Earth Day 2010

Earth Day the Feminist Way

As an ecofeminist (ecology and feminism), I cannot help but notice that the environmental conversation, at this time, is dominated by the voices of men. The current "public" conversations on ecology, moreover, focus primarily on the ‘hard’ science of climate change (rather than say on toxics and illness). Women are in the minority in discussions of climate change— at major conferences, the U.N., major news forums, climate news sites, environmental websites and so on. If women are included in environmental discussions in the dominant media and social networks, it is often in a funny and eco-light manner--in green fashion, cuisine, and interior design. This problem was noted briefly at GRIST and on DOT Earth. But we need more follow up and action.

So where are the women scientists, theorists and activists in the environmental debate, and where are the serious and in depth analyses of the very high impact of climate change and pollution on women?

Zainab Salbi reminds us that we need to pay more attention to the impact of environmental destruction on women (Change.org, April 22, 2010). Salbi rightly argues that pollution and climate change affect women adversely as they are directly engaged in agricultural food production and women have immediate contact with water pollution in their daily lives. Salbi asserts that, “70% of the world’s farmers are women. Women produce 90% of the stable food crops…Women also prepare these crops for household and community consumption, eating last or not at all when food is scarce. And women do the majority of tasks that involve close proximity to the environment, such as farming and fetching water, and hence shoulder a disproportionate amount of the danger associated with pollution and climate change.” I would add that in industrialized countries, as primary caretakers of the home and children, women are at high risk of exposure to toxics in cleaning and household products. Women are adversely affected by The Beauty Myth as well; they are conditioned to buy and wear layers of toxic cosmetics on their bodies--far more than most men do. As child bearers, and as primary caretakers of children, the adverse effects of environmental pollution on women endangers fetuses, babies and young children. This last point has been noted extensively by Sandra Steingraber in her book Having Faith, among others. Many feminist ecologists have been arguing these points for years.

It is true, we do see and hear from women environmentalists in discussions of illness and pollution—in particular on cancer. The focus of Enviroblog, for example, is on so-called softer ‘women’s’ issues— toxics in food, cosmetics, water and air, and their impact, significantly, on children and women. These female voices seem to have less power, however, in the dominant media. How many people know of Sandra Steingraber, for example, who recently (as of one month) began a weekly essay series at Huffington, or Vandana Shiva, Petra Kelly, Wangari Maathi, and so on, compared to those who know of Al Gore, James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Andrew Revkin and the like? Elizabeth Kolbert is the only female environmental and global warming "voice" that comes to mind.

Why do the voices of male environmental authorities carry more weight?

If you know of active women environmentalists who are speaking up publically and gaining attention and force in the media, please tell me--leave it in the comments box. Send me links!