A Watershed Moment: Ecofeminism and Women’s Health

On this week’s episode we hear from Dr. Julia Mason, Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Grand Valley State University, as she discusses ecofeminism and women’s unique relationship with the environment.

Ecofeminism is not easy to define. There are different (and often competing ways) to describe the relationship between women and the environment, though for Professor Mason the term can be boiled down to two complementary explanations.

First, ecofeminism is a reflexive understanding of a connection existing between the mistreatment of women in Western society and the way we mistreat our environment. “Often the earth and women are treated badly. Ecofeminism is a lens that asks us to think about how we talk about and understand what’s going on with the earth, often in feminine terms,” said Mason.

According to Mason, ecofeminism is also about linking environmental justice issues to gender justice issues. “When we acknowledge the ways in which women function in the world as producers and consumers of resources then that can allow us another way of thinking about how we’re going to address environmental issues, and moving beyond a narrow understanding of what environmentalism means,” she said.

Professor Mason’s research primarily focuses on media messages about breast cancer and a problem known as “pink washing” (A similar phenomenon exists in the environmental community known as “green washing”). Mason explains that pink washing often occurs with cosmetic companies that, on the one hand, give money to cancer foundations or promote themselves as being about breast cancer awareness, while on the other they create products containing toxins and carcinogens known to cause breast cancer.

According to Mason, breast cancer needs to be viewed from an environmental as well as a purely medical perspective. “We need to look at the larger connection between environmental toxins: what we’re drinking, what we’re eating, what we’re putting on our bodies. We know these things to be harmful, but we haven’t done enough to remove them from the environment,” she said.

Professor Mason explains that if companies commit to keeping toxins out of their products until they are proven to be safe, rather than allowing those toxins to exist in foods and consumer goods until proven otherwise, the environmental factors that contribute to breast cancer will be greatly reduced.

Currently, Professor Mason teaches a course entitled, “Women, Health, and the Environment.” She also served as a panelist on this year’s “Women and the Environment Symposium” hosted by GVSU.

Listen to this week’s episode here.

“A Watershed Moment” is a weekly radio program focused on environmental news and happenings in West Michigan, plus solutions for living a greener life.  Broadcast on WYCE-FM 88.1 on Tuesdays at 8:30am and 5:30pm, this program is produced by Grand Rapids Community Media Center and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

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