Posts Tagged women

Man’s Best Friend?

Let’s be real – most of us, at some point or another in our lives “hated” our parents. Don’t even try to deny it. We disliked them so much that we swore that whatever happened we would not act like them we were parents. Lord knows I was one of those children and even though I critiqued my parents for millions of things, there was one thing that upset me more than anything else. No matter how much I begged and promised to be the best daughter ever, my parents refused to get me a dog, or any pet for that matter. So cruel. Although I am now way past my rebellious stage, I still say that I will never forgive them for not allowing us to have a pet – growing up pretending my stuffed animals were alive was just not normal.

For someone who has loved animals for as long as I can remember, not having a pet felt wrong. However, it was not until this last week in my ecofeminism class that I began to think about animals and their relationship(s) to humans on a much deeper level. Throughout the class we read several texts that explored this topic, but it was Lori Gruen’s essay titled “Dismantling Oppression: An Analysis of the Connection between Women and Animals,” that resonated with me most of all. Like the other essays in Greta Gaard’s book Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature (1993), Gruen attempts to analyze the connections between women and animals, the most prominent of which seems to be their similarities as foci of oppression systems within our society. According to Gruen, the connection between women and animals it two-fold; it is both innate and socially constructed. As human beings, women are of course also animals and like all species, they are fertile and have the ability to reproduce. While this relationship is biological, there are other connections between women and animals and how they are both regarded within our patriarchal society, that have been constructed by that society itself. For example, Gruen argues that through the development of hunting within the early human race, men were able to exert their superiority and dominance over the animals they hunted. In turn, hunting further forced an association between animals and women; already physically smaller and weaker than men, women were not typically very involved in hunting, leaving the men to exert power over the powerless animals. This tie was only exemplified with the invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Not only did agriculture lead to the need of a larger population, solidifying the place of women within the home bearing children, it also led to the domestication of animals in the fields and the home. Therefore, the development of agriculture allowed men to take agency away from women by limiting them to the home and to the act of child-bearing, as well to take power further away from animals by bringing them into the home only to kill them for food later.

As most people would argue today, the domestication of animals did have the positive outcome in the establishment of pets within the home. I, myself, would agree with this of course. However, when reading this essay, I could not help but feel bothered with the fact that this same process led to the oppression of animals in the long run. Even though having pets within the home has allowed humans to develop meaningful relationships with animals, I had never considered the other effects that domestication had in the overall power balance between humans and animals. Can there be something inherently wrong with people having pets even if they are “man’s best friend”? Are we supporting the system of oppression against animals in some indirect way? After pondering these questions, I came to the conclusion that the relationships humans have with pets today are radically different from the superficial and often cruel relationships that people had with animals when they first became domesticated.

What if this was your best friend?

Nevertheless, Gruen’s article also highlighted a way in which humans and especially men within scientific fields do oppress animals, through the testing of chemical products and medicines. This semester, I took my first psychology class on animal learning and although I was fascinated to find out how humans and animals learn information, I could not help but feel uncomfortable with the means by which scientists have learned about these methods. As I saw everyday in class, scientists run experiments on animals such as rats and pigeons to figure out how they learn, in the hopes that they can address cognitive and behavioral issues in human beings. At first, the idea that “testing on animals can increase the longevity of human life” sounds reasonable and appealing. Hey, if testing on animals means that we will get to live longer and healthier lives, why would it be a bad thing? At least we are not testing on other people, right? That would be clearly immoral, plain and simple. However, on second thought, who are we to decide that testing on animals is not equally as immoral? Why is it that we have no problem killing millions and millions of animals every year in labs to improve our lives…are their lives not important too? Unfortunately, it is clear that to most people, this type of relationship with animals is justified, as long as it serves a greater purpose for the human kind. But just think about this for one minute: would you want your dog sitting with you right now to be shocked or drugged in repeated trials just so generations down the line can possibly live longer? Yes, I know that it is important to learn about humans and other aspects of our world through science but I also know that when I finally get my pet, the last thing I would do is abuse it in a lab. In my opinion, there has to be a middle ground, some sort of solution that will allow us to do both. What is that solution, you ask? I don’t know now but I want to propose the challenge for us to figure it out. At the end of the day, we test on animals mostly to see how man-made substances affect our health….why should animals have to suffer in the expense of our other mistakes?

