Saturday, February 19, 2011

The missing feminine mystique of human-wildlife management

Let's return to my series on human-wildlife relations, lest too much time passes since my last related post. As promised, I want to explore a more hopeful way of looking at conflict between humans and wildlife: co-existence. While I don't believe there can be perfect harmony between human and nonhuman earthlings (humans still haven't figured out how to live harmoniously with each other), I do believe there is potential for a positive paradigm shift in our cohabitation.

But what could facilitate the paradigm shift? I am sure there are many approaches to answering this question, but the approach I want to take is that provided by ecofeminism.

Thus far, the understanding and acceptance of ecofeminism has primarily been confined to eco-minded, feminist academic circles. Here is my attempt to throw some of these ideas out of the circle for others to catch. 

What is ecofeminism?

While there are a few camps of thought, ecofeminists are united under the recognition that ecological problems are social and cultural problems arising from a patriarchal society that supports the domination and control of nature. This oppression is linked to the oppression of women, as well as of classes, races and other groups of people dubbed as "different." This othering, a result of patriarchy’s dualism (i.e. human vs. nature), alienates us from nature and from a sense of empathy towards it, opening up space for the fear that fuels our need to dominate all that is "wild."

In its explicit inclusion of animals in this critique, ecofeminism links the oppression of animals to that of humans, claiming that animals are the victims of speciesism under the current patriarchal, anthropocentric paradigm. As ecofeminist Greta Gaard put it, "From an ecofeminist perspective, speciesism is a form of oppression that parallels and reinforces other forms of oppression."

Yes, this could be perceived as a radical perspective, but not one that is outside of reason or possibility. After all, we have let patriarchal oppression rule for so long, why should we see a perspective that embraces inclusion and equity as "out there"? Ecofeminism just seems like a more direct route to co-existence. 

Patriarchy prevents co-existence

Wildlife management has historically been a male-dominated profession with male-dominated constituencies—hunters, anglers, and trappers. (Unfortunately I couldn't find real statistics to prove this, but I think my assumption is safe). While not all men are patriarchal, this gender unbalance allows patriarchy to pervade the philosophy and practices addressing our relationship with wildlife.

The gray wolf serves as a poster child example of this. Throughout American history, the gray wolf has been a symbol of the feared wilderness that must be tamed or destroyed. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the dominant masculine construction of society was predicated on mastery and control of nature, which fueled the “war on wolves,” causing a near annihilation of the species.

A more recent example was the push by Alaskan sportsmen in the 2000s to reinstate lethal "control" of wolf populations. Hunters were blaming wolves for the declining ungulate (elk, moose, etc.) populations and demanding elimination of the competition. The real culprits, however, were economic changes, climate change and overhunting.

From an ecofeminist perspective, this example symbolizes the stubborn attempt of a patriarchal social structure to reestablish and reaffirm its dominance when threatened. Such struggle for dominance only perpetuates discordance between humans and wildlife.

The missing ecofeminine mystique

Ecofeminists would argue that wildlife management has long been bereft of the feminine “mystique,” which has rendered its practice and philosophy inadequate at meeting the needs of either humans or wildlife in an equal and just manner. Coexistence cannot happen while this persists.

For example, women's voices have been generally excluded from wildlife management. One study showed that women's perspectives have been underrepresented in wildlife attitude surveys. In essence, the study found that surveys are typically either addressed to or completed by the man of the house, thus neglecting opportunities for women to weigh in. Since wildlife managers often use stakeholder surveys to determine their policies, this exclusion of women's perspectives certainly implies the existence of inequality in the citizen participation process of wildlife management.

Furthermore, women are generally the wildlife friendlier gender. As prominent wildlife attitudes expert Stephen Kellert has shown in his research, women are more likely to express greater concern for animal welfare and less support for the exploitation and dominance of animals. Men, on the other hand, are more willing to exploit animals and their habitats, especially for human benefit.

Another study suggested that American women are more supportive of policies that value and protect wildlife, such as the Endangered Species Act, while men are stronger proponents of property rights.

One can therefore deduce that a better effort to include the feminine perspective into wildlife management and policy may facilitate institutionalized co-existence. Applying an ecofeminist ethic could nurture a worldview that views wildlife as our equals and their oppression as behavior to be scorned and eliminated.

