Dea Sive Natura
Riley H

 

Decolonial Ecofeminism: Rejecting Dualisms of the Western Mind

Essay
Riley H

Decolonial ecofeminism provides a framework for connecting the colonization of nature, communities, women, and marginalized bodies. For example, ecological and humanitarian disasters resulting from the impacts of colonization disproportionately impact women and children of the “Global South.” The colonization of these lands, despite permanently altering life and the societies that thrived there, also heightened the interconnectedness between people and their environments. The cultural richness and resilience found among citizens of the Global South, is often viewed by the Western mind as unstable, uncivilized, or underdeveloped. There is a tendency in the Western world, to treat non-Western countries as mere “objects.” Unfortunately, this narrow perspective is evident in various fields of activism. Today I will be discussing the importance of decolonizing the mind in relation to feminism.

Many colonial, often white, liberal feminists, fail to posit colonization as a core manifestation of male power. Patriarchy, colonization, and White supremacy all parallel each other as forms of dominance, which I will expand on later. The “underdevelopment” of “Third World” countries are often attributed to economic or cultural regression, rather than the impact of being subject to colonizer states. Additionally, “third world women” are often excluded from feminist conversation in the West. To create a truly inclusive and progressive feminism, we must focus on collective liberation, and understand the importance of context and intersectionality.

All countries and systems are uniquely interconnected, to be truly inclusive is to understand the cultural and political contexts of various realities. Examining countries in singularity is limiting, as is grouping nations or people into general categories. Rather than perceiving countries as economically and culturally backward, we should explore the consequences of colonial relationships on national, social, and individual levels. Centuries of slavery, invasion, destruction, and displacement have given rise to interlocked worlds marked by dependence and inequality. It is crucial to understand colonization not as a mere historical episode.

That being said, it is also important to acknowledge that many countries are not entirely free from involvement in oppressive relationships. Expressing solidarity with colonized nations should not lead us to overlook the atrocities they may perpetuate, ranging from authoritarian regimes to sexist crimes. My focus lies on recognizing the complexity of world relationships and the harmful effects of Western analytical framework, and how it disproportionately harms women (cisgender, transgender, and 2-spirit.) Intersectionality and empathy sit at the core of acquiring wisdom. Efforts to decolonize should extend beyond the mind, we must also reflect on our language, actions and imaginaries.

Decolonial Feminism

Decolonial critiques within queer and feminist perspectives highlight the intricate connections between all forms of oppression. Beyond merely condemning the colonization of land, the decolonial movement seeks to unveil how whiteness permeates narratives, gender roles, and the social sciences, ultimately contributing to the myth of progress. The inherent flaw of white, colonial, often liberal feminism, lies in its systemic ignorance characterized by the reluctance to position non-white women and gender minorities as subjects, or as subjects not developed enough to be part of current feminist conversation. White women are often the face of feminist movements in the West because they represent the majority, while Black, Indigenous, and other voices of colour get pushed to the side of the narrative, deemed a “side story.” For example, black feminists such as Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde, are not centered in liberal feminist conversation because their activism is “Black feminism,” and not “Feminism,” with a capital F. Black feminists are excluded from the forefront because they do not represent the White majority; culturally, not only necessarily by population. For example, majority Black communities such as Islands in the Caribbean still experience the impacts of being part of a Western cultural minority.

An example of making intersectional struggles a footnote, is Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie that came out in 2023. Although the cast may be somewhat diverse, the experiences the Barbie movie portrays are homogenous. Barbie attempted to highlight “universal” experiences of women such as objectification, fear of being unattractive, and hating the patriarchy, ignoring how additional systemic struggles may affect women’s experiences. America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt play a middle-class Latina mother-daughter duo. They live a very Western, American lifestyle, with no struggles aside from the “universal” feminist struggles such as motherhood and girlhood. Hari Nef, a trans actress, plays “Doctor Barbie.” Again, there was an opportunity to emphasize the experience of trans women, but that opportunity was not taken, as with President Barbie played by Black actress, Issa Rae. The underlying message throughout the movie and the traditional message of Barbie is that girls can be anything boys can be, posing patriarchy as the only obstacle, dismissing any additional systemic struggles and not acknowledging whether existing power structures that Barbie dilutes are inherently patriarchal, such as capitalism. I am not trying to antagonize Barbie, I do admire aspects of Greta Gerwig’s direction, and some messages were beautifully executed. However, although the movie was well received and successfully connected with many women, it is not a radical or intersectional film. Understanding feminism to be a universally Western experience, is harmful to the next generation of girls who will understand visual diversity in media as true representation and accept patriarchal systems, to become unproblematic once “diversity” through girl-power is achieved.

