This is a pre-publication version of the following article: Tosh, J. & Gislason, M. (In
press). Fracking is a feminist issue: An intersectional ecofeminist commentary on
natural resource extraction and rape. Psychology of Women Section Review.
JEMMA TOSH & MAYA GISLASON
Simon Fraser University
While it has been acknowledged that the language used to describe natural resource
extraction is highly gendered (Russell, 2013), the relationship between gender and
natural resource extraction is under-researched, ‘undiscussed and silenced’ (Laplonge,
2013, p. 2). Similarly, there are increasing reports that the introduction of extraction
industries results in an increase in sexualized violence in workers camps and host
communities proximal to intensive industrial activity (Hotaling, 2013; James &
Smith, 2014; Minor, 2014). In this brief commentary, we reflect on the relationship
between gender, the environment, and violence, in particular in relation to
psychological, social and ecological impacts of intensive natural resource extraction.
We draw on examples from around the globe to highlight the importance of including
ecofeminist approaches to psychological theorizing of sexual violence.
In attempts to move away from narrow and individualized analyses of complex issues,
such as violence against women, critical and feminist psychologists often draw
attention to the social aspects of psychological distress. However, how the
environment impacts these issues is often neglected. This is despite the importance
Tosh & Gislason
and relevance of environmental issues and the many intersections between gender,
social, and environmental justice. While ecofeminism (i.e. the intersection of
feminism and environmentalism) has a long and diverse history, it has been
marginalized within feminism more generally, following a backlash toward the more
essentialist perspectives within it. More recently, there have been renewed calls for an
‘intersectional ecological-feminist approach’ (Gaard, 2011). These calls highlight the
need to incorporate the material and environmental into intersectional feminist
analyses, particularly those from poststructuralist and social constructionist
perspectives (Gaard, 2011; Mies & Shiva, 2014). A nuanced understanding of social-
ecological dynamics is particularly important when addressing the impacts of ‘game
changers’ such as climate change and natural resource extraction, which have been
shown to exacerbate both gender inequality and violence towards oppressed groups.
Natural Resource Extraction
Natural resource extraction industries use a range of techniques to access and extract
naturally occurring resources - such as oil, coal, trees, fish and natural gas. Often
framed as industries drawing from renewable resources, these intensive industries can
be framed as sustainable. For example, natural gas is touted as a ‘greener’ alternative
to coal and oil, yet the methods used to extract natural gas are not without
controversy. One example is hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, which involves
inserting a high-pressure mixture of chemicals and water into the ground that releases
the gas stored deep below the surface. Its impact on the environment is increasingly
well documented, such as ground water contamination and induced seismic activity
(Brasier et al. 2011; European Parliament, 2011; McCubbin & Sovacool, 2013;
Tosh & Gislason
Smith-Korfmacher et al. 2013). These impacts challenge the validity of marketing
claims that it is a ‘greener’ or ‘cleaner’ energy alternative. Fracking’s impact on the
physical health of those living in surrounding areas is also attracting public health,
research and activist attention (European Parliament, 2011; Kassotis et al. 2013;
Goldenberg et al., 2010; Moss, Coram & Blashki, 2013; Northern Health, 2012;
Shandro et al., 2011).
In the context of increasing demand and economic opportunities for natural resource
industries, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that has
the potential to open up global sales and distribution of natural gas (Smedley, 2015),
many governments are keen to exploit this natural resource. The UK government aims
to ‘fast track’ applications and reduce the barriers put in place by local councils
(Settle, 2015). This focus on business and financial profit, however, overlooks the
environmental consequences of such an enterprise, as well as its potential impact on
the physical, social and psychological well-being of individuals and communities. For
example, the ‘boom and bust’ cycle describes communities as experiencing a range of
stresses and distresses related to drastic changes to their home area, as well as
disappointment when the promises of jobs and wealth fail to live up to expectations
(Shandro, et al. 2011). Increasing jobs, infrastructure, and business tend to most often
benefit newcomers, and those who lived in the area long before the ‘fracking’ began
can be priced out of their homes and may not secure employment. Increases in
homelessness and greater disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ are some of
the possible consequences of introducing natural resource extraction into a
community (Brasier, et al. 2011). Increases in violent crime is another.
Tosh & Gislason
Globally, those who have access to increasingly scarce natural resources control the
means for negotiation, price, and ultimately the survival of the planet. In the
international arena, global inequities play out between nation states while
intranationally these power differentials impact the lives of local communities.
Climate change plays a key role in reducing the availability of natural resources (such
as food) in areas most affected by increasing temperatures and more frequent weather
extremes (e.g. drought) (Shackleton & Shackleton, 2012). In contexts of social
instability and poverty, this can lead to the increased sexual exploitation of women
and children. Transactional or “survival sex” (Regional Network on HIV/AIDS, Rural
Livelihoods and Food Security, 2008) is increasing internationally, with one example
being the “sex for fish” trade in Kenya and Tanzania (Hunter, Reid-Hresko &
Dickinson, 2011) where women exchange sexual activity for food.
