Monday, February 2, 2009

feminist spotlight: rachel carson

While writing a paper for my Women's Studies seminar, I was forced (oh darn) to do some additional research on people who have influenced my thinking and development as a feminist and environmental activist.  As I was surfing Wikipedia for direction and links to sources/articles, I thought about how awesome it would be to highlight my role models on this blog.  I've decided to call this little series 'feminist spotlight' because I consider the work these people did to be feminist, even if they didn't necessarily label themselves as such.  

With that, my first will be one of the people who influenced me long before I outwardly embraced the label and term feminist: Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was a marine biologists and activist whose most notable work is Silent Spring which exposed the detrimental environmental and health effects of pesticides and the chemical industry.  Her work sparked the mobilization of reform and environmental protection by the federal and local governments.  

I respect and admire Carson for many reasons aside from her devotion to environmental protection, but mainly as a fellow naturalist/scholar/biologist and for her ability to succeed despite her marginalization from scientific institutions.  This status came not only because she was a woman, but also because of biology's low popularity during the nuclear age.  Her career path was non-traditional.  With no academic or institutional affiliation, she wrote for the public rather than the elitist scientific community.  This became very important since this independence left the scientific community in a position where they could no dismiss or silence her.

While I find Silent Spring laden with some difficult scientific theories and concepts, the ultimate message was (and in many ways still is) revolutionary and beautiful.  Her warnings are quite haunting as they have come to materialize in many ways.  Much of what she talks about are some of the causes of problems we are forced to deal with now as we confront the issues of global warming, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and pollution/destruction of the world's water sources.   DDT (a "chlorinated hydrocarbon", which is also a term you can apply the artificial sweetener, Splenda... think about that one), which was one of the chemicals Carson deeply discussed, continues to be an issue in developing nations although its carcinogenic effects are now widely known and published.

Ironically enough, Carson died shortly after the publication of Silent Spring due to breast cancer.  Yet she died knowing that her work had made a difference and sparked generations of grassroots environmental activists.

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