Archive for December, 2010

loving my skin and loving the earth

Does anyone have good recipes for making your own shampoo, facewash, or body soap? I’ve found a lot of recipes for scrubs and masks but I’m looking for an easy and safe way to make daily cleansers.

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Health Report in Cosmopolitan Magazine

Did anyone check out the December 2010 issue of Cosmo? There was a really interesting article on health against toxic products. Nicole Blades wrote “What Shouldn’t Go near Your Va-Jay-Jay.” The article lists products that are harmful to vaginal health. This includes sprays, ink, toys, dyes, jewelry, and fragrances. I think it’s awesome that Cosmo is taking steps toward increasing women’s awareness of toxic products. The health warnings give reasoning behind why such products shouldn’t be used and the chemistry to help women understand. For example, scented things alter the pH balance “down there” which leads to growth of bad bacteria. I know countless women that read Cosmopolitan, so I am happy to see that promoting good health through banning use of toxic products is becoming more well-known.

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Vegan=Ecofeminist?

Being vegan means more than just “Saving the animals!” or “Saving the Earth!” It’s not just about being a PETA member or choosing a diet that is environmentally sustainable and will give you a great looking body. After reading Lori Gruen’s piece “Women and Animals” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature” I came to understand that abstaining from eating animals in one’s diet is also an ecofeminist action. In her essay, Gruen explores patriarchy’s connection of women and animals, saying that men have historically considered both to be “tools devoid of feelings, desires, and interests,” creating a distinction of women and animals both as different from and inferior to man. Ultimately, this separation links the oppressed entities to the other and justifies man’s infliction of pain and death onto both, whether manifested as factory farming or sexual violence.

I’ve been vegan for about six months now. I originally became vegan for health reasons; for me personally, clearing out all of the edible “clutter” helped me to see what was actually nutritional and my diet became much more balanced. Before reading Gruen’s article I had never considered my dietary decision, which as one with ecofeminist implications. When I refuse to consume animal products (meat, eggs, dairy and its derivatives), I am rejecting the historical, interlocking oppression of women and animals. Women are not animals, to be used and abused for the sake of man. Nor should human interaction with animals be devoid of respect.

A vegan diet is an interesting ecofeminist action, although not easy for all to access because of class distinctions. Yes, it has environmental impact by reducing the amount of carbon, water, oil, and other aspects of land and energy to produce the food a vegan consumes. Yes, it means less violence against animals. It also has other ethical and philosophical implications, which Ramsay Pierce, a fellow Ecofeminist blogger, talks about in one of her posts. Being vegan is so clearly ecofeminist because it involves all of these different intersections, but also because it inherently rejects the patriarchal, destructive linkage of women and animals.

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Coming of Age

When a young girl menstruates for the first time, much fear and insecurity can go into this experience. Confused about the functions of her body, the first bloodstain can be frightening for the first time. As we learned in class, our culture has made us believe to “silence” menstruation and be shameful. Through menstruation product advertisements, one can see the reoccurring theme that our menstruation cycle is unimportant and a hassle and Mother Nature has placed a “cursed” upon us. Our language changes when we speak about menstruation through words, for example, “my days” or “Aunt Rose”. In “Gender and the Problem of Prehistory,” Ruether suggests that “the only way we can, as human, integrate ourselves into a life-sustaining relationship to nature, is for both of us, males as much as females, to see ourselves as equally rooted in the cycles of life and death, and equally responsible for creating ways of living sustainable together in that relationship”(Merchant 36). While many believe in the significance of the cycle of life and death, many do not value the menstruation cycle.  In order to connect with nature, one must not only be “equally rooted in the cycles of life and death”, but also the process of learning the importance of the “cycle of menstruation.” However, there are many groups and communities that celebrate a young girl menstruating for the first time. The Kinaalda celebration performed by the Apache Native American tribe, celebrates these “Coming of Age” ceremonies. The ceremony signifies her transformation from a child into a woman (Kinaalda: A Navajo Rite of Passage). “The ceremony is centered around the Navajo myth of Changing Woman, the first woman on Earth who was able to bear children. The legend of Changing Woman purports that the ceremony gave her the ability to have children. Because of this, all Navajo girls must undergo the ritual so that they will grow into strong women who can also bear children”(Kinaalda: Navajo Rite of Passage).The Kinaalda celebration believes that cycle of menstruation is equally important as the cycle of life and death, and therefore the entire community joins in celebration.

