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I should preface this post by saying that I am a white, middle class, twenty year old female who was raised in a large comfortable house in a safe neighborhood by two loving parents who have both worked for all of my life, accept for the first 10 weeks when my mother stayed home with me on maternity leave, and my father stayed home with me for part of the day while he was finishing up his masters. Also this post refers strictly to the United States of America. Feminism is a necessary force in many countries where women are forced into submission to men, it just isn’t a cause here:

It’s clear to me that I will not be forgotten when you look back on this class as the anti-feminist in the room. Apparently that’s a shocking identity seeing as I stunned you all into silence by saying that feminism is dead, and modern feminists need to go away. I think my point got a little sidetracked by that opening statement which makes it sounds as if I believe the woman’s place is in the home. In reality I think that all people should have (and for the most part do have) equal rights, regardless of their sex, race, sexual orientation, or (to some extent) age. And therein lies my point: the feminists won their revolution, they have federal recourse in the Lilly Ledbetter Act for equal pay, and we are considered people under the constitution. So please, stop yelling.

It seems that today men and women are both feminists by nature because they both want to work, they are more and more frequently both asking for parental leave, and it’s no longer strictly the woman’s job to make the home. If anything the next step in the “feminist” cause is to get more paternity leave, and to get men’s issues to be more prevalent in society discussions. But at that point is it even a feminist issue any longer? Wasn’t the goal of feminism to remove the duality of gender standards in our society? The original feminist ideals of gender equality have become a norm in our daily lives. The issues that so called “feminists” are fighting now are more about human equality and human rights. Feminism is no longer a cause but a state of being; we don’t need to push for it but to move forward to becoming humanists and accepting all people for themselves. Scientifically, we are all somewhere along a progression of male to female, not necessarily one or another. And we are not defined by this duality until birth when we are declared to be either male or female. As we are coming to accept this progression of the sexes, we must also come to accept that feminism cannot continue to be shouted from the roof tops because it relies on the old duality of the sexes to show that one sex is dominant to another.

In class it was brought up that there are still residual problems that need to be resolved; the problem we  brought up was a specific instance where a woman discovered she was being paid less than her male co-workers and had to file a complaint and threaten to sue to get her salary raised. Unfortunately situations like this do exist, but it has been my experience that these cases are examples of where the system wasn’t changed; I optimistically believe that these situations occur because in that company no one thought to go through and change the paperwork to set the standard for equal pay, and if that isn’t the case then you still have federal recourse in the Lilly Ledbetter Act where you can sue for all of your back pay.

It’s my perception that saying I’m not a feminist, in fact I’m anti-feminist makes people think that I’m at university just so I can get a husband, get married, never work a paying job for a day in my life, have a perfect family and wear pearls in the kitchen. While some of these things don’t sound so bad, that’s not my vision for my life, and I don’t have to be a feminist to want to be the superintendent of Portland Public Schools one day.

I’ve been struggling with my snooze button for the last couple of weeks, so this morning when I heard a radio announcer saying that watermelons were exploding in China, I was sure it was a dream induced from a light sleep and NPR waking me up every 9 minutes. In fact it was not a dream. Watermelons in China are actually exploding because of a hormone they are being sprayed with, “the growth stimulator forchlorfenuron” according to the NYT article (see below). So what does this say about our global market, consumerist behaviors, and chemical exposure?

Farmers in China are so driven to make money on their crops that they are coating their plants with chemicals which are literally causing the fruit to grow so fast that it expands faster than its rind, and the fruit explodes. This chemical has been used consistently in the past, which means that farmers are increasing the use or dose for each plant, which means we as consumers are also consuming more chemicals than we unknowingly have been for the last several years. Are we really so driven as a race that we feel it is necessary to use chemicals to grow crops faster so we can make a profit, and risk our health by consuming these products because we want to pay as little for our groceries as possible? I am not a great advocate for organic foods, usually I’ve found that organic doesn’t mean a whole lot of improvements to the sustainability or healthiness of a product. But I can draw a line at such intense use of pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones that the products themselves are dying before they reach the consumer.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this blog post, other than letting you all know that I woke up with a really great image of a field of exploding watermelons this morning. There’s another side to this story as well of course: the article for this story was four sentences in the NYT, and to my bleary-eyed perception about 20 seconds on IPR this morning. These are chemicals which are consumed by us, whose effects we probably don’t know, and that are toxic enough to kill the product before it gets to us. What happens when these chemicals build up in our bodies or our children’s bodies? Will growth hormones bring about an age of exploding humans? Probably not, but we clearly aren’t worried about it as a society either way.

NYT Exploding Watermelons

In an extension of our discussion of environmentally caused cancer:

Last weekend I participated in Relay for Life for UO. I was there for 14 hours, walked 20 miles and donated 11 inches of hair. And in those hours, miles and inches there was only one mention of chemicals and there were zero mentions of toxic environments. The only mention of chemicals was a lawn sign promoting The American Cancer Society’s work to develop new chemicals to fight cancer. I think this lone interpretation of chemicals’ effects on the human body begs an interesting set of questions.