Fight for our animals!

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The Oppression of both Animals and Women

After reading articles by Carol J Adams and Lori Gruen, I have become greatly aware of the intertwining oppression of women and animals.

I think one can begin by talking about women and make-up. First of all, society has placed a construction around this ideal of “beauty” where women must wear make-up to cover themselves in a way that makes them “more appealing”. Girls grow up in a world where they look at magazines showing advertisements for make-up to cover their “blemishes” and mascara to make their eyelashes longer and “more beautiful”. This disturbs me in so many levels that women feel this great need to conform to this view of “beauty” for the opposite sex that society poses. One shouldn’t even get started with the prices that are put on such products to make them look “more pretty”. There are many women out in the world that feel the need to put on make-up everyday because society tells them “hey, if you don’t have make up, then you aren’t pretty. Thus you don’t care about your appearance to attract and appeal to others”.

Lets look at this in an ecofeminist lens which looks at the origins of make-up. Make-up is tested on animals for example especially lipstick. Make-up is tested on all types of animals to check the “safety” which puts animals in lots of pain and after their testing they are left to die. Fortunately there are companies out there that insure human ways of testing or insure that their product was not tested on animals.


Do you really need those longer lashes to conform to societies construction of beauty? Think about the next time you put on make-up.


Animals are constantly being oppressed by ways of treatment from injections to produce more milk to chickens being kept in such a confined space that they have no room to scratch or move. Most of these animals don’t even see the sunlight and are locked in a huge warehouses. One must realize, the majority of these animals that are being oppressed are female animals. Who produces the milk? who produces the eggs? Will this make you think again when you just want a glass of milk? or the next time that you want to make eggs for breakfast? One must consider that if one isn’t vegan or a vegetarian, that one supports this form of oppression towards animals and women. What do you think?

One thing that makes me very angry, is the fact that these big companies that raise the chickens to be slaughtered and keep cows confined in small spaces, don’t even allow this to really be publicized. One can only imagine why. These chickens are so confined that they contract diseases being exposed to different bacterias while stepping on their own poop. Many of these companies just care about their profits, so these animals rights are not even taken into consideration.

What will you do to protect these chickens?

Will you think next when you go to your local food store? Will you take the organic free range eggs or the eggs that were laid by chickens with no room to move? A huge majority of the animals that are mistreated are female bodied.

I think that people need to rethink the way they look at their food. I know that organic/free range food is priced higher, but if you have the money, it’s worth it. People should protest against these companies because if you eat an animal that was injected with hormones, you will contract those same hormones just because that company wants to produce as much food and gain the most profit.

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Connections to My Body and Gender

Grande Odalisque (1814) by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres






As an Art History major, I have seen one too many female nudes in art. Although many of these works, like Jean-Auguste Dominique IngresGrande Odalisque (1814), for example, place the female as the main object of the male gaze, several artists chose to represent a different version of the woman; a woman that is strong, confident, and potentially dangerous in their sexuality. Known as the femme fatale or “fatal woman” to art historians, some artists decided to portray a woman that was so overtly beautiful that she stood as a symbol of power and danger to all her male viewers. One of the better-known representations of the femme fatale is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Lady Lilith (1868). In this painting, you see a beautiful woman sitting on the left hand side of the work, staring at herself in a hand-held mirror with vanity in her eyes. She combs her unusually long, golden, curly hair with her other hand, making it the focal point of the painting. The myth of Lilith, states that she was Adam’s female counterpart also created by God, who chose to refuse him and eventually went out to be the destroyer of children and men, with her consuming beauty. Lilith’s hair, as we see in Rossetti’s work, has been portrayed as the symbol of her overpowering femininity and sexuality.