\”Girl\’s Rite of Passage\”

One particular woman, Hemitra Crecraft, started “Coming of Age” ceremonies women and girls in her own community in 1994 and created a website on “How to start your own Coming of Age ceremonies” in your own community (www.womanwisdom.com). She still continues to have these ceremonies today. The women in the community give words of wisdom, dance, enjoy food, and socialize with one another. Their belief is that beginning of one’s menstruating cycle is a time of celebration and importance, unlike societies perception.  These women have made an impact on many girls and mothers, believing “It takes a village to raise a child.”

www.womanwisdom.com

Coming of Age Ceremony

Work Cited

“Kinaalda: A Navajo Rite of Passage”. Create Space. 7 Dec. 2010.<https://www.createspace.com/293447>.

Merchant, Carolyn. Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture. Taylor and Francis Books: New York, 2003. Print.

“Woman Wisdom”. Woman Wisdom. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. <http://www.womanwisdom.com/w_coa_forward.shtml>.

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Health in the Workplace

Women have been trapped under the proverbial glass ceiling for as long as they have been in the workforce. Women’s rights have indeed been bettered in the past century, though mostly in developing countries. One area where there still needs to be some work is occupational health safety. Though we have come far since women began working factory jobs in WWII, there is still much to be accomplished. Clearly there is a problem, when women comprise 46% of the U.S. workforce but are responsible for 81% of injury and sickness claims on a per hour basis (1). There are myriad problems stemming from the gender bias that exists in health research. Not only is this a detriment to women’s health but it is also costing companies the time and money lost when workers take sick leave.

It has been well documented in scientific literature that the dangers women encounter in their work have been underestimated (1). When approximating acceptable doses of toxins in humans, health researchers base daily concentration allowances on the standard body: a 70 kg male. I am a 55 kg woman, so how do the government regulated “acceptable” doses relate to me? Males and females metabolize chemicals at different speeds and in different ways: “bone, fat, and immune system metabolism as well as cardiovascular and endocrine function are all known to differ by sex” (1).

Women are not the only one’s left out in occupational health research. Men’s reproductive health is sometimes overlooked in the workplace, as seen in the Johnson Controls case, where women were denied jobs in a factory working with lead because employers feared reproductive harm in the women. Health researchers and industry leaders need to take into account all types of bodies and sexes when making such decisions about who is safe and who is not.

Furthermore, sex can be left out of population descriptions in public health publication. The social sciences include sex in their studies, so why shouldn’t biomedical sciences? Studying the biological differences between men and women’s health and safety needs will not work against women’s plight for equality: achieving equal respect in regard to each sexes needs will bring this country closer to justice in the workplace.

1.) Karen Messing et al. “Be the Fairest of Them All: Challenges and Recommendations for the Treatment of Gender in Occupational Health Research.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 43:618-629 (2003)

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last hoorah

After our last class, I thought a lot about what I could give back to the Earth. How could I make a change in my lifestyle? I happened to be on the website, http://www.stumbleupon.com/ and came across a beautiful garden. I stared at the computer screen for a long time and let my mind wander. For as long as I can remember I have been curious about flowers. How do they grow? Why are they different colors? Why do some smell great and others not at all? When I was little, every time the seasons changed I watched my mother plant new flowers. Mums in the fall, sunflowers in the summer, pansies in the spring, and poinsettias in the winter, all were planted with care. She used to tell me they were our special pets and that if we cared for them they would grow and be beautiful. That was enough of an explanation for me then, plants equal special pets.

