Posts Tagged ecofeminism

My Take On Ecofeminism Unpacked: In 3 Parts

To start, this is my first blog so with any luck all of my subsequent ones will be more and more bearable. Disclaimer: all of my blogs will inevitably come from a somewhat biased, somewhat privileged standpoint, which I will attempt to overcome to make my point. I am going to tackle the prompt in three parts; I feel this will be the best way for me to tackle each topic in it adequately.

Environment: I once went to an island in the Chesapeake Bay called Smith Island. Among other experiences, one that sticks out in my mind is, after a day filled with crab raking and close calls with the local bird population, one of the men piloting our little clipper boat turned to us and remarked that there had been a large decline in the herring population due to the cosmetic industry. The pearl-essence found in most modern make up that gives it it’s shimmery quality is actually derived from the scales of these fish, so with the rise in demand came a distinct drop in supply. We do this sort of thing all of the time though without even thinking about it. Pollution run-off poisons both the land and the organisms that reside in it, deforestation destroys the homes of millions of animals while the loosened sediment is washed into streams and rivers destroys aquatic ecosystems, we blow up whole sections of the Appalachian Mountains for coal. As a people we have an astoundingly consistent record of carelessly destroying the areas we inhabit. We have a very imperialist attitude, which allows us to believe that it is ok for us to dominate the world around us to fit our needs at any expense. As was mentioned here [] we have adopted the mindset that the “environment is valueless unless it has something to offer to keep the capitalist system running.” I understand the environment as a resource that must be preserved and respected if we are to survive as a species.


Nature: I see nature as the connection between humans and the environment, the intersection where we all meet. Thoreau says: “The scenery, when truly seen, reacts on the life of the seer.” We influence nature and nature in turn influences us right back. If we abuse or ignore nature the life it sustains will shrivel up and fade away, however if we nurture and respect our natural surroundings, the way many early civilizations did [], then we will have a much healthier existence. A lot of ecofeminists take up the mantle of environmental protection of nature because they see how its degradation is so closely linked to their own. Toxicity, cancer, global warming, and other issues plaguing modern society today are in fact a direct result of human beings ignorant assumption that their actions will both reap a profit and have no consequences. We have, in one way or another, screwed up some aspect of nature, whether it’s anything from the atmosphere to our water supply, which is now impacting our own health. Ecofeminists must acknowledge this privilege of our society, especially in America, that blinds us to the plight of nature. I understand nature as the weaving together of natural values and those of our own society.

Gender: The discussion of ecofeminism can never be complete until the topic of gender is brought forward. This topic holds a special place with me because I believe it is an issue that is highly interconnected with every aspect of our society due to the completely gendered way in which we frame our lives. We live in a very hetero-normative, patriarchal society and therefore a lot of bias towards issues stem from there. Breaking away from ecology for a second, women are faced with these biases on a day-to-day basis. Woman are paid less, Women are discriminated against in the workplace, in society, in their own schools, homes, and even beds. Now I am not saying that this degradation is always visible or even detectable when it first occurs, but take a step back and a pattern emerges. Moving to biology, women are told that they must look a certain way, behave a certain way, and believe a certain way. This is seen in everything from media messages to religious doctrine, even basic biological processes like sex and parenthood have to certain degrees become degrading to woman. I believe this is why woman find such a clear connection between their own struggles and those for the environment. One of theses connecting issues that we discussed in class was colonization. In his essay Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, Andy Smith states that “with colonization begins the domination of women and the domination of nature (Warren, 22). This idea is that when we, as a society, believe that we can dominate an entire culture, body of land, or group of people we are creating the imperialistic idea that one groups lives are more valuable than others. As I stated in the Environment section of this post, we have, in todays society taken a very capitalistic approach to our treatment of others. The Fair Trade Act, for example has led to the creation of maquiladoras along the Mexican side of the border, where poor woman are the majority of the workforce and hundreds of them go missing or are found dead, raped, and mutilated, scattered across the desert without a second glass, with no protest or investigation from either the US or Mexican government. Connecting back to nature and our environment, women often become the sole activists for nature due to how closely these issues disrupt their own lives. For example, Dorceta Taylor draws attention to this connection, in her essay Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism, when she states: “Their [women of color] communities, some of the most degraded environments in this country, are the repositories of waste products of capitalist production and excessive consumption.” I see Gender as a feminist struggle to overcome norms and free all sides of the spectrum from oppression.

