Toxic masculinity is currently a hot topic, wearing many guises – this was most recently highlighted in the new Gillette ad campaign on the subject. This advert has caused great controversy. resulting in many people admonishing Proctor and Gamble, for standing up to toxic masculinity. Many people are also threatening a boycott of their products, because the idea that people (men, especially) should take accountability for their actions is so offensive, obviously.
I want to talk about how this idea of masculinity translates into a general disregard for the environment when it comes to men. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean all men. This is not an attack. The way we are socialised to perform our genders has negative consequences across the board – but the environment is an aspect that is often overlooked and could do with a little light shed on it. A lot of traditionally ‘female’ practices are also terrible environmentally, but that is another topic for another time [see “How Trashy is your Period? Felix 1906”].
I have so many memories of having very one-sided conversations with the men in my life - about recycling, eating less meat, or basically anything that would be of a benefit to the environment. And the problem is that they don’t think they should or need to care, because that is what women do – care. Or at least, that is what a lot of people think.
Again, let me say this is not all men – but there have been a number of studies looking into this phenomenon. Men have been found to be more likely to litter, recycle less, and have a larger carbon footprint than women. This is all due to the ‘green is feminine’ idea. Both men and women were found, in a 2016 study by Brough et al., to believe that men engaging in ‘green’ behaviours were more ‘feminine’ than those that didn’t. This concept spills over into the perception of ‘green’ products – the eco-friendlier version of a product was seen as more feminine. This study also looked into the way that men who feel emasculated will compensate by engaging in behaviour that is distinctly not environmentally-friendly. So, undermining a man’s masculinity could result in direct harm to the environment.
Ever wondered why brands bother to have a ‘For men’ line? There’s actual science behind it! Men will preferentially choose products that reaffirm their gender identity over ones that are neutral or feminine. So, one solution to this problem is targeting men with their own brand of green products and practices. Much like how we have deodorant, razors, and even tissues ‘For Men’, a rebranding of the green movement could be very effective - to be inclusive of those who feel like their masculinity needs reaffirming.
Of course, this is only really a band-aid solution as it doesn’t solve the real problem and is based on the idea that we can consume our way out of the environmental disaster we’re on a collision course with. I think the best solution starts with children - raise the next generation to think critically about the information they consume. Your identity should be more than a colour or how ‘feminine’ you think you might seem. Toxic masculinity is simply a collection of learned negative behaviours, they do not make or break a man – the sooner we as a society unlearn them, the better.