth, to the sexual terrorism inflicted upon the givers of life, women. Until the male culture of rapism is transformed into a culture of reciprocity, life as we know it, Laurel warns, will be bled out of existence and into extinction, just like women have for millenia. 


Amazon Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2, December 1973.

Daly, Mary. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Beacon Press, 1978.

Eller, Cynthia. “Relativizing the Patriarchy: The Sacred History of the Feminist Spirituality Movement.” History of Religions, vol. 30, no. 3, University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 279–95, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062958. Accessed 6 December 2021.

Grahn, Judy. “A Woman is Talking to Death.” Amazon Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 4-17.

Laurel. “Toward A Womanvision.” Amazon Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 18-42.


“I Walk in the History of My People”: Indigenous Women as Colonized Peoples

Winona LaDuke posits in her interview “They Always Come Back” that “Native peoples have become marked as inherently violable through a process of sexual colonization. By extension, their lands and territories have become marked as violable as well. The connection between the colonization of Native people’s bodies– particularly Native women’s bodies– and Native lands is not simply metaphorical” (55). The oppression of Indigenous peoples is connected to the exploitation of the earth. With each generation, the capitalist system demands more resources from the land, “first for agricultural crops, then for gold, then for iron, then for oil, and now uranium” (LaDuke 53).  Because Indigenous people live in balance with the earth, their fate is directly related to the fate of the earth. There is an apparent historical trend in the subjugation of Natives, which like the desecration of natural ecosystems, can be traced back to the colonization of the “New World” centuries ago. The genocide of Indigenous peoples is systemic in the “development” of the “civilized” world. White Americans view the development of their society as “a mastery of the natural world, a prime example of the progress from primitive to civilized society,” without taking into consideration that their society is not immune to surviving ecological disasters of their own making. (LaDuke 57).

“I Walk in the History of My People,” as printed in the fourth edition of This Bridge Called My Back.

Published in all four editions of the feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back, the poem “I Walk in the History of My People” by Native American writer Chrystos articulates how she carries the intergenerational trauma of her community within her flesh and blood. In the first stanza, the speaker illustrates the suffering of Native American women, which resides within her physical body. For example, there are “women locked inside [her] joints / for refusing to speak to the police,” referencing the historical sexual violence inflicted by white patriarchs in positions of power and Indigenous women’s refusal to cooperate with the same government entity that ignores the systematic abuse of Native women. In the first stanza, the speaker implements anaphora to describe how “in [her] marrow are hungry faces who live on land the whites don’t want,” alluding to how Native Americans are displaced within their own homeland. Within her marrow are also the faces of her people who are “not allowed / to hunt / to move / to be” because of the ongoing genocide of Indigenous people committed by the U.S. settler-colonial project through dispossession of their ancestral territory and the mass extermination of their sustenance, forcing them to become dependent on the very same state that is murdering them. For instance, the once great bison herds, a staple of the Great Plains indigenous peoples, were purposefully hunted to the precipice of extinction by the U.S. government. Without the bison, which they depended upon to survive, Native American nations became crippled and were forced to rely on the government to provide rations so as to not starve. In addition, Native Americans were prohibited from hunting for sustenance, limiting them from exercising autonomy in their rightful territory. 

February 27, 1973: Activists occupy Wounded Knee.

In the scars on her knee, one can see “children torn from their families / bludgeoned into government schools,” referring to the forced assimilation of Indigenous youth at the hands of the American educational system. By severing them from the umbilical cord of their Indigenous families, the youth forgot their native tongue and underwent cultural genocide as generations upon generations of Indigenous knowledge was erased. For at least three hundred years, the infection of white supremacist, patriarchal settler-colonialism has been festering in the knees of the Native American. The speaker’s infected knee is a historical allusion to the Wounded Knee Massacre, the state-sanctioned slaughter of nearly three hundred Lakota people by the United States Army in 1890. Nearly a century later, in the Wounded Knee Occupation in 1973, the American Indian Movement resisted colonial violence by protesting the United States government’s failure to fulfill treaties with Native American nations and by demanding treaty negotiations to ensure equitable treatment of their people and lands. In their “respective struggles for survival, the Native peoples [were] waging a war to protect the land, the water, and life, while the [colonial] culture [strove] to protect its murderous lifeblood” (LaDuke 56). Although the militant insurrection was ultimately disbanded, despite centuries upon centuries of genocide, Native Americans are still walking upright in an age where they are not meant to survive.


“AIM Occupation of Wounded Knee Begins.” History, 9 February 2010, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/aim-occupation-of-wounded-knee-begins. Accessed 4 December 2021.

Anzaldúa, Gloria, and Moraga, Cherríe, editors. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. 4th ed., State University of New York Press, 2015.

Chrystos. “I Walk in the History of My People.” Anzaldúa, Gloria, and Moraga, Cherríe, editors. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. 4th ed., State University of New York Press, 2015.

LaDuke, Winona. “They Always Come Back.” Sinister Wisdom, no. 22-23, pp. 52-57.