Lady Lilith (1868) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


When I first encountered Rossetti’s painting there was something terrifying yet something very familiar to me about the image of Lilith. Although I would not consider myself to be a woman consumed with her own looks, I realized that, just like Lady Lilith, I too had a connection with my hair that defined my sexuality and my gender as a female. For as long as I can remember, I have always had long curly hair and until this day I have never allowed anyone to convince me to cut it short (which for me would be should length or even shorter). As we have been discussing gender and the notion of gender identity, or the gender you identify with and how you understand yourself in terms of that gender, in my current Ecofeminism class, it pushed me to analyze the parts of my body that I identify with my gender. Even though for some women female genitalia and other more overtly sexual parts of their bodies stand as symbol of their gender, for me it is my hair. For me, my hair is the ultimate symbol of being a female, and cutting it short would leave me insecure and incomplete. My hair, of course is not the only gendered part of my body, but to me it is the most important of them all. Ironically, I have always said that it takes a truly beautiful woman to go bald and still look stunning and I truly respect women with short hair, but for me my hair makes me female; it is my strength, confidence and my sexuality.

The attachment to my hair probably derives from my Colombian culture, where femininity and sexuality are very important to women. To put this into perspective, I must introduce you to my life-long idol and beautiful Colombian icon, Shakira. Known for her beautiful looks, peculiar voice, but overall her unstoppable hips, Shakira is the ultimate Colombian woman, a woman that I have looked up to imitated my entire life. Shakira’s physical attributes, which of course her long hair and her hips, make her the ultimate symbol of the female gender in my eyes. Like the artist, I think of my hips and my love for dance as gendered aspects of who I am. When I dance, I feel my femininity and I am completely comfortable in my body and its relationship to the people around me.



Shakira – HIps Don’t Lie

However, I am fully aware that there are people out there who do not feel completely comfortable associating with one or either gender. During my junior year of high school, I read the novel Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides, a book about a transgender man named Cal that struggles to define their his identity as well as make sense of his family’s socially “unacceptable” past.

Cover of Middlesex (2002) by Jeffery Eugenides

Through this book, and again through reading Julia Serano’s piece, “Boygasms and Girlgasms: A Frank Discussion About Hormones and Gender Differences,” I realized just how frustrating and confusing life can be for people that identify as being transgender or are unsure of their gender. Although I have never questioned my gender, there have been many times when I’ve said, “God, I wish I was born a guy and I would not care so much about anything.” Thus in Serrano’s piece where she states, “In retrospect, when testosterone was the predominant sex hormone in my body, it was as though a thick curtain were draped over my emotions…but on estrogen, I find that I have all the same emotions that I did back then, only now they come in crystal clear,” I realized that I too had been informed by social assumptions of gender that cloud the truly biological differences between the female and male genders. It was refreshing to know that many of the emotions that males and females have are not actually different but that they are just experienced differently. This distinction, among many other things, has made me even more proud of being a woman.

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Gender, Glee, & Me

Gender is usually described as your identity and traits associated with your sex. So sayeth the great and powerful Wikipedia and who am I to argue? However sex is a physical state while your gender identity is a mental one. It’s assumed in our society they match but that’s not necessarily accurate. I am lucky enough to be Cisgendered, a term that word processors do not accept but means to have a physical sex and a gender identity that coincide. It makes things easier. My identity as a daughter, where I’m assigned to live in my dorm, what products I’m expected to buy, the people I’m expected to root for in stories, all manage to fit my personal gender identity well enough that I can avoid many awkward situations and credit my less binary stereotypical tastes simply to personality.

Gender Binary: The idea that there are only two solid genders for people to have. It doesn't really work like that. Think of people as liquid not solid.

However once you get into society as a whole the concept of gender and sex not fitting together gets more confusing. There are plenty of people who don’t understand the idea that sections of themselves don’t necessarily have to coincide. Serano comments on this in chapter five of her book Whipping Girl. The questions people ask her are well intended but ultimately clueless. “Why did I feel it was necessary to physically change my body? How could I possibly know that I’d be happier as a woman when I had only ever experienced being male? If I didn’t believe that men and women were “opposite” sexes, then why change my sex at all? Unfortunately, while these are among the most common questions people ask, they are also the one’s people are the least open to hearing my answers.”

