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Ecofeminism v2.0

Dualism is ‘the process by which contrasting concepts are formed by subordination and are constructed as oppositional and exclusive.’ According to a tradition of thoughts tracing back to ancient Greek philosophy (e.g., Plato), Western culture emphasizes dualistic pairs such as nature or reason, nature or culture, male or female, concrete or abstract, subject or object, insider or outsider, etc.

Per tradition, one item in each constructed pair is tagged as superior to the other. As stated in Feminism and the Mastery of Nature(1993) by Val Plumwood, an Australian environmental philosopher, ‘virtually everything on the ’superior’ side can be represented as forms of reason, and virtually everything on the underside can be represented as forms of nature.’

What emerged from this deeply entrenched cultural bias is a close association of women with nature (hence the terms ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘Mother Earth’), both seen as exploitable resources, with a mirror association of men with reason/culture. This perspective gave rise to the term ‘patriarchal dualism.’

A stream of intellectual critique and political activism surfaced to challenge this dichotomy in the 70s and gained momentum in the late 80s and early 90s. It attempted to bring feminism and environmentalism under a single social movement dubbed ‘ecofeminism.’ Next to the joint promotion of women and the environment, the movement sought to move away from the simplistic, hierarchical, and exclusionary characteristics of dualism to promote care and cooperation over more aggressive and dominating behaviors.’

Dogged by ideological extremism, ecofeminism did not take off and died of extinction in the late 90s.

Notwithstanding its early demise, ecofeminism may represent ‘ground zero’ for the ESG movement. Many question the cohesion of the acronym’s three components. It seems to me that ‘ecofeminism’ and its challenge to patriarchal dualism provide a conceptual answer as it brings a connection between the environment (climate, nature), social dynamics (gender diversity, and, by extension, diversity), and governance (balance of power). ESG can thus be seen as a consortium of interests.

The strength of the consortium has increased over time. Facts now show that women are disproportionately affected by climate change. In addition, they are also often unfairly affected by measures to remedy it. Thus, according to a Ted Talk by Zineb Sqalli, a partner at BCG, managing climate risk requires active involvement by women in decision-making processes: ‘I am talking about gender as an intentional forethought in every green project, every green investment, every green legislation.’

While only offered for debate, this theory of the origin of ESG would explain why it is so hard for society to integrate the concept of sustainability, however value creative, since confronted with deep-rooted, patriarchal dualism-driven cultural biases.

Intellectually mature and embedded in the capital markets, ESG may succeed where ecofeminism has failed.

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