Geschlechtersensible Forschung: Ecological Feminism (or Ecofeminism)

kUNI stellt Projekte der Uni Bamberg vor, die geschlechtersensibel forschen.

Im Rahmen des Projekts GENIAL forschen stellt die Universitätsfrauenbeauftragte Prof. Dr. Astrid Schütz zusammen mit dem Frauenbüro ein Netzwerk zu geschlechtersensibler Forschung auf die Beine und zeigt, was es an der Universität Bamberg schon alles für interessante Projekte, Publikationen und Veranstaltungen gibt, die in ihrer Forschung unterschiedliche Geschlechterperspektiven berücksichtigen. kUNIgunde präsentiert nun einige davon und fragt, was geschlechtersensibles Forschen eigentlich bedeutet. Diesmal berichtet Yıldız Aşar (Professur für Amerikanistik) von ihren zwei letzten Seminaren aus den letzten beiden Semestern, welche sich mit "Ecofeminism" und der Verbindung zwischen Frau-Sein und Natur beschäftigten. Das Interview ist in englischer Sprache.

Last year, you were nominated for the Bettina-Paetzold Award with your seminar "New Woman, New Earth: Ecofeminism and Natureculture in Contemporary American Literature". In the past winter semester, one of your courses was called "Girlhood in American Environmental Literature." What should be essential to know about this topic, Ecofeminism and the link between womanhood and nature?

Ecological feminism aka “ecofeminism” primarily argues that the environment, or more specifically, incorporating the non-human environment in our political efforts, is a feminist subject. The reason for this, according to Karen Warren, is that “there are important connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature, an understanding of which is crucial to feminism, environmentalism, and environmental philosophy” (Warren 1987 qtd. in Warren 1993). Therefore, in designing both of these seminars within the scope of American literature and culture, I wanted to trace and question where exactly this joint domination of women and nature, as well as the traditional assumption that women are somehow “more connected” to nature than men, comes from – especially which literary texts, in which historical periods, have made or critiqued this link. When asked, “Do you think women are closer to nature, and if yes, why?”, my students all initially seemed to agree, despite not being able to articulate any reason other than the fact that women can give birth, and that we refer to nature as “Mother Earth”. After reading ecofeminist scholars such as Greta Gaard, Karen Warren, Val Plumwood, Ynestra King, and Vandana Shiva, however, they were quick to reassess and argue that there is absolutely no essential or biological reason as to why women should be closer to nature than men, and that this preconception must be socially constructed.

A key link between “womanhood” and “nature” is the way they are both constructed as marginal, and oppressed alongside and often in direct connection with each other – within modern industrial societies that favor patriarchal-hierarchical power structures and binary thinking. To expose and demolish these traditional categories and power structures, ecofeminism recognizes a need to theorize women and nature, as well as culture and nature, in joint and intersectional readings of a broad range of literary texts –  whether they are self-consciously ecological, or feminist, or not. Ecofeminism also calls for an end to all oppressions, thus urging an activist stance that engages with critical, non-binary perspectives when thinking about the social and environmental issues of our age.


What attracts you to this topic or how did you get into it?

I was introduced to ecofeminism and girlhood studies in connection with American literary studies almost a decade ago, through my passion for contemporary (and nowadays extremely popular) young adult dystopian fiction, with dozens of girl protagonists who find themselves in post-apocalyptic environments and oppressive social systems in particular, epitomized by blockbusters such as The Hunger Games (2008) or Divergent (2014). I personally enjoyed diving into such bleak scenarios that speculate on the future of our planet, and still manage to end on a hopeful note. I could relate to these fictional heroines who rebel to initiate change rather than accepting initiation into an existing system, which to me was already taking place in our world via “Fridays for Future”. I thought, “I keep seeing rebellious girls in fictional and actual eco/political contexts, like Katniss Everdeen, Greta Thunberg, Lauren Olamina, Fen de la Guerre, Tally Youngblood, … what is going on here?” and had a hunch that there must be a specific cultural connection between girls and nature, similar to that of women and nature. This inspired me to pursue a doctoral degree in American Studies and research more on ecocriticism, ecofeminism and girlhood studies, in order to analyze young adult speculative fiction (utopian/dystopian, post-apocalyptic, queer, indigenous, afrofuturist and beyond)!


What will be the insights of your study for gender research/gender debate?