Ok, those are the thoughts swirling around my head currently. I apologize for the length, I am a first time blogger and I believe with time I will improve on condensing.

Thanks, Jessica Libowitz.


Taylor, Dorceta E. Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism. Ed. Karen Warren and Nisvan Erkal. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. Print.

Smith, Andy. Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature. Ed. Karen Warren and Nisvan Erkal. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. Print.

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Ecofeminist Experiences

When I was 6 years old my family moved from one of the most populated places in the United States (Brooklyn, NY) to one of the least (Coudersport, PA). With that came a shift from living surrounded by mountains made of concrete to actual mountains. Nature was the only thing to do in Coudersport, and for a group of city people it was a bit intimidating. Luckily, my father was a self-proclaimed outdoorsman who attempted to pull my mother and I out of the house and into the wilds of Potter County.

Coudersport, PA

In that respect, my experiences lead me to associate nature with my father, male, than how society associates nature with female. My father was the one who urged me to sit outside or go for a walk, or the two of us would go through drives through the northern Pennsylvania countryside together. My father encouraged me to experience nature, yet he also encouraged me to preserve it. Despite living where there was plenty of room to plant a garden, my father still stuck to the city way of sustainable gardening. He cobbled together self-watering containers made of recycled buckets and bottles.

Self-watering contained made from a recycled paint bucket and plastic bottle. Containers decrease weeds and overwatering, and increase plant productivity.

Ecofeminism is part of personal experiences – as Gaard discussed in “Ecofeminist Politics: Ecofeminists and the Greens,” like others proclaimed themselves and their work as ecofeminist after the fact. My little corner of the ecofeminist experience comes from living in the country most of my life and my father’s earth-preserving hobbies. Now that I have a better understanding of what ecofeminism is, I recognize how its ideologies work in everyday settings. Humans need to see themselves as a part of nature, not at war with it, regardless of if they live in the middle of the woods or the middle of a metropolis.

I do recognize that I come from a place of privilege – I am a white, educated, middle-class, cisgender, able-bodied female. Although it lends me privileges that others lack, I recognize that they exist and perhaps I can utilize my place of privilege for good. I am in a position to spread awareness and give back in other ways, perhaps in ways more difficult for the less privileged.

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Humans and Nature

When I first heard the word ecofeminism, I had no idea what to think. I was brought up going to an all girls Catholic school, so feminism is something I am fairly familiar with. My school’s mission states, “single sex education empowers women for leadership in contemporary society”.

The front gates to my high school.

The front gates to where feminist minds are molded.

That fragment alone sums up the hours of classes used to mold our young brains into strong women willing to stand up for themselves. While being a proud, strong woman was a large part of the curriculum, learning about the connection between humans and nature was not. I always assumed that humans were not a part of nature, but always had part of me questioning why the two were not considered to be one of the same. If humans are not part of nature, then what are we a part of? This question has eaten away at me until now. Reading about ecofeminism has started to answer this question for me, specifically a reading by Andy Smith, Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework. This reading challenges the idea of humans being separated from nature by question if humans were to be destroyed, would the environment survive. It continues with a bold statement, “saving people should be as important as saving trees.” Coming across this started to answer my question and proceeded to give some answers. Before, I had no idea how to begin to answer this question but now I have a stepping-stone that would continue leading me to find more and more answers. The other ecofeminism works we read in class by Dorceta Taylor and Celene Kraus all raise incredible questions that dive further into the debate of humans being a part of nature. I had never deeply thought about the implications of what we do in our lives affects nature, which in time affects us. Before these readings, I never thought about who is affected by the hazardous substances put out into communities, or even realized that this existed however it quickly became clear that what affects nature, also affects people.  It gave me a sense of enlightenment and made me question why big environmental groups do not help support the people being affected by the same things that nature is affected by. The article, Hidden Risk,  separates wildlife and humans but shows that it’s not just wildlife that are affected by mercury but also humans. The connection between the two could not be any clearer. The knowledge I had of Ecofeminism before enrolling in the class was very minimal. It has since grabbed my interest by giving the ability to not just have a question, but the beginnings of an answer.

