As gradually ecofeminism started maintain its development, it also started on looking into some of the primary splintering. According to radical ecofeminism, the patriarchal society asserts that both women and nature are to be degraded. So for that, radical ecofeminists are made on the assurance of early ecofeminists that one should examine patriarchal domination with an eye towards ending the relation between women and nature. The main aim of this division is to favour the exploitation of both women and nature at an economical cost with a cheap labor and resources.
Ecofeminism stretched out of radical feminism, which holds that recollecting the dynamics behind the dominance of male over female is the key to comprehending every expression of patriarchal culture with its hierarchical, militaristic, mechanistic and industrialist forms.
Radical feminism is a philosophy emphasizing the patriarchal roots of dominance of women by men.
Radical feminism resists existing political and social organization because it is inherently tied to patriarchy. Thus, radical feminists moved as an unconvinced of political action in compass of the current system, but alternately their basis is on culture change that undermines patriarchy and interconnected hierarchical forms.
They are tending to be more violent in their approach as compared to any other form of feminism. The main focus of radical feminist is to break the patriarchy, alternately than making adjustments to the structure through continuous legal amendments. They also countered reducing oppression to an economic or class issue.
Radical feminists combat patriarchy, not men. Therefore to equalize radical feminism is to man-hating is to undertake that patriarchy and men are intimate, both politically and philosophically.
Radical feminism was ineradicable in the wider radical movement, where women engaged themselves in anti-war and New Left political movements of the 1960’s, ruling themselves excluding from equal control by the men in the movement, even with underlying presumptions of allowance.
Many of these women divide off into respective feminist groups, while undisturbing themselves much of their political radical ideals and methods.
Radical feminism is trusted with the use of awareness of raising groups to elevate the awareness about women’s oppression.
Radical feminists also emphasized on sexuality, which also includes some effective radical political lesbianism.
Some of the main desire of radical feminists includes:
• reproductive rights for women, which also includes self-determination to make choices to give birth, have an abortion, freedom to be sterilized.
• evaluating and then breaking the so called conventional roles in public customs as well as in private relationships.
• should know about the conception of rape as it is not a seeking of sex but as an expression of male power on female body.
• should know about the conception of prostitution as it is an oppression of women by male both economically and sexually.
• an evaluation of marriage, concept of nuclear family and sexuality, of motherhood and questioning about the amount of our culture is based on patriarchal expectations.
• an evaluation of institutions other than marriage or family but which also includes religion and government which are centered in patriarchal power.
If we look back during the second wave of feminism i.e. from 1960s till 1980s, Kathie Sarachild who was an active radical feminist explained that according to dictionary radical means root, which came from the Latin word root. And that is what meant by a radical feminists. They were more of interested in moving with the roots of main issues of society. According to them the roots of the problems of the society can be analyzed in raising groups, various issues of women- where they discussed about their various dimensions and experiences with a range of topics from childhood to work, their relation with men, and feeling about one’s body.
The major role for awakening this movement was an appeal to feelings and one’s personal experience, the second wave of radical feminists absorbed a host of intellectual influences also, in which they inherit their ideas and practices from New Left or Civil Rights which influenced the feminist awakening. The idea of recreating a new history of America also played a crucial role of awakening of radical feminism which invokes the feminists to define their political vision.
There were two arguments of Radical Feminism were whether women’s freedom could be achieved after a socialist revolution i.e. whether they should start their own revolutionary movement or not. Although the second argument was succeed in its own way, but many had opposed it in the beginning. In order to form an identity of new women’s movement, radical feminists used two forms of historical arguments: they reestablish and provoke the political history of black liberation struggle of women; in which they form black power, and organized arguments, slogans and strategies which had a long lasting impact upon the women for many years.
Here, I consider that radical feminism as a political movement which created its own identity by applying two classes of discussions: To begin with, radical feminists put themselves in the verifiable continuum of a women’s activist battle that checked among its triumphs, the expansion of establishment to women and among its restrictions the powerlessness to reach past an overwhelmingly white, middleclass supporters. Secondly, radical feminists further argue from the history of black liberation struggle. The arguments and concepts of Black Power resulted in the long lasting influence upon the women’s movement.
The primary years of women’s liberation movement was seen with the political vision and new social movement. Although at first the women tried to keep the wider social concerns with racism and class struggle who informed about their previous work, but the young radical women tried at first to identify their own needs, choices, desires and strategies.
Cellestine Ware, an active participant of black women liberation movement once wrote about her own account, noticing about the new feminism of 1970, although many women took active participation in the event but still they were not “ready to be called as feminists”.
As for radical feminists, reforming feminism is like a political identity signified with the historical provision of first wave of women’s movement. Apart from maintaining the nineteenth century feminist tradition for the women’s liberation movement, by critiquing the limits of the feminism of the past, the radical feminists of the second wave started articulating their own political vision. Kate Millett, author of Sexual Politics; Celestine Ware, who published Woman Power in 1970; and Juliet Mitchell, a British feminist who wrote from a Marxist perspective explored all these connections.
Enthusiasm for women’s’ history and nineteenth-century women’s liberation was communicated in numerous zones of the women’s’ freedom development, and awareness raising gatherings added to the resurgence of this enthusiasm too. Although those who were fighting for the women’s liberation movement were aware about women’s history has been wrenched by the patriarchal practice in the name of knowledge and experience.
Suffrage activism and the continuity with the nineteenth-century feminism marked as one of the important element of identification for radical feminists. Through this continuity radical feminists enabled two sort of connectivity: one is explicit; but with marginalized aspects and the other one is less explicit; but both had an equal structure for the movement.
By the year 1971 many women writers started writing on condition of women and their movements and by this time Flexner’s text had became one of the compulsory texts for many young women liberationists who were interested in women’s history and the history of feminism.
But the main argument regarding the history of women which shaped the identity of new movement came from the rediscovery of nineteenth-century feminist activism. Firestone reclaimed in her 1968 article, “The Women’s Rights Movement in the USA New View”, which was published in the Notes from the First Year, the word feminism for the women’s liberation movement and the variety of first wave feminist activists are predecessors for radical feminism. She recognizes the mid-nineteenth century feminism to radical aspects by distinguishing between two branches of activism: a women’s right movement concerning for wide social changes and suffrage movement focusing on gaining the vote as a single issue.
