Last semester, I took a geography and women’s studies course taught by Professor Hays-Mitchell called Gender, Justice, and Environmental Change. The course really piqued my interest in examining environmental concerns with a feminist lens, and I was so excited to learn that this week’s Brown Bag was going to be given by Joyce Barry. Students in Professor Hays-Mitchell’s course read Barry’s Standing Our Ground, which is about women fighting to end mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.
Barry talked about Appalachia being a “sacrifice zone” in that a few (the people of Appalachia) suffer for the benefit of the whole (the majority of America). This goes hand in hand with the idea of a resource curse, as living in coal country has been detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the people of coal mining communities in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It is upsetting that our capitalist society is so far removed from the means of production that this issue does not seem to be on many people’s radar since most Americans do not think about where their electricity comes from. In her book, Barry touches on most of America’s general sense of apathy towards Appalachia and she devotes a chapter to explaining the negative images Americans have of “hillbillies” and “hicks” who live in the region. These words are negative white racial constructions that generally perpetuate the stereotypes of Appalachian people being poor, backward, and violent.
Another large part of Barry’s talk was explaining the importance of gender roles. Women oftentimes see issues and encounter them firsthand, both biologically and because of conventional family structures, as most women in Appalachia are around the house more with their children. This makes women more attuned to environmental changes as she gave the example of one woman spending time with her grandson when they noticed that all of the fish in a river near their home had died. Part of her book also talked about the idea of motherist politics and mother hen syndrome, which holds that women are inherently aware of dangers to their young, as motherhood comes with a greater sense of responsibility to children. After reading Barry’s book and hearing her talk, I have come to believe that the burdens and interlocking oppressions women face in their lives do make them more aware of issues regarding climate change and environmental justice.
-Lindsey Skerker '14
-Lindsey Skerker '14