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Inequality and oppression

Little do Americans and Europeans know where the clothes they are wearing come from? They are made in factories in the Third World packed mostly with young women who had no chance of going to school. They will be forever trapped in the cycle of poverty working for little wages and long hours.  I greatly agree with Andy Smith that colonization and not overpopulation is the cause of poverty in the Third world (Smith 27). Actually it was colonization in the past and imperialism in the present that is to blame for poverty. People in the Third World are forced into congested urban cities in the name of development from their native rural settings where they lived for thousands of years and did subsistence farming just to work for pennies in factories to export goods back to the developed world. In the exchange they lose their entire life, happiness and leisure time.

Thus the current global system of Patriarchal capitalism that the world is running on is as detrimental  as cancer which Ecofeminism is set to cure. The environment is valueless unless it has something to offer to keep the capitalist system running and profits are more important than preserving the earth for future generations and people are exploited to the greatest extent just to make enormous wealth for the top 1 percent at the expense of the rest 99 percent. The Occupy movement in the U.S. is the proof that people are rising up to the great inequality facing the nation since the 1970s. The income and wealth of the top 1 percent has skyrocketed while the income of the rest has greatly declined with millions of people living in poverty with unemployment benefits and food stamps as the only path left for survival.

Coming from one of the most least developed countries in the world, I know how inequality and oppression of women and nature go together in forming the patriarchal society.  More than half the population of Bangladesh lives in poverty and the fact that it is a Muslim country women have to fight very hard to get equal rights as men and often are victims of great social oppression. Women are often underpaid and in many rural places denied education and are only restricted to their homes. Empowerment of women especially education is of utmost importance in protecting them from violence from males and making them financially solvent.  The right education is very important to enlighten people to respect each other and also to protect the environment. For instance, if people do not know that trees give out oxygen and sustain life on earth they will continue to cut them for the timber.

The following photographs were taken by me when I was touring The Grameen Textile factories in Savar, Bangladesh in July, 2010. Most of the workers are teenagers or in their early 20s who dropped out of school and will never have a chance of education and a better life. They work 12 hour shifts 6 days a week and get paid about $30 dollars a month. There are millions of such workers in the country and there are often riots as workers demand higher wages. But still the owners of these textile factories are making a fortune as labor is so cheap and live a life of great luxury and drive expensive cars whereas their workers can hardly afford a single meal.

Works Cited

Smith, Andy. Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature. Ed. Karen Warren and Nisvan Erkal. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. Print.

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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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Toxic Products in a Toxic Society

In the past six months I have become much more conscious of the body products that I use. I have made an effort to reduce any harmful products (like Herbal Essences shampoo) and buy ones that have fewer ingredients or are homemade. However, I was still surprised by how many products I use, even if they are “natural.” Most definitely, the number of products I use, the hygienic ones aside (arguably), is a reflection on my class status and location in the Western world. In our toxicology study, I really want to discover the “risk” of using “natural” products, if there is any at all. At this moment in my life, I feel really good about the beauty products I am using on my body, especially the ones that are homemade. Are these at all less toxic or unhealthy than chemistry-lab-designed, factory-produced products? For me, that is the scariest and most important question. Is there any way to escape the unhealthy system? And even if I refuse to use mass-produced beauty products, can I reject the expectations of culture and ‘neglect’ my ‘beauty’ maintenance?

Below is a log of my “Body Work” over three days in a typical school week.