Even media that pats itself on the back for it’s handling of LGBT issues struggles with the fluid issues of gender when it comes to the T. I’m not holding a show like Glee up as a paragon of alternative identity depictions here, they are basically the worst when dealing with lesbians too, but when it comes to transgender issues they essentially ignore it as much as humanly possible.

"Bisexual people don't exist. Gay people just say that so they can walk down the hall with a girl holding hands.” - Kurt, proving this show has more issues than just this. But that's a whole new blog post. Lets just focus on his shirt.

When the club performed “Born This Way,” by Lady Gaga the break out gay character of Kurt, wearing a shirt announcing “LIKES BOYS” all out and proud like, began with the song’s spoken intro, but they cut these lyrics: “No matter gay, straight or bi,/lesbian, transgendered life/I’m on the right track baby/I was born to survive.” Now the Gleeks among you could argue it was cut for time or that the very nature of a song called “Born this Way” ignored the concept of being born into the wrong body to begin with— but this isn’t the first time Glee had pulled something like this. The pilot itself had blonde cheerleader Quinn teasing main character Rachel with “Getting ready for the tranny prom, Rachel?” The episode “Rocky Horror Glee Show” is the worst of all this. The club put on a production of, you guessed it, Rocky Horror Picture Show to demonstrate their quirkiness. The episode was clueless about basic gender brain chemistry and women’s sexualities (“Internet porn altered the female brain chemistry, making them more like men and thus more concerned with our bodies.”), had one of the characters use an incredibly rude word for people who are transgendered (“They’re just not cool with me dressing up like a tranny.”), and in the end just had the part of morally questionably Dr. Frankenfurter played by a woman singing not the original lyrics of “I’m just a sweet transvestite/from Transexual, Transylvania” but instead oddly replaced it with “I’m just a sweet transvestite/from sensational Transylvania.”  So apparently in Glee land just dressing up as a woman, when being played by a woman, is fine but the thought of a man wanting to be a woman is something to hide. No, worse than that, erase.

I would watch a show where Tim Curry and Amber Riley dressed up like this and had adventures. However in context something about this just doesn't fly.

This is the show hailed, for better or worse, for being accepting, inclusive, and progressive and this is how they treat people who are Transgender. So obviously we can conclude people, mostly people who are Cisgendered like me, have trouble even considering these issues in our society. The Glee ones above concerning the Rocky Horror Picture Show also seem to fit into the basic fundamental sexism surrounding one direction of this issue. Going back to Serano- “…one cannot help but notice how much more empowering trans male descriptions of hormone transitions sound compared to those of trans women. […] the reason for these differing connotations is obvious: in our culture , femininity and femaleness are not appreciated not valued to the extend that masculinity and maleness are.” In the Glee episode girls are explained as becoming more masculine for the joke to work. Boys dressing up as women is dismissed and ultimately avoided— leading to the impression that there is something shameful about femininity. We’re just not open to hearing what anyone who has gone through the experience really has to say when we can just make a joke about it instead. It’s considered “strange” and “unnatural”. However this clearly shows Transgender issues often hurt Cisgendered women as well.

It’s complicated. No one is arguing that it’s not complicated, and difficult, and pleasing everyone is just not going to happen. But right now very few people in mainstream media are even trying. There are people growing up right now whose identities as daughters or sons, the bathrooms they are expected to use, and the pronouns applied to them do not fit. More likely then not a large portion won’t realize they’re not alone until High School or College because their brother’s and sisters go unseen here. The joy of television is how it portrays us but here it portrays our ignorance for all to see. It’s important to educate, others and ourselves, when the situation allows it and to acknowledge all the different ways human beings can function. While gender identity and physical sex don’t always coincide being a alternative savvy decent person is a universal trait for everyone to aspire to.

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I have to start by being brutally honest. Prior to enrolling in my current Ecofeminism class, I had never encountered the term “ecofeminism.” What on earth was “ecofeminism” I thought. The ambiguity of the term was one of the main reasons I eventually decided to take the class and although I am nowhere close to understanding the complexities of the movement, it has caused me to ask myself questions I had never thought of before. As a woman, what is my opinion on gender and the way it’s molded in our society? Have there been times in my life when I have felt “oppressed” by either men or culture? Did I buy that there is a direct link between women and the environment? How much do I actually care for the empowerment of women and the well-being of our environment?

