Feminism in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”

January 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Throughout time, becoming a respected ‘knowledge producer’ required certain aspects, for one was being a white male. During any part of history being a white male would give you more leverage than any other marginalized population, particularly women. Women were hardly accepted and embraced as producers of knowledge, especially in the scientific mainstream. So in the early 1960s, the question that surfaced was why women cannot take on a role in society outside of the home?

Second-wave feminism was believed to have started the tackling of issues like why were not women allowed to be included in: politics, economics and law making. This era also expanded the range of other issues including: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, official legal inequalities, domestic violence, marital rape, engendered rape-crisis centers, women’s shelters, and brought about changes in custody laws and divorce law. Unknowingly, Rachel Carson would not know that this movement would help pave a road for her book, Silent Spring to be introduced into society. As a result of feminists owning bookstores and engaging in other roles of society it widening the “economic engines of the movement”, helping Carson sell her book which was hated widely among different roots of society. However, before Carson sold her first book she was first marginalized in the publication or newspaper industry because she was a woman.

Rachel’s father and sister died leaving her as the main provider of her mother, niece and nephew; so, she had quit graduate school and got a temporary job as a writer of radio scripts for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries’ weekly educational broadcast: Romance Under the Waters, which was her commencement of “making a career of nature writing in the 1940s and 1950s” . Even though writing about nature was not a problem for Carson she was not left with a choice to write about much of anything else because most women had to publish their works “under androgynous or frankly male pseudonyms”. She was only able to have an easy breakthrough in the industry because women were allowed to partake in the “field by means of the categories… sf” or ‘soft-core,’ which draws upon the social sciences”, and at the time nature was a soft-core topic. Eventually, Rachel received a governmental job and was able to bring her family so some financial stability afterwards publishing her first three books.

The idea that Rachel Carson presented in her book Silent Spring is that we are creating resources like DDT that are destructive to us and the environment. We are supposed to take care of our home but instead we are permanently damaging our environment by using harmful insecticides to kill insects. She outlines how human actions have seriously impacted the planet affecting all organisms, starting this “man’s war against nature” and all of these chemicals that are being created to kill this “pests” such as “insects, weeds, rodents, and other organisms”. Man’s destruction against nature is taking in forms of contamination in the: air water, and ground by all types of pollution but Carson addresses the detrimental effects of “chemical contamination”. These pesticides are sold on the private market as “sprays, dusts, and aerosols” so that they can kill these pests indiscriminately. The term for insecticides should be “biocides” because these chemicals have the capability of killing anything on this plant and this “chemical war is never won, and all life is caught in its violent crossfire”. We are literally creating these massive amounts of pollution that is basically “irrecoverable” and “irreversible”.

Carson expressed how different people and children faced death in the US because of the spraying of DDT and its chemical kin: aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, parathion, heptachlor and etc. According to Carson, in Florida, two children died and three of their friends became ill after coming in contact with a “bag that had once contained an insecticide called parathion”. This widespread contamination that was occurring made it obvious to Carson that it “is not possible to add pesticides … anywhere without threatening the purity of” not only “water” but everything around us. The drift of DDT in the waters were effecting the fish allowing them to pass down the DDT “from generation to generation” but the same could occur with humans, mothers passing down DDT through pregnancy and breast milk . This wreaking havoc on life was “direct[ly] killing …birds, mammals, fishes, and indeed practically every form of wildlife” but some people not care. Areas that that water runoffs from excessive rain transmit that DDT so “the rains that rose from it return again in rivers”. One thing that people have always wondered is “that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life”. Some reasons why Rachel Carson was severely attacked was not because she was a woman but because she attacked a chemical industry and its associates, directly threatening this technology that was once praised for its usage during WWII.

