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New Perspectives on Environmental Justice

New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    New Perspectives on Environmental Justice
    Book Description:

    Women make up the vast majority of activists and organizers of grassroots movements fighting against environmental ills that threaten poor and people of color communities.New Perspectives on Environmental Justiceis the first collection of essays that pays tribute to the enormous contributions women have made in these endeavors.

    The writers offer varied examples of environmental justice issues such as children's environmental health campaigns, cancer research, AIDS/HIV activism, the Environmental Genome Project, and popular culture, among many others. Each one focuses on gender and sexuality as crucial factors in women's or gay men's activism and applies environmental justice principles to related struggles for sexual justice. The contributors represent a wide variety of activist and scholarly perspectives including law, environmental studies, sociology, political science, history, medical anthropology, American studies, English, African and African American studies, women's studies, and gay and lesbian studies, offering multiple vantage points on gender, sexuality, and activism.

    Feminist/womanist impulses shape and sustain environmental justice movements around the world, making an understanding of gender roles and differences crucial for the success of these efforts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4253-9
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    Our bodies are a mirror of our mother, and of Mother Earth. And so we walk, healthy, beautiful, vibrant, voluptuous through the minefield of industrialism! It is a minefield of toxic chemicals and of toxic sexual images that poison and entrap our bodies. It is a minefield of laws that justify taking and destroying all that is beautiful, pristine, all that is the integrity of life. It is a minefield of laws that take control even of our own bodies themselves.

    The stories on these pages chronicle the link between struggles for environmental justice and struggles for human dignity. In...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    While traditional, mainstream environmental organizations have generally defined the environment in terms of uninhabited wilderness areas and plants and animals that need to be conserved and protected from human depredations, the environmental justice movement has instead defined the environment as “where we live, work, play, and worship.” This more inclusive view of human/natural interaction brings environmental issueshome, so to speak, and makes it clear that environmental injustice includes a range of urban and rural issues that expose poor communities and communities of color to unfair risks and burdens. Environmental injustices encompass diverse issues such as land claims, clear-cutting of...

  6. PART ONE Gender, Sexuality, and Environmental Justice:: Historical and Theoretical Roots

    • 1 Toward a Queer Ecofeminism
      (pp. 21-44)

      Although many ecofeminists acknowledge heterosexism as a problem, a systematic exploration of the potential intersections of ecofeminist and queer theories has yet to be made. By interrogating social constructions of the “natural,” the various uses of Christianity as a logic of domination, and the rhetoric of colonialism, this essay finds those theoretical intersections and argues for the importance of developing a queer ecofeminism.

      Progressive activists and scholars frequently lament the disunity of the political left in the United States. Often characterized as a “circular firing squad,” the left or progressive movement has been known for its intellectual debates and hostilities,...

    • 2 Women, Sexuality, and Environmental Justice in American History
      (pp. 45-60)

      The modern environmental justice movement emphasizes the right to a safe and healthy ecological, physical, social, political, and economic environment for all people. Issues of race and class are regularly addressed in environmental justice studies as characteristics that increase people’s chances of being subjected to injustice, but these characteristics have also served to unify and mobilize those same people in their struggles against that injustice. Only limited scholarly attention, however, has been paid to the vital function of gender and its role in people’s environmental vulnerability and empowerment (Blum 2001). Issues of sexuality, especially as they relate to reproduction, have...

  7. PART TWO Gender, Sexuality, and Activism

    • 3 Feminist Theory and Environmental Justice
      (pp. 63-77)

      It may be surprising to learn that the environmental movement’s next revolution is now being plotted around kitchen tables. In inner cities, in rural poverty pockets, and on Indian reservations, poor people and people of color are meeting in kitchens and living rooms, organizing coalitions, and speaking out against pollution that threatens their families and communities. These campaigns, collectively called the “environmental justice movement,” challenge traditional environmental policy, which has too often benefited the affluent at the expense of the poor.

      What is more, many of America’s most visible and effective environmental justice organizations are led by and consist mainly...