Although I can’t say that I have concrete answers for any of the questions above, I do know that the issues they raise are connected to my life, especially as a Hispanic American woman. Living as a “minority” in this country, I have experienced that hierarchies still control our everyday lives, and that there are many inequalities within our society, whether transparent or not. Throughout my life I have experienced that at times, being woman, especially a Hispanic woman, does put me at certain disadvantages in comparison to Caucasian women, let alone to Caucasian men. As a senior in college with graduation looming around the corner, the pressure of finding employment and transitioning into the “real world” is daunting.  Not only is it scary to think that we will all soon be competing for jobs in this unpromising economic situation but that as a woman, I might not be considered as a serious candidate next to my male peers. According to a report issued by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, even though the “Gender Wage Gap” has decreased significantly in the last six decades, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly earnings in 2010 was approximately 81%. This means that even if I do find employment after graduation, I may not be paid as much as a male peer pursuing the same field. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but to me, there is something inherently wrong with that fact.

Graph showing the Gender Wage Gap from the Institute for Women's Policy Research

Now, the other component to Ecofeminism is the injustices done to the environment, which is argued to be oppressed by culture in similar ways that men dominate women. When considering my views about nature and the environment, I realized that I associate with this aspect of the movement much less. Yes, I do recycle, but the main reason for my separation from the environment comes from growing up and still living in New York City. Although I will always argue that NYC is the best city in the world, analyzing it through ecofeminist lens made me realize that it encompasses many aspects that ecofeminists are against.

My friend and I enjoying a Summer night in Times Square, New York City.

As a New Yorker, I have to admit that I have been soaked into the fast-paced culture of the city, controlled by technology and constant consumption. I had to ask myself: am I wrong for participating in this “cosmopolitan” lifestyle? Was I thus supporting forms of oppression to the environment and to my own gender?

As I begin to wrestle with these issues, there is one component of Ecofeminism that I struggle with the most. In Andy Smith’s piece, “Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework,” she begins by quoting Karen J. Warren’s idea that, “All feminists must also oppose any isms of domination that are maintained and justified by that logic of domination.” According to Warren and Smith, ecofeminists should not only be concerned with the oppression of women and nature but with all forms of oppression. While I understand this argument, it highlights one of the movement’s biggest issues that we discussed in our last class, that of Inclusion v. Exclusion. If what Warren and Smith argue is valid, is there any hierarchy or injustice that would not be included in the ecofeminist critique? Furthermore, if ecofeminists choose to stand against all forms of oppression is the name “ecofeminism” now inaccurate? It looks like for now, I am only left with even more questions to ponder.

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My Take On Ecofeminism Unpacked: In 3 Parts

To start, this is my first blog so with any luck all of my subsequent ones will be more and more bearable. Disclaimer: all of my blogs will inevitably come from a somewhat biased, somewhat privileged standpoint, which I will attempt to overcome to make my point. I am going to tackle the prompt in three parts; I feel this will be the best way for me to tackle each topic in it adequately.

Environment: I once went to an island in the Chesapeake Bay called Smith Island. Among other experiences, one that sticks out in my mind is, after a day filled with crab raking and close calls with the local bird population, one of the men piloting our little clipper boat turned to us and remarked that there had been a large decline in the herring population due to the cosmetic industry. The pearl-essence found in most modern make up that gives it it’s shimmery quality is actually derived from the scales of these fish, so with the rise in demand came a distinct drop in supply. We do this sort of thing all of the time though without even thinking about it. Pollution run-off poisons both the land and the organisms that reside in it, deforestation destroys the homes of millions of animals while the loosened sediment is washed into streams and rivers destroys aquatic ecosystems, we blow up whole sections of the Appalachian Mountains for coal. As a people we have an astoundingly consistent record of carelessly destroying the areas we inhabit. We have a very imperialist attitude, which allows us to believe that it is ok for us to dominate the world around us to fit our needs at any expense. As was mentioned here [] we have adopted the mindset that the “environment is valueless unless it has something to offer to keep the capitalist system running.” I understand the environment as a resource that must be preserved and respected if we are to survive as a species.


