“Gender-benders”: Sex and Law in the Constitution of Polluted Bodies
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This paper explores how law might conceive of the injury or harm of endocrine disruption as it applies to an aboriginal community experiencing chronic chemical pollution. The effect of the pollution in this case is not only gendered, but gendering: it seems to be causing the ‘production’ of two girl babies for every boy born on the reserve. This presents an opening to interrogate how law is implicated in the constitution of not just gender but sex. The analysis takes an embodied turn, attempting to validate the real and material consequences of synthetic chemicals acting on bodies—but uncovers that finding a harm in a declining sex ratio depends on a static conception of the human form, based on unfounded assumptions of ‘naturalness’ and ‘normalcy’. Elizabeth Grosz’s theory of ‘becoming’ offers a compelling challenge, essentially pointing to the conclusion that we should find harm where we find illness and suffering and not simply where we find difference. At the same time, we cannot discount the political economy of the pollution: the paper concludes by returning the focus to the role of power, colonialism and the state in the perpetuation of the pollution on the landscape.
KeywordsCanadian First Nations community Chemical pollution Endocrine disruption Feminist theory of the body Gendered harm Political economy of pollution Tort law
This paper has been in the works for a long time. I was inspired initially by an invitation from Mary Jane Mossman, Director of the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies at Osgoode Hall Law School, to present some of my empirical findings from my study of environmental health and the Aamjiwnaang First Nation at one of her trademark Feminist Fridays events in Fall 2007. Since then, too many people to name have contributed. I benefited tremendously from a workshop entitled Critical Perspectives on Environment and Women’s Health, held in Toronto on 29 January 2009 and sponsored by the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health. I would like to thank all participants, but this work has been influenced most through productive exchanges with Anne Bloom, Sarah Lochlann Jain and Stu Marvel. My friends and colleagues Roxanne Mykitiuk and Ruth Buchanan agreed to read Grosz with me, and despite the fact that life intervened and we didn’t actually get together on that patio over wine to discuss her work last summer, I am still indebted to them for agreeing. If they hadn’t, I would have continued to push these books to the side. My partner Adrian Smith, as always, was my most insightful and creative critic. Funding for the research has been provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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