The Military-Industrial Complex: An Ecofeminist Lens

“we all live in a tomic submarine,” as printed in Heresies’s Special Environmental Issue “Earthkeeping/Earthshaking.”

In addition to advocating against the degradation of the natural environment via colonization, ecofeminists recognized that the military-industrial complex and its development of nuclear weapons would threaten life on earth as we know it. The poem “we all live in a tomic submarine” by Chris Domingo, published in Heresies’s Special Environmental issue in 1981, conveys the imminent potential for nuclear weaponry to extinguish the lives of every living, breathing organism inhabiting the earth.

In the beginning, the narrator articulates how her father was involved in the Manhattan Project, unaware of the cataclysmic implications of being involved in the mass genocide of Japanese civilians in the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings in World War II. The government falsely promised him that the weapons of mass destruction being developed were only “for defense” and that they would “never be used” (Domingo 43). Although his role in the Manhattan Project was “only a tiny part,” he will never be absolved of his guilt for the severing of all umbilical cords, the cords of life, for the last time. In the following stanza, the speaker describes how she grew up in the fifties, when “fallout shelters / were the rage / of the Age of / the Bomb” (43). In the wake of the advent of the atomic bomb, the deadliest weapon developed in the history of humanity, the specter of “atomic bomb dreams” haunted the collective conscious of Americans. Yet, even when she would wake up from the dream, she would wake up to the equally nightmarish real world, where the bombs still “swim silently in the heads / of submarines” (43). Nevertheless, submarine-doctors, like her father, continue to play a role in the expansion of the military-industrial complex, even though it threatens to sever all umbilical cords from the womb of life by “[repairing] their carbon brushes / that keep corroding” (43). 

“Celebration 1982,” as printed in Sinister Wisdom’s Special Native American Issue.

Published in Sinister Wisdom’s Special Native American issue in 1983, Terri Meyette’s poem “Celebration 1982” also illustrates how patriarchal blood-rituals, such as war, are threatening the Anthropocene with extinction. Throughout the poem, the speaker implements anaphora by repeating the phrase “they say no one died”– “they” referring to the patriarchs that control the government and distort public perceptions regarding their involvement in wartime casualties. In the second stanza, the speaker brings up the culpability of scientists–the “unconscious mushroom button pushers”– for developing the technology to create nuclear weaponry, such as the atomic bomb deployed by the United States in World War II. However, the speaker also acknowledges that the government, namely the Secretary of Defense and the President, are the most at fault, for they are the warmongers ultimately responsible for funding this project of mass destruction and for dropping it upon millions of innocent civilians, and thus deserve to be “tried / for imposing fantasies and celebrations / on all life forms” (50).

For the warmongering patriarchs, it was not enough to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, instantly extinguishing the lives of millions of souls– the Nevada desert and its nearby inhabitants were their next victims. Because the U.S. government used the barren Nevada desert, devoid of life, as a testing site for nuclear weaponry, they “say that no one died” (50). Nevertheless, the desert itself is anthropomorphized into a living organism, whose “bowels melted [1000 miles into the earth]” (50). Even if the Nevada desert was devoid of living beings, the radiation that ensued from the detonations on the testing site “oozed into blood / of Shoshone and Paiute,” irreversibly polluting the territories of Indigenous nations who occupy the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada in close proximity to the testing site. In fact, the Nevada test site itself is situated in the ancestral territory of the Shoshone and Pauite peoples. In 1951, the U.S. government appropriated the territory for the sole purpose of testing nuclear weapons, at the expense of the lives of Indigenous peoples. To politicians, saving a sacred area and preserving this archeological treasure was wholly irrelevant. With 814 nuclear tests having been completed to date, the Shoshone and Paiute nations are the most bombed nations on the planet.

Although the bomb itself lasted only minutes, the “intent lasts generations / in the womb of Creation, herself” (51). The radioactivity emanating from these detonations has contributed to a high concentration of cancerous diseases, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma, in the bordering reservations. The very survival of Indigenous peoples is at stake– they have no other gene pool in the world, and exposure to nuclear radiation and the ingestion of contaminants irreversibly mutate genes. These toxic compounds remain in the body, where they are passed on from the womb onto posterity decades after the testing of nuclear weapons in the site is halted. The Nevada test site remains radioactive to this day, making it impossible for Indigenous peoples to reclaim and return to their ancestral land, and the substantial radioactive fallout from the hundreds of detonations that have taken place since the 1950s has contaminated the womb of the earth herself, poisoning her offspring for generations to come. 


“A Gathering of Spirit: North American Indian Women’s Issue.” Sinister Wisdom, no. 22-23, January 1983.

Domingo, Chris. “we all live in a tomic submarine.” Heresies, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 43

“Earthkeeping/Earthshaking.” Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Arts and Politics, vol. 4, no. 1, July 1981.

Meyette, Terri. “Celebration 1982.” Sinister Wisdom, no. 22-23, pp. 50-51.