On the other hand, contemporary experienced historians who were writing the narrative of the nineteenth-century women’s movement did not necessarily distinguished the radical and the suffrage-oriented strand. A variety of claims had been formulated by the feminist activist in the nineteenth- century. Initially at the first National Convention for Women’s Rights at Seneca Falls, now known as the founding event of the nineteenth-century women’s movement, the object of women’s suffrage was considered as sensitive and almost it was denied. But the women’s suffrage movement gain strength towards the end of the century. Further Firestone explained the dual structure of nineteenth-century feminism which was divided between a reformist and a radical strand and it was marked by two opposing movements which was running parallel: the reformism of NOW, in which many young radical women were accused of working within the system, and the other were young radical groups who were reclaim to begin feminism for themselves.
Firestone elaborated the first wave of radical feminism, The Dialectic of Sex (1970). In her introductory chapter “On American Feminism”, she simply says: the feminism of 1960’s was “the second wave of the most important revolution in history. Its motive was to disestablish the oldest, most rigid class/ caste system either in existence or on the based on sex.” The feminist second wave had enormous consequences on the conceptualization of radical women’s activism for the women’s liberation movement.
Other radical movement writers entreated the history of feminist struggle, by criticizing the reformers and focusing on women’s freedom as one of the primary goal of the movement. As Firestone’s History of Suffrage, Kate Millet also wrote, “Of the 250 women who met at Seneca Falls only one, a nineteen-year old seamstress named Charlotte Woodward, lived to vote for president in 1920.” Juliet Mitchell further claims by saying “(w)hen the ballot was won, the feminist movement collapsed and it was described as exhaustion.” From the Marxist position Juliet Mitchell spoke that the ballot was the formal legal equality in bourgeoisie society, but it the social and economic equality of women behind.
There were many reasons regarding the criticizing of the first wave of the women’s movements. One of the reason was as they noticed its “bourgeois character” which were limiting its appeal and potential.
Just like Firestone, Kate Millet also observed that although suffrage movement was also a reformist, but they were only concerned regarding only one issue and that was to enter politically in order to secure them. First wave of feminism as a social movement hardly concerned regarding radical changes in society which was important to complete the sexual revolution and bring changes in social attitudes and structures, in personality and institutions. In spite of gaining the right to vote the women still remained within narrow patriarchal dimensions. For instance, although women got the right to divorce, but the institution of marriage remained unchanged. Regarding the notion of work, women were granted the right to work, but still they didn’t got the equal rights neither regarding works nor regarding wages and even they were not considered as to work as a fundamental human contribution. And finally with the new rights, now they were recognized as newer and under more subtle forms of control.
The main motive of reviewing the past history of feminism for Firestone and Millet was to relate it with contemporary women’s movement. Moreover, history allows them to see and experience the difference between past and present political situations.
The argument of the radical feminists of the late 1960s was suffrage movement was not the ultimate goal of the radical feminism in fact it was an incomplete feminist accomplishment for women’s freedom. In spite of fighting and struggling for eighty years of feminism, could not gain the victory for the feminist cause- in fact if women’s potentiality to participate in politics were considered the ultimate purpose of feminist activism, then it had not left any agenda for radical women to fight for.
The radical feminist text of Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics (1969) not only familiarize the world with the idea of radical movement but also simplified the idea that gender is a social construct not a biological construct. It straight away into the notion of observation of female according to male which reduces her to the status of animal and also the treatment of her sexuality based on according to the ranking of gender creation. She had written the text based on the readings of three male writers Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, and Jean Genet, Millet describes how all these texts are based on attitudes and of male supremacy which she terms as ‘sexual politics’ and war against patriarchy. Woman is always dependent on man “who live on the surplus” (38), and therefore marginalized and the reason behind this is just because man is in control of the economical and political institutions. She also advocated that gender roles should not be based on biological sex but should be constructed on the basis of social and cultural hierarchy. These ideas of Millet which is based on universal feminism were mostly found in most of the patriarchal societies. We can see all these many Indian texts which are based on fundamental effects of lives of women which are similar in every patriarchal society irrespective of their geographical differences.
The second phase of feminist movement was also affected by the writings of the activists like Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone and Shiela Rowbatham in America. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan appeared in 1963. This book challenged the common attitude about that woman that her place is at her home and that she should fulfill the duty of domestic works, motherhood and her roles within the marriage. Friedan surveyed and interviewed several educated middleclass women and are forced to remain in their homes and they expressed about their frustration and about their dormant position. Friedan wrote about this in the preface of her book:
There was strange discrepancy between the reality of
our lives as women and the image to which we were
trying to conform, the image that I came to call the
feminine mystique (9).
Therefore this term came into use to identify womanhood with the roles of daughter, wife, mother and daughter-in-law. Same way The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone stated that the oppression of women is oldest and is based on economic class. Liberation of women is only possible with the revolt of women to control their own reproductive system. Therefore the writings of Friedan, Firestone and Rowbotham handled the task of ‘rising consciousness’ with the slogan ‘personal is political’ which meant was personal experiences should be reshaped into political movement to dissolve the hierarchal power of patriarchy.
But not all writers look into this concern with a positive eye. As the second wave of feminism was moving the literary criticism and the feminist epistemology evolved side by side. As a liberal feminist Literature of Their Own by Elaine Showalter tried to rescue the minor literary women writers by establishing a female subculture and bringing them under a female literary tradition. She also introduced the concept of gynocriticism which would allow woman as the reader and critic of literary texts. She divide women writers into feminine, feminist and female which would allow the literary tradition of women writers into proper division and would hold the subculture of female all over the world.
The core beliefs of the radical feminist approach have been attacked by other feminists on a number of grounds. First argument is that “the personal is political” is itself is a dictatorial statement, as it suggests that a person nowhere in his life can be free from political inspection and that feminists are to be held accountable to their “sisters” for every aspect of their behaviour. Women therefore should be very much concerned about the political consequences of what and how they dress up, with whom they sleep and for whom they cook and therefore they should monitor their daily activities according to that only.
