I was surprised, a few days ago, to discover that some of my master’s students had not as yet heard about ecofeminism, a theological current that I myself consider to be of the utmost importance in our world today. Of course, I understand that the matter is not easy and that the novelty of feminist and ecofeminist approaches may appear as a threat, particularly given the fact that there have been some excesses and that the pain experienced by some has let them to take on very radical theological (?) positions. Nevertheless, I think that the unmasking of patriarchal modes of thought – not only in theology (!) – where tensions are understood as mere oppositions and dualisms and, so, lose their creative power for community building and life together, is a crucial endeavour today.
I understand the feminist concerns not as a perpetuating of the opposition between men and women by reversing it, but rather as an attempt to deconstruct these oppositions so that new and creative forms of life together between men and women may be developed and articulated. Existing concrete experiences of painful oppositions that result in exclusions and unjust hierarchies are the point of departure of feminist theologies, not their aim or goal. In a constructive way feminist theologians look for new and holistic perspectives on community building, for a fresh perspective on reconciliation that is willing to learn from the past mistakes and sufferings. In a way, theologically speaking, feminist theologies attempt to unfold the incarnation not as opposition between God and human beings, but as a creative attempt to build up community, with a deep respect for non patriarchal differences. When I encounter severe criticism of feminist approaches, therefore, I will also always ask the question why it is that one wants to safeguard existing oppositions, what are the interests at stake.
Eco-feminism can best be understood through this last question, I think. Why is it that some of us want to maintain patterns of worldwide life together based on patriarchal modes of relating, in which dualisms between rich and poor, included and excluded, centre and periphery, play such an important “real” role (a role that one can observe in “real” reality, particularly by becoming sensitive to the cry of those who are suffering – such patriarchal features are often hidden by our systems of thought, however, as we cannot bear to hear the cry of those who suffer and hide ourselves from the “real” reality by taking refuge in the “thought” reality of economic, political, social and military prejudice)? What are the interests hidden behind the refusal to lower the highly unsustainable ecological footprints in the rich world, out of solidarity with the poor? Is it not, that we do not want to give up our standards of life and our cravings for power and wealth? And is that not the reason for constructing patriarchal thought? Is not the tragedy of patriarchal thought that it is born out of the fear to lose to others, precisely that what we have acquired and maintain at their expense?
The struggle surrounding ecofeminism, therefore, is not merely intellectual. It is also profoundly spiritual and ecclesial. This is what I read in the writings of Ivone Gebara, of Rosemary Radford Ruether, of Leonardo Boff and of Marcelo Barros, to name but a few. And it is a concern that I also descry in official RCC teachings that refuse to bow to oppositional modes of thought (that explains the reaction against the influence of marxism in some theologies) and that stress reconciliation. It’s a tight rope to walk, however, particularly if the word reconciliation comes to be used to minimize or even hide existing “real” and painful oppositions and dualisms. There is a challenge never to forget that theologies of community building should not forget their origins in the cry of those who are excluded from the communities of life. That also, as the preferential alliance with the poor, belongs to the wisdom of the Church.