The Gendering of Environmentalism

25 Apr

The discussions of gender differences usually revolve around personal qualities, physical traits, etc. Less often do we see differences of attitude being discussed. GreenBiz.com recently published an article in its blog section titled, “To Men, Green Is a Shade Too Close to Pink,” discussing the gender differences of “going green.” Its “uber-finding”: America believes that women are significatly “greener” than men, because men believe that going green is unmanly. Here’s what the article has to say:

  • “Do you think going green is more masculine or feminine? If you’re like 82 percent of Americans, you’ll answer “feminine” to this question.
  • “The men we spoke to [admitted] they refrained from green activities like carrying reusable totes and even driving hybrid vehicles because they felt girly or self-conscious.
  • “Clearly sustainability marketing needs its Marlboro Man moment.
  • “But how do we make eco-friendly male-ego-friendly?
  • “Some of the greenest men we talked to in our ethnographies were undeniably manly men taking on issues of sustainability as some sort of throw down from the universe: “Solve this! Make this work!” These men see conquering issues of sustainability in their own lives as a personal challenge, a problem to solve, and something ordinary men don’t have the know-how or competence to handle.
  • “There are some brands getting it right. In the male-dominated world of automobiles, for example, those brands grabbing male attention are doing so by relying on old-fashioned sleek and stylish ads emphasizing performance and design, with credible environmental messages woven into the appeals to primal desires to go fast and look good doing it. Brands like Patagonia or Clif Bar that tie the environment to manly pursuits like rock-climbing and snow-boarding. Farming, DIY and technology are other fertile areas for targeting the testosterone when it comes to green.

Interestingly, I realized that I’ve come across these male attitudes in the past. When I moved to New York I was talking with my cousin who lives in UWS (originally from St. Louis), and he expressed to me that he loved New York because, “It’s the only city where you can walk around wearing a tote and not have people think you’re gay.” While his sociogeographical opinion seems a little NYCentric, his sentiment seems to match the survey respondents’: being green is feminine.

Sadly, this article makes a charade out of masculinity and environmentalism. Its equation of “manly” with intellectual competence, competition (against the universe! Seems like a losing battle…), and extreme sports shows how (not) far we’ve come as a society.

I think it’s also timely that this article talks about the “classic” automotive advertising techniques to relate to men, given the recent promotion of the 2012 VW Beetle. VW seems to have taken a lesson straight from the article, evidenced by its use of “old-fashioned sleek and stylish ads emphasizing performance and design, with credible environmental messages woven into the appeals to primal desires to go fast and look good doing it.” It’s as if the manliest of men can “still” be manly, even when driving a car that gets 30 city MGP, because of the car’s “aerodynamic” form and “powerful” engine. These key “masculine” words become the selling point because in our gendered world they override any “green” benefits.

If men are describing greenness as feminine, it makes me wonder how green men are feeling about themselves. Are they playing into this gendering internalized sexism, considering themselves less mascline because they wear totes over their arms or ride bicycles? I’ll confess — when I throw a reusable bag over my arm (I exclusively use them while grocery shopping), I do feel somewhat feminine. It conjures images in my head of what it might be like to wear a purse, and while I’m 99% OK with that, that 1% of me wonders what I look like to others. I’m 1% conscious of the violence committed against gay men at disproportionate rates. Now that I see it in myself, I can relate, in a way, to the men in this survey – and I cast my lot with the majority. And I see that I have much to think about and learn.

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One Response to “The Gendering of Environmentalism”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Last and Worst: Rules for Men « The Conscious Man - April 27, 2011

    […] in the high numbers of female nurses and social workers. They’re in the way we talk about cars, male friendships, illness, cooking (twice), and interior design. And they come from everywhere: […]

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