The reason why young girls, of all people, are of specific interest to me is threefold: First of all, young girls have historically been understudied, even ignored, in studies on youth culture, feminist scholarship, and literary studies alike. Secondly, as a young girl in Turkey, I realized early that the girl figure inhabits the bottom of our current, hierarchical Western society, for she is unprivileged in multiple categories simultaneously, such as race, age, and gender, and has to work twice as much to receive any recognition. (For instance, if a girl does good in school, she is coded negative as Hermione Granger the annoying, over ambitious book-worm; if a boy does good in school, he is coded positive as Harry Potter the humble, natural talent.) Finally, to me, the adolescent girl, which I studied in my Master’s thesis, is a highly liminal, fluid, hybrid, even alien, figure. She inhabits that ambiguous stage not only between childhood and adulthood, but also between childhood and womanhood, in a society that still fails to grant equal opportunities to women. Therefore, studying the visionary representations of girls in post-apocalyptic environmental literature from multiple, intersectional perspectives will highlight the significance of girl figures in literary studies and ecofeminism, while also contributing to the evolving field of girlhood studies, a fertile and important field of gender-sensitive research.


In your opinion, how does one approach research in a gender-sensitive way?

“Research” is a very broad subject, and my orientation is within the specific field of American literary and cultural studies. Therefore, my approach to gender-sensitive research would be to, first recognize and question the particularities of any gender-related representation offered in a specific form of cultural expression. When I have a novel, a movie, or an image in front of me, I try to recognize the cues on gender, and any other social structures, within the limitations of that particular format. Next, I ask myself whether these simply repeat the long-existing gender norms and preconceptions of specific cultures, or offer alternative approaches. Then it becomes easier to notice the eluding traditional narratives that essentialize attributes based on gender, and the authenticity or quality of gender-related representation that the medium offers. For example, it is not just in the sheer existence of a young adult female protagonist, or lack thereof, that forms the basis for my ecofeminist literary analysis, but in the particular quality of that (non)existence and what it represents. In other words, with any given concept that one tackles in research, one must ask the question: “How does gender affect my understanding of this concept, and why?” This way one will be able to note socially constructed preconceptions around gender when approaching any given subject, including environmental literature.


Were there any challenges, whether structural, personal or content-related, that you had to face regarding your seminar topics or in setting up this course?

In both of my seminars, we tackled quite current and alarming issues, from the ecological crisis to sexism, racism, and homophobia. This is why – apart from discussing the theories, concepts, and literary texts at hand – we also had many difficult conversations about our opinions, feelings, anxieties, experiences, and identities. In those conversations, there were moments in which the participants talked about how they felt depressed, anxious, hypochondriac, or burnt-out because of everything that has been going on, including wars, pandemics, natural disasters, toxic and nuclear leaks, school shootings, and hate crimes based on race, gender, and sexuality. Ecofeminism enables such dialogs, and it was important and yet challenging for me to create a safe space where we could voice those concerns, and feel heard and hopeful for the future – also by way of familiarizing students with up-to date methods of studying the cultural relevance of literary texts.


If so, how did you overcome these challenges?

At a conference panel on the relationship between scholarship and activism, I had the chance to ask Greta Gaard a question, and I took that chance to address this challenge. I asked, “In what constructive ways can I respond to feelings of ecological anxiety, depression, or grief when moderating a seminar on ecofeminism?” Her answer was that I had to resolve my own such feelings concerning this subject first, simply face the existence of this monster under the bed, and focus on its manageability. Since then, when dealing with environmental topics, I incorporate the practice of acknowledging such feelings and channeling them into personal activism, by reminding that there are many people who care – who demonstrate and speak up, who research and teach, who help, listen, and act. Ultimately, it is up to us to decide if we are on their side and, if yes, to ask ourselves, “How can I help in my own capacity?”


Why is this topic, Ecofeminism, of interest to the general public?

Ecofeminism directly challenges the current social and political systems that oppress women, people of color, lgbtqia+ people, people with disabilities, animals, plants, and any other marginalized groups or entities. It is grounded in the here and now, but also looks at the history of how we got here; it emphasizes the entanglement of social with environmental problems, and tries to do justice to the interconnectedness of all beings. It is a way of thinking that ultimately calls for action to dismantle the overarching systems that cause these problems. Thus, ecofeminism occupies itself with the well-being of our planet and all life forms that inhabit it, and the “well-being” of systems that organize or support those lives. In this way, ecofeminism is of interest to the general public, especially at a time when we desperately look for solutions to ever-escalating environmental and social crises.


Do you have any recommendations for anyone interested in the topic?

For those who are interested in ecofeminism as well as environmental activism, I recommend two classic environmental science and history texts, The Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson and TheDeath of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (1980) by Carolyn Merchant. I also recommend two contemporary works that deal with climate anxiety and history of activism, A FieldGuide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet (2020) by Sarah Jaquette Ray and Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2016) by Rebecca Solnit. Last but not least, in the seminar we watched Heidi Hutner’s TEDx talk, “Eco-Grief and Ecofeminism”, where she talks about her personal journey of dealing with eco-grief and we were all quite moved by it.

Finally, I would like to thank the Women’s Representatives for these thought-provoking questions and send my best wishes to Magazin kUNIgunde’s dear readers. :)


Thanks to Yıldız Aşar for these insights and exciting answers!