Thinking with... ecofeminism

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

'Ecofeminism is the movement in which feminists bring their friend nature to the political table' - Denise Varney, 2018

Some of the rubbish collected for Call Us Angels. Photo Credit: Charlotte Discombe.

I have been avoiding writing about the complicated relationship between Call Us Angels and ecofeminism. I am scared of ecofeminism. Having started in the 70s, picking up momentum in the 90s, ecofeminism has a long and complicated history. I am still uncertain as to how or where Call Us Angels fits into this history. This is my chance to try to work out whether Call Us Angels is an ecofeminist project, whether it wants to be categorised as an ecofeminist project, and question whether and how Call Us Angels has used ecofeminism to think about the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis.


Let's get started!

I want to start by explaining what ecofeminism is. Denise Varney, professor of theatre studies, culture and communication at Melbourne University (Australia) states that 'ecofeminism is the movement in which feminists bring their friend nature to the political table' (2018). In summary then, ecofeminism is a combination of both feminist and ecological issues. Ecofeminists often state that women experience similar subjugation to nature under the rule of the capitalist patriarchy (Kelly, 1997). Ecofeminism therefore fights for the rights of women and nature, aiming to change the male-dominated system that encourages deforestation, pollution of the Earth's seas and atmosphere and continued inequality for many women around the world (Kelly, 1997).


The relationship between women and nature seems tricky to me, and is perhaps one of the reasons why I have been so hesitant to categorise Call Us Angels as an ecofeminist project. Many ecofeminists like Clare Dubois, founder of the charity Treesisters, believe that women have a special relationship to nature (Treesisters, 2020). This is not just because women and nature experience similar subjugation. Women give birth and are therefore often viewed as nurturers. Women also experience fluctuation and changes to their bodies during menstruation and menopause, connecting with the fluctuation and changes in nature (seasons, weather and growth e.t.c). Viewing women as having this special relationship to nature has become an excuse to limit their role in society. As Kate Rigby, professor of environmental humanities, states, 'the association of women and nature was a key element in patriarchal ideology that served to legitimate women's exclusion from the public sphere and their confinement to the home' (1998). It seems that, counter to its aims, ecofeminism harmed the progression of women's rights by assuming this special relationship to nature. If this really is the case, why would I want Call Us Angels to be categorised as an ecofeminist project? Although Call Us Angels explores the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis, the project aims to empower and inform all types of women, not just those interested in the environment and nature. What's more, Call Us Angels certainly doesn't aim to suggest that women have a special relationship to nature, instead emphasising the impact climate change and the ecological crisis will have on women around the world, as well as illustrating the need to work through these issues together with the rest of society.

Woodlands by the lake. Photo Credit: Wix.

As the world begins to wake up to the impact climate change and the ecological crisis is already having on society, it seems necessary to me that we revive ecofeminism and attempt to remove it from this limiting special relationship - particularly as women will be disproportionately impacted by these crises. In recent years, it seems that women are becoming the leaders in ecological activism and it was this realisation that led me to develop Call Us Angels into the project it is today. Even though women are becoming leaders in climate change activism, this does not mean however that women should be solely responsible for trying to solve these crises. Academics Lara Stevens, Peta Tait and Denise Varney make an important case for being wary of shoehorning women into the role of the 'climate change solvers'. They state that by encouraging women to take on this role, 'it might be seen as merely another excuse for women's needs and desires to be subsumed, this time under the greater good of a healthy biosphere' (2018). If we allow this to happen, women will once again be left to clean up the mess of this male-dominated world. Women will be limited to a global clean up effort, taking domestication out of the home and onto the streets worldwide. A diverse range of women's issues will be swept under the carpet in favour of saving the world.


This was another one of my worries about categorising Call Us Angels as an ecofeminist project, particularly as the project itself involves many domesticated tasks like going around and picking up other people's trash, and washing this trash. It has also been why I have been considering what it means to solely aim Call Us Angels at female participants. Although the Instagram page and website is open to all, the making of the litter wings has always been specifically for those who identify as women (or womxn). Have I allowed Call Us Angels to fall into this stereotype of ecofeminism that limits a women's role to 'Guardian Angels', saviours and nurturers of the world? By excluding men from physically making trash wings, am I placing the burden of the ecological crisis on the shoulders of women? I have always been transparent about the need to give voice to the many (both female and male), in order to collaboratively work through the issues climate change and the ecological crisis are bringing up. Being transparent about this helps, but it does not necessarily mean Call Us Angels has been successful in avoiding placing the burden of the ecological crisis into women's hands.


I just hope the project provides a space for women to voice their ideas and concerns regarding the ecological crisis in a world where white, male voices are often more predominant. I hope that women who make their own trash wings, physically take up public space and feel the power I felt when wearing my own trash wings.

'Ecofeminism is by no means a position or theory, but simply a wide open field of enquiry. [It is more than] simply a naive form of feminine nature worship' - Freya Mathews, 1991

A lot has happened to the ecofeminist movement within recent years. Academia is turning to ecofeminism once again to find ways of thinking about the ecological crisis in more inclusive ways (Varney, 2018). Twenty-nine years ago, academic Freya Mathews stated that 'ecofeminism is by no means a position or theory, but simply a wide open field of enquiry' (1991). I love this definition of ecofeminism. Although we cannot forget ecofeminism's somewhat tarnished past, a turn towards an open field of enquiry gives me hope that this movement may allow for several female voices to be heard. This has always been an aim of many ecofeminists, like Robin Morgan who reflected 'what if women in the developed nations realised there was no need to "teach" [...] their sisters in developing countries, but understood that there was a great deal to learn [...] from them' (Morgan, 1984). I want to steal this part of ecofeminism, to evolve my scepticism of ecofeminism, to encourage, listen and learn from many female voices and allow this to continue to grow Call Us Angels. I want THIS type of ecofeminism to be present in Call Us Angels, to use ecofeminism as a mode of exploring, to understand that there will be many different solutions needed to tackle the ecological crisis. Is this possible without bringing along previous ecofeminist's attempts to solidify a special relationship to nature and not consider the limiting impact this special relationship has had for many women? I'm not sure. However, as Call Us Angels continues to grow, continues to gain more angels with many different voices, I hope I will finally feel more confident to categorise Call Us Angels ecofeminist...


... because Call Us Angels is an open enquiry.

it does explore women's issues and female empowerment.

it does highlight the need to tackle the ecological crisis.

it is evolving the way I understand ecofeminism.

it is evolving the way I talk about ecofeminism.

it might even be ecofeminist.


What do you think?

Work Referenced:


Kelly, Petra. 'Women and Power'. Ecofeminism: women, culture, nature, eds. Karen J. Warren, Indiana: Indiana UP, 1997, pp.112-119.


Mathews, Freya. The Ecological Self, London: Routledge, 1991.


Rigby, Kate. 'Women and Nature revisited: ecofeminist reconfigurations of an old association'. Arena Journal, No.12, 2017, pp.143-169.


Stevens, Lara et. al. 'Introduction: "street-fighters and philosophers": traversing ecofeminisms'. Feminist Ecologies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp. 1-22.


Treesisters. 'Why Women?'. Treesisters, 2020, https://treesisters.org/why-women,, (Accessed: 2020).


Varney, Denise. 'Climate Guardian Angels: feminist ecology and the activist tradition'. Feminist Ecologies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp. 135-154.

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