Let them dance, or shut up and listen

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I just finished reading Lois Ann Lorentzen’s Indigenous Feet: Ecofeminism, Globalization, and the Case of Chiapas. Lorentzen argues that the ecofeminist discourse does not adequately describe the oppressive gender relations nor environmental relations of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, Mexico. Although Lorentzen admits that ecofeminism isn’t a singular discourse with concrete commitments, it does broadly recognize that “there are important connections between the domination of women (and other human subordinates) and the domination of nature” (cited by Lorentzen from Christine Eber’s Women and Alcohol in a Highland Maya Town: Water of Hope, Water of Sorrow). This broad conception lies at the foundation of the paper and is the critical component that Lorentzen challenges based on the Chiapas’ oppressive forces being asymmetrically dominant towards women and nature.

Simply, I agree with the general recognition that ecofeminism may not be suited to understanding a diverse set of contexts and circumstances, especially in those cases where oppressive forces have developed under particular historical forces. This does not mean that ecofeminism should be disregarded, however, as Lorentzen explains:

“The fact that ecofeminist activists and thinkers of various stripes bring international attention to both environmental and feminist concerns…creates a political space for women in various parts of the world who otherwise may not have been heard…If women from less affluent nations are epistemologically privileged within ecofeminism and considered the ‘experts’, they well may…contest idealizing tendencies of both official and ecofeminist discourse about the indigenous, the tribal, and the so-called Third World woman. This, in turn, makes for better ecofeminist theory and practice” (68).

I agree with this sentiment, wholeheartedly. If an ecofeminist approach allows us to create space for the oppressed to voice and understand their own oppression, then contextually relevant evaluations of particular circumstances can develop to inform both theory and practice. This is all good, in my opinion!