Mary Austin’s proto-ecofeminist land ethic in The Ford (1917) and the Owens Valley water controversy
Literature and Ecofeminism: Intersectional and International Voices
Taylor and Francis
40 - 53
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Ecofeminism aims to establish a community ecology that is sustainable for both human and nonhuman beings, deconstructing the oppressor/oppressed identities that are prevalent in patriarchal society. Anticipating this proposition of ecofeminism, Mary Austin, a woman who became everything-a nature writer, a playwright, a poet, a short-story writer, a novelist, as well as a social activist-inspired many other women of her generation as well as those in the contemporary world, laying the foundations of ecofeminism. She rejected the nineteenth-century middle-class conventions of True Womanhood and embraced the twentieth-century New Womanhood, feminism, and environmentalism, serving as a link between the centuries. She embroiled herself in activism for the Owens Valley water during the California Water Wars (1902-07), a series of controversies between the city of Los Angeles and the farmers of the valley about the acquisition of water rights of Owens Valley. With a view to portraying such an eventful chapter in American history and disseminating her ecofeminist land ethic, Austin wrote her 1917 novel The Ford, blending her female identity as an activist with her literary talents. As a proto-ecofeminist, she depicts in The Ford how land speculation deprives people of their most essential need, water. 1 Suggesting a harmonious relationship between rivers and their beneficiaries, she questions ownership to the land-as she criticizes the patriarchal hegemony over women-and proposes to utilize rivers to make a living, yet being aware of the possibilities and limits of the landscape. All in all, with The Ford, she hints at what occurs when this fragile understanding is broken, and how the abuse of the river leads to the destruction of ecological parameters.