Posts Tagged Nature

This Land (Ice) is MY Land

I like to think I am connected with nature both at home and at school.  At Dickinson, for example, whenever I walk from the library to the HUB I always choose to take what I call “the nature walk” – instead of walking on the concrete through Britton Plaza, I always choose to take the little mulch path.  No joke!

"Nature walk" trail in Britton Plaza.

At home I like to think I am more connected with nature and the land around me, simply because I am more exposed to the nature.  Whether it be the winter or the summer, my brothers and I are always playing sports outside.  In the winter, I am always playing pond hockey.  Pond hockey is much different than regular hockey in a rink, simply because of the element of nature you add to the game.

My friends and I playing hockey, note the Dickinson jersey.

Personally, I enjoy pond hockey more than playing in a rink; you can breathe the air straight from the atmosphere rather than from inside a rink, the trees tower over you rather than the roof of the arena, and the ice is real not artificial.  There’s just something about playing pond hockey that is much different than “regular hockey” and for that reason everyone should play at least once in their lives.

In the summer, my brothers are always outside playing wiffleball in our backyard.  I almost feel more connected with the land during the summer because we always tend to play wiffleball without our shoes on.  Of course my mom is not happy with us playing without shoes, but for some reason there is a more relaxing, natural feel in playing barefoot.  Much like pond hockey is the most natural way to play hockey, for me playing barefoot is the most natural way to play wiffleball.

I love the land at my home.   Of all the parts of nature, I value the grass, dirt, and the fresh air the most.  After some of the readings we have done thus far in Ecofeminism, I have learned how polluted the air in Carlisle and the Cumberland county is; according to stateoftheair.org some neighboring counties to Carlisle placed in the top 20 most polluted air in the United States.  It took me almost a year and a half at Dickinson to discover how toxic the air we breathe in everyday here in Carlisle really is.  This air toxicity, according to Sandra Steingraber’s in her book Living Downstream, can lead to dangerous cancers such as lung cancer.  Steingraber suggests that with a “five-year survival rate of only 15 percent, lung cancer is so swiftly fatal that we rarely hear stories of its victims” (175).  This statistic scares me because I am exposed to these toxins everyday without even knowing it; whether it be second hand cigarette smoke or the polluted Carlisle air, we are exposed to more toxins than we may be aware of at Dickinson College.

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Unpacking My Bag

 

In high school I was given the occasional nickname of “nature girl” from my friends. I’m not too sure how that came about, or even what it truly meant, but my interests in the environment and feminism started developing together around the same time.

In my senior year of high school I was fortunate enough to convince my school to let me take a Women and Gender Studies course at a community college in addition to developing and self-teaching myself an Environmental Science course in lieu of traditional curriculum. My WGST course was taught by a badass male who loved Alice Paul and happened to be a former army sergeant and nurse. He provided an amazingly different perspective than I expected and for that I am forever grateful. My self identified feminism grew from that class but today I still find myself sometimes struggling to relate to many women around me.

At Dickinson, seeing a course titled “Ecofeminism” seemed like a natural combination of these two areas that both interested me. Of course, as I am beginning my exploration of the topic, I am realizing than ecofeminism is more than just two movements combined; it is in fact a it’s own way of thought. I am still trying to figure out how my own self-developed ideals fit into the ecofeminist framework. For example, I am a vegetarian, but I was not led to that path through the animal liberation movement and I do not much identify with it. Additionally, Dorcerta E. Taylor in Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism says “Spirituality is an important part of ecofeminism.” While I enjoy signing along to Dar Williams’ The Christians and the Pagans, I have no attachment to any religion or spiritual belief and so far I have trouble seeing how it is an important component of ecofeminism.

Although this semester is still young, there are topics brought up in our readings that have already resonated with my past experiences and current thoughts. I was born and raised in the most densely populated and developed area in the nation, yet I still felt that I had access to an immense amount of nature. Growing up surrounded by horse farms, parks, and highways in Central New Jersey provided a wide variety of both natural and built environments that shaped my outlook. But I’m beginning to realize I never knew how terrible things actually are beneath the surface. I was surprised/ horrified to see the town I was born in referenced in Celene Krauss’ Blue-Collar Women and Toxic-Waste Protests. “…in South Brunswick, New Jersey, local officials argued that living with pollution was ‘the price of a better way of life’”. I know my Grandmother as a young woman payed a price by working many hours in the world’s largest snuff factory, most likely contributing to her developing lung cancer later in life. Like many of the workers mentioned by Krauss, she had few options beyond sacrificing her health for her work.

Helmetta Snuff Factory

This inspired me to do more research on the environment I grew up in. I began with pollution and air quality, topics also being discussed in my Foundations of Environmental Science course taught by Professor Howard. Being in the New York City metro area, the results were not surprising, but not optimistic either. With this environmental atrocity at home, I can see why so many women feel outraged and called to action. I am looking forward to the challenges to my thought and beliefs that are awaiting in the future of this course and the future of the environment around me.

 Peace Out,
Amber McGarvey
All photos courtesy of myself

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Eco-what?

I have to start by being brutally honest. Prior to enrolling in my current Ecofeminism class, I had never encountered the term “ecofeminism.” What on earth was “ecofeminism” I thought. The ambiguity of the term was one of the main reasons I eventually decided to take the class and although I am nowhere close to understanding the complexities of the movement, it has caused me to ask myself questions I had never thought of before. As a woman, what is my opinion on gender and the way it’s molded in our society? Have there been times in my life when I have felt “oppressed” by either men or culture? Did I buy that there is a direct link between women and the environment? How much do I actually care for the empowerment of women and the well-being of our environment?

