Volume 23, Issue 2
Release date: August, 2011
From the late-nineteenth through the early decades of the twentieth century, women in the United States played important roles in the conservation and preservation of wildlife, as well as in environmental activism that fostered clean air, water, and food in our nation’s urban centers. This article examines the contributions of women of different classes and races to these environmental struggles. It not only synthesizes the findings of previous environmental histories, but also focuses more attention on the ways environmental contamination affected the lives of women of color and their struggles against environmental racism. In this way, an environmental justice lens is used to excavate and reclaim the history of our ecofeminist predecessors to better ensure that the visions and voices of marginalized peoples do not remain hidden from history.
Formulated in the 1980s and gaining prominence in the early 1990s, by the end of that decade ecofeminism was critiqued as essentialist and effectively discarded. Fearing their scholarship would be contaminated by association with the term “ecofeminism,” feminists working on the intersections of feminism and environmentalism thought it better to rename their approach. Thirty years later, current developments in allegedly new fields such as animal studies and naturalized epistemology are “discovering” theoretical perspectives on interspecies relations and standpoint theory that were developed by feminists and ecofeminists decades ago. What have we lost by jettisoning these earlier feminist and ecofeminist bodies of knowledge? Are there features of ecofeminism that can helpfully be retrieved, restoring an intellectual and activist history, and enriching current theorizing and activisms? By examining the historical foundations of ecofeminism from the 1980s onward, this article uncovers the roots of the antifeminist backlash against ecofeminism in the 1990s, peeling back the layers of feminist and environmentalist resistance to ecofeminism’s analyses of the connections among racism, sexism, classism, colonialism, speciesism, and the environment. Recuperating ecofeminist insights of the past thirty years provides feminist foundations for current liberatory theories and activisms.
A striking characteristic of the animal rights movement is that women constitute the majority of its activists. This qualitative study of twenty-seven women animal rights activists analyzes how they make sense of their centrality in the movement. The article discusses how cultural discourses regarding sex and gender shape the way women activists interpret their own activism, and the predominance of women in the movement. Their accounts often seek to explain the absence of men more than the presence of women. Women activists explain their large presence in animal rights through biological influences, social learning, and empathy based on common oppressions. As they considered the connection between gender and animal rights activism, women alternatively accepted, rejected, and reformulated dominant ideas about sex and gender. Their complex accounts of the relationship between gender and animal activism highlight the inherently political nature of their choice to become activists.
The article examines cinematic representations of the chemical contamination of the female homemaker’s body. Engaging the discourse of illnesses caused by the by-products of technology and industry, these films reveal a profound anxiety regarding the integrity of our homes and bodies, as well as a skepticism of the solutions offered by scientific and technological advances, while foregrounding the obstacles confronting women who attempt to challenge the social and scientific status quo. I argue that the protagonists of the Lily Tomlin vehicle The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) and Todd Haynes’s film Safe (1995) are postmodern Cassandras: Women in possession of knowledge that their communities aggressively deny. In order to contextualize these narratives of women who testify to environmental degradation’s potentially disastrous impact on human health and well being, I situate these films within a tradition proceeding from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and continued in Lois Gibbs’s Love Canal: My Story (1982). In suggesting that the environment is disabling and that attitudes can be disabling, these films invite consideration of the interrelatedness of the weight of scientific authority, the persistent deployment of the charge of “hysteria” when a woman articulates an unpopular notion, and the use of metaphor as an instrument of silencing.
The article examines the ongoing attempts of contemporary Scottish poets Kathleen Jamie (1962–) and Valerie Gillies (1948–) to develop a feminist and environmentalist nature poetry that re-envisions the connection between nature and humanity. These poets’ artistic journeys have led them from traditional print-page poetry to challenging multimedia art forms that combine the visual and the written word, as in Jamie’s combination of photography and the lyrical essay in Findings (2005) and Gillies’s poetic collaborations with sculptors along the Tweed River (1998–2001). In the process, they have created a place-sensitive art that embodies a dialogical interaction with nature, reflective of an understanding of humanity’s simultaneous separation from and continuity with nature. Their work suggests that a feminist environmental art requires an equally feminist aesthetics, one that breaks down boundaries—between various art forms, between art and nature, and art and society—in order to change perception and envision alternative ways of living.
Studies on beauty culture tend to focus on women. Some highlight women’s meaningful engagements with beauty culture as they negotiate various beauty norms in their lives, while others detail the ways in which women’s bodies become the resilient sites of (oftentimes contradicting) articulations of the gendered nations. The article shifts this emphasis on women in beauty culture by instead focusing on how and why women’s beauty matters to men. Here, the article refers not to men as individuals—this is not a study based on interviews—but rather it employs a postcolonial feminist perspective in closely reading a series of novels, the Buru tetralogy, by one of Indonesia’s greatest male authors, the late Pramoedya Ananta Toer, to demonstrate that narratives of female beauty are important for male nationalists as they reclaim their masculinity as the new masters of the postcolonial nation. The article argues that the construction of masculinity relies on processes of signification and regulation of men’s, as well as women’s, bodies and therein lies its power.
The article examines the women of the small black township of Munsieville, South Africa, located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and how their political leadership and mobilization during the 1980s embodied the convergence of multiple ideologies of motherhood. This convergence created a paradigm shift in black women’s understanding of themselves, influencing how they responded to state violence and racial injustice. The article analyzes a particular woman as emblematic of this transition to political action through her organizing a protest against the apartheid police, with its subsequent death of a youth, and her authorship of a political tract that accounts for her radicalization.
The discipline of anthropology has been wracked with controversy since the 2007 establishment of a new program within the United States military, which officially employs anthropologists and other social scientists to collect “ethnographic intelligence” on local populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program, the Human Terrain System (HTS), was created to help U.S. military personnel better understand local cultural contexts. As part of this program, experts throughout the academy are being contacted by State Department officials to provide information on topics of interest to those in the Pentagon. The politicization of ethnographic fieldwork has posed a series of moral dilemmas for anthropologists, particularly feminist anthropologists who work with already vulnerable populations. This article proposes to examine the question of collaboration with reference to the HTS and recent debates raging among anthropologists about whether or not to cooperate with the U.S. government or any foreign government. Drawing on the author’s own experiences conducting fieldwork among Slavic Muslims in Bulgaria, during which she was “invited” to share her findings with both the Bulgarian and American governments, the goal of the article is to openly discuss these dilemmas and offer some brief suggestions about how to navigate the murky waters of doing research in an increasingly fraught global context.
In the wake of neoliberalism, where human rights and social justice have increasingly been subordinated to proliferating “consumer choices” and ideals of market justice, this article suggests that feminist ethnographers are in an important position to reassert the central feminist connections among theory, method, and practice. It draws on experiences of feminist anthropologists studying battered women and midwifery advocates to consider the role of feminist ethnography within the context of neoliberalism. It suggests avenues for incorporating methodological innovations, collaborative analysis, and feminist writing objectives and activism in scholarly projects. What does feminist ethnography look like in a historical moment characterized by increasingly diverse delineations of neoliberalism and post-neoliberalism? What are the possibilities (and challenges) that exist for feminist ethnography twenty years after initial debates emerged in this field about reflexivity, objectivity, reductive individualism, and the social relevance of activist scholarship? This article generates a contextualized dialogue about the possibilities for feminist ethnography in the twenty-first century—at the intersection of engaged feminist research and activism in the service of the organizations, people, communities, and feminist issues studied.