As the years passed, I wanted to know more and more. What were the names of the plants? Why did some of them need shade? I learned the hard way that plants don’t need to be drowned in water. (I still feel bad about that hanging basket of Impatiens.) Instead of watching her garden as the solstices came and went, I began slowly to help her with her hobby around second grade. My mother taught me how far down in the ground to dig, when planting a seed or seedling. She helped me realize that each plant needs its own space and then some, as to not get tangled with its friends. She spent afternoons showing me how and where to put egg shells in the ground. This she explained, helped fertilize the soil so the plants would flourish and bloom until it was time for a new set of plants.

After mastering flowers my mom started growing tomatoes in terracotta pots.  Because we live in a condominium and there is limited gardening space, this was the only option. As usual around Mother’s Day, we went outside and planted until we were drenched in sweat and water. For me tomatoes weren’t as much fun to plant, because they all would sprout and be the same color, so no color coordinating was necessary. Weeks passed and every time I came home, I would check the pots for tomatoes. Finally huge juicy ones and small cherry tomatoes were hanging from the plant. They were the reddest tomatoes I had ever seen.

Now years after second grade I still garden with my mom. It has become our ultimate bonding experience. After this Ecofeminism class I wonder if there is more that my mom and I can grow in our limited space. I am excited to go home and explore the possibility of having some sort of victory garden and further connecting with small scale gardening. I never realized that the tomatoes and sunflowers are the only food that I have ever seen grow from start to finish. I want to see more. I know that as long as we plant the way she has taught me, beautiful and delicious things will grow in our garden. Because of her willingness to answer and teach me about the science of planting (whether or not it is a legitimate science I don’t know), developing a green thumb will be a lifelong goal of mine. I can’t wait for spring.

On a different note….

As the semester comes to a close and I think about everything I have learned in Ecofeminsim and  I am a bit overwhelmed. What do I do now? Maybe when I leave school over winter break I will be able to reflect back and truly see what we accomplished as a class. Well to me we are more then a class. I think of our class as a cohesive group of women, trying to get to the same place of peace with ones self and the environment. Although we will all have separate journeys that will continue way beyond these limestone walls, I feel lucky to have learned from each of you.

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A final word while whipping up a meal

As I sit at my little kitchen table, I am overcome with the urge to cook a nutritious meal of brown rice with vegetables sprinkled with freshly-grated parmesan cheese and to bake some banana-chocolate-pecan-bran muffins. I can smell the aromas of the vegetables releasing their juices and letting their distinct and unique flavors mingle with one another as I gently stir them in the pan. The scent of roasting pecans and melting chocolate waft through the cracks of the oven. I want to light a candle this icy cold evening and invite a few friends to enjoy the meal with a glass of Bordeaux. Then reality smacks me in the face: it’s almost finals week.

I do in fact cook a meal this evening and decide to consciously think of every ingredient I am adding, of its origins and how it reacts with the other flavors. Instead of adding a whole myriad of seasonings as I usually do, it seems oddly important to keep the recipe simple. Just tomatoes, fresh basil, a garlic clove, olive oil, and some whole grain pasta.

I start thinking of my role as a woman in society and my attraction to all that is related to the kitchen. Is this a result of culture or is this a natural phenomenon? Culture versus nature— my thoughts rush back to our Ecofeminism class. As I daydream, I realize with a pang that our last class together is fast approaching. So instead of rushing downstairs to get my notes or a book while simultaneously considering the global implications of all the problems in our society, I decide to put my frenzied thoughts aside for a moment and approach the collection of cookware shoved in a small cabinet in my college apartment.

As I bring the spaghetti sauce to a simmer, my thoughts lazily wander to “womanism” by Layli Phillips and this just leads me right back to Audre Lorde’s “the erotic”. My mind is usually zapping with static images and sounds rushing from one thought or feeling to the next. I breathe in deeply and embrace what I am doing at that instance. An image of a 50’s housewife flits through my thoughts. I cringe but then realize- why does that matter? I am happy and plus, “there is no alternative to food” as one of our classmates so eloquently stated a few weeks ago. So while doing a “chore” I might as well enjoy the process of providing nutrients for my body to generate energy.