Second point of criticism is that the personal is political is effective de-politicising, as it could show that whatever predictable political activity done by feminists represents a pointless meeting with man-made work, and so therefore it is a waste of time. So, therefore according to this argument a woman’s political priority instead of attempting to change the world must be put into their own emotional and sexual house. Such kind of withdrawal may validate and develop into a “women culture” which will take a shape into new forms of expression through art, music, drama or poetry. Critics says that this kind of “cultural feminism”, may make the women feel good, but they have to leave the leading culture unchallenged and unchanged.
According to third point of criticism, the concept of patriarchy is said to be historical and expressive instead of critical. So therefore there is no one who can explain the origins of patriarchy or who can give a logical reason to end it. Same way, by experiencing the experiences of middleclass white western women, they deny the oppression based on class and race.
Fourth argument was regarding the radical feminist approach is that they say by encouraging women to consider only their bad experiences with men, so that the women who has experienced abused, could be listened with respect, while on the other hand the women who had experiences of happy married life are ignored as “false consciousness”. This portrays a picture of women as helpless victims, rather than encouraging them their joint opposition and oppositional power. According to critics, such a picture is politically counter-productive and, in an age where women are experiencing physical gains, is largely responsible for the popular portrayal of feminism as complaining, droning and full of negativity. Such critic further says that women should be trained to take responsibilities of their own lives and should fight against injustice, instead of weltering in the masochistic pleasures of common victimhood.
Finally, the anxiety about women’s status as being a victim is feed in a politically dangerous and false view of women as they are fundamentally good and men are fundamentally bad. But at the same point of time it is also ignoring the fact that in some cases many women do have a vital amount of economic and political power and that many men are oppressed. This view men as an impracticable, wrong and as “the enemy”, which tells that they cannot be trusted as fathers, friends, sexual partners or political associates; therefore lesbian self-rule could be seen as the only possible option feminists together as a choice for life-style and as a political strategy. But such a suggestion cannot be accepted that feminist who argues by saying that many men has also contributed to the feminist cause and also moreover many have treated women in their lives with greatest respect and love.
In 1996 a new international collection of essays by sixty-eight self-proclaimed radical feminists provided a strong argument against alleged misinterpretations of their core beliefs (Radically Speaking (Bell and Klein, 1996)). The demands of these feminists are not that private life should become political, but on the other hand they claim that it has already been, they view that the discovery of oppression; should be the first step towards challenging it, rather than making it as an end itself. Many feminist contributors persist that their main aim is not healing individual or developing the women culture; but their main aim is to modify the world, with the concluding aim of ending any type of oppression of women for the betterment of all mankind. They do not assert by saying that man is more privileged than woman, but they claim that women anywhere in the world are more exposed than men and that is because of their sex and therefore the domination of male is a basic composition in all societies.
Therefore, it suggests that there is no one “correct” structure of feminist political activity. Neither any activity does not embody out-of-the-way manifestations of male supremacy, as they can both draw strength and feed into the wider women’s movement. There is also difference between the minority who supposed that there are irremovable and indispensable biological differences which can shape both men’s and women’s nature and argument against gender differences are communally produced, and those who distinguish between structures of control on the one hand individual as men as the other. For the former, women and her associated values are intrinsically better than those of men, with which they cannot be compromise. But for the latter, male as a person is analytically different from male patriarchal power, although at some point of time women may desire to lead their life without men and women should at times also organize themselves to protect their desire.
In the human sciences ecofeminism is one of the unapplied tools which was originated and developed in the west. The human sciences study social, biological, and cultural aspects of human life, as well as the relation and the behavior of human beings with other entities; this has paved to rise the of conversation like ecofeminism to solve problems related to women and nature. As the name suggests ecofeminism is a meeting place of two theoretical endeavor-ecocritical discourses and feminism.
The question may arise in our mind that by the term ecoferminism why women and nature are interconnected, therefore it is unsaid that there is a need to study the connection between the women and the nature. Although some ecofeminists refuse this connection while others think that there is a strong connection between women and nature and it can only be supported on the basis of ideology, biology, ontology and a history of oppression.
Mary Daly a radical lesbian feminist critically acclaimed in her book Gyn/Ecology had done a research on the concept of feminity, its origin and root. She in her book explained that how the image of womanhood had came and sustained which formed the basis of patriarchy. Starhawk and Susan Griffin had also written on the connection between women and nature. But on the other hand some of the constructivist ecofeminists like Simone De Beauvoir and Sherry B Ortner did not approved about the required connection of women and nature by saying that the connection is not natural but it is only a social creation. Simobe De Beauvoir in her book, The Second Sex proves that how man is equal to women and culture, animals, nature etc are different from it.
The main argument of radical ecofeminists is that cross culturally women are being associated with or have been seeing to be closer to nature and that is because of their reproductive function, which defined their psychic structure and roles. Same way, men are related with culture and as culture universally tries to dominate and control nature so therefore men generally tries to subordinate and dominate women. On the other hand, ecofeminists see the proximity between women and nature as a source of empowerment of women and environmental liberation. Perception of women and comprehension of the world is inherently grounded in a web like human/nature relation which is not hierarchical. Ecofeminism examines the interrelationship between the destruction of the natural environment and the oppression of the women, the essential connection which arises from man’s centered thinking. For example, the central/hierarchical thinking resulting from the binary oppositions of a patriarchal culture where man and civilization are seen as privileged concepts and women and nature as underprivileged or it can be define as the ‘other’ which had deeply developed into the unconscious or conscious of the society at large. Ecofeminists encourages the solutions of the problems which require a decentring view of this world; a shift to a way of thinking that goes beyond hierarchies of privilege and power and binary oppositions to a hierarchy.
As to view the association of women with nature, both of them were disvalued in western culture, ecofeminism within a radical bent analyzed that the critique of patriarchy was the main the cause of environmental problems and suggested alternatives which could liberate both women and nature (Merchant 1990, p. 93) This attitude of ecofeminism can be further analyzed from the famous article by Sherry Ortner, Is Female to Male as a Nature is to Culture? (1974) The ecofeminists praise the relationship amongst women and nature through the advancement of old customs focusing on the Mother Goddess, the moon, creatures and the women reproductive system. This ancient period, centered on goddess worship, was ousted by a rising male centric culture with male gods to whom the female gods were subservient. The scientific revolution of the 17th century further degraded the nature, metaphor of a machine to be controlled and repaired from outside had replaced the nurturing earth. The earth is to be dominated by science and industry, male developed and controlled technology.
