Plastic women create and plastic beaches
by Christie Lawrence
Any frequent user of social media (and let’s face it, who isn’t these days?), will likely be aware of the increasing number of images depicting, what appears to be, a ‘plastic-soup’ in the place where our oceans used to be, circulating through the media. It’s as though beaches globally, out of nowhere, have become more plastic than sand. Of course, this has not occurred ‘out of nowhere’ but is instead, the unfortunate result of good old-fashioned human activity. According to Surfers Against Sewerage, approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic currently occupy our oceans, weighing as much as 269,000 tons (that’s 1345 adult blue whales!). This abundance of plastic is far from harmless. An article published by the Guardian in February 2019 outlined the devastating effects that our abuse and addiction to plastic is having on marine life. The chemicals released into the ocean as these plastics disintegrate inevitably entail adverse effects on the hormonal balances of marine wildlife, with one pod of killer whales off the west coast of Scotland failing to produce a calf for over 25 years, owing to their high level of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls – a chemical used in many plastics before being banned globally in 2004). Although marine wildlife bears the brunt of this plastic crisis, it can also negatively impact human life within the Global South (i.e ‘The Developing World’). Plastic overloads on the beaches of popular tourist destinations such as Kuta and Seminyak in Bali, Indonesia, have resulted in the declaration of a ‘garbage emergency’ for fear of decreased tourism to the area engendering the loss of multiple jobs. In developing countries where tourism is the chief source of income, environmental degradation resulting in decreased tourism is extremely undesirable. For many years, social scientists have been relatively silent upon the issue of environmental decline. Now, however, as environmental decline becomes more and more of a humanitarian issue, social science has become more involved with some exploring the link (however tenuous) between gender and the environment.
As a female living within what is, undoubtedly, a patriarchal world, you very quickly become accustomed to two things: 1) cleaning up after men (sad but true!) and 2) being at blame for a lot of problems. The environmental decline is an issue involving both of these. Some sociologists speculate that as child bearers, women are intrinsically closer to nature and are consequently more deeply affected by its decline. What’s more, it appears, from a socially scientific point of view, that women bear a greater responsibility for the deceleration of the environmental disaster we’re facing (didn’t I say we were frequently made to clean up the mess of others?). As the traditionally child-rearing and home-making sex, the responsibility of educating children to be environmentally conscious, is largely placed on women as is the pressure to buy products with limited environmental impact. However at the same time as completing these tasks, women also face additional pressure: the pressure to over-consume, forced upon us by capitalism. For decades upon decades, women have been indoctrinated into habits of blind consumption, force-fed concepts such as ‘the beauty myth’ which compels us to buy plastic based makeup products or even plastic body-parts! Bodily functions such as menstruation have also failed to remain untouched by the greedy claws of consumerist culture, with brand after brand boasting unnecessary (and also plastic heavy) features which we simply don’t need. With all this in mind, it becomes rather vexing when you see adverts such as this, using current global environmental issues as a mechanism of guilt through which they can exploit us further. The real root of plastic’s overuse does not fall into the hands of the brainwashed consumers, but into the hands of capitalist producers and the consumerist culture they create. If we were not compelled by societal pressure to buy products which were normally, until this point in time, solely available with plastic (no doubt because that’s the cheapest method of production), the plastic impact could be considerably less. I, therefore, believe that, if women were somehow more affected by environmental decline, it is not, as some sociologists have suggested, because of their biological ties with nature, but rather the vast conflict we face within ourselves, the immense amount of responsibility we are made to feel. We must choose whether to adhere to societal norms and consumerist pressure or live ethically outside of this. Whichever way we chose, we are demonized, as the previously mentioned advert demonstrates. The ball is in capitalism’s court… not ours.