Penguin Family Values: the Nature of Planetary Environmental Reproductive Justice

Penguin Family Values: the Nature of Planetary Environmental Reproductive Justice

The following is a reading response to “Penguin Family Values: the Nature of Planetary Environmental Reproductive Justice” written by Noel Sturgeon.

This article raises issues about the affects of “pollution in our atmosphere on indigenous peoples in the Arctic regions […] who are struggling to preserve their cultures and societies in the face of rapid climate change” (102). Rather than address the significant problems that have arose in the human world, “penguins have become the newest terrain on which to fight culture wars over human reproduction, while at the same time they have come the latest environmentalist icons” (102). The methods of presenting penguins as a nuclear family, anthropomorphizes the species into something more relatable by humans.  This has proven to be an affective method to promote awareness about climate change and how is affecting endangered species, but on the flip side, puts pressure on specific types of marketing strategies necessary to promote conservation. What does this say about psychology the population; why do we have to be able to relate to something in need of our help in order to bring any change?  If we take a look into the habits of penguins and why they have become so politicized, I believe it is greatly linked to a traditional view of heteronormative styled family.

Society searches for similarities between the natural world and human beings because we have greatly distanced and separated ourselves from it. The similarities between how humans and penguins develop relationships and reproduce allow us to have a closer connection and identify with these kinds of animals. It is because we anthropomorphize these animals for our human idealism and utopian heteronormativity, there is a great public outrage when two animals demonstrate a kind of behaviour we would deem as homosexuality. The gay penguins Roy and Silo, generate a serious type of social fragmentation in our ideas of what the ‘cause’ of homosexuality is.

A pressing question after reading this article I had was: why have penguins become more relatable to humans about causing concern over climate change, than other humans? I believe this concern shows a type disassociation, a kind of othering from those of the West to those who live in Arctic communities. This supports prevalent undertones of racism which continues to be directed at Indigenous cultures by those who are implementing solutions to climate change. By focusing on penguins to draw in more empathy than for humans in worsening conditions exposes this kind of selective ideas the dominant society has when coming up with solutions to solve climate problems.

As previously stated, penguins are also used as instruments in the fight over human reproduction. I believe the cause for this parallel is because, judgmental assessment can be made on penguins who display homosexual behaviour. To focus on the penguin when dealing with climate change the negative affects of GHGs and the collaborative irresponsible behaviour of government and industry attempts the hide the serious issues of environmental reproductive justice.

“Reproductive justice refers to more than the mainstream concept of ‘reproductive rights’ […] it attempts to address the ened to access the emans of supporting and nurturing children […] not just the need to allow individual women to control whether or not they become pregnant” (103). Reproduction should be thought of through the “intertwined reproduction of the environment, communities, and individuals […] challeng[ing] a division between reproductive issues and environmental issues in their efforts to sustain healthy communities and control the means of social reproduction” (103).

Raising the issues of reproductive justice demonstrate the politics of maintaining a vision of racial and gender inequality in the 21st century. This article moves beyond questioning ‘gay’ penguins and into a debate of how animals are used to gloss over the realities of human sexuality.  Why are women left without a voice when facing miscarriages and giving birth to children with genetic abnormalities, yet two homosexual penguins generate mass amounts of media coverage?  So much media coverage that German gay community protesters were loud enough to stop the introduction of a ‘foreign female’ penguin into a habitat where two male penguins showed an interest in each other as mates, and send the “Swedish female penguins home unrequited” (112). I raise this issue to demonstrate when and where voices are given, not to suggest that either issue is of more political. It is concerning, however, that thousands of women are left without a voice and reproductive justice in the Artic, while the symbol of a penguin can become the martyr for climate change reproductive rights.

Further in the article, Sturgeon addresses the issue regarding the symbolizing Indigenous people “as a symbol of endangered species [as] uncomfortable for the authors of popular culture (as it should be), partly because it calls up question of unequal responsibility and unequal consequences that are difficult to deal with in the arena of popular culture and entertainment” (119). This statement is true, and directly addresses my grievances with the lack of responsibility taken to combat the issues marginalized people face in Artic survival. Furthermore, the article states, “seeing indigenous people as endangered species and this equating them with animals is dangerous because such depictions can be racist” (119). Unfortunately, despite the actions taken to prevent being perceived as racist, I have suggested that dodging the issues of the affects of climate change is exactly as such; a racist fear of the other. Penguins have been used to as icons to prevent “naturalizing heteronormative patriarchy”, and yet this is exactly what has been solidified (107). The heteronormative patriarchy of a white-male society has been able to hush the concerns of Arctic women, while making the march of the penguin a global phenomenon, one which has been commercialized and observed as a force to reassert the strength of love between a woman and man, regardless of specie, in the trials and tribulations of raising a child, as well as new space for the gay community reassert the naturalness of homosexual families.

Recently I read Gayatri Spivak’s “A Critique of Postcolonial Reason”, which introduced me to the notion of the subaltern, an identity which is not just the oppressed, but one which is bracketed from those who are given the opportunity to speak. It is the homogenization of a culture, gender, race or identity, which supports the ideologies of those who have power to have a voice and silences those who are indirectly mentioned or used. It is a kind of identity that is not it’s own, but almost ghost-like in how it works as an apparition distinct from the body. Spivak describes this subaltern as subject which suffers under a epistemic violence, a kind of people who are within the master-slave dialectic (2117, 2119).  It is a space “reserved for the sheer heterogeneity of decolonized space” (2125). She states that there is “no unrepresentable subaltern subject that can know and speak itself” and further states that “the subaltern cannot speak” (2119, 2120).  This description of the subaltern brought the Arctic women to mind, who face a kind of silencing or bracketing between the two groups who have developed different methods of utilizing the penguin as their own symbol of righteous action against climate change and homophobia. It unfortunately are the women are not given the chance to represent themselves in as the climate continues to change, and their reproductive systems are put a higher risk of being jeopardized.


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