Ecofeminism seeks to breakdown barriers of segregation, which have resulted in the detention of women to their ‘special’ and ‘inferiorised’ space, by emphasising the common points of humanity shared by both men and women. Plumwood also discusses the notion of ‘incorporation’ or ‘relational definition’ as a feature of some types of dualism, meaning that the two members of the dualism depend upon each other for their identity (1993: 52-54). The notion of relational definition, is something which Luce Irigaray has examined at length, particularly in her work regarding sexual difference, and female ‘otherness’ in society. More specifically, that men occupy the space designated ‘subject’ whilst the female is are relegated to the space of ‘object’ and as such the two sexes depend upon each other in order to define themselves (or rather the male identity depends upon the subjugation of the female). This dependency is not one of equality, the master’s superiority cements the notion that he is the subject (as opposed to the object) and as such his qualities are regarded as primary and in relation to them the subordinate member of the pair is somehow lacking or deficient. The consequence of this for the relationship between men and women is that the characteristics and qualities of man are used to negatively define the role of womankind, as Simone de Beauvoir remarks “…humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being…” she becomes the “…inessential to his essential.” (cited by Plumwood 1993: 52).
Luce Irigaray regards the issue of sexual difference as ‘…one of the important questions of our age, if not in fact the burning issue” (1993). In particular Luce Irigaray’s An Ethics of Sexual Difference (1993), Speculum of the Other Woman (1985a) and The Sex Which is Not the One (1985b) are of particular relevance to my work but I have also found Irigaray’s work on Freud and psychoanalysis (especially her critique of Freud’s Femininity) very interesting with regards to Freud’s ideas about the predetermined notion of femininity (which links back to my work on dualism) and his tendency to homogenise women by defining them only in relation to the male subject. Irigaray makes specific mention of the dualistic tendencies of both philosophy and man in her work which further develops the idea of subject/object and relates to the discussion provides by Val Plumwood regarding the tendency of the benefiting group, to background the experiences of its counterpart and to base their definition of the ‘other’solely upon the inverted descriptors of themselves. In Irigaray’s 2013 book In the Beginning, She Was she claims that:
He divides the whole into parts…the two he formed with her becomes an opposition of categories: Being/non-being…A dualism invented by him, differing from the duality existing from the beginning, which he trains himself to master, accenting or annulling the opposition. (p.41).
Links with Environmentalism
Irigaray’s work has many direct relations to the environmental (although not always explicit) which have recently been explored in the „Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology” (2015). In relation to my own research it is clear that Irigaray’s discussion of sexual difference, dualism, the sublime and Kant – have direct implications for the relationship between mankind and nature and of course, between Immanuel Kant and both women and the environment. Kant’s divorce of mankind from the natural world (where woman resides) allows for women to be perceived as being closer to nature, when in reality they are as much part of nature as the rest of humanity but the achievement of manhood seems to be entirely dependent upon men distancing themselves from this fact. It is this supposed link whereby women are considered to have a closer connection and relationship with nature than their male counterparts (Klinger 1997: 108) which justifies their being used, manipulated, exploited and mastered.
These themes are extensively explored within Irigaray’s work and in her interviews (one of which can be found in the Journal mentioned above) through which it is clear that Irigaray herself maintains a commitment to the environment and to the non-human other (for example her commitment to vegetarianism (2015: 113). In the interview entitled Cultivating a Living Belonging (2015) Irigaray claims that, “Appropriating land, as appropriating the sky, does not only amount to a denial of racial and cultural alterity but also having a stranglehold on the life of others” (114). A restructuring of the traditional philosophical ideas about reason and nature would involve the recognition that as humans (man or woman) we are not radically removed from the processes of nature but rather that we as physical beings are completely dependent upon the natural environment for our own survival: to deny this would make no sense. Yet this is exactly what certain philosophical understandings would have us believe; the idea that man has some kind of ‘right over nature’ lies at the heart of a Westernised conception of power and productivity (rooted in patriarchy) which, as Vandana Shiva identifies, continues to see what is “…at an ecological level highly destructive.” (1990:196) as economically productive. Irigaray advocates the promotion of the rights of women and the environment: both of whom experience subjugation and exploitation as a result of patriarchal values. Believing in the destruction of such values will help in the construction of a fairer society, where neither women nor the environment are treated in an exploitative or discriminatory manner. Irigaray’s work ties into these aims, especially regarding her discussion of ‘otherness’ being invoked through women and the natural environment. The otherness of women and nature, which features so prominently in Kant’s work on the sublime, point to the intellectual conflict in philosophy concerning the need to disassociate from the phenomenal realm and that which is considered related to it. Irigaray addresses this conflict directly in maintaining that sexual difference is dominant whilst also offering a potential reworking of our traditional understanding of the relationships between humanity and nature and men and women: to which much of philosophy still desperately clings.