ecofeminism, Sara Buraya

narrator Sara Buraya
term ecofeminism
published February 2020, Madrid
affiliated institution Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

A feminisation of geopolitics?  / Feminising geopolitics

When we reflect on the term of geopolitics we deal with some of the most traditional and patriarchal notions of power. It makes us think of political power and the historical relation of state, nation, and material wealth, with the domination of territories and the people that inhabits them. On the contrary, I would like to propose a change of this meaning and to offer a view of how geopolitics, given its etymology (politics of earth), should be indeed connected with the idea of what ecofeminism calls, the sustainability of life [1].

 

In this text, I will propose ecofeminism as a possibility to “feminise” the notion of GEOPOLITICS. And when I refer to feminisation here, it does not mean to stress what the female subject could bring to the field, nor means to reinforce the binary division of biological subjects (cis-male and cis-women). Instead, this attempt is related to the strong debates caused by the arrival of feminist politicians to the public sphere. As the feminist activist Justa Montero states [2]: “Feminising politics requires looking at the interpretation that the feminist movement makes of the needs and proposals of women, placing them at the center of the social, cultural and political agenda. It is to make feminist policies, to build another meaning of what is the policy that addresses and relates the micro and the macro, the personal and the political, sexuality and the TTIP, nursery schools and pensions, and all women and LGBTIQ+ people in its diversity. It is definitely a change in the idea of politics itself, often identified only as institutional policy.”

 

In a world devastated by ecological disaster and political injustice, in which big corporations are supported by neoliberal governments and fueled by social inequality, the alliance of feminism and ecologism has to do with the possibility of changing the heading of a whole planet, with the scope of allowing life of human and non-human generations of the future. Two hundred years of feminisms and six decades of ecologism converge in the asseveration that there will be no future at all without the guarantee of a new social contract, that requires radical transformations.

 

Maybe now it is the time to reformulate social sciences from an intersectional gaze, that should not ignore the diverse coordinates that need to be considered. Maybe we should contribute to feminise geopolitics. Here, ecofeminism could be a key to seed a bit of hope.

 

Ecofeminism because...

First of all, I believe that the feminist movement is one of the most potent political projects of our present time, and it is constantly producing knowledge and new strategies of resistance to confront the different ways of oppression of this neoliberal era.

 

And secondly, because ecologism is a space of action that points out that we are going through a multidimensional economic and ecological crisis which roots are also found in social reproduction, political legitimacy and the failure of traditional values.

 

Both activisms represent, somehow, two political subjects that have being reshaped in the collective militancy of a new generation that today yells “our house is on fire” [3].

 

Despite the obvious gravity of the situation, it seems that until recently it has been politically and socially unnoticed. According to the anthropologist and ecofeminist activist Yayo Herrero, beyond its nature of critical thinking, ecofeminism is also a social movement that analyzes the capitalist-ecocide-patriarchal and colonial system we live in, and it is trying to revert the hierarchical culture that considers that some lives are worth more than others. [4]

 

Following Herrero, we cannot deny that from the moment we are born, we are ecodependent and also interdependent (notion widely used by intersectional feminisms). She also states that the very possibility of existence came from the practices of care, sustain the material conditions, and lastly from giving and receiving affection. Elements all that represent both feminist and ecologist practices.

 

So how can we put in the center [5] these practices to analyze the concept of another possible geopolitics? [6]

 

Artistic approaches to keep life alive

As on many occasions in the past, artistic sensibility has proved to be a crucial tool when trying to expand ontologies that seemed, at first glance, immutable and set in stone. I want to bring some examples to the table.

 

Planta Performance. Love At First Sight Festival, TONEELHUIS,  Antwerp, 21 september 2019. Photography: Dries Segers

 

The work developed by the International research group Planta is dedicated to the articulation of situated practices, that reflect on the relationship between humans and plants. Their research on, with and for plants is activated with different constellations. As they say in the statement, they are artists, dancers, choreographers, plant carers, activists, feminists, fermenters, kin makers, witches, radical faeries, ecosexuals, pole dancers, friends, lovers, animals, symbionts… Planta is a choreographed installation for plants and humans by a group of dancers and plants. Their bodies relate to movement, words, and affect, using queer methodologies, creating a space for cohabitation. It is a celebration of performance as the art of encounters between humans and non-humans outside of normativity.