Since DDT was placed into the private sector to continue the manufactures profitability, taking it off the market would mean a great deal of losses. A pesticide maker, Velsicol Chemical, threatened to sue the publication of Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin, to change the alleged inaccuracies if they were not corrected but, there were no changes were made and the company did not sue. Instead, Velsicol Chemical “launched a $250,000 publicity campaign” to degrade “Carson and her science” and then marginalized her for being an unmarried woman who is “hysterical and unscientific”. It was reasons like how “she kept cats and loved birds” that threw up red flags. This former US secretary of agriculture was identified to the public as this “‘spinster with no children was so interested in genetics’. Her unpardonable offence was that she had overstepped her place as a woman”. Carson received public backlash in the 1960s since DDT was recognized for its utility and safety by mainstream scientific and public health communities which dramatically reduced the transmission of diseases like malaria in developing countries. A great portion of people have accused her for the causation of the deaths of millions of people in these countries from malaria and other infectious diseases in the tropics but t became controversial to blame Carson. As a result of the launch of DDT to eradicate disease like the malaria eradication project, people were reporting the bug resistance to DDT rapidly after six months of spraying. This project instantly became an issue because people would lose their immunity and when the mosquitos come back they could have no immunity putting their risk of dying from the disease higher.

As backlash occurred from the chemical company, Carson was backed into a political field accused of being associated with “‘sinister parties’”. The proposition that Carson’s goal was to destabilize American agriculture and free enterprise in the “interests of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites” was an outrageous thought that was highly considered. During the high tensions of the Cold War, claiming that Carson was a communist was a great opportunity to try and take her down; explanations like her physical attraction and her being unmarried for some unknown reason were reasons to speculate. Rachel Carson’s secret that she kept away from the public and possibly from being married was that she was diagnosed of cancer and her health was deteriorating. Nevertheless, The Kennedy Administration authorized a scientific panel to investigate her findings and accusations on the possible long-term effects of DDT and other pesticides which the majority was proven correct; later the other tenacious pesticides were eliminated as well, being replaced by less harsh pesticides “that have a higher acute toxicity for humans”. Later, Carson appeared in front of Congress on two separate occasions; She testified before Senate committees holding hearings on the pesticide-related issues before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee of Government Operations and then before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce. Seven years later her request for a department to study man’s effect on the ecology was fulfilled with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lastly, farmers and different organizations detested Carson because they wanted to use DDT to utilize to “increase their crop yield manifold” and only a few saw that eradicating DDT was saving their lives and the lives of their families. According to Carson, these poisons are extremely lethal and it they come in contact with your skin it can kill you within forty minutes. Entities other than farmers like the Federal Aviation Agency and Detroit Department of Parks & Recreation were affected as well because it left them with the ethical decision of whether or not DDT should be investigated and still dumped off of planes which contaminate nearly everything. Even the Agriculture Department did not agree with Carson “brushing away all evidence of damage as exaggerated and misleading”. What people seemed to mistake about Carson was that she never opposed pest control; she had rather people use integrated pest control programs some which were “developed by some California entomologists”. Using different approaches to keeping pests in check while minimalizing collateral damage to the environment and non-targeted species. Those who extoled Rachel for her impact were organizations and people like the state conservation departments, national conservation agencies, ecologists, biologists and even entomologists. When CBS reporter, Eric Severeid interviewed Carson for CBS Reports in 1963, this hour long broadcast that was seen all over the country leaving a heavy impact on those who were not aware of the issues occurring. A man Robert White-Stevens, spokesman for the agricultural chemical industry tried to say that Carson was exaggerating these claims which were “gross distortions of the actual facts, completely unsupported by scientific, experimental evidence, and general practical experience in the field”. Nonetheless, this “documentary came just six weeks before the report of Kennedy’s advisors effectively substantiated the main claims of Silent Spring”. Most importantly Carson had gained a larger public audience who appreciated her work of exposing the threats that were made towards families and children and bringing this awareness of environmental contamination that people lacked.

To conclude this essay Rachel Carson’s prolific Silent Spring was a masterpiece of the century that should be forever recognized and cherished. This knowledge producer embraced the scientific mainstream of her time and even created a whole new social movement that continues till this day in the United States. People who marginalized and suppressed Rachel Carson did not reciprocate anything from doing so. Companies and people who enjoyed tormenting Carson ended up receiving backfire because it left companies to have to figure out an alternative of how to prevent ‘pests’ from attacking the agriculture and Rachel ended up leaving a great environmental impact. Carson’s legacy left us with questions on whether or not were leading a sustainable lifestyle and how could we improve these efforts.

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