Title

The Role of Gender in Environmental Justice

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-2008

Publisher

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Abstract

Environmental Justice incorporates an inclusive definition of its subject matter, exploring the environmental burdens impacting all marginalized populations and communities. This expansive definition allows for the possibility that populations conventionally viewed as privileged can nevertheless be marginalized and suffer uniquely from environmental injustices. Employing such a definition can also reveal how an ostensibly powerless group can fight for environmental justice on its own terms—and win. Gender has played an important role in environmental justice (and injustice) throughout the history of the United States. Excerpts from my current book project, Beyond “Nature’s Housekeepers”: Gendered Turning Points for American Women in Environmental History, offer an enriched understanding of the powerful yet underappreciated role of gender in American environmental history overall, as well as in the more specialized study of environmental justice. They answer the question: How and why have men and women, even those of the same race and class, frequently responded so differently to the environment and environmental issues in American history? I argue that what people think it means to be a man or a woman (definitions that are socially prescribed and changeable) has played a significant role in their environmental consciousness and actions. Understanding the role of gender in environmental history helps to explain why women are disproportionately drawn to environmental justice activism. The excerpts presented here highlight the actions of women perhaps not immediately associated with the modern environmental justice movement: middle-class, primarily white, homemakers in the United States.