Often referred to as a “feminist / ecological treatise” by critics, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing reflects the politics and issues of the postmodern society (Hutcheon 145). The narrator of the story (who remains nameless) returns to the undeveloped island that she grew up on to search for her missing father; in the process, she unmasks the dualities and inconsistencies in both her personal life and her patriarchal society. Through the struggle to reclaim her identity and roots, the Surfacer begins a psychological journey that leads her directly into the natural world. Like the journey itself, the language, events, and characters in Atwood’s novel reflect a world that oppresses and dominates both femininity and nature. Strong and unmistakable in Surfacing, the ecofeminist theory establishes itself in three specific ways: through the references to patriarchal reasoned dualities between the masculine and feminine world; through the domination and oppression of the feminine and natural world, and through the Surfacer’s own internal struggle and re-embracement of nature.
Since “the voices of ecofeminism are diverse,” it requires definition (Zabinski 315). A postmodern movement that “abandons the hardheaded scientific approach . . . in favor of a more spiritual consciousness,” ecofeminist theory links the oppression of women with the oppression of nature (Salleh 339). More specifically, “ecological feminism is the position that there are important connections — historical, experiential, symbolic, theoretical — between the domination of women and the domination of nature, an understanding which is crucial to both feminism and environmental ethics” (Warren, The Power and the P…
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… Ecology.” Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism. Ed. Judith Plant. Philedelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989: 18-28.
Legleer, Gretchen T. “Ecofeminism Literary Criticism.” Warren, Ecofeminism 227-238.
Salleh, Ariel. “Deeper than Deep Ecology: The Eco-feminist Connection.” Environmental Ethics. Vol.6. 339-345.
Warren, Karen, ed. Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, and Nature. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997.
—. “Taking Empirical Data Seriously: An Ecofeminist Philosophical Perspective.” Warren, Ecofeminism 3-20.
—. “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism.” Environmental Ethics: 125-146.
Zabinski, Catherine. “Scientific Ecology and the Ecological Feminism: The Potential for Dialougue.” Warren, Ecofeminism 314-322.
Zimmerman, Michael. “Feminism, Deep Ecology, and Environmental Ethics.” Environmental Ethics. Vol. 9, 22-44.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and An Ode Popular Superstitions of Highlands of Scotland
Comparing Unification in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland
In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft seeks to abolish repressive, orthodox conventions. She endeavors to abate manners that lacerate our society, that elevate man above woman, that prohibit equal exchange between the sexes. This unequal system of gender roles forms the basis of her argument. Wollstonecraft claims that civilization will not progress while half its population is subjugated. Arguing that progress in sexual commerce will balance the scales, she seeks simplicity in society through equality between man and woman. Through equal education, rejection of traditional expectations, but most importantly a dismissal of complex, debilitating emotions like love and passion, the sexes will overlap, becoming one, becoming unisexual. This simplification, this unisexuality, will clear the smoke between men and women, allowing them to return to a basis of reason upon which to build a better society. Wollstonecraft sees this unisexuality as the savior of human kind.
In An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, Considered as the Subject of Poetry, William Collins seeks to abolish cultural stereotypes rending Scottish and English societies. Collins realizes that if unabated, the rising 18th century commercial torrent will consume Scotland. This flood will leave the north hopelessly backward, unable to unite with the southern commonwealth. The growing cultural and economic gap between north and south will leave England ripe for conflict. Collins also realizes that the British Empire can never be a great power unless these two warring factions u…
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…al level simplifies the conflict between the sexes because it eliminates the messy emotional biases attached to this conflict. Returning Scot and Brit to their ancient Celtic past simplifies the conflict between their nations because it eliminates messy emotional biases attached to this impasse as well. Both Wollstonecraft and Collins seek harmony through reason; both seek unity through precision, both succeed because simplicity speaks to everyone, Brit, Scot, man or woman.
Collins, William. “An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland,Considered as the Subject of Poetry.” Online. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 3034: Texts and Contexts: Restoration and Eighteenth Century Literature. Oct. 1998.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. Carol H. Poston. New York: Norton, 1988.