The Difference Between Ecofeminism & Intersectional Environmentalism
Social & Environmental Justice
Ecofeminism and Intersectional Environmentalism both advocate for social and environmental justice, with a few nuances that differentiate the two: one is a type of environmentalism that explores the relationship between women and nature while the other also advocates for feminism, but is broader in its representation. With all this environmental terminology, you may be wondering which one(s) you should choose when identifying yourself.
Ecofeminism was born out of the largely white environmental movement of the ‘70s; it is both a philosophy and movement that exposes the repression of women and the environment as interlinked and rooted in patriarchal structures. “[It] is a movement that sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women,” writes Mary Mellor in Feminism & Ecology.
Similarly, Intersectional Environmentalism was born from colliding social and green movements—namely, Black Lives Matter and the youth climate strikes in 2019 and 2020. I developed the definition after identifying the connection between the treatment of BIPOC and the earth, drawing from Intersectional theory often applied to feminism. The result was an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of people and the planet and addresses how the injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected.
Both Ecofeminism and Intersectional Environmentalism explore how the treatment and degradation of the earth exposes a deeply rooted societal problem. But while Ecofeminism narrows in on gender, sexuality, and the patriarchy, Intersectional Environmentalism creates space for all social injustices, including sexism. Although prominent BIPOC women have contributed to the development of Ecofeminism, like pioneer Vandana Shiva, it didn’t always feel inclusive to me when I learned about it in my environmental science college classes.
I’ve often been asked why I don’t call myself an Ecofeminist and instead identify as an Intersectional Environmentalist. For me, as a Black woman, I gravitated towards Intersectional Feminism in college. But I personally struggled with Ecofeminism, and perhaps that was because of how it was taught—through a Western white perspective. I felt as though Indigenous wisdom, traditions, and Eastern religions were being appropriated and packaged in a way that felt exploitative. Although I’m sure this wasn’t the intention, I didn’t see enough representation of BIPOC in the literature or in discussion spaces. Nor did I feel a strong sense of support from white women in the movement.
While I’m sure there is an Intersectional Ecofeminism that addresses cultural appropriation, the mainstream feminist spaces didn’t always feel inclusive, representative, or safe; they didn’t acknowledge all the intersections of my identity and how it applied to my experience as a woman. I realized that my Blackness shouldn’t be an extra “add on” to my feminism or environmentalism. When intersectional theory is applied to both, I feel seen and heard in those spaces.
Intersectional Environmentalism couldn’t exist without Ecofeminism and Intersectional Theory as a foundation to build off of. Both things are crucial to Intersectional Environmentalism, so the different philosophies aren’t separate. They work together to accomplish a similar goal and advocate for the protection of both people and the planet. You can be an Ecofeminist and Intersectional Environmentalist at the same time. It’s okay to be both or gravitate towards whichever one speaks the most to you. However, considering intersectional theory is important to ensure that you aren’t silencing voices that are often unheard and that you are creating space for everyone.
While Ecofeminism is a part of Intersectional Environmentalism, and they work together in many ways to accomplish the same goal—a greener and safer future for all and a healthy planet—Intersectional Environmentalism considers all aspects of someone’s identity like race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality, wealth, and more. And this is what makes it truly inclusive.
Have you heard of these terms before? If so, how do you identify and why? Share in the comments below!
Leah Thomas is an intersectional environmental activist and eco-communicator. She launched the intersectional environmentalist platform to explore the relationship between environmentalism and cultural identity. You can connect with her on Instagram.