“Nuclear War: Uranium Mining and Nuclear Tests on Indigenous Lands.” Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, September 1993, https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/nuclear-war-uranium-mining-and-nuclear-tests-indigenous. Accessed 7 December 2021.

“Earthkeeping/Earthshaking”: The Legacy of Ecofeminism in the Second Wave Feminist Movement

In 1981, the radical feminist periodical Heresies published a themed issue titled “Earthkeeping/Earthshaking,” illustrating how the domination of Mother Earth is connected to the domination of women by the patriarchy. This issue was situated in the turn of the new decade in the 1980s, when the New Right, emboldened by the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan encroached upon the environmental acts enacted in the previous decade in the 1970s. The editors determined to encompass

The necessity for feminist theory to integrate social life, history, and natural environments; the art women are doing in and about nature; the equal importance of rural and urban ecologies; the contribution of women to the growing awareness of needs of nature; the relationship between women and militarism and struggles for liberation; and the exploitation of Third World countries for profit. (2)

This issue argues that although women have been socially shackled to their biological functions through their association with Mother Earth, acknowledging the parallels between the oppression of women and nature can lead to the upheaval of patriarchal systems and a radical reversal of structures of power. 

The cover of Heresies’s themed issue titled “Earthkeeping/Earthshaking,” published in 1981.

The cover is a photograph of Mt. St. Helens because “she” is both nurturing and destructive. This ties in with why the issue is called “Earthkeeping/Earthshaking” because feminists aim to both dismantle the patriarchal system guilty of raping the Earth and protect Mother Earth from further destruction. According to Native American mythology of the Klickitat Nation, the volcano is Loo-Wit, an old woman and fire keeper who “mediated a dispute between two individuals by sharing her fire,” transforming her and the two leaders into Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens the year before in 1980 is a symbol of the “revolt of nature” because the editors know the significant role “feminist culture will play in that revolution” (2).

In the article “Energy Modes: Towards a Harmony of the Biosphere,” Lorna Salzman criticizes industrial society and its prioritization of infinite material growth at the expense of finite resources on planet earth. The utopian promises of industrialization, such as the end of poverty, disease, illiteracy, and hunger, have yet to be fulfilled, as inequities of distribution of material wealth between Western industrial society and the Third World have only increased. Salzman calls upon us to reject our religious faith in technology, which also entails “rejecting the Faustian bargain wherein we [attempt] to control the very processes of Nature” (34). Indeed, if the roots of the environmental crisis are embedded in our relationship to nature, the limits to growth and our use of the earth’s resources, then society must reject the global consumerist economy that sees the biosphere as an infinitely expanding, utilitarian resource to be exploited by mankind.

“Crucified Coyote: He Died Because of Our Sins” by Paula Nenner, printed in Heresies’s themed issue titled “Earthkeeping/Earthshaking.”

The “Crucified Coyote” is “a reaction to certain Judeo-Christian concepts which inadvertently alienated humanity from nature” when anthropocentrism became a major religious faith (Nenner 80). While Judeo-Christian traditions solely depict humans as holy figures, elevating humanity to be above and beyond the reach of empathy with the earth, other religions, such as Indigenous faiths, include animals as deities. The practitioners of these religious faiths are deeply connected to the earth and revere its inhabitants as the incarnation of god. For instance, when Native Americans hunt deer for sustenance, they pray for the soul of the fallen deer and thank the earth for helping them to survive. However, Western society treats the earth and its inhabitants as utilitarian resources to be exploited. Only when the last tree has been cut, the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, only then will mankind realize that one cannot eat money.

This special issue of Heresies, “Earthkeeping/Earthshaking,” contributed to the women’s liberation movement during its second incarnation by embracing the ecofeminist ideal that the women’s liberation movement and ecological concern are intrinsically connected, and that the only solution to end the exploitation of Mother Earth is to dismantle the patriarchy and to resurrect a culture of harmony with all living beings. This periodical contributed to the women’s liberation movement and the emerging environmental movement by laying the framework for a sustainable future envisioned by the collective power of women. By invoking the “earth’s revenge” brought about by patriarchal value systems, this publication highlights how women from all walks of life are forging a new world of harmonious reciprocity with the earth in the wake of the imminent sixth mass extinction of the Anthropocene. Today in the 21st century, when climate change threatens to end life on earth as we know it, it is more important than ever for feminists to assert an ecological perspective that recognizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and to transcend the false dualism between nature and culture. How can we transform the oppressive connection between women and nature into one that is empowering? 


“Earthkeeping/Earthshaking.” Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Arts and Politics, vol. 4, no. 1, July 1981.

“Editorial Statement 13.” Heresies, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 1

King, Ynestra. “Feminism and the Revolt of Nature.” Heresies, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 12-15.

Nenner, Paulette. “Crucified Coyote: He Died Because of Our Sins.” Heresies, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 80

Salzman, Lorna, “Energy Modes: Towards a Harmony of the Biosphere.” Heresies, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 34-36.