Updated: Jun 14
Sustainability is 'emasculating', destroying the Earth is 'macho', and other lies toxic men tell themselves.
The media has gone wild in elucidating the term ‘toxic masculinity' and chastising its impact on society, yet it has not often been linked to how nature is framed within gender roles. This is exactly what this article will attempt to do because exposing the linkage of two deeply intertwined and dire issues is necessary to transition towards a conscious, kinder society.
As a young adult woman, I have witnessed toxic masculinity in some of its various forms. In fact, it can better be understood as a spectrum of behaviors that can range from dismissing others’ opinions or refusing to show any emotions, to being aggressive and violent to display power. Most importantly, it is a socially constructed notion of manliness that praises stoicism, virility, and dominance. In doing so, it harms men, women, nature, and the world system as a whole.
The toxic idea of male authority easily transmutes to environmental domination through the apathy towards–or ridicule of–environmental problems and the assertion of authority using unsustainable means. Climate change denialism is a characteristic that often follows toxic masculinity. Generally speaking, it seems like many men are both less concerned and less willing to make lifestyle changes in the wake of climate change. This is a display of the belief that they can overcome any crisis easily and on their own, rejecting cooperative action.
Interestingly, demographic studies have found that particularly conservative white men in wealthier nations, like the USA, are more likely to deny climate change than women. This is no coincidence, as this phenomenon can be explained by the fact that men who benefit from their social status tend to deflect threats to their identity and roles.
Another characteristic is the emasculation that seems to accompany climate change. Being more environmentally conscious is, unknowingly, associated with being more feminine. This makes most men feel emasculated, which is why they try to reassert their masculinity by refusing to make more sustainable choices.
A good example of this phenomenon concerns dietary choices in the USA, where men consume about 57% more meat than women. The American media was successful in promoting meat as a gendered food option to boost sales. According to research from the University of Hawaii, this cultural notion is so vivid that many men feel their masculinity is threatened when faced with the absence of meat on their plates. Not to mention, women are twice as likely to be vegetarian or vegan when compared to men globally!
Perhaps most importantly, the feminization of nature demonstrates the role that gender plays in environmentalism. While associating nature with women is often romanticized, it bears a darker truth that evolved into many of today’s injustices. Throughout the centuries, ecofeminism has examined exactly this connection between women and the environment.
We have been taught to perceive women as closer to nature due to their nourishing role, allegorizing nature as a powerful maternal force. However, the lens of toxic masculinity exposes an uncomfortable detail: the attempt to extend men’s apparent role to protect the defenseless, i.e. women and nature. This conceals the underlying motive of domination. Terms that better unfold this concept include “rape of the land”, “mother nature”, and “soil fertility”.
(Also read: Death in Debt: Underpaid Women at Work)
What does this all mean? Ultimately, it means that climate mitigation and adaptation efforts are slowed down due to the extreme social constructs that define what it means to be a man. The discourse around mitigating climate change is often perceived as a threat to men’s masculinity because it is, essentially, an effort to change the patriarchy that has until now been led by “great” and “stoic” men.
One could argue that the planet is in the state it is today because toxic masculinity led to highly unsustainable practices by male leaders, such as inconsiderate economic growth, destructive wars, and the exploitation of resources and vulnerable groups.
Because of the wrongful perceptions of who should care the most about climate change, a large portion of our population refuses to be empathetic towards this globally shared issue, creating a greater divide between the most and least impacted groups in society. Yet, believing in climate change and leading a sustainable lifestyle are not signs of weakness, but signs of rational judgment that could help combat the rise in global temperatures.
Definition of toxic masculinity. (n.d.). In www.dictionary.com. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/toxic-masculinity
Demelle, B. (n.d.) Top 10 Climate Deniers. Before the Flood. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.beforetheflood.com/explore/the-deniers/top-10-climate-deniers/
Klassen, S., Kearney, S. P. (2021). The ‘irony’ of gendered meat consumption - the nature of food. Medium. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://medium.com/the-nature-of-food/the-irony-of-gendered-meat-consumption-15371fe0cfcd
McCright, A. M., & Dunlap, R. E. (2011). Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change, 21(4), 1163–1172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.06.003.
Tan. G. (2019). How Toxic Masculinity Contributes To Climate Change. GLOBUS Student Sustainability Journal for the 21st Century. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://globuswarwick.com/2019/10/24/how-toxic-masculinity-contributes-to-climate-change/
Olson, E. (2021). Toxic Masculinity and Climate Change. Climate Review. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.ucsdclimatereview.org/post/toxic-masculinity-and-climate-change