Day Product Type Product Product Name
Wednesday Beauty Facewash Legends of Africa Organic Kenyan Soap
Wednesday Beauty Facewash Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar
Wednesday Beauty Moisturizer Desert Essence Facial Moisturizer
Wednesday Beauty Moisturizer
Wednesday Hygiene Toothpaste Tom’s Natural Whole Care Peppermint
Wednesday Hygiene Toothpaste
Wednesday Hygiene Contact lense Optifree Replenish
Wednesday Hygiene Contact Lense
Wednesday Hygiene Deoderant Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil
Wednesday Hygiene Deoderant
Wednesday Beauty Eyeliner Origins “Mushroom” eye pencil
Wednesday Beauty Mascara Origins Fringe Benefits
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Wednesday Hygiene Floss Picks Stim-U-Dent Plaque Removers
Wednesday Hygiene Body Wash Nature’s Gate Pomegranete Body Wash
Thursday Beauty Facewash “Legends of Africa”
Thursday Beauty Facewash “Legends of Africa”
Thursday Beauty Moisturizer Desert Essence Facial Moisturizer
Thursday Beauty Moisturizer
Thursday Hygiene Toothpaste Tom’s Natural Whole Care Peppermint
Thursday Hygiene Toothpaste
Thursday Hygiene Contact lense Optifree Replenish
Thursday Hygiene Contact Lense
Thursday Hygiene Deoderant Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil
Thursday Hygiene Deoderant
Thursday Beauty Eyeliner Origins “Mushroom” eye pencil
Thursday Beauty Mascara Origins Fringe Benefits
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Unnamed bar. Not sure.
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Thursday Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.
Thursday Beauty Lip Balm Burt’s Bees
Friday Beauty Facewash “Legends of Africa”
Beauty Moisturizer Desert Essence Facial Moisturizer
Hygiene Toothpaste Tom’s Natural Whole Care Peppermint
Hygiene Contact lense Optifree Replenish
Hygiene Deoderant Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil
Beauty Eyeliner Origins “Mushroom” eye pencil
Beauty Mascara Origins Fringe Benefits
Hygiene Handsoap Stuff in the school bathrooms.

During our three-day observation period, I used Nature’s Gate Pomegranate Sunflower Velvet Moisture Body Wash only once. I bought this product in Whole Foods, thinking that as long as I bought the product at such a store, it must be somewhat earth and body friendly. Unfortunately, it is only partly earth and body friendly and otherwise pretty harmful. The packaging focuses on the natural botanicals included in the product while also outlining the different ingredients not included in the body wash, such as paraben and sulfate. Yet the product is still harmful for the environment, consumer, and producer.

The Nature’s Gate website provides interesting information about the production of their product, whose “Certified Organic botanicals are farmed without the use of synthetic or inorganic chemicals, utilizing methods that naturally enhance soil structure, conserve water and mitigate climate change. Nature’s Gate sources Organic ingredients from Bayliss Ranch, a nearby organic farm in Biggs, California, minimizing the distance for transportation and the associated energy usage and emissions. The farm’s water supply is derived from rain and runoff of the adjacent Sierra Nevada snow pack.” It seems as though this company understands the importance of protecting soil and water and conserving resources. But I found further information that tells a different story.

What did the founders really have in mind when they founded their company?

I used Cosmetics Database (CD) to find information about the toxicological impact of using this particular body wash over the long term. According to CD, ingredients in this product are linked to allergies/immunotoxicity and other concerns such as “neurotoxicity, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), and irritation of the skin, eyes, or lungs. The fragrance of this product is what is most frightening to me. It ranks an 8 and could possibly be linked to neurotoxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity and other miscellaneous problems. The issue with discerning the toxicity of the fragrance is that this ingredient is not fully labeled. Its possible effects are unknown. The packaging of the product lists pomegranate and sunflower as the fragrance. Is it possible that these ingredients could have no toxic effect on humans or the earth?

CD also recorded a possibility of occupational hazards in relation to handling the sodium hydroxide in this product. I found this quite ironic as the product’s website claims to be “animal cruelty free.” But what about the human animals who manufacture and use this product!

According to, Nature’s Gate body wash ranked an 8.0 out of 10 for human health impacts and a 6.0 out of 10 for “Company” which entails a 6.4 for Environmental Impact (air pollution, ecosystems, global warming, and toxic waste), a 5.2 for Environmental Management, and a 5.2 for Resource Management (energy, materials, and water). The ranking for human health impacts is pretty good, but the “Company” rating is not as good as the Nature’s Gate website might lead one to believe. Based on these ratings and the product website, I would suggest that this company is using some environmentally healthy practices but still has places in which to improve.