Nature: I see nature as the connection between humans and the environment, the intersection where we all meet. Thoreau says: “The scenery, when truly seen, reacts on the life of the seer.” We influence nature and nature in turn influences us right back. If we abuse or ignore nature the life it sustains will shrivel up and fade away, however if we nurture and respect our natural surroundings, the way many early civilizations did [], then we will have a much healthier existence. A lot of ecofeminists take up the mantle of environmental protection of nature because they see how its degradation is so closely linked to their own. Toxicity, cancer, global warming, and other issues plaguing modern society today are in fact a direct result of human beings ignorant assumption that their actions will both reap a profit and have no consequences. We have, in one way or another, screwed up some aspect of nature, whether it’s anything from the atmosphere to our water supply, which is now impacting our own health. Ecofeminists must acknowledge this privilege of our society, especially in America, that blinds us to the plight of nature. I understand nature as the weaving together of natural values and those of our own society.

Gender: The discussion of ecofeminism can never be complete until the topic of gender is brought forward. This topic holds a special place with me because I believe it is an issue that is highly interconnected with every aspect of our society due to the completely gendered way in which we frame our lives. We live in a very hetero-normative, patriarchal society and therefore a lot of bias towards issues stem from there. Breaking away from ecology for a second, women are faced with these biases on a day-to-day basis. Woman are paid less, Women are discriminated against in the workplace, in society, in their own schools, homes, and even beds. Now I am not saying that this degradation is always visible or even detectable when it first occurs, but take a step back and a pattern emerges. Moving to biology, women are told that they must look a certain way, behave a certain way, and believe a certain way. This is seen in everything from media messages to religious doctrine, even basic biological processes like sex and parenthood have to certain degrees become degrading to woman. I believe this is why woman find such a clear connection between their own struggles and those for the environment. One of theses connecting issues that we discussed in class was colonization. In his essay Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, Andy Smith states that “with colonization begins the domination of women and the domination of nature (Warren, 22). This idea is that when we, as a society, believe that we can dominate an entire culture, body of land, or group of people we are creating the imperialistic idea that one groups lives are more valuable than others. As I stated in the Environment section of this post, we have, in todays society taken a very capitalistic approach to our treatment of others. The Fair Trade Act, for example has led to the creation of maquiladoras along the Mexican side of the border, where poor woman are the majority of the workforce and hundreds of them go missing or are found dead, raped, and mutilated, scattered across the desert without a second glass, with no protest or investigation from either the US or Mexican government. Connecting back to nature and our environment, women often become the sole activists for nature due to how closely these issues disrupt their own lives. For example, Dorceta Taylor draws attention to this connection, in her essay Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism, when she states: “Their [women of color] communities, some of the most degraded environments in this country, are the repositories of waste products of capitalist production and excessive consumption.” I see Gender as a feminist struggle to overcome norms and free all sides of the spectrum from oppression.

Ok, those are the thoughts swirling around my head currently. I apologize for the length, I am a first time blogger and I believe with time I will improve on condensing.

Thanks, Jessica Libowitz.


Taylor, Dorceta E. Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism. Ed. Karen Warren and Nisvan Erkal. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. Print.

Smith, Andy. Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature. Ed. Karen Warren and Nisvan Erkal. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. Print.

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Being vegan means more than just “Saving the animals!” or “Saving the Earth!” It’s not just about being a PETA member or choosing a diet that is environmentally sustainable and will give you a great looking body. After reading Lori Gruen’s piece “Women and Animals” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature” I came to understand that abstaining from eating animals in one’s diet is also an ecofeminist action. In her essay, Gruen explores patriarchy’s connection of women and animals, saying that men have historically considered both to be “tools devoid of feelings, desires, and interests,” creating a distinction of women and animals both as different from and inferior to man. Ultimately, this separation links the oppressed entities to the other and justifies man’s infliction of pain and death onto both, whether manifested as factory farming or sexual violence.

