The poster engages important conversations in environmental and social history. Scholars have recently begun to engage the relationship between energy production and social division. Andrew Needham, for example, explores how electrical infrastructure served to reinforce race and class divisions in Phoenix and on the Navajo Reservation, while Kate Brown’s study of the Hanford plant in Washington, briefly explores issues of gender in nuclear power production. Social historians, like Alice Kessler-Harris, have explored the role that a “gendered imagination” played in shaping public policies that appear neutral on their face. Yet overall, connections between gender and environment remain underexplored. This poster builds upon recent work while, through its careful engagement with the material landscape, developing new insights. It is the first study to foreground the ways in which the material and landscape changes instigated by energy production differentially affected men’s and women’s lives in a particular location. The environmental dangers of radiation for pregnant women, for example, may be linked to strict gender divisions in the TVA’s nuclear plant workspace as well as hiring practices that encouraged the employment of single rather than married women. Birth defects were more visible than the effects of radiation experienced by men. TVA plant managers, therefore, had reason to police female workers’ sexuality.
Beyond its contributions to historical scholarship, this study is relevant to contemporary policymaking. Through showing how gender and energy policy have shaped one another in the past, the poster calls attention to the need to evaluate the gendered implications of energy transitions today. It insists that energy alternatives should not be seen as simply technological or scientific decisions, but as choices that both reflect and shape gendered relations of power.