Examining the overlap between Feminism and Zero-Waste (Originally published in Zero-Waste Story Time, 2018)

Examining the Overlap between Feminism and Zero-Waste

A dialogue with Anne Fugler, written by Emily McCollister

This was originally written for blogger, Zeroing In’s publication “Zero Waste Story Time” in the February 2018 edition.

What is feminism? Intersectional feminism (also known as feminism) is the understanding of how women's overlapping identities — including race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.

Essentially, intersectional feminism is the reality that both oppression and discrimination are real and you can’t look at oppression/discrimination in an isolated manner. When I think of my experiences with sexism, gender discrimination and identity, I recognize that those are my experiences as a white woman, and someone else’s experiences may be different due to a range of factors.

Feminism is intended to be totally inclusive, as is zero-waste living. Though, in both regards, factors like income, access to resources, and education all play in to people’s varying life experiences and their ability to choose how they want to live their lives. Feminism is all about choices!

The inclusivity, and acknowledgement of how privilege plays into both feminism and zero-waste living isn’t the only way in which feminism and zero-waste overlap, however. I initially wanted to interview a local zero-waste blogger in my city and ask her a bunch of questions and format this simply as a Q & A. Our interview quickly became a discussion. In the spirit of women supporting women, our dialogue is now the basis of what I’m going to say next.

Anne Fugler is a 27-year-old videographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her husband. Together they began an instagram and blog called, “Zero-waste Baton Rouge.” It was actually their instagram account that initially inspired me to pursue a zero-waste lifestyle.

Anne and I talked about a wide spectrum of things during our almost 2 hour conversation. This was the first time we met, we previously only communicated through Instagram.

Anne said that her definition of feminism is “equal rights for men and women in all aspects,” which I would wholeheartedly agree with. I shared my definition of feminism, having studied Women and Gender Studies in college, adding equal rights for anyone regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

This discussion of, “What even is feminism?” led Anne and I towards the term, “socially acceptable,” which we fixated on for a few minutes accompanied with laughs and exasperated sighs.

I think every woman encounters the notion of social acceptability in their lives, especially in regards to their external appearance. Females, or female-appearing humans are all held to these invisible but real standards that men often don’t have to deal with, or at least with the same level of severity (regarding external appearance, we’re not yet talking about standards of masculinity which are equally oppressive).

There are traditions and expectations for women, especially women living in the South like Anne and I. These include shaving (everything), wearing deodorant, using a purse, keeping up with latest fashions, dressing appropriately, doing your hair and wearing makeup (but not too much). I know that growing up, I heard my mom tell me, “you can’t leave the house looking like that,” or my dad suggest that I not wear that red of a lipstick. “You wouldn’t want to give people the wrong idea.”

Anne brought up fast fashion as well, how society encourages women to shop, to buy, to look for sales. There are so many jokes in sitcoms about wives spending too much money shopping on their husband’s credit cards. I remember it being strange and unpopular when I didn’t like to shop in middle school and high school. What is the societal push for women to love shopping?  

“There are some things I stopped doing. I was never big into makeup or clothes. I was, however, big on sales. If I saw something so cheap, I wanted to buy it, not realizing the impact it could have,” Fugler added.

I also felt the pressure not to be an outfit repeater and like Anne, I could resist buying, but I could hardly resist a good sale.

I think that zero-waste living and feminism walk hand-in-hand because you can be male or female or non-binary to identify as both. You also must make a conscious decision to reject societal norms and expectations.

We, zero-wasters, have all had that moment when you ask someone to put your sandwich (or deli meat, or cake) in a reusable container, or you’ve slipped your leftovers into your lap where a tin box was waiting so the waiter wouldn’t give you styrofoam. It’s not normal, and perhaps people glance at you curiously. Refusing to shave your armpits, or refusing motherhood are also strange, according to our society’s standards. These are our choices, and we get to make them!

Fugler said, “I was always trying to keep up with being a woman. Zero-waste was the answer for everything for me. Oh, THIS is the razor I’m supposed to have. Like, why was I buying ‘women’s’ deodorant to begin with?”

For Anne, it started with hair products. She remarked, “I didn’t know what hair products I was supposed to use. I found a zero-waste solution and I went with that. I cared less about how society looked at me. I look decent. I’m not worried about wearing the same clothes in the same week. I wore the same clothes in the two interviews I did in local publications. I thought that that said something.”

Choosing not to care about how people might view you is a shockingly difficult step for a lot of people, but I think it is vital to commit to a zero-waste, or a feminist life. It requires you to challenge societal norms, because the norm is female-oppression, racial-oppression, discrimination, sexism and sexual violence, etc. The norm is also, at least in the United States, to waste copious amounts of food, to use single-use items, to wrap your vegetables in plastic and to buy poorly made items crafted with synthetic fabrics.. A lot of our “societal norms” aren’t good for us, or our planet.

Anne and I discussed why it might be that women seem to be more verbal, or more involved with the zero-waste movement. Most of the zero-waste accounts we both follow on Instagram are females.

I asked my partner, why he thought women seemed more attracted to, or verbal about zero-waste living and he said, “maybe it is projected as feminine. It’s not masculine to care about things. To get excited, or feel emotional in any way, isn’t masculine.”

Anne and I also talked about gender roles. “Gender roles” is one of those buzz words when discussing feminism that often comes up; they are basically the manifestation of societal expectations targeted specifically towards one gender.

Women are expected to be feminine: soft, beautiful, motherly, dependent.

Men are supposed to be masculine: tough, hard, emotionless, strong and independent.

Maybe it is because of these social pressures to be ‘masculine’ that men are more hesitant to embrace living zero-waste lives, or to talk about it wildly and loudly.

Zero-waste living requires you to cook from scratch, and to be more crafty or DIY-centric. Anne’s husband enjoys cooking more than Anne, but they cook almost an equal amount. Anne has recently embraced an extraordinary DIY project where she is attempting to craft a dress exclusively out of plastic bags via crocheting. She isn’t doing this because she’s a woman, or because she is inherently crafty but because she’s learning to waste less, and to do things with her hands.

“I like watching something come from nothing. That’s cooking to me. I’ve been baking bread, and I do that because it’s a challenge. Not because I need to feed my husband,” Fugler remarked.

When we all embrace zero-waste, we do so because we are following our own personal convictions and we feel a responsibility towards the earth. I think that the most impactful zero-waster doesn’t push their personal convictions upon someone else, but respects other people’s choices while simultaneously challenging people to be better, and to do better. The same goes for feminism, we respect other people’s choices but when we see a place where people’s choices potentially negatively impact others, we challenge them to do better.

The most happy and healthy world is one that considers everyone as equals and one that isn’t filled with plastic, toxins, landfills and lack of access to clean water. We can create the best version of our world by committing to feminism and committing to living waste-conscious lives.

Emily McCollister