 

“We think with knowledge-as-humus*. We are dedicated to the ubiquitous queer knowledges embodied in the entangled performances of the myriad earthlings. Plants and humans are continually affecting/becoming affected by one another in their inter(intra)active becomings*. And they are simultaneously shaping and being shaped by a tentacular web of other coworkers...” [7] following Donna Haraway recent imaginaries, we see developed in Fabrizio Terranova’s documentary film [8].

 

Planta’s work consists of an old ritual that puts a spell on us so we can open again our senses. Senses we used as part of a communication channel that used to be fluid but is now closed. With their dances, looping echoes, and strange flows that move back and forth to and from the plants placed in the center, the collective incites us to surround them, to feel in a different way on their presence, and with their interaction.

 

This approach to non-human life is different from traditional ecologism. What Planta proposes is to perform affected practices with those plants. They proclaim they care of them, they feel them, they feel affection for them. In their work, we can hear echoes of the Ecosex Manifesto [9], by the post-porn star and sex activist Annie Sprinkle and her partner Beth Simons. Sprinkle and Simmons proposes the eco-sex practices (rituals that imply touching, making love, marriage and so on, with nature) which intersect environmental activism with sexual identity, as a way of defending the planet through love, pleasure, affection and sensual connection with the earth. 

 

After the global waves of the last 8th of March, and the massive uprising of new young ecoactivist movements as Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future, it could look almost negationist to deny that new political subjects and imaginaries are emerging. These movements show great strength but are always based on non-violent protest strategies. Here we may see the similarities between artists and activists, for they both are part of this new rising tide, and together they bring diverse approaches to the mentioned global problematics.

 

Ecofeminist political struggle

The first links between feminism and ecology were established right after several scandals as a result of the use of pesticides, such as the denounces of biologist Rachel Carson, that published in 1962 her book Silent Spring [10], that at the time was considered the bible of ecologism.

 

But the term “ecofeminism” was created by Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1974 in her book Le féminisme ou la mort [11], in which she analyzed the correlation of the world overpopulation and its ecological implications, with the absence of women’s reproductive rights and how they were denied of control over their own bodies. With this visionary new concept, d'Eaubonne came with a name for practices of resistance and disobedience that had actually started years before, and was also proposing a concrete interpretation of how patriarchal domination was the origin not only of women’s subjugation, but of the contemporary environmental destruction as well. This new concept was born as a response to the appropriation of both agriculture and control of reproduction, or in other terms, the reproductive work made by nature (material reproduction) and by women (social reproduction).

 

Women and childrenof the Chipko Movement in a protest. Photography, 1973. Source: World Rainforest Movement.

 

A few years before, Vandana Shiva and another activist of the Chipko movement, in India, were developing a compendium of practices that have remained as the paradigm of non-violent protest. The movement crystalised the struggled against the felling of the forests and the clearing of the new lands for extensive monoculture agriculture and grazing, which were destroying the resources and the traditional forms of exploitation and communal management of the land. The activists inside this movement (mostly women and children), achieved to protect communal forest just by the practices of embracing trees, in a collective act of caring in which all bodies were as one, together with the trees.

 

This implies the idea of the embodiment of politics. The potentiality of these practices and the images they generated travelled all over the world. They expressed an urgency to act, to protect what at that time begun to be conceived as a common good that was taken from us by capitalism. The Environment. 

 

In the 70s some conceptual artists were dealing with this embodiment of nature and politics, using visionary metaphors of what we can nowadays read as feminist paradigms. We may find them in Ana Mendieta’s earth body works [12], or in several works of the Catalonian artist Fina Miralles [13] such as Dona-arbre [Woman tree], that alludes very poetically to the situation of women tied to social roles that keep them from moving forward.

 

At that point ecofeminism was somewhat criticised for having an essentialist approach that entailed an idea of women as an almost mystically or spiritually being linked to nature. Nonetheless, in the following decades, ecofeminism kept exploring new intersections between feminisms and social justice.

 

Territories, land, labour, bodies. The logics of extractivism

In the 80s and 90s, with the emergence of new neoliberal forms of economy, capitalism developed more profound and precise ways to capture raw materials and bodies needed for the extraction of what is only consider “resources”.

 

And these resources never ran out, they were supposed to be inexhaustible, something of which the privileged subject of the Global North could dispose at will.

 

Extractivism was a colonial practice of exploitation that started in the XVI and XVII centuries as a way of domination of territories and their communities, by the enslavement of the originary population. Mining, for instance, was a key economic activity of the Spanish colonialism, and today, not by chance, it is a very profitable enterprise, now controlled by transnational corporations that have very advance and accurate technological systems to extract those same resources. 

