Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism which claims that the oppression and exploitation of women and the oppression and exploitation of nature are intimately connected and mutually reinforcing. Some ecofeminists focus specifically on the linked oppressions of nonhuman animals and women, noting that the same logic of domination is responsible for both the oppression of women and the oppression of nonhuman animals. The central claim of ecofeminists is that we cannot liberate nature (or specifically, nonhuman animals), without taking the oppression of women seriously and, furthermore, we cannot liberate women, without taking the oppression of nature (or specifically, nonhuman animals) seriously.

Ecofeminists point out that the masculine way of thinking is responsible for not only the exploitation of women, but also the exploitation of the environment, particularly, the exploitation of nonhuman animals. Since ecofeminists maintain that masculine traits, such as domination, violence, exploitation, aggression, and disdain for nature are at the root of both the exploitation of women and nonhuman animals, ecofeminists call for a radically new animal ethic framework. Ecofeminists, then, reject masculine approaches to animal liberation, like Peter Singer’s and Tom Regan’s philosophies, which focus on abstract and impartial moral reasoning. For example, ecofeminists criticize Regan’s focus on animal rights, since the concept of rights is considered to privilege the male experience by promoting isolated individualism and the assertion of the autonomous, while denying the close connections and relationships humans form with other beings, such as nonhuman animals.

Instead, ecofeminists promote what they believe to be a more superior approach to animal ethics.This approach to animal ethics privileges the emotions, relationships, sympathetic responses, and instinct of care, while rejecting the use of impartial, rational moral reasoning to determine what morality demands of us. Instead of sitting in an arm-chair and calculating what we owe to nonhuman animals, ecofeminists enjoin us to: take serious our experiences and the actual world that we live in, consider the close relationships and bonds we form with others, and use the emotions (such as sympathy) and care we already feel toward nonhuman animals to guide our ethical conduct. This approach to ethics is known as “Care Ethics” or the “Ethics of Care.”

A few of the core characteristics of ecofeminism is the following:

(1) Ecofeminism criticizes institutions of patriarchal control and domination,
(2) Ecofeminism rejects dualistic hierarchies while recognizing the harm of these dichotomies,
(3) Ecofeminism acknowledges the reality of linked oppressions and the connection between “isms” of domination, and
(4) Ecofeminism challenges and reconsiders human superiority

adamsCarol Adams: is a feminist and animal rights activist, who frequently draws attention to the links between the exploitation of women and the exploitation of nonhuman animals. In particular, she discusses the connections between feminism and vegetarianism, and patriarchy and meat-eating. Books include: The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals, The inner art of vegetarianism: Spiritual practices for body and soul, The Pornography of Meat.

josephine DonovanJosephine Donovan: draws attention to our moral duties to animals by promoting a feminist ethic of care that: (1) is political in its perspective and (2) dialogical in its method. The dialogical method requires that agents care about, pay attention, and listen to what animals are telling us. Donovan’s central claim is that we should construct a human ethic in conversation with animals rather than imposing on them rationalistic, calculative grid of humans’ own monological construction.The political perspective enables agents to analyze the situation critically in order to determine who is responsible for animal suffering and how it may best be alleviated.

Marti Kheel: co–founded “Feminists for Animal Rights.” She was also a vegan ecofeministkheel activist and scholar who worked to bridge women’s and animal advocacy movements. Through her work, Kheel offered an ecofeminist ethic, which emphasizes the connection between feminism and the environmental movement, as an alternative to the current anthropocentric worldview of nature. One of her primary goals was to bridge the divide between feminism, animal ethics, environmental ethics, and holistic health. In particular, Kheel argues that an ecofeminist ethic must sever the connections that historically bind the environmental movement to a practice of violence. Hunting, Kheel points out, is a specific example which illustrates that men are primarily the perpetrators of violence while women and nature are primarily the victims of this violence. An ecofeminist ethic allows us to challenge the supposed “superiority” of the masculine and “inferiority” of the natural world. Kheel’s revolutionary book is Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective.

Other Ecofeminists who write specifically about nonhuman animals and women include (but are not limited to) the following:
Val Plumwood
Deane Curtin
Deborah Slicer
Bryan Luke
Andree Collard
Greta Gaard
Lori Gruen
Lisa Kemmerer
*Visit the Vegan Feminist Network to learn more about the connection between feminism and veganism

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Philosophy PhD Student at Marquette University
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