I’ve been vegan for about six months now. I originally became vegan for health reasons; for me personally, clearing out all of the edible “clutter” helped me to see what was actually nutritional and my diet became much more balanced. Before reading Gruen’s article I had never considered my dietary decision, which as one with ecofeminist implications. When I refuse to consume animal products (meat, eggs, dairy and its derivatives), I am rejecting the historical, interlocking oppression of women and animals. Women are not animals, to be used and abused for the sake of man. Nor should human interaction with animals be devoid of respect.

A vegan diet is an interesting ecofeminist action, although not easy for all to access because of class distinctions. Yes, it has environmental impact by reducing the amount of carbon, water, oil, and other aspects of land and energy to produce the food a vegan consumes. Yes, it means less violence against animals. It also has other ethical and philosophical implications, which Ramsay Pierce, a fellow Ecofeminist blogger, talks about in one of her posts. Being vegan is so clearly ecofeminist because it involves all of these different intersections, but also because it inherently rejects the patriarchal, destructive linkage of women and animals.

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WWWD? What Would Women Do?

Hundreds of millions of women and girls are currently trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, with limited resources and choices.  In fact, as I learned in class, 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in the deepest level of poverty worldwide are women.  This provides a dilemma when considering who will face the costs of climate change first.  The fact is that women are carrying the burden of climate change consequences – climate change is not gender neutral. This consequently has a ripple effect that impacts entire communities and countries socially, economically, and environmentally.  This relationship between population and the environment are inextricably connected and they affect each other on many levels, starting with an increased use of resources.

There is not always one solution, but ethically combating climate change with education is an important step.  A girl has not control over her life when she lives in poverty.  Yet, an educated woman will less likely be faced with HIV, youth marriages and pregnancy, and hunger.  Without all of these pressures, she is able to thrive.  Education will lead to the knowledge of family planning and empowerment, and thus be able to control when they are having children and how often.  She can give more attention to the children already has.  She will more likely encourage them to go to school as well. They can build a life that does not revolve around the vicious cycle of poverty. The girl effect.

Putting aside the fact that educating poverty-stricken girls to improve their lifestyle, what does this have to do with environment? The growth of population has been inextricably linked to deforestation and the decline of fresh water availability.  However, women have great adaptive capacity and are essential as leaders.  If a woman’s life is changed simply by education, her resilience will spread to her community. Women are most often the population gathering domestic resources for her family – she is seeing the effects of population increase on the resources she depends on to sustain her family.  Women can create the adaptive and mitigation changes that are needed in the world; they just need the appropriate resources, starting with the education and promotion of women.

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Women are guardians of agro-biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa

Women and biodiversity are not terms often considered to be associated with one another.  However, women in sub-Saharan Africa are often the protectors of biodiversity and have a very developed understanding of the medicinal and nutritional uses of a plethora of rare wild and cultivated plants. Biodiversity is fundamental for the continued growth, sustainability, and vitality of individuals and communities across the globe. Women, especially in developing nations, are most vulnerable to changes in biodiversity and at the same time most capable of protecting and retaining biodiversity because they often work the hardest and are the family care-takers. In African tradition, women always eat last and are the first to sacrifice their food portion for their children in scarce times. According The Hunger Project, “women bear the brunt of domestic tasks: processing food crops, providing water and firewood, picking fruit, preparing and cooking food, caring for children, the elderly and the sick” (The Hunger Project, 3).  Women have the know-how and the potential to protect biodiversity, whose disappearance has and will increasingly contribute to and exacerbate global climate change.