In their study of natural resource extraction and crime, James and Smith (2014) have
also found a significant increase in violent crime following the introduction of natural
resource extraction industries in multiple ‘boom towns’ across the US. The trend for
upsurges in violence was considered to be so predictable that they advised those
introducing natural resource industrial activity to their towns to prepare for such
increases (i.e. through additional police recruitment). They attributed this
phenomenon to several factors, one being that resource extraction appears to attract
A term used to describe towns where natural resource extraction industries operate, resulting in
massive changes to the area and its economy.
Tosh & Gislason
those most likely to commit violent crime: young men. This, they argue, is due to the
jobs being physically demanding. James and Smith (2014) show that men are
responsible for around 90% of (reported) violent crime, particularly young men. They
also consider that those with a criminal history are more likely to work in the industry
due to difficulties in gaining employment with a criminal record.
High wages (ranging from $100,000 - $200,000 per year), loneliness due to being
located in unfamiliar, rural, and remote areas, in addition to boredom and a lack of
familiar recreational activities have been found to result in increases in substance
abuse in these areas (Goldenberg et al. 2010; James & Smith, 2014). Workers have
been described as living in ‘man camps’ – which are often mobile units located on the
outskirts of rural communities. Within these ‘camps’ and the workplace, men talk
about a ‘rigger culture’ that is based on sexism, hypermasculinity, and a disconnection
from the local community (Goldenberg et al. 2008). This creates a context where
violence can thrive: (1) an influx of young men arrive as strangers, (2) they work
within a culture that promotes sexism, physical dominance, and hypermasculinity, (3)
are disconnected from that community, and (4) engage in substance (ab)use and
destructive behavior in order to deal with the psychosocial impacts of their job
This is supported by the work of Berger and Beckmann (2010), who found that towns
with natural resource industries, like ‘fracking’, include a higher rate of sex offenders.
Reports from Aboriginal law enforcement further support the claim that there is a
For example, men can work for 14 days followed by 7 days off (James & Smith, 2014).
Tosh & Gislason
high prevalence of sex offenders in these industries. Former Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses described her experience of policing the ‘man
camps’ near her reserve as follows: “We found thirteen sex offenders in one man
camp and that man camp is found directly behind the tribal casino. Our supervisors
would tell us ‘Watch your kids. Don’t let them run through there’” (para. 14). She
goes on to describe children and teenagers being assaulted, raped, and forced into
sexual slavery. This is in addition to increasing sex work where vans of young women
are driven to the man camps on their payday (Buckley, 2014). However, men working
in the industry are not solely perpetrators. Chief Grace Her Many Horses stated that
sexual assaults of men increased by 75% in these areas, resulting in a figure that
dwarfs reports of male prison rape . The similarities go beyond high prevalence rates,
however, as some workers compare their experience of living and working in these
camps with being in prison (Dembicki, 2010).
What is talked about less often is how intensive resource extraction activities impact
on Aboriginal communities and people, in particular on Aboriginal women – people
currently working to overcome a history of colonial and racist oppression. For
example, in 2006 Amnesty International found that Aboriginal women were more
likely to be sexually assaulted by non-Aboriginal men. As natural resource extraction
activities do occur on Aboriginal land, which can result in further displacement and
resettlement of Aboriginal peoples, the known risk of increased sexual violence puts
Aboriginal women at a disproportionately higher chance of being attacked and
These range from 1 to 21% depending on data collection techniques and definitions of sexual
violence used in the research (see Jones & Pratt, 2008).
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harmed. This coincides with recent reports of homicide in Canada, which show that
Aboriginal women are the most at risk of violence, including sexual violence, but the
authors admitted they were at a loss to explain why (Statistics Canada, 2015) . The
introduction and expansion of natural resource extraction industries in the global
north, then, offers one of many illustrations of the important role of intersectional
analyses in understanding the complexity and interconnectedness of colonialism,
racism, sexism, violence and environmental degradation.
The intersections between gender, violence, and natural resource extraction go beyond
these few examples. There are many other areas of equal concern, such as increases in
domestic abuse, child neglect, and a lack of support for women trying to leave violent
relationships (Shandro et. al., 2011). More cases of violence toward women are being
reported, such as the rape and murder of a women in North Dakota by men working in
the town to earn money from the shale gas industry (Hotaling, 2013). There are also
more statements being made regarding the increase in sexual assault in ‘boom’ towns
linked to oil and gas extraction industries (as much as 300% increases in some areas,
‘North Dakota City Police See Increase in Crimes’, 2011). This growing visibility has
exposed the need for discussion of the social and psychological implications of
environmental issues on women and other oppressed groups, and should be viewed by
feminists around the world as a call to action.
An issue that is well known to those from Aboriginal communities, which have responded with calls
for an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada (Culhane, 2003; Gilchrist,
2010; Koerner Yeo, 2015), as well as increasing activism in the form of movements such as Idle No
More (Wotherspoon & Hansen, 2013).
Tosh & Gislason
Jemma Tosh is a researcher in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser
University. Her research focuses on sexual violence, intersectionality, and gender. She
is the author of Perverse Psychology: The Pathologization of Sexual Violence and
Transgenderism (Routledge, 2015) and Psychology and Gender Dysphoria: Feminist
and Transgender Perspectives (Routledge, 2016).
Maya Gislason is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon
Fraser University and co-lead of the Social and Health Inequities Stream. Her
research works at the interface between the social and environmental determinants of
health to study the public health impacts of social-ecological game changers.
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