The majority of ingredients aside from the fragrance listed a four or lower on the Cosmetics Database scale, meaning their toxic impact is smaller. For me personally, I would argue that the level of personal risk is small, considering my exposure to this product is minimal. I use it twice each week at the most. What is frightening is that this company did not full label the fragrance used in the product. Here it would be most useful if there were stricter laws on labeling, so that consumers can know exactly what is in the product, even if it is unpronounceable or recognizable to the eye of a non-scientist. Of course, using products whose ingredients are readable and understandable is recommended over a manufactured product.

The Nature’s Gate website displays for the consumer ways to care for the earth’s resources. It also shows the company’s involvement in a clean water campaign. Unfortunately, although the corporation lists various ways in which it is concerned about the environment (using recycled and recyclable materials, conserving resources, utilizing local sources), Nature’s Gate still seems to be more concerned with using “natural botanicals” to sell a product. Their focus is not having a minimal environmental impact. Their concern is selling Velvet Moisture Pomegranate Sunflower Body Wash to the uninformed consumer. The website also focuses on the importance of caring for one’s body, while emphasizing the importance of sustainability. What would our society and our earth look like if we understood that really caring for ourselves meant refusing to manufacture or consume toxic products? If sustainability meant more than recycling or conserving, but also sustaining lives, whether they are of the consumer or producer?

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A Toxic Day In the Life

Over the course of a day, we use many products that we don’t give two seconds worth of thought. Nor do we ever think about what is in them, where they come from and who they are affecting. But after taking a closer look at my own daily habits, I was not only confronted by some of the poor choices I have been making, but was also horrified when I looked into what chemicals I was exposing my self to, and subsequently, the environment and countless others as well. After slightly less than a week of documenting my beauty and hygiene product use, I was forced to think about my consumer habits, as well as my long term health in terms of my purchases.

I have always been aware of the products I was using, but I never realized how superficial that knowledge was until I started keeping tabs on what I used and how often in a condensed time period. Although I think the brands and specific products themselves could be improved and replaced with local, natural, healthier ones, I feel that I don’t use superfluous amounts of anything. That is something that I was generally satisfied with. I may shower everyday, but I usually only use a very small amount of shampoo/ conditioner/ body wash because most are very condensed. I also only use very little makeup and lotion. However, the quality and type of the products I was using was what bothered me the most and I am now planning on investigating local, more natural products that would be healthier for me and the environment. I do worry that I am at risk from the chemicals in these products for how long I’ve been using them. But since there is nothing to be done about that now, I can only work on making better choices for the future. Comparing to others my age in America, using Dickinson as a sample, I probably fall somewhere in the middle between those like the Tree Kids who are very conscious about their choices and others who may care more about their physical appearance and use a larger amount of products. But compared to the rest of the world, I probably use much more than average, given my socio-economic background. This leads me to think about who my use and disposal of these products is affecting. I started wondering where the waste and pollution from the water and trash goes after it leaves my immediate environment. The people it affects are probably those not using products such as these and that is extremely environmentally unjust. This was a very interesting experience and has caused some serious self-reflection. I have slowly been making changes to what I have been putting in and on my body and I feel like this is a good next step.

The product I chose for my toxicology research was my Soft Soap Coconut Body Scrub. I chose to focus on the 3 worst ingredients and what their long term, short term, body, occupational and environmental health effects were. As a whole product it ranked a 6 on the hazard scale set up by the comprehensive Cosmetics Database. This rating system “adds up the hazards of all ingredients, and is scaled higher if the product has penetration enhancers or other ingredients that increase skin absorption…[and] now accounts for more safety references and we show it on a 0-10 scale (with no decimals, 10 corresponding to highest concern).” It is said as a whole product to cause allergies and immunotoxicity and, over a long period of time to a lower degree, has neurotoxins, and causes organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), enhanced skin absorption, contamination concerns, occupational hazards, biochemical or cellular level changes. These effects are considered when combining all of the ingredients together at the recommended exposure rates for the consumer:

The first ingredient I looked at was DMDM Hydantoin, which scored a 7-9 on the hazard scale. It causes allergies/immunotoxicity, irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs) and organ system toxicity. DMDM hydantoin is an antimicrobial formaldehyde releaser preservative. In the U.S., about 20% of cosmetics and personal care products contain a formaldehyde-releaser and the allergy from frequency of contact to these ingredients is much higher among Americans compared to in Europe. But the main concern was the inclusion of Formaldehyde in this ingredient, which scored a 10 out of 10 on the hazard scale.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic impurity released by cosmetic preservatives, including DMDM hydantoin, among many other compounds. The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC) classified formaldehyde as ‘carcinogenic to humans,’ and the U.S. National Toxicology Program classified it as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,’ based on evidence in human studies, as well as evidence in animals. “Even the industry-funded Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel recommends that cosmetic products not contain more than 0.2% formaldehyde, and does not consider formaldehyde to be safe in aerosol products (CIR 2006). However, as it stands in the U.S. there are no restrictions on the levels of formaldehyde allowed in any body care products, no requirement to test products made with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives for levels of formaldehyde, and certainly no obligation to inform consumers that the products they use each day are likely to contain a cancer-causing chemical that does not appear on the list of ingredients.” Don’t I feel safe and informed.

Another ingredient I investigated was fragrance, which is a undisclosed mixture of many scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance diffuser such as diethyl phthalate. It is known to be a neurotoxin, and cause allergies/immunotoxicity over a short period of time. It has also been associated with dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. While this ingredient does not seem to be as bad as the other, it still scored a 8 on the hazard scale and is found in most hair and body products.

The final ingredient in the Soft Soap body wash I explored was Cocamidopropyl Betaine. It is a antistatic agent; hair conditioning agent; skin-conditioning agent; cleansing agent surfactant; a foam booster, and a viscosity increasing agent. It has been associated with skin irritation and allergy reactions that could be due to the ingredient itself or to impurities present in it, such as 3-dimethylaminopropylamine; it is also listed as being an “ecotoxic“. While I am not sure as to the specifics of this particular claim or what it entails, the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List states it as a suspected environmental toxin. It also has 2 main compounds in the ingredient itself that are also toxic: 3-dimethylaminopropylamine and Nitrosamines. Among other things they are responsible for occupational hazards, such as allergies, immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, endocrine disruption, and biochemical and cellular level changes for the workers exposed to them.

After some research, I discovered that SoftSoap is a branch of the Colgate-Palmolive Co. They have two factories near to where I live: one in New York City, and another in Morristown, NJ. And while I do not know the specifics of how these are affecting the communities surrounding them, I can only speculate as to the effect they are having on their workers. Most of the chemicals listed under the cosmetics database were listed as slight occupational hazards, meaning that it was recommended to them that workers only be exposed to the chemicals in small doses. However, this is per product; each individual worker is exposed to a small amount of each chemical for each product for a short time. Yet most likely, each worker is exposed to that product hundreds of times a day, six days a week for 40 or 50 years. That means that most of the effects that these chemicals have on the body for large doses over an extended period of time is affecting these people, which is socially and environmentally unjust.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the horrific discoveries that are made when you investigate your daily product usage. But it’s also not that difficult to do something about it. While I feel it would be beneficial and wonderful to overhaul the whole system and create a society focused on health and community rather than personal possession and consumerism, this type of offensive approach is not very realistic. I feel that the first step is on a personal level. Making changes in your own life, especially if tons of people do it, is a good way to get attention and a good way to make healthier choices for yourself. By switching to homemade concoctions of locally and organically grown products is not only more affordable and a healthier practice for your body, it is also useful in letting the corporations know that they can not and will not continue to promote dangerous consumerism. On another level, we need rising bright minds that are heading into the workforce to be aware of these issues, to be educated and pissed. By putting more environmental, health and social justice minded people into positions of power and authority into corporations and the government, we can start making policy changes for the consumer, the workers and the surrounding communities and ecosystems. And finally, activist groups and small grass roots movements need to start speaking to their representatives, and reaching out to the government. While small movements aren’t a cure-all, they are not a bad start. And if the government is being pressured enough by the people and then changes to support it, policy and lifestyle changes will be much more successful.