 

Mapa Teatro [14]  presented in 2019 at Reina Sofia an “etno-fiction”, an exhibition-intervention called Of Lunatics, or Those Lacking Sanity [15] and the performance lecture, The Living Museum [16]. In their works, they create a narrative that links the colonial past with the actual work of some little familiar companies, that still maintain traditional ways of extraction used in the Spanish domination period. Paradigmatically, they try to survive with that old Master’s tools, that indeed are less harmful to the environment, but of course produce less competitive pace.

 

Artist Elena Lavellés presented in November 2018 at Matadero Madrid the exhibition (F)Actors en Route, with three works that analyzed how extractivism affects the social ecology and the communities around it: the extraction of the mineral Ouro Preto, “black gold”, within the state of Minas Gerais, Brasil; the oil extraction in Ciudad del Carmen, in the Gulf of Mexico; and the extraction, and very contaminating transportation process of coal in Powder River Basin, in the UUEE [17].

 

During the exhibition’s opening there was a performance by dramaturgs Jana Pacheco and Xus Martínez, inspired by the work of Lavellés. As the pictures shows, we could see two women standing, dressed in female dresses that resembled those same mine workers clothes, and they were struggling with the sand placed in the floor of the room, eating it, generating quite disturbing sounds and images. They were reclaiming the figures of the miner's wives, who do not go down to the mine, but who must clean the clothes manually, clothes full of toxic and contaminating remains. They, miners' wives, are making a work that is completely invisible, but is an essential part that contributes to perform the men’s duty, an additional task put on top of the traditional everyday’s chores such as house cleaning, food elaboration and so forth. That care work that is indispensable for any human activity.

 

Dhaka Savar Building Collapse on the 24 April 2013. Photo wikimedia.

 

Connected to all this, it is also significative how textile industry summarise the aggressive exploitation of both nature and bodies. With the manufacturing of textiles, capitalism began to expand and to create rhizomatic strategies to increase production and to imbricate life, labour and identity with profit as the only possible scope. The images of the tragedy occured at the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka (Bangladesh), shocked the entire world that day in 2013, when an eight-floor building collapsed, killing 1130 workers of the textile industry, employed by corporations like Inditex and El Corte Inglés, among others [18]. Those that disappeared were mostly women, since textile is a very feminised industry, in which children are often semi-slave labor. The images were not telling only the story of the collapsing of a building, but about the collapse of a whole system, that can no longer sustain life itself.

 

Today, in the context of the new rise of feminisms as an intersectional struggle and a globally articulated movement that goes beyond the essentialist subject “women”, ecofeminist thinkers and activists are denouncing the new alliances formed between capitalism, colonialism and patriarchal exploitation.

 

The case of the women, temporary workers of the strawberries in Huelva (Spain), is a very precise example of the complexity of the interconnections of subjection of bodies, territories and natural resources, to a logic of total exploitation. In the last years, these women have denounced sexual abuse and horrible threats from their employers, small local agricultural entrepreneurs. After some time, it became widely known the lack of gender perspective in the recruitment procedures and working conditions, and the opacity when managing the information about how many women work in this sector, or how do they live while they perform their work. This system is called the “recruitment in the origin”. In Morocco, thousands of women are hired to work in the fields of Spain and Italy. Spanish companies go to Rabat and decide there the working conditions directly with the State’s Government. The classic profile of a strawberry worker is a woman under 40, married and with children under 14 years old. A profile designed to discourage the temptation to leave her country behind and stay in Spain. [19]

 

El coste de la fresa. Acción denuncia [The cost of strawberry. Action announcement]. Poster of a protest by Red Solidaria de Acogida in Madrid on 17 June 2018.

 

Organisations such as Ecologistas en Acción have been denouncing how massive monoculture of red fruits Huelva is devastating water reserves and making enormous transformations in the environment. But to Yayo Herrero, the problem resides not only in a lack of healthy protocols, but it is a structural problem that has to do with the notion of production itself, with the transformation of agriculture in an industrial process, focused on the maximisation of profit, exploiting people and nature alike in a patriarchal context. [20]

 

One global body

According to Verónica Gago [21], in recent years we can see a global articulation of feminisms as politics that make the body of one, the body of all. The body as a transnational territory, is today object again of new colonial conquests, and allows us to connect the archive of feminist struggles with struggles related to the autonomy of the territories. This body of all feminised bodies is a somato-political archive, following Paul B. Preciado, that has inscribed itself in it the narrative of the History of power, but also of subversion and resistance [22].