*I will fully admit there are many holes in this post that beg for deeper explanation. I borrowed my ideas for this post from a term paper I wrote last year, and I had to leave a lot out. Honestly, I don't think a meager blog post can do this topic justice. But I wanted to at least throw the idea out there, and I intend to return to ecofeminism now and again.

Reading list for this post

Unfortunately, these are all academic papers, so they are not accessible for free to everyone. But if you're interested in learning more about the points I made in this post, here are my sources. For those unfamiliar with academic-style bibliographies, the journal in which you can find each article is italicized and the journal volume number is the one just after the journal title.

Anahita, S., Mix T.L., (2006). Retrofitting Frontier Masculinity for Alaska’s War Against Wolves. Gender and Society, 20, 332-353.

Anthony, M.L., Knuth, B.A., Lauber, T.B. (2004). Gender and Citizen Participation in Wildlife Management Decision Making. Society and Natural Resources, 17, 395-411.

Carlassare, E. (1999). Socialist and Cultural Ecofeminism: Allies in Resistance. Ethics and the Environment, 5, 89-106.

Czech, B., Devers, P.K., Krausman, P.R. (2001). The Relationship of Gender to Species Conservation Attitudes. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 29, 187-194.

Emel, J. (1998). Are You Man Enough, Big and Bad Enough? Wolf Eradication in the US. In J. Wolch & J. Emel (Eds), Animal Geographies: Place, Politics, and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands (pp. 91-116). London: Verso.

Gaard, G. (2001). Ecofeminism on the Wing: Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations. Women and Environments International Magazine, 52/53, 19-22.

Jacobson, C.A., Brown, T.L., Scheufele, D.A. (2007). Gender-Biased Data in Survey Research Regarding Wildlife. Society and Natural Resources, 20, 373-377.

Kellert, S.R., Berry, J.K. (1987). Attitudes, Knowledge, and Behaviors toward Wildlife as Affected by Gender. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 15, 363-371.

Palamar, C.R. (2007). Wild, Women, and Wolves: An Ecological Feminist Examination of Wolf Reintroduction. Environmental Ethics, 29, 63-75.

Plumwood, V. (1992). Feminism and Ecofeminism. The Ecologist, 22, 10.


  1. This is a very interesting concept! You do a good job of explaining the the concept of eco-feminism through pictures and examples.

    The one thing I would be curious about is your personal experience as a woman and environmentalist. Perhaps you're (rightfully) cautious to go down that path...but as a woman, how do you view your personal connection to nature? Do you feel this enables you and other women to collaborate in a unique way with men in the environmental field?

  2. I also think you provide an excellent introduction to the topic. I've noticed the affiliations between DNR offices and hunting associations, but never thought about this gender difference.

    It would be interesting to dig for literature (if any exists) that shows this split in management styles between men and women.

    Middle-aged women are also prime followers of animal rights and welfare movements, too. They don't call it "Mother Nature" for nothing.

  3. Fascinating ideas, Jenny. It reminds me of conversations I've had with evolutionary biologists about the way that women - and thinking about biology from a female perspective - hugely improved the field.

  4. @Marianne - There is actually a study that speaks to differing wildlife management styles between men and women, which I did not mention in this blog. Basically the study showed that, when it comes to the citizen participation process of wildlife management, women are more concerned about equality in process--i.e. letting everyone's voices get heard and building relationships. Men are more concerned about efficiency and using scientific facts to make decisions. Here's that article if you are interested in reading it: Anthony, M.L., Knuth, B.A., Lauber, T.B. (2004). Gender and Citizen Participation in Wildlife Management Decision Making. Society and Natural Resources, 17, 395-411.

  5. Recently I wrote a blog entry offering a leftist critique of the ideology of “Green” environmentalism, deep ecology, animal rights activism, eco-feminism, and lifestyle politics in general (veganism, “dumpster diving,” “buying organic,” etc.). I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter and any responses you might have to its criticisms.

  6. I have been thinking and making art about this subject (without knowing it's classification until recently). I have some Flying Rituals for Mother Earth and some big Bear oil paintings here: if you are interested. You did a great job thinking about this and explaining it. I appreciate hearing it so concisely! Thanks

  7. @Jade: Thank you for reading and for sharing your website! Your art is beautiful.