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Book Chapter

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Oxford University Press


This book is an effort to explain these kinds of extreme gendered divisions and to offer an enriched understanding of the powerful interplay between environment and sex, sexuality, and gender. The synergy produced by that interplay has been significant throughout American history, but it cannot be adequately understood and appreciated as long as those fields are discussed as discrete entities. The fields of gender and environment are growing, but scholars have seldom joined them together in analysis or heeded historian Carolyn Merchant's call that a gendered perspective be added to conceptual frameworks in environmental history.5 They have not offered a unified analysis of the intersections that shaped gendered environmental concerns and activism and that framed as well the way the larger culture responded. Of the growing number of American environmental histories that feature women or gender, many remain narrowly focused on the modern environmental movement (environmentalism) or take a regional or otherwise limited approach.6 Others offer fascinating global, gendered perspectives and profound philosophical insight but are not sufficiently focused for the reader specifically interested in American history.7 Some of the existing scholarship concerning the role of gender in environmental history is even potentially damaging, such as the tendency to anthropomorphize and feminize nature through terms like "Mother Nature" and "Mother Earth," and calling environmental exploitation the "rape" of "virgin" land. Such tendencies devalue women and work against respecting nature as an agent in its own right: a partner, equal to humans in value and dignity.8 Considerable work has been done, however, that is constructive and valuable. Many studies, for example, have been made of women naturalists and nature writers and of women in early environmental protection movements.9

Chapter of

Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History


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