Eco-Friendliness And Masculinity: Is There A ‘Green-Feminine’ Stereotype?
Are men less likely to be eco-friendly than women in their attitudes, choices, and behaviors? According to previous study, across many age groups and nationalities, men tend to litter more, have a larger overall carbon footprint, and feel less guilty about living an environmentally destructive lifestyle. This seems to tie into the findings of numerous studies from our Research Library, finding (for example) that women care more about animal rights than men, that gender has an effect on advocacy interactions, and that meat eating tends to be tied in with masculinity, in many cultures.
This study sought to understand why this phenomenon exists, and whether there is a stereotype of femininity in eco-friendly attitudes which could explain the existence of an eco-friendly gap between men and women.
Past research has tried to explain the gender gap of eco-friendly behavior as a result of differences between personality traits observed in women and men, such as women being more prosocial, altruistic and empathetic. Other traits, such as women having superior perspective taking, being better able to adopt a future time perspective, and having a stronger ethic of care, have all been linked with environmentalism and eco-friendly behavior.
The current study doesn’t discount such observations, but rather offers an additional hypothesis that men are even less inclined to be eco-friendly due to feminine stereotypes surrounding environmentalism. These feminine stereotypes cause men to avoid or even oppose green behaviors to protect their masculinity.
Survey data has shown that a majority of Americans, both male and female, perceive “going green” as feminine. There are multiple potential reasons for making such a link: many environmental messages use fonts and colors generally associated with femininity; green marketing tends be found more heavily in areas associated with women as in domestic household items; cleaning products, food labels and laundry items; finally, environmentalism is linked with the emotions of caring, empathy, and nurture, all of which are generally associated with women.
Of course, not all of these associations are accurate, and likewise, they aren’t necessarily “bad,” but they do have an effect on potential advocacy opportunities. Once a strong enough link between femininity and green behavior is created in the mind, it causes those who engage in green behavior to view themselves and others as feminine. This green-feminine stereotype has the potential to discourage men, who feel a need to avoid female associations, from engaging in green behaviors.
The opposite however is true with females who wish to present themselves as feminine, and could be more likely to engage in green behaviors (though this has a circular effect). This theory follows the idea that an individual’s self-identity is derived from group membership, thus causing people to act in a way associated with their own group whilst avoiding behaviors that are associated with the outgroups.
Due to fact that certain possessions and behaviors act as signals of a person’s identity to both themselves and others, gender identity can be maintained or threatened through one’s choices. A perceived threat to a person’s membership status to a meaningful group such as gender, can cause a follow-up behavior that are representative of the ingroup, or cause the person to distance themselves from outgroup members. This would cause men to feel the need to overcompensate and avoid all behaviors that are related to femininity to protect their ingroup status.
The need to reinforce gender identity is stronger in men than it is in women, and this study argues that this difference arises from men facing greater punishments for gender-inconsistent behavior. An example presented is research showing that boys are punished more severely than girls when participating in behaviors not in line with their gender role.
The author argues that due to such difference, men are more responsive to subtle ways gender is marketed such as in font, colors, shapes and foods. Men also fear gender contamination of masculine products and avoid products associated with a female reference group. This would, theoretically, cause any link that marketers bring between eco-friendly purchases and femininity to result in men refraining from purchasing the eco-friendly product.
In conclusion, the study argues that the association between femininity and eco-friendly behavior deters men from being more environmentally friendly. Men who are not confident of their own masculinity could tend to avoid green behaviors even further, and engage in anti-environmental behaviors to perceive to maintain themselves in their gender role. The study concludes that, to engage men with green behaviors, it is necessary to reaffirm their masculinity with masculine imagery such as logos or colors generally associated with males.
On an advocacy level, the study suggests that the typical imagery of green behavior being feminine is potentially alienating a large proportion of people from being able to make changes, something that advocates on all issues need to be aware of, and work to counteract. Though many ideas and attitudes about gender are shifting in cultures all over the world, many men still have a great deal of work to do in terms of how they see and respond to gender constructs. Until then, advocates will need to try to bridge the gaps.