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Overpopulation versus Reproductive Justice: The Ethics of Population Control

As an Environmental Studies major, I tend to blame most of the world’s environmental problems on overpopulation. Overpopulation leads to overconsumption leading to depletion of resources, land, etc.; therefore, my solution to climate change and other environmental issues was population control. It was not until learning about reproductive justice in ecofeminism that I realized that population control is not a foolproof solution, but rather a serious ethical issue. I am choosing to write my final paper on the connection between population control, reproductive justice, and overpopulation as a way to present possible solutions to prevent overpopulation without jeopardizing the rights of women and families to have children.

I plan on researching areas of high population and determining why such areas lack family planning and comparing these areas to less populated areas. This will allow some determination of possible solutions and methods for reducing the rate of population growth. I plan to use ideas from class regarding reproductive justice, climate change, and overpopulation to provide a well-rounded, ecofeminist view on how to combat overpopulation. This issue is extremely important to me because I do believe that population control is necessary to slow the process of climate change; I am very interested to find solutions, ethical methods, and different practices to slow population growth. I do believe that population rates need to decrease, but the ethics behind the cause are far too important.

Picture:  M.M. Kent and K.A. Crews, World Populations: Fundamentals of Growth, 1990, Population Reference Bureau, Washington, D.C.

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The Erotic: A Common Misconception

Today I decided to take a poll. I asked my friends, fellow residents, and students of Dickinson College, “When I say ‘erotic’, what is the first word that comes to mind?” I was not surprised by the answers I received, as I have a strong understanding of the associations related to the erotic compared to what the erotic actually means. There was definitely a general theme to the answers I received. The words were as follows:
Sexual, kinky, turned-on, desire, porn, fetish, sex, evoking, arousal, intense, dirty, sexy, stripper, dance.
All of the words that came to mind were directly related to sex. Kinky, fetish, turned-on, and dirty all allude to a more intense or exotic sexual experience. Evoking, arousal, desire, and sexy all seem to involve the stimulation of a sexual experience. Put together, the general college student believes the erotic to be an extreme sexual desire or wild experience. I find this to be particularly interesting because in the mind of most ecofeminists, the erotic is much more than a sexual experience, feeling, or desire. Audre Lorde, in her essay “Sister Outsider” describes the erotic as “a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling” (Lorde, 1983). The way that Lorde describes the erotic insinuates that it is a spiritual fixation derived within each and every one of us. Both men and women are capable of reaching the erotic, and the unique experience it has to offer. But why is it that the erotic is mostly associated with women, sex, and desire?
The misconception of the true meaning of the erotic is leading to the suppression of such a feeling. Because many sexual acts are looked down upon for women, women attempt to restrain feelings of the erotic. For example, when I asked a particular person what the erotic means to them, they replied “stripper, strip club, erotic dancer, etc.” These terms that this person chose to associate with the erotic describes something that is often looked down upon in society today. Although some women believe that women in the sex-working field are empowered and strong, like Annie Sprinkle, stripping, pornography, and exotic dancing are mostly frowned upon. Does this in turn imply that the erotic is something that is frowned upon as well?

