Some Live More Downstream than Others: Cancer, Gender, and Environmental Justice

May 13, 2018 Human Rights

In Jim Tarter’s essay of “Some Live More Downstream than Others: Cancer, Gender, and Environmental Justice”, he mainly talks about the relationship among cancer, environmental issues and social justice. And he inspires people to be involved and motivated to care about the environment as well.

He was diagnosed with cancer at twenty-seven, but was cured after treatment. However, his friend, sister and aunt got cancer too. Some of them began to suspect that it was caused by family genes. But, Tarter and his sister Karan thought something else.

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Carson and Steingraber’s texts argue a connection between environmental exploitation and human exploitation or social justice (Tarter 824). They were both cancer victims while writing their books and pointed out the dangers from newly released chemicals to cancer.

Steingraber confirms the relationship between cancer and the environment in her book. After reading the introduction of “Living Downstream”, which talks about possible environmental connections to cancer, Tarter began to think about why society didn’t talk seriously about cancer and the environment.

It is not only because people fear of cancer, but also the government and society don’t want to spend a lot to change the current environment. Tarter and Karan grew up near a polluted river, and they often played in it when they were young. Many big industries near major waterways became superfund sites.

For example, a big industrial waste dump, which is near the Saginaw Bay, became a superfund site in mid-1980s. Therefore, it could be confirmed that there are connections between cancer and environment. Steingraber implied that people were not exposed to the risk of getting cancer equally and it’s also an issue of environmental justice.

Tarter compared his experience of getting cancer with Karan’s and found many differences because of gender. He could understand better about what Steingraber said like “cancer is a feminist issue”, because it involves the way our society attempts to ideologically code women’s bodies (Tarter 831). For instance, because of the breast cancer, women have to lose part of their bodies to survive.

She also implies that women are unfairly exposed to cancer risks in many details, such as examples of women’s cancer and fatty issues. In the end, the author makes a conclusion by using Steingraber’s ending in her book. She talked about human rights and suggested linkages between environmental issues and social justice.

She developed a detailed structure of discussion on gender issues in cancer. Tarter obtains a better understanding of causes and risks of cancer, and he is encouraged by her to face the problem and care more about the environment. He also hopes that more and more people can be involved and motivated to care about our environment.


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