The myths that Cecile Jackson identifies in her article in nlr 210 are that self-determination and freedom are better achieved through identification with ‘nature’ rather than separation from it; the utopian assertion of the superiority of subsistence economies and communal life; the rejection of scientific knowledge in favour of local, indigenous and women’s knowledges, with the latter based on an essentialized view of women.footnote1 The core of her concern is that these myths are leading to rationality becoming a ‘dirty word’ which, in turn, undermines the potential for historical and materialist analysis: ‘We need to reassert the value of a historical and materialist analysis, informed by a deconstruction of some unexamined key terms in ecofeminist positions such as love, nature, indigenous knowledge, Third World women.’footnote2 While I have sympathy with many of Jackson’s concerns about both radical environmentalism and ecofeminism, and have expressed similar reservations elsewhere,footnote3 I think that her arguments ignore the radical potential of both movements for a historical, materialist analysis. Further, I would argue that such an analysis that is not green and feminist is incomplete.

Part of Jackson’s difficulty is that she focuses mainly on Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva’s Ecofeminism.footnote4 This book, which I find both insightful and inspiring, is a collection of essays that, as Jackson herself points out, combines materialist and radical-cultural feminist analyses. Like many ecofeminist texts, it is part thesis and part treatise, and is therefore easily criticized for hyperbole and unwarranted generalizations. The same might be said of the Communist Manifesto, but movements and ideas have to start somewhere and both radical environmentalism and ecofeminism are still fairly young. They are, however, maturing into sophisticated analyses of our current social and ecological ills. Mies and Shiva’s Ecofeminism builds on Mies’s earlier materialist—feminist analysis of globalization and Shiva’s influential critique of the ‘green revolution’ and its impact on women in subsistence communities.footnote5

A problem for ecofeminism and green politics generally, is that radical environmentalism is a very diverse movement, encompassing positions that have been criticized as ecofascist to ecoanarchism and ecosocialism. Ecofeminism embraces feminist spiritualists, radical cultural feminists, social ecofeminists—influenced by the work of ecoanarchist Murray Bookchin—socialist ecofeminists and postmodern ecofeminists.footnote6 Within this spectrum, there is much to justify Jackson’s criticisms, but also much to be built upon. As I have argued elsewhere, socialist-materialist eco-feminism, together with a South perspective, can provide a much firmer foundation for historical materialism than white, male, productivistworkerist versions of Marxism.footnote7 Jackson’s critique is also somewhat unfair in that it runs together animal rights, elements of deep ecology (ecocentrism) and ecofeminism. There are divisions within and between all these movements. Ecofeminism, for instance, has been criticized for ignoring animal-rights issuesfootnote8 and for being humanist rather than eco-centric.footnote9

Jackson argues that ecofeminism makes unwarranted assumptions about women’s natures and the potential for women’s solidarity while ignoring inter- and intra- gender relations. She also takes issue with ecofeminism’s rejection of modernity which, in this context, embraces individual autonomy, scientism and rationalism. I would certainly agree with Jackson that a lot of ecofeminist literature, particularly that influenced by West Coast spiritual-cultural feminism, falls into the 1970s radical feminist trap of biological essentialism and false universalism. A great deal of the difficulty here lies in the style of writing which is often poetic and declamatory rather than academic. Again, the same could be said of socialist pamphleteering which, while politically inspirational, proved to be empirically and theoretically somewhat problematic. Although a great deal of ecofeminist rhetoric implies a universal and essential separation of women—nature and men—culture, in practice it is a critique directed at a specific historical relation, the dualist structures of Western patriarchy.footnote10 The ecofeminist aim is to reclaim the despised halves of those dualisms: nature, woman, emotion and the vernacular as against society, man, rationality and the scientific.

Jackson is concerned that ecofeminism and ecocentrism will undermine the women’s liberation project of ‘recognition of women’s full human-ity’.footnote11 The point at issue here is what is meant by humanity? There have been many feminist critiques of the Western concept of the ‘human’ as representing white, bourgeois, male interests, values and experience.footnote12 The case made by both ecocentrists and ecofeminists is that the Western model of modernity based on this ‘human’ is ecologically unsustainable. Ecofeminists go on to argue that male ‘autonomy’ is achieved at the expense of both women and nature.footnote13 Western notions of self-determina-tion and autonomy have at their centre the idea of the transcendence of the natural world. Biology (bodies) and ecosystem (nature) are external to the social.