 

The Feminist strike of past 8Ms is a trap for capitalism and patriarchy because is not only a strike consisting of the cease of work activity, but also a strike also focused on the concept of not consuming, and not caring either. This degrowth attitude operates as a whole statement, and the strike allows us to make visible the different forms of work: precarious, informal, domestic, migrant, not as a complementary or subsidiary work, but as the key element of the current ways of exploitation and extraction [23]. And it also highlights the difference between who can and who cannot stop.

 

Ecofeminism show us the potential connection that links the body and the subject, located or inserted in a territory that is physical, social and affective, and relates to the world surrounding it. Everything is interweaved, from the molecular to the global, connecting different emancipatory practices in diverse geopolitical contexts.

[1] Understood as interaction between the care of people and the care of the environment. For different approaches to this notion see “Experiencias, ámbitos y vínculos cooperativos en el sostenimiento de la vida” [Experiences, fields and cooperative bonds in sustaining live], in Cuidado, comunidad y común. Extracciones, apropiaciones y sostenimiento de la vida [Care, community and common. Extractions, appropriations and sustainability of live], Eds. Martínez Buján, Raquel; Paredes Chauca, Myriam; Vega Solís, Cristina. Madrid: Traficantes de sueños, 2019.

[2] Montero, Justa, “Feminizar la política”, [Feminising Politics], in Viento Sur. December 2016. https://vientosur.info/spip.php?article11970 (accessed April 2019).

[3] Thunberg, Greta, excerpt from her speech at Davos 25 January 2019. Published in Cambiemos el mundo [Let’s change the world]. Barcelona: Lumen, 2019. 52-62

[4] Herrero, Yayo, La vida en el centro. Voces y relatos ecofeministas [Life in the center. Ecofeminist voices and stories]. Barcelona: Libros en acción, 2018. 13-39

[5] This notion is been developed by ecofeminism and it means give centrality on practices and debates, to what was invisible and located in the margins in the past, here the care work done by mothers, grandmothers, wifes, sisters, female companions and so on.

[6] Herrero, Yayo, ”Sujetos arraigados en la tierra y en los cuerpos. Hacia una antropología que reconozca los límites y la vulnerabilidad” [Subjects rooted in the earth and in the bodies. Towards an anthropology that recognises limits and vulnerability] in Petróleo [Petrolum]. Barcelona: Arcadia – Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Macba, 2018. 104

[7] For more information see https://lapielesunmetalinestable.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/planta/ (accessed May 2019).

[8] Terranova, Fabrizio, Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival. Belgium, 2016.

[10] Carson, Rachel, Silent Spring, 1962.

[11] D'Eaubonne, Françoise, Le féminisme ou la mort [Feminism or Death]. Paris: P. Horay, 1974.

[12] Viso, Olga M, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972-1985. Washington D.C.: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. 

[13] Pol Rigau, Marta, Anàlisi de l'obra plàsticovisual i poèticotextual de Fina Miralles: L'arbre com a reflex de la seva cosmologia. Barcelona: Doctoral Thesis Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2012. https://957866f1-3f8c-43d5-a4cf-30d424658692.filesusr.com/ugd/b7fa61_8b33f814ef5f4d9e88eaf1c61af35211.pdf  (Accessed May 2019).

[14] Mapa teatro are the Colombian theatre and visual artists Heidi, Elizabeth and Rolf Abderhalden. They are a laboratory that works on transdisciplinary creation in between theater, performance, installations.

[18] Bangladesh factory collapse, The Guardian, May 23, 2013. (Accessed April 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/23/bangladesh-factory-collapse-rana-plaza

[19] Rape and abuse: the price of a job in Spain’s strawberry industry? The Guardian, April 14 2019. (Accessed May 2019)

[20] Herrero, Yayo, La fresa en Huelva: 46 calorías por cada 100 gramos [Strawberry in Huelva: 46 calories each 100 grames]. (Madrid: Ediciones inestables, 2019).

[21] 8M Constelación feminista. ¿Cuál es tu lucha? ¿Cuál es tu huelga? [8M Feminist Constellation. What is your fight? What is your strike?] Buenos Aires: Tinta limón, 2018.

[22] As Paul B. Preciado developed in his auto-theory self-fiction Testo yonki [Texto junkie] Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 2008.

[23] Gago, Verónica, Idem. 12

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