Recycle Old Gender Stereotypes
February 9th, 2020 – Toxic masculinity has taken on a new role after a new study found that taking environmentally-friendly actions were perceived to be more of a feminine gender trait and some participants linked being seen as feminine as also being viewed as gay.
The study comes from Penn State professor of psychology and lead researcher Janet K. Swim and was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Sex Roles. Titled “Gender Bending and Gender Conformity: The Social Consequences of Engaging in Feminine and Masculine Pro-Environmental Behaviors,” it shows the responses from 960 participants. They were asked to to determine whether fictional characters seemed “feminine” or “masculine” based on a series of “pro-environmental behaviors” (PEBs).
Results showed that tasks such as recycling, carrying a reusable grocery bag, turning off the air conditioning, and using a keep cup were seen as more feminine traits. Participants were then asked to rank, on a scale from 1-10, whether that action made the person seem heterosexual or homosexual.
“If being seen as heterosexual is important to a person, that person may prioritise gender-conforming over gender-nonconforming pro-environmental behaviours in anticipation of how others might see them,” Swim said.
When the study was released last summer, several media outlets painted the results with a broad brush announcing “men don’t recycle because they don’t want to be seen as gay.” But Swim and her researchers put some nuance into the experiment findings saying that takeaway is more of an implication than a quantitative answer.
“The paper does not show men don’t recycle because they are afraid they are going to look gay,” she said noting that could, however, be an implication from the research.
“Behaviours don’t just help us accomplish something concrete, they also signal something about who we are. Line drying clothes or keeping tires at proper pressures may signal that we care about the environment, but if those behaviours are seen as gendered, they may signal other things, as well. People may avoid certain behaviours because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them. Or they may be avoided if the behaviours they choose do not match their gender.”
Nonetheless, the implications led Stephen Colbert to take his fellow “man-bros” to task on his late-night show. The host set up a “testosterzone” where he gave recycling bins a makeover with “a nice pair of boobs” to get straight men turned on…to environmentalism.
“Oh, that’s some bulky waste I wouldn’t mind kicking to the curb, because it’s Tuesday, cause you’re a man in the testosterzone, and Mother Earth is so hot. Literally, it’s very hot. We need to do something,” he joked.
In the third and final portion of the environmental-gender study, researchers looked at whether people were more likely to interact with or avoid people who were gender-bending or gender-conforming in regards to PEBs. It turns out that men were more likely to avoid engagement with women who performed gender-bending traits.
Scientists have used this research to push policy makers think about different approaches when it comes to encouraging people to take environmentally-friendly actions.
“If we can better understand possible social consequences [of choosing certain PEBs], we can better address barriers and opportunities for change,” Swim said.