Ecofeminist essentialism did not able to give any statement on any historical change in society. Some of the critics like Susan Prentice (1998) argued that politics imply man to what to do the earth is bad, unlike women by emphasizing the special relationship between women and nature, so that they ignore the fact that men too can grow principle of caring for nature. It also fail domination and capitalism of nature. Thus, it can’t build up a viable procedure for change, since it closes in polarizing the universes of people while essentializing the two classes. On the other hand, those ecofeminists who are working within the socialist structure, are seen as human nature and nature as “socially constructed, rooted in an analysis of race, class and gender” (Merchant 1992, p. 194). Though the dominant of use it has the potential of more thorough critique. Going apart from radicals, this ecofeminists criticizes capitalist patriarchy, focusing on more logical relationships between “production and reproduction, and between production and ecology”(Merchant 1992, pp. 195-197).
• Historically, women’s intimate relationship with nature has helped to support life. In traditional societies production was disrupted due to colonial intervention and capitalist development. In charge of production of exchange of commodities the capitalistic economy started dominated by men, while women were held responsible for mainly for reproducing the work-force and social relations were pushed increasingly into the domestic sphere. Under the capitalistic economy, sustainability of nature is ignored, and reproduction is considered subordinate to production. But under socialism, production does not mean to satisfy people’s greed, but to satisfy people’s need. In the transition to socialist ecology the ecofeminist view is that the emphasis of reproduction and nature should be reversed with priorities of capitalism, rather than production being central. Therefore the focus of ecofeminists becomes the reproduction of life itself. This vision of ecofeminists deals with environmental issues which would affect working class women. Nonetheless, these ecofeminists excessively tend, making it impossible to essentialize women and see them as being nearer to nature. Moreover, they favour and view women as one of the marginalized categories along with different marginalized classes and races. But by doing so, they are merging all the categories of women together. They did not see the experiences of women which differ on the basis of race, caste, class, and ethnicity and so on.
Karren Warren’s influential article “Feminism and Ecology: Making connections” (1987) persuades feminists to recognize the connection between environmental degradation, sexism and other forms of social oppression by tending their attention to ecological problems. She asserts that ecofeminism is an ethical trend, a philosophical vision and as well as a political movement. Warren adds in her book Ecological Feminism (1994), ecofeminism is also “cross-cultural” in that it encompasses “the inextricable interconnections among all social systems of domination, for instance, racism, classism, ageism, ethnocentrism, imperialism, colonialism, as well as sexism” (p. 2). Therefore ecofeminism attempts to prove the parallel forms of domination, which agreeably reinforce each other and lead to the destruction of nature and degradation of life. Ecofeminists significantly care more about ‘patriarchal conceptual framework’ which are further indicated by hierarchy and by conflicting dualism: male/female, mind/body, reason/emotion, universal/particular, culture/nature and where the first term is elevated and associated with men and second term is devalued and associated with women.
Val Plumwood the Australian philosopher focuses on the concept of dualism in Feminism and The Mastery of Nature (1993). According to her, dualism is characterized by rejection and denial and is linked to others by forming oppressive connections. Dualism is a way of thinking that makes the relationships equally attainable and it is not just a hierarchy. A dualism is a relationship of dominion and separation. Science, religion, philosophy, social models, economics and sexual standards education supports the logic of dominion that drives women into background and assumes men’s existence in the foreground. Same way, Peter Hay (2002) proclaims that “patriarchy is a gender-privileging system of power relations… masculine values are regarded as ‘species-defining’, whilst the feminine is marginalized and trivialized. This has led to the categorization of women and values associated with the feminine as ‘other’…” (pp. 73-74).
Actually, the modern form of feminism has been acutely concerned with the dualisms of female/nature versus male/culture. Simone De Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1974), develops her famous passage as woman as the ‘Other’, which enhances the very basic belief about women. According to her belief system man aspires in Woman the Other and Nature as his fellow being. But we know very well what kind of mixed feeling man is being inspired by nature. He utilizes her for his selfish needs, but she crushes him, he is born and dies in her; she is the source of his soul and realm that she subjugates to his will. De Beauvoir describes man’s contradiction towards woman and nature by identifying all these factors. But this has become a crucial issue as man himself cannot completely explain his relationship to both women and nature. According to a more contemporary ecofeminist writer Maureen Devine (1992) thinks that woman is a victim of patriarchal power structures but not of an any individual man… who treats both women and nature as objects and within these power structures both have became victims. According to ecofeminists the concept of “other” includes not only woman and nature but also animals, “Third world” people, people of colour, as well the lower class; in other words all the marginalized inferior categories. Ecofeminists put a linguistic term between oppression of land and women, as the term “rape of land”. This term is used to exhibit the pronoun ‘she’ and term ‘mother nature’ as feminine. They also describe nature as ‘untamed’ and women as ‘wild’.
The Chipko Movement is not only about trees, but it is also a grassroots, nonviolent, women initiated protest movement and it is also about –other human Other-nature connections. This is true in India that forests are intimately governed by women as it is connected to rural and household economies. The rural women would pose a serious problem if there would be a shortage of trees as they are more dependent than men on tree and forest products and they are the primary sufferers of forest resource depletion. The most important advocate of ecofeminism in India is Vandana Shiva. Shiva in her book, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (1989) criticize western technology and modern science, colonial project and a patriarchy which continues to have violence against women and nature. Most ecofeminists like Mies and Shiva colonization is the main reason of subjugation of “third world” people but also destroying and looting the natural resources which were until then preserved and sacred by the “third world” society.
Another network that Mies and Shiva held responsible for changing the courses of the lives of the animal, nature and “third world” towards destruction is capitalist patriarchy. Therefore man is superior to nature, man to woman, production to consumption, and the global to the local and so on. Although capitalist patriarchy brought new ideas of development and progress to the “third world”, still Mies and Shiva truly criticized its skewed development which termed as maledevelopment.
