The Perspectives On Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, And Activism

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In 2004, Kenyan environmental justice activist Wangari Mathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her mobilization of African women and their planting of thirty million trees over the last thirty years. Also in 2004, U.S. environmental justice activist Margie Eugene Richard became the first African American woman to win the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work against the petrochemical industry in Norco, Louisiana.

Environmental justice activists (primarily women) are receiving past due recognition for their work in social and environmental equity causes. This recognition also is noted in Rachel Stein’s edited collection. This promising, interdisciplinary work includes essays from scholars and practitioners of environmental justice, and gives gender and sexuality considerations primacy in environmental justice theory and praxis. This book is invaluable for activists in environmental justice causes, and for teachers of Women’s Studies and environmental studies.

Stein’s text is an important contribution to these fields considering the neglect of gender in past environmental justice collections. For example, only two articles on gender are contained in lauded environmental justice works by Bunyan Bryant, David Camacho, and Daniel Faber.

Stein’s collection is, indeed, long overdue, as it highlights “issues of gender equality and sexual equality that have been embedded within the environmental justice work to make these aspects of the movements more visible” (5). Women have had an overwhelming presence, historically, in environmental justice campaigns and currently “compose approximately 90 percent of the active membership” of many environmental justice groups (2). Hopefully, this collection will prompt further analyses into women’s participation in such causes, thereby expanding environmental justice thought and action in fruitful and unexpected ways.

Greta Gaard’s “Toward an Ecofeminist Queer Theory,”which unites ecofeminism and queer theory, sets the stage for other chapters on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and environmental justice, such as Catriona Sandilands’s work on lesbian spaces in Oregon, and Beth Berila’s article on the intersections between sexuality and environmental justice. These essays are the best examples of how this text seeks to link studies in environmental justice, gender, and sexuality in heretofore new ways.

Nancy Unger provides a sweeping history into the ways in which women (of various races and social classes) have been linked to the environment and environmental justice concerns. Unger’s historical claim about women’s involvement is supported by Julie Sze’s study of the large numbers of inner city mothers of asthmatic children who form collectives to fight for healthier environments, and by Robert Verchick’s look at the impact of feminist legal theory on environmental justice activism. Also noteworthy is Giovanna DiChirro’s chilling exposé of genetic studies conducted by the National Institute of Health.

While this book is vital for its gender and sexuality redress in the field of gender studies and environmental thought and practice, it does have minimal weaknesses. Part Four: Studies in Literature and Popular Culture is long (with five essays) for a text of this kind. Considering that political-economic arrangements that aid and abet industry at the expense of the poor and people of color are the very reasons why some become engaged in environmental justice struggles, scholarship more focused on health and [End Page 224]  activism issues seems more fitting than those providing textual analyses of popular culture artifacts.

This collection also fails to make global environmental justice connections, which are especially important considering the current ravages of the global environment, and the great numbers of people engaged in environmental justice activism worldwide. The only essay with a global perspective is Anne E. Lucas’s article, which explores the ways in which U.S. industry is polluting the Canadian Artic and the breast milk of Inuit women.

Overall, though, this collection is an unprecedented study that places gender and sexuality at the center of analysis. Ultimately, it is an important resource for academics and activists working in Women’s Studies and environmental justice causes.

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