If there something to remember in 50 years, it is that the the little things matter and bring joy. There is beauty and pleasure in most things we do each day. I don’t need to run away to a distant country to appreciate and be aware of the little charms in life such as the simple preparation of a wholesome meal. I don’t need to be in Toscany to appreciate my spaghetti bolognese or in France to savor a three course meal. I am here.

picture from: http://spaghettibologneserecipe.org.uk/spaghetti_bolognese_recipe_pics/55.jpg

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How do I oppress thee? Let me count the ways.

With all apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her love poem, Sonnet 43, I was miffed by the number of ways that “blue collar women” were frustrated in their efforts to clean up toxic waste sites in their neighborhoods as described in Celene Krauss’s article, “Blue Collar Women and Toxic Waste Protests”.  Ms. Krauss graciously calls the resulting discovery and activist processes “politicization”, but the process that motivates this politicization is no less than oppression.

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In her essay, “Oppression”, Marilyn Frye characterizes the experience of oppression as a life that is “confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction” (Frye, p XXX2).  She likens systematic oppression to a birdcage; one wire of the birdcage does not confine the bird, but the collection of wires, systematically arranged, keeps the bird from flying away.

Upon reading “Blue-Collar Women”, I was reminded of that birdcage.  Just how many systematically placed barriers do the “Blue-Collar Women” have to face?  Let me count the ways:

1.     A woman realizes that her child is constantly ill from a neighborhood toxic site.  She encounters the barrier requiring her to navigate through the local government agencies to find the appropriate one to receive her complaint.

2.     Upon registering her complaint, she realizes that the local government is indifferent claiming that “pollution was ‘the price of a better way of life’” (Krauss, p 111).  She navigates through the state government agencies to find the appropriate one to receive her complaint.

3.     Upon registering her complaint with the state, she realizes that the state government has “withheld information from residents because ‘they didn’t want to panic the public’” (Krauss, p 111).  She turns to activism, in particular, to protest activism.

4.     Upon engaging in political activism, she discovers that the “government that claims to act on behalf of the public interest … favors the wishes of powerful business interests over the health and welfare of children and their families” (Krauss, p 112).  She becomes more militant in her activism.

5.     As she continues her activist efforts, she discovers that “policymakers are traditionally white, male, and middle class” (Krauss, p 112).  She now must navigate through racism, sexism, and classism to be heard.

6.     Upon getting a hearing, she finds that the white, male, middle class policymakers tend to intimidate by “ignoring women, criticizing them for being overemotional, and especially by delegitimizing their authority by labeling them ‘hysterical housewives’” (Krauss, p 112).  She now must endure public humiliation and navigate through intimidation.

7.     Having endured humiliation, the “Blue-Collar Woman” now suffers from bruised self-esteem.  She must endure the beating to her self-esteem, keep her “eyes on the prize”, and try again.

8.     As she continues her activism, she must develop social organization knowledge and skills.  In many cases, other activist organizations, such as the Citizen’s Clearinghouse of Hazardous Wastes (CCHW), offer conferences that help women “learn to translate their skills as family organizers into the political arena” (Krauss, p 113).

9.     She must navigate around the incumbent power structure involving not only political organizations, but the “highly traditional gender roles characteristic of the blue-collar family” (Krauss, p 114).

10.  And, if she is successful, she must deal with the consequences of her activism on her marriage and her family.  The toll may be high as there is a “very high divorce rate among activists and that, following protest activities, CCHW receives a higher number of reports of wife-battering” (Krauss, p 114).

How many barriers must exist before toxic dumping is recognized as oppression?  Ms. Krauss offers hope in her essay as she does present ways that activists have overcome some of the barriers and achieved results.  It will only be through these continued efforts that the barriers will be dismantled and the bird will be free.