Although I can’t say that I have concrete answers for any of the questions above, I do know that the issues they raise are connected to my life, especially as a Hispanic American woman. Living as a “minority” in this country, I have experienced that hierarchies still control our everyday lives, and that there are many inequalities within our society, whether transparent or not. Throughout my life I have experienced that at times, being woman, especially a Hispanic woman, does put me at certain disadvantages in comparison to Caucasian women, let alone to Caucasian men. As a senior in college with graduation looming around the corner, the pressure of finding employment and transitioning into the “real world” is daunting.  Not only is it scary to think that we will all soon be competing for jobs in this unpromising economic situation but that as a woman, I might not be considered as a serious candidate next to my male peers. According to a report issued by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, even though the “Gender Wage Gap” has decreased significantly in the last six decades, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly earnings in 2010 was approximately 81%. This means that even if I do find employment after graduation, I may not be paid as much as a male peer pursuing the same field. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but to me, there is something inherently wrong with that fact.

Graph showing the Gender Wage Gap from the Institute for Women's Policy Research

Now, the other component to Ecofeminism is the injustices done to the environment, which is argued to be oppressed by culture in similar ways that men dominate women. When considering my views about nature and the environment, I realized that I associate with this aspect of the movement much less. Yes, I do recycle, but the main reason for my separation from the environment comes from growing up and still living in New York City. Although I will always argue that NYC is the best city in the world, analyzing it through ecofeminist lens made me realize that it encompasses many aspects that ecofeminists are against.

My friend and I enjoying a Summer night in Times Square, New York City.

As a New Yorker, I have to admit that I have been soaked into the fast-paced culture of the city, controlled by technology and constant consumption. I had to ask myself: am I wrong for participating in this “cosmopolitan” lifestyle? Was I thus supporting forms of oppression to the environment and to my own gender?

As I begin to wrestle with these issues, there is one component of Ecofeminism that I struggle with the most. In Andy Smith’s piece, “Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework,” she begins by quoting Karen J. Warren’s idea that, “All feminists must also oppose any isms of domination that are maintained and justified by that logic of domination.” According to Warren and Smith, ecofeminists should not only be concerned with the oppression of women and nature but with all forms of oppression. While I understand this argument, it highlights one of the movement’s biggest issues that we discussed in our last class, that of Inclusion v. Exclusion. If what Warren and Smith argue is valid, is there any hierarchy or injustice that would not be included in the ecofeminist critique? Furthermore, if ecofeminists choose to stand against all forms of oppression is the name “ecofeminism” now inaccurate? It looks like for now, I am only left with even more questions to ponder.

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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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Brainchild of a Tree-Hugging Ninja Princess

I owe my perception of gender, nature, and my body to the phantoms of my childhood. Back in those days, my head and heart were young bonsais ready to be wired and arced into desired forms. Because my sire was one of those absentee fathers, my mother did most of the shaping. Virtually all the fathers in my microscopic hometown spent most of their time holed up at the local chemical plant, “working.” Mothers – especially mine – did everything else: ice-skating, cooking, cleaning, teaching, playing, dancing, story-telling, and general awesome-doing. Many of them had money-making jobs themselves, yet they still managed to be vital parts of their children’s lives. If I needed something, the solution was intuitive as breathing: go to Mom. Mom worked miracles. Mom made the world go ‘round. Dad, however, seemed only to come home to eat, sleep, and lose arguments with her. It was obvious to me that females were the stronger gender. I had to be careful not to make my older brother feel handicapped by his masculinity. If I’d read Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body, which mockingly quotes the founder of the modern Olympics, who stated that “women’s sports are against the law of nature,” I would have submitted my mother’s cross-country metals as evidence to the contrary (2-3). If women weren’t supposed to be athletic, Mom and I played way too many games of Ninjas vs. Pirates.

My mother played a less direct role in my developing relationship with Nature. Determined that her children wouldn’t suffer the zombifying condition she termed “brain rot,” she banned most television shows and made us play outside. In the dirt. As a result, when I wasn’t making mud pies, one of the only cartoons I watched was Captain Planet. In the programme, teenagers from across the world become the heroic defenders of the Earth and the sworn enemies polluting industries. An enthusiastic disciple of Captain Planet, I made a point to treasure all the trees in my neighbourhood, which I already believed to be magical, thanks to Mom’s fairy stories. As far back as I can remember, I’ve felt a companionship with the natural world. It’s home. Captain Planet Introduction on YouTube

The eco-idols of my childhood (Honea, 2008).

Unsurprisingly, Mom’s ideas about the body and how it should be perceived and cared for washed into me, too. She taught me to be healthy and to love my body, imperfections and all. When I’d come home crying because the boys teased me for having freckles, she told me that freckles were kisses from angels. How could I wish away angel kisses? Well into my days in middle school, she warded off door-to-door salespeople peddling subscriptions to Cosmopolitan and Seventeen in order to protect me from the idolization of too-thin bodies and sexy tummies. She might have saved my life.

True, the foundation of my perceptions of gender, nature, and my body were based on the naïve assumption that my mother is the source of all wisdom. However, I don’t regret my childhood, who I am, or what I believe about gender, nature, and the body. I know her teachings of the indomitability of women, the magic of Nature, and the inherent perfection of the imperfect body contributed to so much of my enduring happiness.

Works Cited:

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Dueling Dualisms” from Sexing the Body (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

Honea, Whit. “The Real Reason Tom Cruise Backed Out of Captain Planet.” Babble. 2 Feb. 2008. Visited 7 Sept. 2010. http://www.babble.com/CS/blogs/famecrawl…

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