    • 4 Witness to Truth: Black Women Heeding the Call for Environmental Justice
      (pp. 78-92)

      Maria W. Stewart (b. 1803–d. 1879), often accounted to be the first African American woman to speak in public about women’s rights (Guy-Sheftall 1995) urged women as the moral center of their families and communities to fight against injustice. In Stewart’s time injustice meant the continued enslavement and servitude of black people and women. She exhorted blacks and whites, male and female in her society to fight against the enslavement of blacks and for the uplift of women (Guy-Sheftall 1995; Richardson 1987). Today, black women in the environmental justice (EJ) movement use their power and influence to fight against...

    • 5 The Role of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Class in Activistsʹ Perceptions of Environmental Justice
      (pp. 93-108)

      The political leadership and activism of Native American and Hispanic women in New Mexico’s environmental justice movement can be differentiated from that of mainstream environmentalists. Unlike mainstream environmentalists, these leaders are mobilized to political action by a desire to empower their communities, preserve their cultures, and achieve racial, ethnic, and gender equality, in addition to conserving the environment. Identifying themselves as “Third World” and “indigenous” environmentalists, the women who lead New Mexico’s grassroots organizations pursue a political agenda based on social and economic justice, and racial and gender equity.

      This essay explores how race, ethnicity, gender, and class shape Native...

    • 6 Sexual Politics and Environmental Justice: Lesbian Separatists in Rural Oregon
      (pp. 109-126)

      In her essay “Ecological Legitimacy and Cultural Essentialism” (1998), Laura Pulido makes an interesting argument about cultural politics and environmental justice. Describing Ganados del Valle, a Hispano community project in northern New Mexico, Pulido argues that the group’s deployment of a strategically essentialist connection between Hispano culture and environmental sustainability was an effective strategy to make changes that were both ecologically and culturally beneficial for the community. Set against a dominant Anglo representation of Hispanos as ecologically irresponsible, the counterdiscourse of Hispanos as inherent nature stewards created what Pulido calls “ecological legitimacy” in the political realm as well as a...

    • 7 Toxic Bodies? ACT UPʹs Disruption of the Heteronormative Landscape of the Nation
      (pp. 127-136)

      When former President George Bush said that “the American way of life is not negotiable,” he articulated in most blatant terms a particularly hegemonic ideology of the U.S. nation. This construct includes an insatiable level of conspicuous consumption that produces a high degree of waste, much of which is funneled into vulnerable communities.¹ This definition of the “American way of life” also refuses responsibility and accountability to the rest of the world for the high cost of that lifestyle. The United States has demonstrated this refusal numerous times: when it walked away from the Kyoto agreement, and when it ignored...

  8. PART THREE Gender, Sexuality, and Environmental Health Concerns

    • 8 Producing “Roundup Ready®” Communities? Human Genome Research and Environmental Justice Policy
      (pp. 139-160)

      The recent flurry of research into gene-environment interactions and their role in disease causation, a feature of the genetics “revolution” spawned by the sequencing of the human genome in late 2000, has captured the attention of many environmental justice organizations across the country. Some environmental justice activists and concerned scientists are investigating how modern advances in biotechnology might help to identify, develop treatments for, and/or repair defective genes that are thought to contribute in part to the high incidences, in low-income communities of color, of environmental illnesses such as respiratory disease, cancer, and birth defects. In the spirit of technoscientific...

    • 9 Public Eyes: Investigating the Causes of Breast Cancer
      (pp. 161-176)

      Allie Light and Irving Saraf’s documentaryRachel’s Daughters: Searching for the Causes of Breast Cancer(1997) opens with a series of vehicles driving through a central California desert landscape accented with sparse wildflowers set against a vivid blue sky visible beyond the hills. The environment seems pure until a power line, which rests unobtrusively at the top of the camera’s frame, enters the viewer’s consciousness. The audience soon realizes that these cars are en route to a funeral. We see women crying, hugging as they gently place flowers on a casket. Though we do not know it yet, the body...

    • 10 Gender, Asthma Politics, and Urban Environmental Justice Activism
      (pp. 177-190)

      In the 1980s and 1990s, community concern over the problem of childhood asthma in minority communities in New York City reached a crescendo. At protests over controversial polluting facilities—incinerators, diesel bus depots, sewage and sludge treatment plants, solid waste transfer stations and power plants—in the South Bronx and West Harlem, groups of low-income African American and Latino children routinely protested with asthma pumps in hand. Many students attended rallies wearing gas and surgical masks, to dramatize how the air itself had become their enemy. “Fatigo,” as asthma is known in Spanish, has became a way of life. A...

