According to new research from Penn State University, certain climate friendly behaviours are perceived as either masculine or feminine – and it could have a very real impact on the world.
It’s no secret that the world is currently in the middle of a climate emergency.
Thanks to a landmark report published by the IPCC back in October, we’re all very much aware of the 12 years we have left to limit global warming to under 1.5C in order to avoid catastrophic damage to the planet.
And while the UK Parliament took the important step to declare a climate emergency at the beginning of May, more and more of us are taking responsibility into our own hands by choosing to shop more sustainably, cut down our consumption of single-use plastic and eat a plant-based diet.
In more bad news, however, the climate has found itself another enemy.
Forget the looming figures of fossil fuel corporations, CO2 emissions and single-use plastics – the planet’s latest adversary is the big, scary concept of gender.
According to new research by a team at Penn State University, gender stereotypes are getting in the way of potentially world-saving eco-friendly behaviours – all because some are perceived as more feminine or masculine than others.
The study, which saw participants rate people’s masculinity and femininity based on fictional daily pro-environmental behaviours, revealed different behaviours are associated with different genders.
For example, women were more traditionally associated with recycling or using a reusable shopping bag, whereas behaviours such as paying bills online or turning off the air conditioning were considered to be gender-neutral.
The study also found that men who engaged in the traditionally feminine behaviours were more likely to have their heterosexual identity questioned.
The worrying part, however, was how these perceptions might influence which climate friendly behaviours – if any – people choose to engage with.
“There may be subtle, gender-related consequences when we engage in various pro-environmental behaviors,” Janet K. Swim, professor of psychology and one of the team behind the study, said. “People may avoid certain behaviors because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them. Or they may be avoided if the behaviors they choose do not match their gender.”
This isn’t the first study of it’s type – in fact, a 2017 study by Scientific American showed similar results which suggested men fear engaging in eco-friendly behaviours may make them seem less masculine.
If we weren’t already sick enough of gender stereotypes, this new research has given us enough of a reason to ditch the dated concepts all together. We need to stop expecting women to shoulder the burden of the climate emergency, and accept that it’s everyone’s responsibility to do what they can for the planet, irrespective of gender, race, sexuality or class.
In fact, the climate emergency is a distinctly feminist issue because, as Margaret Atwood told the Guardian last year, women are likely to fare worse than men in any situations of civil unrest or food shortage which may occur as a result of climate breakdown.
So if we could put our arbitrary concept of gender to the side for a bit and do what we can for the planet (while we still have a planet to do things for), that would be fantastic.