Because the erotic is misnamed by men and society as a whole, women are refused the right to experience such an incredible feeling of sense of self, internal satisfaction, and self-respect. Don’t get me wrong, the erotic is capable of coming from some form of sexual experience; however, the associations with sex and the erotic are over-exaggerated. The erotic can mean any number of things to a particular person. Because the erotic lies within everyone, only that person is capable of deciding the feeling or affect of the erotic. The erotic can mean intense love, joy, happiness, knowledge, meditation, sex, chaos, power, self, sensation…the list goes on.
Audre Lorde describes the feeling of the erotic as our sense of self, the chaos of our strongest feelings, sharing deeply, open and fearless underlying of a capacity for joy, and so much more (Lorde, 1983). When the erotic is released from a particular person, a strong energy is provided throughout the entire body to strengthen and sensitize that person. Although I have not yet found the erotic inside of me, I hope to one day discover the impeccable feeling it has to offer.
Unfortunately, so many women are unable of reaching the erotic that they crave. Because women today do not live by the guidelines and objectives of the erotic, our lives become exterior to us as women. Instead of following our own erotic, we (women) are conforming to the structure of society. When we are finally able to live within ourselves and truly recognize the meaning of the erotic, we can reach the deepest feelings and sensations of the self. Women who reach the erotic will no longer be associated with the “other” and can finally live in a state of self-worth, and deep emotions, that cannot be stepped on by culture or man.

-Maggie Rees
Lourde, A. (1983). Sister Outsider. Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.

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Beyond Bashing Binaries

“C’mon! We’re better than that!”

Binaries. Dualisms. Dichotomies. Opposites. Distinctions that can assist human understanding, but also limit the clarity of connections between that which is supposedly oppositional. Val Plumwood lists various dualisms in her book Feminism and Ecofeminism — reason vs. nature, male vs. female, mind vs. body, human vs. nature, self vs. other — showing that the different distinctions form a matrix of separation. It is also easy to tell which ones society commonly considers as good or acceptable. During the first few weeks of my study in the Ecofeminism course we  “laid the groundwork” of theory and criticisms, especially of binaries, for the rest of the semester. We read a chapter from Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl, another exerpt from Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book Sexing the Body, and the chapter from Plumwood’s book, critically considering these dualisms, their interconnection, and how they affect our perspectives towards the various supposedly “opposite” entities. It was clear that understand and deconstructing these dualisms was pertinent for our study in Ecofeminism. Direct quotes from the Course Objectives on the syllabus: “Embrace systems-thinking, non-binary thinking, and critical thinking skills […] Unravel and critically examine deep-seated binaries.”

After reading these criticims, I personally fell into the mindset that binaries are bad! That whoever created them and employed them as subordination tactic was bad! It’s not that binaries are bad, like Ramsay said in class: it is hard to reconcile the philosophical use of dualisms for understanding different concepts. It makes perfect sense for the human mind to psychologically categorize in order to understand. However, binaries do not allow us to make connections between various entities, meaning they disable systems thinking and the ability to see the interconnected web of all life, whether human or not.  As Plumwood says, “It it not just the fact that there is a dichotomy […] it is rather the way the distinctions have been treated, the further assumptions made about them and the relationship imposed upon the relata which make the relationships in question dualistic ones” (Plumwood 47). Difference happens over and over in nature, but dualisms point out the differences as defining, thus limiting, and dividing. They focusing on how various ideas or entities are dissimiliar, justifying their domination. This is plainly seen in the distinction of nature as different from mankind, allowing the exploitation of various natural resources.

I was worried that we would only bash binaries for the rest of the course, but was pleased that a few weeks after reading the dualism criticisms that our class discussion turned towards connections, instead of focusing on discussing the negative aspects of viewing the world through a dualistic “lense.” What made a specific impact on me was Sarah Brylinsky’s discussion and drawings of a balance beam and a wheel. Dismissing the idea of finding a balance between different aspects of our lives (I’m a Libra, no fair!), she showed that thinking in terms of interactions, like the spokes of a wheel, actually makes much more logical sense when considering humans, nature, culture. Each of the different spokes of the wheel is an individual, yet important element in the function of the bike as a whole. It is just as Julia Serano shows in her book, that we can acknowledge differences and the variety of individual experiences! They don’t have to be hierarchical or dualistic. They can be appreciated for their unique contribution. This idea is also found in one of my favorite articles from, called “One Dimensional Life in the Three Dimensional World.”

I am glad that as a whole we have begun to establish connections and think more in systems rather than focusing on dualisms and their negative effects, for these new ways of thinking are very important for forming an ecofeminist view of seeing, and ultimately healing, the world.

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

-Chief Seattle

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