Photo taken in Mbeya, Tanzania. November 2009

Women produce more than 80% of sub-Saharan Africa’s food (80% of the continent’s population relies on subsistence farming), which means that these women have incredible potential leverage over agricultural sustainability, regional stability, and output when inputs are accessible and available. But faced with international competition, technology, and western farming practices such as monoculture cultivation, women are faced with a serious dilemma where they often sacrifice their role as seed “guardians” and pillars of the family. “Women, through their uses of natural resources for building, cultivating, breeding, nourishing and healing, have preserved biological diversity and developed knowledge of possible uses of biodiversity, which have been transmitted from generation to generation, helping to enhance livelihood security” (Deda, 201). For them, “local varieties, with a higher variance of traits, [are] less susceptible to the frequent droughts” (FAO, 10). Women have safe-guarded the local, traditional or indigenous knowledge. For example they know which plants are best for drought-prone years, which have medicinal values, higher nutritional content, or are better suited for cooking (FAO, 8). Women have passed their developed understanding of the earth and its life-forces to further generations, each time adapting their understanding to changing environments to ensure their survival.

The disappearance of biodiversity is closely linked with climate change and can actually be a solution to combating this dilemma (Convention, 2). According to the FAO, “Agrobiodiversity is the result of the interaction between the environment, genetic resources and management systems and practices used by culturally diverse peoples”… “it is the human activity of agriculture that shapes and conserves this biodiversity” (FAO, 1). At the UN conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, biological diversity along with climate change and desertification constituted the main points on the agenda. The FAO recognized in 1999 that 75% of global genetic plant diversity had been lost and that 60% of the calories and proteins we humans consume are from only three grains: maize, rice, and wheat (FAO, 3). The Hunger Project estimates that “just twelve crops and fourteen animal species now provide most of the word’s food” (3). The principle cause for the loss of genetic biodiversity is due to the substitution of native varieties with supposedly high-yielding cash-crop seeds (FAO, 5). Vandana Shiva writes that monocultures and industrial agriculture, a patriarchal and unsuccessful farming method, requires more expensive inputs and are not higher-yielding when weighted with the input costs (Shiva, 12-13). “Agrobiodiversity contributes to the achievement of sustainable livelihoods as it is an essential element of the natural resource base” (Building on Gender, 18). This, furthermore, contributes to a more stable income and better means for women to improve their children’s lifestyles and redirect their energy to ameliorating their family’s livelihoods as well as their own. However, women in sub-Saharan Africa today must step back once again as genetically modified and high-yielding varieties from western countries flood their seed pools. As Deda writes, women own less than 2% of the land and therefore have little incentive in the long-term to maintain agricultural biodiversity today (202).  A question that may be asked is whether genetic engineering and high-yielding seed varieties jeopardize the value of women in local sub-Saharan cultures.

I can conclude from my research that agrobiodiversity is more than just an environmental issue. It has an important human component that extends far beyond food security. Vandana Shiva writes about the cultural importance of biodiversity: “The diversity of soils, climates, and plants has contributed to a diversity of food cultures across the world. The maize-based food systems of Central America, the rice-based Asian systems, the teff-based Ethiopian diet, and the millet-based foods of Africa are not just a part of agriculture; they are central to cultural diversity” (Shiva, 21). The IFPRI estimates that an additional “ year of primary education provided to all women farmers would boost maize yields by 24 Percent” (The Hunger Project, 2). Women are key to ensuring sub-Saharan Africa’s resiliency to the upcoming effects of climate change by protecting their local biodiversity and therefore the sustainability and vitality of their communities.

 Works Cited:

Convention on Biological Diversity. (2009) Biodiversity, Gender and Climate Change. Accessed November 7, 2010 on the COP 15 Copenhagen website:

Deda, Paola and Renata Rubian. (2004). Women and Biodiversity: the long journey from users to policy-makers.  Natural Resources Forum 28. 201-204. Retrieved from the online Wiley Library on November 7, 2010:

Easton, Peter and Margaret Ronald.  (2000, August 23) Seeds of Life: Women and Agricultural Biodiversity in Africa. World Bank: IK Notes. No. 23. Retrieved from the World Bank website on November 7, 2010:

FAO. (2002). Building on Gender, Agrobiodiversity and local knowledge. Accessed November 7, 2010 on the FAO website:

Shiva, Vandana (2000). Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

The Hunger Project. Factsheet: (2008, October 21). Women Farmers and Food Security. Accessed November 7, 2010 on The Hunger Project website:

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