If we think of the fight against cancer as an example of the baby story in real life, then it makes little sense to just fight the effects, but rather to start combating the causes; we should be preventative rather than reactive. So maybe in the context of this class, the argument would be to rid our daily lives of extensive engineered chemicals. But if we stop using chemicals in our daily lives, should we also stop using chemicals in medicine? Should we continue developing new chemicals which may one day stop cancer once it has developed, as it will probably continue to do since cancer can be caused by genetics and was prevalent (to a lesser extent than it is today) before we had constructed our modern toxic world. Scientific research is the smallest use of space on campus, accounting for only 7% of our campus area, yet because of its huge energy expenditure and experimental use of chemicals it is also the single largest use of energy on campus. Where do we draw the line on this experimental use that pollutes our planet through energy use and material consumption? Do we allow medical research, but not engineering? But then maybe engineering is a way to combat Global Climate Change. So we allow medical research, and engineering, but not studies of fruit fly genetics? But then maybe fruit flies will teach us about our own genetics, and help us understand evolution, or our medical needs. Where do we draw the line?

That leaves the blog post ending without a conclusion, but I really don’t know how to answer that question. So please, comment, and tell me where you think the line is. How do we define what kind of research is important? Is the use of chemicals for medicine moral if we have already cut other chemical use out of our lives? Is this question to early to be answered? Do we need to first remove elective chemical use from our daily lives before addressing them in different circumstances?

In Adams’ “Radiated Identities” I see a realization of the flaw of analyzing scientific events (at least events that were handled directly by a scientific community) through a humanities lens. This paper seems to say that science gets in the way of true analysis, like science simplifies everything so much that every issue becomes black and white and there is no longer any room for interpretation. Adams believes (correctly) that radiation is “beyond the reach of the senses, radiation perforates the boundaries of person, species and earth and thus places humans and other life-forms in a new relation to each other” (pg 199-200). However this connectivity, since it is beyond the senses could not be realized by the effected people and ecosystems without science to tell us it is so. This perception of science fuels the same argument that cancer is a result of our modern way of life, ignoring the fact that many forms of cancer existed long before any western medicine or life style, the term simply wasn’t used until the 19th century.

There is a lot we would not be aware of without science, and maybe as Adams says, we would be happier for it, living unaware of the radiation we are receiving because we cannot sense it. But there are so many good things we understand now, so much wonder and so many new questions because science probes and analyzes and argues until one issue becomes black and white, only to discover 10 new related issues previously unconsidered. I’m sure a lot of this rant stems from Adams saying that classical science, and essentially those who (like myself) use it to understand the world, removes chaos, complexity, connectivity, and creativity from analysis. But I think we, as a modern society, and Adams rely on knowing. It’s fear of the unknown that causes so much risk perception after all. So wouldn’t it be better to keep exploring issues scientifically until we no longer need to be scared of the things that scare us now?

A good example of this may be Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics. These are new scientific fields, and we don’t know a lot yet, but I’m a little more comfortable knowing that Professor Hopkins could tell me Japan was due for a big earth quake, four weeks before the first quake. Then again, built into my personal risk perception, she also said the Northwest was due for one of the same magnitude too.

Here’s a clip from West Wing Season 2 which I suppose argues my point and Adams’ point. Science can tell us a lot of things, and it can also make us believe things that are simply wrong. In this case where are we?

This post relates to some of the earlier readings for the course but I wanted to discuss the Power Shift 2011 conference in relation to this theme!

In Garrard’s “Pollution” and “Apocalypse” he refers to a theory of Buell’s that Apocalypse is the single most powerful master metaphor that environmentalists had. Ulrich Beck expanded upon this idea in his essay “Living in the World Risk Society”, saying “being at risk is the way of being and ruling in the world of modernity.” During class discussions and in my own reflective thinking I completely agreed with these authors. When we look back at the common messages of environmental activists we remember being told that the world is on a precipice of total destruction and we (the people) must take action now. In the moment this message is usually emotional, and thus we get swept up in the idea of going home tonight and making a difference, stopping apocalyptic disasters single handedly and in this exact moment.

This weekend I arrived at the Power Shift 2011 conference in Washington DC fully expecting to hear this same message again and again: the world is going to end and only your actions can stop it. To some extent this expectation was fulfilled. Former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech and many of the younger speakers (even some novices who were asked to present in front of the group rather spontaneously) certainly played with our emotions, trying to evoke a sense of anger and greater good, and enforce the idea that our individual immediate action as being inherently important to invocation of change. However there were some speakers who chose a different, (and in my opinion) more effective tactic. Especially within our smaller groups there was a passive presence of those wanting to create change in the system from the source. These individuals and groups, while worried about the potential for irrevocable change to our natural world, focused more on changing the way communities, education systems, and households function. By changing the consumers of CO2 expensive products, the supporters of polluter-funded politicians, and the generally uninformed public, these passive groups are trying to address the source of environmental issues in the United States.

A sense of urgency, of a pastoral simplicity or certain destruction, has been a common theme in environmental movements throughout the last century. However, the choice between the unknown (instead of exclusively presenting the worst case scenario) and a life very similar to how we live now can also be an effective argument for a movement. I was glad to see that there is a new sect of the environmental movement forming. This group will use education, discussion and debate to address environmental issues and degradation instead of the violent, unhearing, angry mob-mentality which has been tried, and often failed in the past.

Blog Posts for UO CJL Power Shift 2011