Placing the middle class, pale, Western woman at the forefront of feminism perpetuates the divide between women of the majority and women of the minority (again, culturally, not necessarily by population majority.) This is true especially for women of the Global North vs. the Global South. Ironically, it is this subject vs. object/us vs. them mindset that is the foundation of patriarchal and colonial thought. Subject vs. object is part of a binary mindset described by 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes, “the father of modern philosophy.” Descartes was a rationalist and foundationalist who famously said, “cogito, ergo sum,” or, “I think, therefore I am.” While he wrote about various areas of philosophy, I will be focusing on Cartesian dualism in relation to decolonial feminism.

Cartesian Dualism

Cartesian dualism derives from the idea that the mind and the body are separate entities. This automatically isolates the knower (subject) from the known (object). This has become a foundational assumption in Western thought that reinforces dominant perspectives at the expense of marginalized “bodies” both human and non-human. For example: masculinity vs. femininity, humans vs. nature, us vs. them, and self vs. other. “Cogito,” the knowing subject with innate agency, assumes superiority over physical and interactive existence. All other organisms and matter, whether conscious such as gender and racial minorities, or unconscious, such as land and resources, are simply waited to be acted upon by the “cogito.” For example, there is an “ism” to be matched with every binary listed above: sexism, anthropocentrism, chauvinism, and egocentrism.

These binaries in turn favour hierarchies and perpetuate “otherizarion,” the mindset used to justify colonization, exploitation, and domination throughout all contexts of unequal power dynamics. Stripping the agency of others and isolating the subject from the direct engagement with reality is proven to be dangerous, the treatment of women and nature as a prime example. A subject’s structural truths are often self-presumed to be valid across historical, cultural, social, and political context. Unquestioned frameworks within Western thought such as Descartes’s rationalism tend to perpetuate well-established dualisms, contributing to the various forms of mistreatment minorities continually endure. It is the marginalized populations who bear the brunt of the most severe consequences of global destruction, for which governments of the Global North share responsibility. Moreover, Indigenous communities, who still experience the permanent negative impacts of colonization, stand at the forefront of the movement for climate justice and lead the way in devising solutions.

“The codes of the world are not still, waiting only to be read. The world is not raw material for humanization.”

– Donna Haraway

God-Trick of Seeing Everything from Nowhere

Feminist philosopher Donna Haraway critiques this prioritization of mind over body that she describes as a “god-trick of seeing everything from nowhere.” When the mind is understood as a separate entity from physical existence, we tend to view situations from a god-like perspective valuing objectivity over subjectivity, especially if we are not the ones directly experiencing it. Emotionally distanced language, avoidance of personal involvement, focus on statistical data, professional tone, and ignorance of cultural context are examples of the objectivist mindset. News articles and scientific research papers often aim to be as objective as possible to achieve impartiality, sometimes unconsciously leading to a reductionist view of subject matter. The belief in prediscursive objectivity implies there is an unchanging truth that exists independently of human interpretation. However, there is a blind spot in this foundationalism; as philosopher Elizabeth Grosz describes, the “inability to know the knower.” Information derives from human perspective contingent on the position of the knowing subject.

Donna Haraway goes on to describe that we cannot view the world without evaluating our background, personal experiences, and prejudices. She describes knowledge as “situated,” we must understand the mind is not an entity operating in a vacuum, the knower is situated in the world with personal interpretations and biases. Everyone has a body with experiences that can influence our logic. This can also be applied to media consumption. Many mainstream news networks present the government’s view, or the middle-class majority’s view on various subject matters. It is crucial we question who gets to define normativity. We must research the likelihood of missing context by listening and sharing perspectives of marginalized voices. Even artificial intelligence programs, designed to be entirely objective, have biases built into their trainings.

 

Televeision is not relaxing
Telivision dominates the senses
Telivision is addictive
Television is not a “neutral” technology
Television can only present biased views

Television creates social homogeneity
Television suppresses imagination
Television makes people impatient & irritable
Television cannot depict reality
Television isolates its viewers

Decolonial ecofeminism rejects Cartesian dualism and the cult of objectivism in favour of a more holistic and intersectional understanding of human consciousness and interaction. It also rejects the ego-centric thought process that centres impact on the individual, and instead values empathy, intersectionality, diversity, and a radical dismantling of oppressive systems. We work to destigmatize subjectivity and embrace emotions within political conversation. Decolonial ecofeminists value the power of empathy and emotional reaction in politics. There will be people who do not look or live like you do, but our humanity is the same.

In conclusion, activism should not be participated in isolation. Being an advocate for the minorities and majorities you are a part of, means you have an obligation to advocate for all minorities: human and non-human, through active listening and learning. To truly liberate one, we must liberate all. No person is free if their understanding of the world exists within lines of objective truths drawn by the oppressor. When I catch myself in the mindset of the “Cogito,” the knower isolated from the known, I am reminded of the words of Audre Lorde: “The white fathers told us: I thinktherefore I am. The Black mother within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams:

I feel,

therefore I can be free.”