Anita Desai one of the contemporary writer explores ecofeminist traits in her work ingeniously. Her novels epilogues relate the establishment and the narrative of the ecofeminine perspective. The position of the women and the state of the environment are incorporated on several levels, and the natural surroundings draw strength to the women.
Anita Desai’s heroines tried to escape from the current busy schedule as they are loved to be with nature. They want to console with nature. They wanted to move towards solitude, silence, Nature of small Islands, and landscapes of less-frequented hills and mountains and away from the noises, crowds, humdrum and traffic of cities.
Anita Desai always mounts her novels as just like a horseman who is having an ecofeminist persona in her hands and rides our mind as just like a horse who always obeys its master. We see and imagine novels through her eyes. We can feel the presence of the nature right through her novel, we can see the honey crammed flowers and can smell the sweet fragrance of the ripening of the fruits, we can hear the note of Bulbul in the forest lawn, we literally visualize the fire on the mountain and symbolically notice the fire in the eyes and minds of Ila Das, Nanda Kaul and even Raka, we also taste the delicious nectar overflowed from the ripen fruits and jam. The novel Fire on the mountain helps the reader to enjoy themselves in the midst of the nature.
As a writer, Aniya Desai has received Sahitya Akademi Award and nominated thrice for the Booker Prize Award for her novel Fire on the Mountain (1999). Most of her literary works investigate the resistance against patriarchal system in order to achieve independence by obstructing the ways of oppressed individuals. The symbolism or representation of women characters in relation to nature allows the reader to recognize the infinite spheres of the female ideology. The title of novel is highly symbolic and suggestive. It not only indicates the actual occurrence happening of now and then on top of the mountain, besides ranging passion within restless soul but also burning into ashes trees and houses.
Fire on the Mountain revolves around three women characters Ila Das, Raka and Nanda Kaul, their interconnectedness with nature, equal oppression of nature and their victimization. The novel highlights its partnership to the darker aspects of the women concerned and also depicts the darker shades of nature. Therefore, this novel clearly highlights the ecological concerns which are connected to human and non-human species. All the three protagonists whom Desai created in her novel are trapped in all the dualistic patterns which man symbolizes arrogance and power, fear and hate, domination and brutality, while on the other hand woman and nature in every aspect of life are victims.
Both woman and nature are being exposed to various forms of exploitation in Fire on the Mountain. Regarding the victimization of women, the lives of three victim women represents a narrative discourse on violence, either physically or mentally, due to patriarchal system. Nanda Kaul, a widowed great-grandmother, is a victim of her role as a dutiful wife to an unfaithful husband and as a mother to many children. Raka, her absolutely withdrawn great-grandchild, is the victim of a cruel father. Ila Das, Nanda’s childhood friend, unmarried, and the victim of her own reformist idealism and her selfish brothers. BR Nagpal (2014) states that:
The woman protagonists are portrayed as victims of an aberrant urban milieu, patriarchal family structures and bourgeoisie, bureaucratic, imperialistic, colonized, social scenario. It is in this context that the characters are in a state of revolt, despondency, morbidity and are driven to grapple with duality, fragmentation. (p. 49)
Fire on the Mountain tells the dramatic story of Nanda Kaul who retires in a cottage up the mountain at Carignano in Kausali after her husband’s death. There she creates a space for her own and enclosed herself in a life of confinement, solitude and privacy. Accompanied only by Ram Lal, the cook, equipped with the bare necessities, Nanda loves Carignano for its isolation and bareness, its slopes, scary ravines and steep heights becomes one with this desolate landscape. This shows a basic form of relatedness and a kind of interconnectedness between women and nature. The reason behind is this because women’s bodies specially at the time of pregnancy are lead to be two in one and to host other bodies. So the woman is seen either contained by or containing others throughout all phases of her lives.
It is a common Indian culture ideology that women position considered as inferior as compared to men. Women’s psychic and psyche are dominated by the institutions’ societal structure. Therefore education, myth religion and social value are used to overpower the female through creating strong notions of hierarchy. Indian women have become the victims of that process. They are forced to keep quiet. They are not given any kind of opportunity to speak about their needs and their problems. Whenever the woman is portrayed or imagined, she is always in the second position below the man. She is always muted. Identifying this issue, Indian critic and feminist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1985) asks-“can the subaltern speak?” To answer this question, she says: “There is no space from which the sexed subaltern subject can speak…The subaltern cannot speak” (p. 103). The main reason Spivak speaks is that Indian woman is always labeled as a good wife or a sati. “Sati as a woman’s proper name is in fairly widespread use in India…Naming a female infant ‘a good wife’ has its own proleptic irony…” (p. 102). While examining the power and position of Indian women.
Therefore the position of ‘third world woman’ is always in-between imperialism and patriarchy. Nanda’s chosen seclusion is due to her husband’s unfaithfulness which is nursing a deep wound in her heart. After passing past by psychic suffering and bitter experiences of a hypocritical married life she has selected this severance from all human relationships. Her husband always regards her as a splendid hostess of all parties he hold but never respects her as a wife. Desai represents Nanda’s trauma as thus:
The old house, the full house, of that period of her life when she was the vicechancellor’s wife was the hub of a small but intense world, which had not pleased her. Its crowding had stifled her….They had so many children, they had gone to so many schools at different times of the day, and had so many tutors…all of different ages and families. (FOTM, pp. 29-30)
Internally Nanda is burning with frustration and suppressed emotions but externally everything appears smooth and pleasant.
The brutal death of Nanda’s only friend Ila Das breaks the web of self-insulation that Nanda has been weaving since her arrival Carignano. She did not ask her friend to stay the night in order to protect her solitude and later she felt guilty for that. In order to identify her friend’s body the police officer rings Nanda Kaul requesting her to come to the police station. After hearing the tragic news Nanda felt deeply shocked and unexpectedly lapses into reverie, into death. Wernmei Young Ade comments; “the phone call becomes a call to responsibility, specifically for Nanda part in the death of Ila”(p. 114). Although it suggests that she killed herself but the narrative does not expressively tell us. “she twisted her head, then hung it down, down, let it hang,” and later, “Nanda Kaul on the stool with her head hanging, the black telephone hanging, the long wire dangling” (FOTM, p. 145). In fact Nanda fights with her incompleteness, inadequacy till the end of the novel.
