Detoxifying through dystopia

Hello! Welcome to my Honors Thesis Blog.

I’m humbled to be an Honors Fellow with so many other curious minds and passionate scholars, and am very excited to get working on my project this summer!

The following is an “Abstract” for my project:


Detoxifying through dystopia: Investigating the relationship between domestic toxicity in women during the late 20th century and 21st century post-apocalyptic ecofeminist dystopian fictions


“Did it ever occur to you, my dear,” said Pilar, “that your mother may have been a guinea pig?”

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood


And what about those suspended laws? Will it be legal to poison, mutilate, or infect people—as long as you provide them with food, water, and space to die?

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower



Ecofeminism, “an activist and academic movement that sees critical connections between the domination of nature and the exploitation of women,” began circulating in the late twentieth century, connecting environmental issues with women’s issues (“Feminism & Ecology,” 1). The ecofeminist works I will be working with demonstrate the speculative results of toxification of both human bodies and the earth, with a special emphasis on how toxicity affects women. Domestic toxicity encompasses toxification of the body, of the home and family, and of the mind or mindset of women. The fictions confront the issue of domestic toxicity using different apocalyptic conditions, literary motifs, and tropes. For example, in The Year of the Flood, one of the main characters, Toby, lost everything, including her father to suicide, ability to gain a college education, and ability to hold a legal job, due to a strange, incurable illness her mother contracted by taking health supplements given to her by her employers at a “HealthWyzer Franchise” (Atwood, 30). This is an example of Atwood’s allusion to the repercussions of the chemical, beauty, and lifestyle products socially required by and advertised to women. Similarly, in Parable of the Sower, the protagonist, Lauren, was given the drug “Paracetco” in her childhood, because of which she must face heightened difficulties of survival due to the “hyperempathy” she feels that causes her to feel others’ emotions (Butler, 14). Being historically placed in the home and in caretaking positions, domestic toxicity disproportionately affects women, and domestic toxicity and poisoning are intrinsically related to domestic women’s issues.

By looking specifically at the way apocalyptic ecofeminist dystopian fictions deal with domestic toxicity’s effect on women, I plan to examine how the fictions react to poisoning in the home in 20th century context out of which toxicity-focused dystopian writing emerged. To better contextualize the fiction, I will research how domestic women have been advertised and exposed to toxicity through publications and media in the late 20th and early 21st century. Additionally, I will use critical and nonfiction works to supplement my understanding of the greater context of domestic toxicity in women in the late 20th century. These works will include real accounts of women being specifically poisoned by toxic substances, such as radium in The radium girls: the dark story of America’s shining women, a narrative of women who worked in a factory painting radium on products, and then contracting mysterious illnesses. I will also look at scientific studies that analyze gender differences in exposure to chemicals, in studies such as Scientific Group on Methodologies for the Safety Evaluation of Chemicals: Workshop 16—Gender Differences and Human Ecological Risk. This distinctive combination of qualitative and quantitative information will be used to form a well-rounded analytical lens when reading the dystopian ecofeminist works, which include Todd Haynes’ 1995 film Safe, Parable of the Sower in the Parable series by Octavia Butler, The Year of the  Flood by Margaret Atwood, and the Hainish series by Ursula Le Guin. Through this research, I am looking to find how domestic toxicity fits into a larger conversation on poisoning in society.