Eco Feminine: Environmentalism's Identity Crisis

Read time: 7 mins
Why is environmentalism considered feminine?

If we stop to think, we all know that environmentalism is not inherently feminine. So why are so many eco-heroes actually heroines? Where did all the men go? Beyond a few larger than life figures, such as Al Gore or Jeff Bridges, most of the hard-core, hands in the dirt, changing entrenched systems, environmentalists are women. Some men have even been quoted saying that the simple sustainable act of carrying a reusable bag is embarrassing because it’s “mostly women who do it” (The New York Times). Why, in the name of all that is good and green, is sustainability taboo for men?

Unfortunately, Climate Change is and will disproportionately affect impoverished peoples worldwide who cannot afford expensive resilience infrastructure, such as sea-walls (UNFPA & WEDO, 2009). Women make up the majority of the world’s impoverished population (UNFPA & WEDO, 2009). Additionally, women are 14 times more likely to die in an extreme weather event and its aftermath (UNFPA & WEDO, 2009).  Natural disasters are, of course, largely increased by Climate Change (EPA). Therefore, it is understandable, that women--being the most negatively effected--are also most likely to be environmentalists. However, this gendered theme has been most researched in industrialized countries that will likely be much less directly harmed by Climate Change. Yet, women are still more likely to be more environmentally focused than men.

Don’t believe me? Articles by: The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, United Nations Women, The Associated Press, Tree Hugger, The Huffington Post, Women of Green, Slate, and many more discuss studies by: The University of British Columbia, The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The European Institute for Gender Equality, Stanford University, Yale, University of California, Davis, Ohio State University, Gallup Poll, etc. and range in topics from eating habits to transportation choices. Overwhelmingly, these studies have shown that women value, take action on, and will spend more on environmentalism than men. This seems to be especially true when it comes to lifestyle choices, or all the little things that we can shift right now and add up to big change.

Anecdotally, I could not even begin to list the numerous zero waste blogs by inspiring women of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Nor could I begin to do justice to describing all the incredibly valuable ways that women have relentlessly pushed for environmental justice in their homes, communities, and on the international stage. Yet, where are all their guy-friends, boyfriends, brothers, husbands, male lovers, and sons? True, some men do the very same environmental work that women do. But if we honestly look around, who are the innovators pushing for positive shifts in our daily lives, in our waste bins, in our clothing choices, and in our eating habits? Women.

Let me just take a moment to say how proud I am that women are paving the way, once again defying stereotypes to show that women can be charismatic leaders, engineering innovators, and empowered changemakers.

However, I am deeply concerned about these studies. They that show that my dearest male friends and my male family members are still discouraged by society to pursue environmental careers or push for environmental change, especially if it involves the home. Women make up 49.6% of the world population (UN, 2015) and have the power to do many great things. But we do not want to be dragging our partners, friends, and family into a greener society. Just like educating your significant other about how to do laundry or wash the dishes, being the sole push for sustainability, simply sucks.

Moreover, I find it difficult to believe that more men are not sympathetic to the cause of environmentalism. I can recall the proud moment when I overheard my dad telling his mother about the 5 R’s of zero waste. I also have heard my male coworkers passionately discuss their habitat restoration projects. My uncle has even begun making a game out of diverting as much waste from the landfill as possible in his company’s move. But where are their male roll models in this field? Why aren’t more men encouraged to make shifts towards a sustainable lifestyle? Are we really still reducing masculinity to drag-car racing, steak-eating, and a ‘who cares?’ emotionless attitude?

Gender inequality issues are clashing with the sustainability messaging. We are going to need to learn how to rebuild stronger identities with deeper roots if we are going to become a truly green society.

(For more information on gender equity issues as they are present today, I highly recommend the documentaries Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In.)

Now before you all start writing a million comments about all the men you know who do awesome things for the planet. This is not a male bashing segment. In fact, I would love it if you comment and name more masculine (or gender non-conforming) eco-bloggers, song writers, or whomever you can think of! My point here is to point (and laugh) at how silly we are being. We cannot save the planet without people from all genders participating. The system is broken. The individuals are not the problem. Yet, on the whole we have not socialized our males to be interested in these issues. We have inadvertently delegated this as women’s work.

Lifestyle choice shifts are challenging when they are done for the first time, taking dedication and attention to detail. We should not depend on solely women to do all this groundwork (with little recognition). So today I am challenging men to participate now, when the work is not so glamorous. Have those awkward conversations with your uncles about why bringing a reusable bag is important. Dive into the seemingly mundane. Lip service to the tenants of a sustainable lifestyle is not going to change the world. Live the change.

For inspiration, here are a few, down to earth men who are already breaking free of their gendered sphere--without quiet as much fame as say, John Muir—but with important rippling effects, they are living it out.

  • Colin Bevan (aka No Impact Man)
  • Jonathan (Aka Zero Waste Guy)
  • Mike Gioscia (The Green Dad) –Site was last updated in 2015, but info still good
  • Van Jones (social and environmental justice advocate)

Are you ready to start busting-up ridiculous gender stereotypes right now?

Beyond gendered green tips:

Bringing your own bag is a bit of a turn on, but buying in bulk is downright grexy! Grexy is a “sexy greenie” or a way to describe a person who is into the environmental with some stylish flare, making them hot. Here is a quick list of ways to be grexy regardless of your gender identification. (Don’t forget to take a selfie! #grexy)

Bring your own (reusable) _______.

  1. Produce bag
  2. Bulk bag
  3. Mason jar (for drinks or bulk food)
  4. Straw
  5. Water bottle (added bonus, make it plastic-free)
  6. Spork (good bye disposable silverware!)
  7. Napkin and/or hankerchief

Hip Hygiene Products:

1. Safety Rasor (if you choose to shave, but it’s up to you)

2. Plastic-free toothbrush

3. Plastic-free floss

4. Plastic-free toothpaste or powder

5. TP wrapped in paper, not plastic

Go outside!

  1. Support your local parks and natural wilderness
  2. Walk or Bike instead of drive

Get Creative:

  1. Build stuff from salvaged material like pallets or
  2. Decorate with second hand goods for a chic eclectic vibe
  3. Buy clothes second hand to create an irresistibly unique sense of style

Most importantly:

  1. Respect your fellow human and don’t underestimate them, regardless of gender. Sexism hurts everyone. When we put one group in a box, we keep the other groups from entering that box even if they want to. Men can be wonderful parents and women can be wonderful engineers (as we all know). So, men can be champions of sustainable lifestyles, just as much as women can.

Have more tips? Post them in the comments below!

Stay grexy, everyone! And live your values, not your gender.


Sources and Resources:


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