Raka’s troubled familial experiences have formed her into a agitated, hallucinating and scary child. This has been demonstrated in her response to the party going on in the club. The drunken orgy in the club of the Research Station, which witnesses stealthily, serves to unlock her recollections of her own home, “her father,coming home from a party, stumbling and crashing through the curtains of night, his mouth opening to let out a flood of rotten stench, beating at her mother with hammers and fists of abuse—harsh, filthy abuse that made Raka cower under bedclothes and wet the mattress in fright”(FOTM , p. 71) She ran away from there like a chased animal, her feet stamping on the thorns and her sweating feasts beating her sides. In the patriarchal form of society, violence could be traced in the families. As women are economically and socially dependent than men, so men have an access to economic and social resources which endows them with greater power over women. Men try to assert their strength and power through violence.
Ila Das struggles hard in her life to earn some money and later works as a welfare officer just for identity. By telling the people about the evils of child marriage she fights against this practice. However, society tried to stop and discards her efforts due to its patriarchal values. Talking to Nanda her friend, Ila says, “It’s so much harder to teach a man anything, Nanda-the women are willing poor dears, to try and change their dreadful lives by an effort, but do you think their men will let them? Noooo, not one bit” (FOTM, p. 129). Disaster strikes Ila Das when she tried to Stop Preet Singh, a villager who was trying to marrying his seven year old daughter to an old widower with six children, for a quarter of an acre land and two goats and later he assaults her, raped her and murdered her. The ferocious, cruel Preet Singh leaves Ila Das in a miserable condition: “crushed back, crushed down into the earth, she lay raped, broken, still and finished” (FOTM, p. 143). Not only the women subjugated in her village, but also they are required to see their children die, because their men forced to listen to the village priest who tells them not to take their young ones to hospitals. The sexual humiliation or death shows the ultimate destiny of a woman like Ila Das if she goes against the patriarchal tradition. This indicates the transformation of the experience of Indian women. According to Aroop Saha (2011) ” although the Indian women are surrounded by patriarchal ideology, a change has occurred in the construction of female subjectivity….Nanda Kaul’s experience of suppressed rage and Ila Das’ experience of violence, both physical and psychological, show an elevation to construct a female subject”(p. 238). Unfortunately, the formation of the female self cannot get the full face because of her inherited explosive present power and position which are not only distorted by male domination but get fragmented also.
Shiva adds, in her preface to Ecoferminism (2014), that violence against women is as old as patriarchy. Traditional patriarchy has structured the minds as well as the cultural and social worlds on the basis of control over women and their contradiction of their right to equality and full humanity. Ultimately as the time passed it has become more harsh forms, for example the murder of the Delhi gang-rape victim and the suicide of the 17-year old rape victim in Chandigarh and other cases. (quoted in Mies ; Shiva 2014, p. xiv). Shiva further adds that violence against women has taken a new and more vicious forms as traditional patriarchal structures have been “hybridized with the structures of capitalist patriarchy” (quoted in Mies ; Shiva 2014, p. xiv). According to National Commission on Women and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology the parallel exploitation of nature, from an ecofeminist perspective the rape of the earth and the rape of women are intimately linked-both metaphorically and materially.
For the oppression and the violence of non-human species the Pasteur Institute is a good example. Yet it stresses the misuses the abuse and exploitation of animals for it aims of research but normally one would associate it with humane studies. “They have rabbits and guinea pigs there, too, many animals. They use them for tests…. They empty the bones and ashes of dead animals down into the ravine” (FOTM, p. 44). It is a good example of environmental speciesism which targets animals as Lori Gruen (1993) speculates that reducing animals to mere objects devoid of feelings. Later when Raka sees the Institute , “she shaded her eyes to look up at the swords of the Pasteur Institute chimneys…lashed about with black whips of smoke. Raka…smelt serum boiling,…choloroform and spirit, smelt dog’s brains boiled in vats…”(FOTM, p. 49). Such an Institute is a strong representation of male’s destructive scientific domination.
The forest fire is the best example of the cultivation of land which accompanies the natural resources to deplete. This is a good example of environmental classism and a typical male capitalist ideology which usually targets the poor people. According to Desai’s perception, poor people are greatly affected by fire. An old lady’s house was burnt down in a terrible forest fire “she went mad and was put away”. “Poor woman”, Nanda wonders if she would have preferred to die in the fire (FOTM, p. 57). Modern technology which uses a beautiful wild area for an army camp shows the patriarchal attitude in destroying the natural phenomena for economic purposes and proves the insensitivity of man towards the nature. In addition to the women’s lives parallel the destruction of Kausali’s landscape in Desai’s narratives. Rape of the land is parallel rape and murder of Ila Das, army camp as well as the tourists industry is responsible for the destruction of the land. Nanda Kaul bitterly says to Raka, “It really is saddening. One would have liked to keep it as it was, a–a haven, you know” (FOTM p, 57). Thus as has been shown, women’s oppression and the exploitation of nature are two dimensions of many forms of injustice and discrimination; namely the victimization of women by men and the exploitation of the nonhuman world by man.
In the conversation about ecofeminism, the relation of language to women centers the utilization of metaphor, and its function in describing the dualism of woman/nature on several levels, mainly the lexical, semantic, and narrative. It is noticeable that language is suggestive through dualism of “phallologocentrism” and its prominence on the domination of male culture. Jacques Derrida defines “phallologocentrism” occupies a central place in theories of French feminism. Devine (1992) states that “language is power and meaning for many centuries women have been largely denied access to and use of public language, the language of dominant discourse. They have therefore been unable to influence it, make it responsive to them, or expressive of their needs” (93). In their concern with “phallologocentrism” feminist critics show the damages it caused women as a system of signification. They have produced a more emphasis on language as a space over which the male dominated phallologocentric discourses presided. According to Devine (1992), nineteenth and twentieth centuries ” experienced renewed interests in language as a mirror of power and language as social behavior that communicates cultural values as well as defines and maintains social roles” (p. 94).