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Bibliography

Frye, Marilyn, “Oppression”, Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology, ed. Ann Cudd and Robin Andreasen, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005, p 84 – 90

Krauss, Celene, “Blue-Collar Women and Toxic-Waste Protests: The Process of Politicization”, Toxic Struggles:  The Theory and Practice of Environmental Justice, ed. Richard Hofrichter, University of Utah Press, 2002, p 107 – 117

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The Wonder That Is Baking Soda

Since our class talked about eco- and body-friendly alternatives to beauty, health, and household products, I’ve researched some more things that you can do with a fan favorite: baking soda. I use it once a week with a bit of water to exfoliate my face, but this guy came up with 75 more uses for the product, ranging from relieving jellyfish stings to cleaning your dentures. With the very reasonable price of  about $2 per package and with little to no deleterious health effects, baking soda is making its way onto my shopping list pronto.

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Consciousness to Action: Local Foods

Throughout the semester, we have discussed various ways to change the ways that we treat our bodies so that the things we do are better for our bodies, the environment, and the larger social implications. Most of what we discussed has focused on the products that come into contact with our bodies, such as cosmetics and tampons. We had not, however discussed a major everyday product that impacts our bodies, the environment, and society until today – food. We’ve had a few intermittent discussions about food in terms of veganism and vegetarianism, but today in class we had a more in depth discussion about the decisions we all make as individuals about the food we consume and how we talk to friends and family about our food choices.

Food and food choices tie into ecofeminism multiple ways. The choices we make about the food we eat relate to our body image and sometimes the choices we make are influenced by the body image that society has constructed for us.  Some societies also construct women as the home keepers, meaning women are responsible (in some households) for determining the food their families eat and sometimes also determining where that food comes from.  Our food also has larger environmental and societal implications as well, as the common statistic cites that that average piece of produce in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles from field to table including cleaning, packaging, and processing. The fact that much of our food, such as that sold in grocery stores, comes from so far away detaches many of us from any relationship to our food. The reality of this system, however, includes the factory farms and pesticides used to grow our food, the fossil fuels used to transport our food, and the plastic used to package food. This also includes the workers who are exposed to the pesticides used and the workers who are exploited for inexpensive labor to keep food costs low, as discussed in the article “Farmworkers and Pesticides” by Marion Moses.

So what are we going to do about it? First, as we discussed in class today, we need to educate ourselves and others and essentially arm ourselves for the intellectual battle of convincing others why this is something to be concerned about. Last year I took my parents to see Food Inc.  (http://www.foodincmovie.com/) and they have (slowly but surely) reconsidered factory raised meat. I further read books, such as Vandana Shiva’s Stolen Harvest which explain the larger implications of bioengineered food, minimal crop diversity, and the loss of local foods systems on the global scale. This particularly explains what is wrong with our food system and why it needs to change.

As we also discussed in class, the second key to getting friends and family members involved in these issues was to present the issues to them in a way that sparks their interest. I got my parents involved in local foods the summer that I worked at the farm by taking them to the farm and other nearby farms and to our farmer’s market. Since then, my parents have really taken off with it – my dad started a compost infrastructure for composting our food and garden waste to use for the gardens. My dad has also started growing a lot more of the food that he cooks with (even growing it organically), and my mom has started keeping her herb gardens organically as well. My parents go to the farmer’s market in my home town religiously every weekend and look forward to when I bring home produce and goods from the farmer’s market in Carlisle.

I realize that not everyone’s friends and family will be as quick to take to their interests and concerns as mine have been.  However, I think that taking these approaches can be helpful  when talking to friends and family about the various issues we’ve discussed this semester and trying to get them just as enlightened, concerned, and involved as we’ve become. It is the responsibility of those of us who have the ability to make a choice to make informed choices about not only the products we apply to ourselves, but the food we eat and the food that we encourage others to eat.

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