Women We Read This Week

Pauline Campos’s “A Mexican-American in Maine Responds to Governor LePage” in The Fix

Earlier this year, Maine’s governor Paul LePage made multiple racist remarks regarding his state’s drug problem — statements that, as author Pauline Campos points out, are not only racist, but are also not supported by the facts. LePage made matters worse when he left a profanity-laden voicemail for a fellow lawmaker who called him a racist. As a Mexican-American living in Maine, Campos is uniquely suited to call out LePage’s unacceptable behavior and illustrate what it’s like to live with the ramifications of his hateful statements.

I am every day reminded that I am different. My world, hours north of Portland, is farmland and forced solitude. A naturally outgoing person, I rarely leave my home. I don’t belong out there, in this place where my very existence is nothing short of an anomaly. I find myself keeping a mental tally of any minorities I may come across when out grocery shopping with my daughter. I might use all the fingers on both hands down there. Up here, the only other brown face I see is usually my own reflection in my rearview mirror.

This is a searing essay that takes a politician to task not only for fanning the flames of racism, but for shifting the focus away from a productive conversation around ways to solve the state’s drug epidemic. Such remarks only make things worse, not better. Campos shows us that words matter, and have real consequences for real people.

When you are not born in The County, the locals say you are “From Away.” When you are “From Away,” you will never truly belong. … Shifting the focus from illegal activity to skin tone only reinforces my belief that I do not belong here. LePage has successfully reminded me that I am, and always will be, “From Away.”

Anya Groner ‘s “Healing the Gulf with Buckets and Balloons” in Guernica

In this fascinating piece of reporting, Anya Groner tells the tale of “citizen scientists” who dare to take on the Big Oil and chemical companies that have set up shop in their communities. Corporations put up their plants mostly in poor communities because they can exploit the area’s desperation for jobs. The result is that environmental pollution—and the health problems that go with it—disproportionately affect poor and predominately black areas.

“There’s no doubt that pollution contributes to poverty,” notes Anne Rolfes, the founder and executive director of the Bucket Brigade. Exxon Mobil, for instance, has set up in Baton Rouge across the street from a neighborhood where the child poverty rate is over 40 percent. Contact with contaminants can cause illness, missed workdays, hospital bills, disability, and cancer. Prenatal exposure to pollutants is associated with childhood behavioral problems and cognitive delays. … “Pollution is contributing to the stratification.”

Some of these citizen scientists have banded together to form grassroots organizations that “empower individuals to take a stand” by educating citizens who live near such plants on the names of pollutants and symptoms of exposure, and collecting data on toxin levels to present to the EPA when things seem suspicious. Such efforts can level the playing field, so to speak, for many communities. When companies realize their behavior has not gone unnoticed, things do get better.

“Every time we start working with a neighborhood, the plant’s operations improve. Every time. They’re operating so poorly to begin with that there’s nowhere to go but up…. What we’re doing is long-term projects that have a life or death implications.” … In an industry where money speaks loudest, concerned citizens are discovering that data amplifies their collective voice.

It’s an important piece about important work, a classic “David versus Goliath” narrative that’s playing out right in our own backyards. We all love a good “plucky locals take on selfish corporate meanies—and win” story. Reading environmental journalism is tough lately, since most of it is doom and gloom. While this piece does acknowledge some bleak truths about our future, it also gives me hope that there are still a few people trying to do good out there to help turn the coming tide of environmental chaos. There may still be hope.

Amy Pittman’s “The Internet Thinks I’m Still Pregnant” in The New York Times’s Modern Love column

This poignant essay is about privacy and grief in the Internet age. It’s about how we use technology—as consumers and as corporations—an about how the Internet thinks it knows us—but it doesn’t always have the whole picture. The author has downloaded a pregnancy app to replace her period-tracking app once she finds out she’s pregnant. But when she suffers a miscarriage early on, she logs that into the app and then moves on with her life.

The most seemingly real thing about my pregnancy, oddly enough, had been the lavender bud avatar on my pregnancy app that had grown to the size of a chocolate chip before dying. When I got home from the clinic, I opened the app and terminated my virtual pregnancy with the touch of a button. The app immediately responded with a consoling email and cleared my data. It was then, when the chocolate chip avatar disappeared, that I finally let go and cried.

But nine months or so later, infant formula samples arrive at her home in the mail. The app must have shared her personal information with a formula company: her name, address, due date. What they didn’t get was notification of her miscarriage. They assumed a formula sample might be welcome, or at the very least only a minor nuisance. They had no idea it might actually be a painful reminder of what might have been.



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