C.G. Shyamala (2011) speculates that “Desai has the power to express sensibilities in her canvas using images from nature…. She is an artist who has the ability to carve such deep emotions within dexterous use of imagery that they announce the introduction of the explorations of the selves within the ecological framework” (p. 7). Desai’s Fire on the Mountain skillfully shows many images which are rich in symbolic connotations. Animal and plant symbols are used to comment on the characters actions and their personalities. Shyam Asnani (1981) remarks that “Desai is perhaps the only Indo-English novelist who lay stress on the landscape and correlates it with the psychic state of the protagonists” (p. 86). In Fire on the Mountain, the landscape is the foil for the inner psychic state. From the feminist perspective, the Nanda’s inner reflect the bareness and solitude reflect the bareness and bleakness of the landscape.
The image of the fire is also suggestive. Not only it has a symbolic meaning that connects Nanda Kaul and Raka but also it refers to a natural phenomenon in the mountains due to summer heat and dryness. One night they together witnessed a forest fire, for Raka it fascinates her but for Nanda the forest fire regularly occurs. Raka imagines that “she heard the cries of animals and birds burning in that fire” (FOTM, p. 75). However, the forest fire is endowed with “a quality of a dream-disaster, dream-specters that follow one, trap one”(FOTM, p. 76). RS Shamara (1981) reads the fire as “expressive of Raka’s resolve to destroy a world where a woman cannot hope to be happy without being unnatural.”(p. 145). Its unreality and appears unreal, it foretells a disaster. R. A. Singh (2009) believes that the title of the novel Fire on The Mountain implies a sense of irony since mountains are “usually havens, calm places, associated with holiness and divinity” (p. 110). Its humans who disrupt the ‘calm’ and ‘holiness’ of their havens.
In fact the fire symbolizes Raka’s wild nature and the mountain is symbolic to mountain. The rape and harsh murder of Ila Das in the forest in the dark raises a frightening awareness of male dual domination of both women and nature.
At the end of the novel, the mischievous girl, Raka, actually sets fire: “Look, Nani, I have set the forest on fire. Look, Nani-Look-the forest is on fire” (FOTM, p. 145). This is followed by the authorial statement: “Down in the ravine, the flames spat and crackled around the dry wood and through the dry grass, and black smoke spiraled up over the mountain”(FOTM, p. 146). The fictive world of Nanda is totally shattered by the news of Ila Das’s rape and murder. Against this backdrop, the utterance of Raka, “Look Nani, I have set the forest on fire” (FOTM, p. 146) attains a great symbolic significance. It is described by R. S. Sharma as, “expressive of Raka’s resolve to destroy a world where a woman cannot hope to be happy without being unnatural” (p. 127).
Ecofeminism as an ideology and movement finds that the oppression of women is interlinked to the oppression of nature with the same masculine attitudes. Anita Desai’s Fire on the Mountain (1977) depicts gradual destruction of the ecosystem of the Kasauli hills and its eventual destruction by the devastating forest fire. The characterization in the novel also echoes this gradual desiccation. The response of the female characters to life has been externalized with natural images to proliferate their inner consciousness. Desai’s characters carry on a dual life; the inner and the outer. The three protagonists are trapped in dualistic pattern in which man symbolizes brutality, dominance and violence. In fact, Fire on the Mountain addresses and unfolds an amazing variety of issues; motherhood, femininity, isolation, death, exile, violence, patriarchal domination and exploitation of nature. It also embodies dualistic issues; nature versus civilization, wilderness versus domesticity and free will versus fate. The novel is rich with images that reinforce woman-nature interconnectedness.
The nature and the natural elements, in many cultures had been approached as worshipped as women. They called the nature as Nature Goddess or Mother Nature, the earth as Mother Earth or Earth Woman, the sea as Sea Mother etc. This tradition had resulted in attributing the characteristics of nature on women. They were burdened by the responsibilities of nurturing and reproducing along with being victimized and silenced by the patriarchy. Man’s desire for prosperity had been proved always stressful for nature and womanhood at large. The present woman (even the educated and employed) establishes herself with nature in terms of being oppressed, tortured, and covered up deformed and exploited.
Suzanna Arundhathi Roy presents “the oppressive coupling of women and nature”(1) in her Booker Prize winning novel The God of Small Things (1997). Her work straightaway recognized as a “passionate, sophisticated and lushly descriptive work”(1) and had launched her to international fame.
Roy puts forth the idea that, like Indian women who remain silent against patriarchal oppression, environment has been enduring a wanton destruction for ages. With great skill, Roy integrates nature with her subject matter. She vividly presents how nature is being exploited by human beings in order to be modernised. She gives expression to her thought that nature is being made the silent victim of human greed and insensitivity and these, in turn, have reflexive effects on human life.(2)
According to Karen J.Warren “Prior to the seventeenth century, nature was conceived on an organic model as a benevolent female, a nurturing mother; after the scientific revolution, nature was conceived on a mechanistic model as a (mere) machine, inert, dead. On both models, nature was female” (9).
The rivers had a supreme role in the cultivation of civilization. It had always equated to women to whom traditionally the role of nurturing is burdened upon and it has been called as the life supporter. The Meenachal River which passes through the Ayemenem is closely associated with the twin’s mother Ammu. This river had been a mother-figure the fisherman in the Ayemenem village by providing the daily livelihood for them. She became the terminator of lives when she turns to a violent monster in rain and takes up everything by her side. Like the river, Ammu inside her was a sleeping volcano, ready to detonate any time but on the other hand she have a deceptive face that expressed calmness. Ammu with her transistors used to spend hours in the banks of the river. She pretend to be in peace, enjoying the beauty of the Meenachal but inside her was like a “suicide bomber” (TGST, 44).
Occasionally, when Ammu listens to songs that she loved on the radio, something stirred inside her. A liquid ache spread under her skin and she walked out of the world like a witch, to a better happier place. On days like this, there was something restless and untamed about her. As though she had temporarily set aside her morality of motherhood and divorcee hood. Even her walk changed from a safe mother- walk to anther wider sort of walk. She wore flowers in her hair and carried magic secrets in her eyes. She spoke to no one. She spent hours on the river bank with her little plastic transistor shaped like a tangerine. She smoked cigarettes and had midnight swims (TGST, 44).
