PhD researcher Rebecca Jones introduces us to her research and recommends some ecofeminist reading as part of Open the Door 2020.
Hello! I’m Rebecca Jones, and I’m the coordinator of the Book Group and a volunteer at GWL.
I’m also a PhD researcher at the University of Strathclyde, and I’ve been asked to tell you a bit about my research as part of Open the Door 2020.
By now you’ll know that the theme of this year’s festival is ecofeminism, the environment and nature writing. Ecofeminism is the backbone of my research.
So what is it that I do? I analyse novels that retell the myth of Prometheus in some way. I do this to demonstrate how ‘Promethean masculinity’ and the oppression of both women and animals have been connected historically. Ecofeminist animal studies provides my theoretical framework for analysing these texts.
Here are a few of the books that have shaped my research . . .
The key text of my thesis is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Famous as a story about an over-reaching scientist who creates a ‘monster’, its ecofeminist theme of nature as female, exposed and penetrated (often by force) by male scientists, is sometimes overlooked – as is the fact that the ‘monster’ is actually a complex character, made of both human and animal parts! The novel was published in 1818, when questions about animals were part of a larger Romantic movement towards radical social justice, thought and politics.
Carol J. Adams actually touched on the vegetarianism of Frankenstein’s Creature in her ground-breaking work The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, originally published in 1990. Adams uses ecofeminist theory to discuss meat, masculinity, the feminisation of animals and the animalisation of women, showing how the oppressions of both women and animals are interrelated.
There is also a lot of amazing work which discusses the importance of intersectional factors like disability, class and race in ecofeminist animal studies. Bénédicte Boisseron’s Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question (2018) is a great example – an exploration of “the intersections between animal studies and black studies and their limitations”.
The vibrant and varied Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice anthology of essays, published in 2011 and edited by Lisa Kemmerer, also features articles by A. Breeze Harper on the connections between speciesism and racism, and Miyun Park on ‘otherness’ as an animal studies question. It’s an excellent collection!
The Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature anthology, published in 1993 and edited by Greta Gaard, is another great collection which foregrounds ecofeminism’s capacity to foster an anti-oppression that includes the more-than-human, featuring essays by ecofeminist theorists like Josephine Donovan and Linda Vance.
Entangled Empathy by Lori Gruen is a really readable, short but thought-provoking book about the role of empathy in our co-existence with other animals. Published in 2015, it challenges the notion of emotion and empathy as weak, ‘feminised’ concepts, always at odds with science and reason.
Finally, and because it isn’t all theory, I want to mention one of my favourite creative pieces. It’s a short essay by the phenomenal Alice Walker. It’s called Am I Blue?, and you can find it in her collection Living by the Word (1988). It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, the story of a profound, attitude-shifting emotional connection Walker made with a horse called Blue when his companion was taken away.
Animal studies is a major part of ecofeminist theory and practice, and I hope this little taster has intrigued you and encouraged you to find out more. I’m always thrilled to talk about my research and ecofeminist animal studies in general. You can get in touch with me at email@example.com or check out bookishandbeastly.wordpress.com – I’d love to hear from you!
Enjoy the rest of Open the Door 2020!