Ariel Salleh’s comment is revealingly angry and abusive; she challenges my environmental credentialsfootnote1 and my gender reflexivity; I am sexist, racist, masculinist and massaging ‘a defensive old-school socialist demeanour’. Unfortunately this leads her to a perverse reading of my paper, for example my statement that that not all things that women do are feminist is taken as saying that only Western women can arrive at a notion of feminism. Leaving name-calling aside, as far as possible I have grouped together the comments by Mary Mellor and Ariel Salleh in order to keep my reply brief, and deal with their view that I ignore the radical potential of ecofeminism and ‘unfairly’ group it with ecocentrism and animal rights; that I am afflicted with dualism and fail to recognize the significance of biological and ecological limits; that I defend science and deny the epistemologically privileged position of women in subsistence communities; that self-determination, autonomy, modernity and humanism are inconsistent with a feminist green future.
Both Salleh and Mellor complain that I have not recognized the distinctions within ecofeminism, or the arguments between ecofeminism and ecocentrism. The purpose of the paper was not to review and classify approaches, a process which environmentalists are much given to and which has been well done elsewhere, but to look instead at some common positions in radical environmentalisms. One specific protest of misrepresentation was Salleh’s complaint that ecofeminists would not naturalize caste as ecocentrics have done. But a well-known ecofeminist portrays caste as a benign social and political interdependence, and has also represented pollution discourses of menstruation as vital to the continuity of the community and its natural environment.footnote2
Some of the confusion in Salleh’s understanding of my arguments appears to stem from her failure to see that I try to use the word ‘gender’ to refer to particular social identities, amongst others, carried by women and men. In these terms, I do not think I have done an injustice to ecofeminists to say that there have been few gendered studies of local knowledges, or that female infanticide and domestic violence are only part of a portrayal of women as universal victims in ecofeminist writings. It is precisely because ecofeminism offers no purchase on the divisions between women, that it cannot approach the problem of how women also oppress other women, or to understand the interaction of gender with other subject identities.
I do not contend that environmental movements in the Southfootnote3 are never feminist, or that they are not an avenue for political protest and expression for rural women, but just that the representation of such movements in the West is characterized by assumptions which reflect ecofeminist expectations: that the mere presence of women makes it feminist, that there are no gender relations within the movement, that the objective of the movement is environmental sustainability. In the encounter with Southern environmental movements, Western writers too easily find confirmation of their fantasies. More considered, and often local, work suggests a much more complex picture.footnote4 Mellor refers to Gail Omvedt as showing the ecofeminist agenda in women’s struggles in Maharashtra, but the article citedfootnote5 is actually about populist peasant movements and the involvement of women within them in a range of issues—employment rights, ‘atrocities’ and consciousness-raising, abandoned women, political representation in district-council elections, alternative technology, women’s property rights, education and health, campaigns against alcoholism and the restoration of fertilizer subsidies—which are as ‘developmentalist’ as they are environmentalist. These movements do offer political opportunities to women but an ecofeminist interpretation of them is a fantasy of Western eyes. The dangers of viewing ‘peasant’ movements with the spectacles of ecocentrism are pointed out by Kumud Sharma, who comments that Chipko, in interacting with Western representations of itself came to lose its original utilitarian and developmentalist stance, and the forest initially protected by women is now the Nanda Devi biosphere reserve from which women are excluded.footnote6
It is surely an extraordinary claim that ‘ecofeminist ideas emerge from a spontaneous ground swell of women from disparate cultures and classes’ when such a small range of work on the South is cited, so few instances of
Salleh also justifies ecofeminist silences on difference with the argument that it is politically necessary to play down internal divisions. But this old and disreputable view has often been used to suppress feminist aspirations in, for example, socialist discourses and in many liberation movements. Political coalitions which recognize difference are an alternative to a totalizing denial of difference.
Salleh contends that I fail to ‘distinguish between immanent and transcendent discourse’, claiming that Mies and Shiva ‘make their case in transcendent voice’. But how should, or does, what she calls the transcendent voice relate to the immanent? These are not unproblematically separate, for the transcendent is voiced in relation to a belief of what the immanent consists of, and the immanent is influenced by transcendent voices of, say, Mies and Shiva. No transcendent voice should be immune to critiques based on other interpretations and experiences of the immanent, and other visions of a better future. For example, it is relevant to the transcendent voice, in which Salleh says that ecofeminists would ‘opt out of the exchange society altogether’, to point out that their alternative to money, reciprocity, is also a system of exchange.