Meenachal too had this dual face. Sometimes she pretends to be “a little church going ammoma (grandmother), quite and clean…Minding her own business. Not looking right or left” (TGST, 210) but in reality she was a “wild thing”. Kuttappen rightly warns the twins about her wilderness “I can hear her at night- rushing past in the moonlight always in hurry. You must be careful of her…She minds other people’s business” (TGST, 210).
Both Meenachal Riveer and Ammu are the two pathetic figures in the fiction who struggled to survive. Like the three generations of women depicted in the narrative Ammu had been a victim of patriarchy. She was the daughter of wealthy and educated parents of a Syrian Catholic family in Ayemenem. Whenever her etymologist father got a chance showered his anger and frustration (disappointment in naming a moth) on little Ammu. According to him it is a waste of money to teach girls so therefore he forbidden Ammu from attending college. When Ammu tried to find comfort and solace in her marriage and her twins, she was betrayed by her husband when he asks her to soothe the sexual hunger of his English boss. When she finds herself beyond her endurance with a hope that her parents will accept her and her children, she takes up her children back to home. But again she has to face the harsh truth of life. Ammu feels oppressed by the inferiority of her family members who treat them as unwanted bugs. Although Chacko, her brother has a similar status that is the status of divorcee is given many privileges by the family members. His mother showers her love and affection for him by making arrangements for the factory women to enter Chacko’s room without worrying about other family members. They were eager to hush up the relationship of Ammu and Velutha when they came to know about it. They had even gone to the extend to conspire to kill Velutha and finally they had succeeded in it, but on the other hand locked up Ammu and criticize her severely. After death of Velutha in the police custody she left her house and comes to Allepy where in Bharath Lodge she met her awful death. Roy had outlined impressively the predicament of Ammu with a prospect of attacking the patriarchal dominance in society. What modernization had done to Meenachal River is similar to what patriarchy had done to Ammu.
Meenachal river which flows through the locality of Ayemenem had been an essence of horror and beauty. Once the river was “Grey green with fish in it. The sky and trees in it. And at night, the broken moon in it” (TGST, 203). Twenty three years ago she was destructive, unpredictable and the most powerful but now she had turned out to be a trifling narrow ribbon “it greeted her with a ghastly skull’s smile, with holes where teeth had been, and a limp hand raised from a hospital bed” (TGST, 124). It is nothing but human selfishness that led to the death of this river to get more yields from the farmland. “Down river, a salt water barrage had been built, in exchange for the votes from the back waters that opened into the Arabian Sea. So now they had two harvests a year instead of one. More rice for the price of a river” (TGST, 124). The river is now flooded with domestic waste and industrial waste. The river “smelled of shit, and pesticides bought with World Bank loans. Most of the fish had died. The ones that survived suffered from fin-rot and had broken out in boils” (TSGT, 140). Once there were trees on the green riverside but now it has been invaded by human settlements. The children excrete in the mud banks of the river making it equally despicable and filthy. But like the surrendered woman Ammu, who lost her love and her life for the fancies and whims of class and caste conscious patriarchy and society, the river blows with all the filth and merges to the sea.
The condition of all of the female characters in the novel is similar to the butterflies that the entomologist John Ipe used to pin up in his cardboard. Their dreams and identities were halted by the norms and rules of the male dominancy. All of them flutter for happiness, acceptance, reorganization, love, life and freedom throughout the plot.
Pappachi (John Ipe) bestowed his patriarchal dominance over the ungrudging, submissive, docile wife Mammachi. Mammachi’s conjugal life was invariably restless and turbulent. In the hands of here educated husband she had been a mere puppet. Pappachi was seventeen years older than her and this generate sexual jealousy in his mind. He was not less than a jealous, egoistic, possessive, narrow minded, true patriarch who takes out his physical power over the unhappy wife and daughter. He stopped his wife’s violin lessons when her tutor gave good remarks on her and had gone to an extend to break her violin and throw it in the river. Finally to escape from her abusive husband Mammachi starts her business the Paradise Pickles and Preserves. Like Ammu who search for comfort and solace in the river Mammachi is discovering a new life with her pickle factory that preserved natural products finding her link with nature.
Baby Kochamma is another female figure who finds solace and comfort in nature. She never faces any physical subjugation from any of the male characters in the fiction but was emotionally tortured by thoughts of Father Mulligan whom she had fallen in love. Baby Kochamma tries everything possible to get Father Mulligan. She embraces Roman Catholicism and takes vows of nunnery hoping to get chance to be with Father. She left the convent as her attempts to get closer to Father Mulligan was met with disappointment and eventually goes to United States to study Ornamental Gardening. There is new vitality and energy that we see in Baby Kochamma after her return from US. She turns the discarded front yard of Ayemenem House to a beautiful garden that she had many visitors from distant places.
Baby Kochamma turned it into a lush maze of dwarf hedges, rocks, and gargoyles. The flower she loved most was the anthurium…. Their single succulent spathes ranged from shades of mottled black to blood red …. In the centre of Baby Kochamma’s garden, surrounded by beds of canna and phlox, a marble cherub peed an endless silver arc into a shallow pool in which a single blue lotus bloomed. At each corner of the pool lolled a pink plaster-of-Paris gnome with rosy cheeks and a peaked red cap.…Like a lion-tamer she tamed twisting vines and nurtured bristling cacti. She limited bonsai plants and pampered rare orchids. She waged war on the weather. She tried to grow edelweiss and chinese guava. (TGST -26-27).
According to Sherry Ortner “the issue of women, their pan-cultural second-class status could be accounted for, quite simply, by postulating that women are being identified or symbolically associated with nature, as opposed to men, who are identified with culture. Since it is always culture’s project to subsume and transcend nature, if women were considered part of nature, then culture would find it “natural” to subordinate, not to say oppress, them”(6). In the novel we find all of the female characters have direct association with nature world or the animal world as they are subordinated and suppressed by the patriarchy like the nature is tamed by the culture. The human history witnesses that all patriarchal societies follow the same pattern of subordinating the women.
Arundhathi Roy builds up a world that includes ants, spiders, fish, dragon flies, trees, river etc that stands parallel to the oppressed lives of the female figures in the narrative. The reader could identify Roy as a true Ecofeminist in this work voicing for the subjugated women and exploited nature like the social activist in her non-fiction works.