    • 11 No Remedy for the Inuit: Accountability for Environmental Harms under U.S. and International Law
      (pp. 191-206)

      In July 2000, the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation (NACEC)¹ published a study finding that Inuit women living near the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, Canada, have dioxin concentrations in their breast milk at twice the levels observed in women living in southern Québec (Commoner et al. 2000, ix; Dewailly et al. 1992). According to the study, these elevated levels of dioxin can be attributed to the Inuit’s relatively high consumption of animal foods, such as caribou and marine animals, which store dioxins efficiently in their fatty tissues (Commoner et al. 2000, 1). Once ingested, dioxins can alter the fundamental...

  9. PART FOUR Gender, Sexuality, and Environmental Justice in Literature and Popular Culture

    • 12 Bodily Invasions: Gene Trading and Organ Theft in Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinsonʹs Speculative Fiction
      (pp. 209-224)

      Current environmental justice frameworks have demonstrated that poor and people of color communities often suffer unequal exposure to toxins, radiation, and other environmental risks at home, at work, and in the surrounding locale, endangering the health of their bodies. Speculative fiction writers Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson expand our view of environmental justice health issues by articulating ways in which the bodies of women of color may also be directly manipulated and harvested as environmental resources for those in power. Butler’sDawnpresents the dilemma of forced gene trading and sexual/reproductive controls, and Hopkinson’sBrown Girl in the Ringportrays...

    • 13 Home Everywhere and the Injured Body of the World: The Subversive Humor of Blue Vinyl
      (pp. 225-239)

      In “A Fable for Tomorrow,” the first chapter ofSilent Spring, a book many consider the harbinger of the modern environmental movement, Rachel Carson shows the snake in the Edenic suburban garden, the disrupter of innocence and surface beauty. For Carson, there is an “evil spell [that] had settled on the community,” which threatens this once-upon-a-time “town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings” (Carson 1962, 13). The spoiler silences the birds and other animals: not only do trees wither but reproduction ceases. It is not, as Carson poignantly details, due...

    • 14 “Lo que quiero es tierra”: Longing and Belonging in Cherríe Moragaʹs Ecological Vision
      (pp. 240-248)

      In stark poetry and passionate essays, Cherríe Moraga has forged a brand of environmental justice in which sexuality and gender are as relevant as race and class. Surviving as a Chicana lesbian poet, playwright, and essayist, Moraga’s work often narrates her pain and isolation, yet she unabashedly claims strength and courage from her life experiences. Her powerfully intimate stories about herself, her family, and her lovers line her path toward a radical politics. And it is a radical politics with a critical edge. As coeditor, with Gloria Anzaldúa, of the anthologyThis Bridge Called My Back(1981), she led the...

    • 15 Detecting Toxic Environments: Gay Mystery as Environmental Justice
      (pp. 249-261)

      Striking similarities exist between recent developments in multicultural detective fiction and theories of environmental justice. Through a focus on racial, gender, class, ethnic, and sexual bias, multicultural detective fiction and criticism have shifted the idea of who or what is responsible for crime from a villainous figure or group to a toxic social structure bent on domination and neglect of people and their environments. In many multicultural detective narratives, the deadliest crime of all is a destructive and indifferent world outlook, one that disproportionately destroys the lives and homes of working-class people, people of color, women, and sexual minorities.


    • 16 “The Power is Yours, Planeteers!” Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Childrenʹs Environmentalist Popular Culture
      (pp. 262-276)

      Starting in the late 1990s, environmentalism has become a new moral framework for children’s popular culture. But we should not rush to celebrate this because the messages contained in these environmentalist stories are often counter to what environmental justice activists are fighting for, and they contain problematic notions about what is “natural” that environmental justice practitioners need to think about. Instead of the recognition central to environmental justice that social equality and environmental sustainability are interconnected, these stories contain habits of thinking that naturalize social inequality and disconnect environmental problems from their corporate causes. I take a feminist environmental justice...

    (pp. 277-280)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 281-288)