Illustration Callum Abbott
Toxic masculinity is killing the planet. If we want to save planet earth, we need to dismantle the patriarchy.
Note: The article below has been recommended for Church Citizens' Voice readers by Mr Varghese Pamplanil, the erudite scholar and writer.
Rolling back 98 major environmental policies (and attempting 14 more), the Trump Administration proved that toxic masculinity is literally killing the planet. But why are men like this?
In 2015 a study found that men see “protecting the environment” as a feminine act while there’s a growing correlation between the devaluation of women, the consumption of animals, and the environment. How? Environmentally damaging actions allow men to reassert their masculinity, and vocal climate change deniers are often older, white, and male. This means that if we want to figure out climate change, we need to dismantle the patriarchy.
Now, multiple studies are confirming a biological connection between climate change and manhood, which could get more attention; from 1973 to 2011 sperm count declined more than 59 per cent due to chemicals in our environment and recently it was discovered that pollution is actually causing penises to shrink. In response to the second study, climate activist Greta Thunberg cheekily tweeted: “See you all at the next Climate Strike.”
HOW CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE PATRIARCHY ARE CONNECTED
“Patriarchy, a product of white supremacy, is rooted in exploitation – exploitation of the land, of women’s bodies and the control of women’s bodies, using them as borders of nations in the case of the veil in France, or missing and murdered Indigenous women in the Americas,” says Célline Semaan, founder of Slow Factory and co-founder of All of the Above, the first show to directly addressing climate change by planting trees for every view. “Toxic masculinity has defined success as we know it by valorising money of people, dominance over coexistence and hoarding resources over reciprocity.”
“Toxic masculinity and sexism are mechanisms of patriarchy and capitalism is the structure that has organized the world that we live in, which have caused the climate crisis,” says Teju Adisa-Farrar, a geographer, writer, and speaker. Teju’s work connects ecological, political, and cultural structures to understand the behaviours that perpetuate these systems via toxic masculinity and sexism, and imagine alternative futures. “The colonial framework, especially in the United States, created masculine behaviors about controlling nature and controlling those you feel are inferior.” According to her, relating to the environment as something that needs to be controlled is a white supremacist, colonial male mindset and those behaviors over hundreds of years have become the cultural norm.
Illustration Callum Abbott
Though the geographer says it‘s not just white cisgender men, it’s “white supremacist gender behaviour” that says white men are above everything including Black people, women, and nature, and therefore there must be structures and systems to enforce control (for example, the prison industrial system). In her work, she’s found that certain behaviours associated with men, such as being desensitised or aggressive, are also behaviours that perpetuate negative relationships to the earth and natural resources, and to doing things like reusing, which can be considered feminine.
“I feel like a lot of times men are insensitive to these kinds of topics because caring or just having emotion is like a quote unquote feminine thing,” says Nato, who runs @themirror. “It has to deal with the socialisation of men in general, you know, what they call toxic masculinity or machismo culture.” There’s a direct correlation between male supremacy and the climate crisis.
“There’s an intersection between the fossil fuel sector, the climate crisis, and toxic masculinity,” says environmental educator Isaias Hernandez, known on the Internet as @queerbrownvegan, referencing a term called petra-masculinity, which was coined by professor Cara New Daggett, who researches feminist political ecology.
According to Cara, in order to unpack toxic masculinity, it’s necessary to recognise its history and that the depletion of natural resources, such as mother earth, is reflective of the ways toxic masculinity manifests itself. “Toxic masculinity manifests itself as colonialism, which demonstrates ignorance,” he explains. But also, it has to do with the oppression of Black and Indigenous people of colour.
“When it comes to the patriarchy, it’s important to note that these systems weren't really in place (during) pre-colonial times,” Isaias says. “There’s different ways of how we could have existed but heavy extraction of fossil fuels is very much rooted in American patriarchy.”
Another thing he tries to get people to understand is that when it comes to gender based violence, women, non-binary folks, trans women, and femmes face the highest rates of violence, which is a direct result in them trying to protect natural resources, especially when it comes to Indigenous communities.
WOMEN’S ROLE IN THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT
Climate denialism protects and preserves supremacy over both nature and women. And what climate change demands is a shattering of toxic masculinity and patriarchal views. But how?
Under the patriarchy, women have been found to think of others before we think for ourselves. “Women litter less. Women are more likely to buy an electric car. They’re more likely to bring a canvas bag to the store,” Teju says. “We’re socialised to be more empathetic, we’re socialised to be more accommodating and take care of things in the private sphere.”
Women are thought to bring more empathy and inclusion to advocacy and solution making, which are skills necessary to solve climate change. One of the biggest Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set forth by the UN for 2030 is the involvement of women. Why? With a disproportionate impact on women and girls, research proves that climate change is a major gender issue requiring actions that support female empowerment and gender equality.
Women are said to make up 80 per cent of climate refugees while women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster. Research has shown that women’s empowerment and gender equality can positively impact food and economic security and health while leading to more environmentally friendly decision making.
Moreover, the UN says that gender equality and female empowerment will bolster other SDGs, including climate action, clean energy, reduced inequalities, good health and wellbeing, zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, quality education, poverty alleviation, and more. Dismantling the patriarchy will not only help us achieve gender equality, it can solve the climate crisis too.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
How to dismantle patriarchy, then? “It begins with organising and education, these concepts aren’t new in fact they have been used worldwide to create an organised force against oppressive systems,” says Semaan. “Education is the foundation of progress and organising with our community, creating a common language where horizontal hostilities are mitigated and solidarity and healing is prioritised.” Open education is at the heart of everything she does.
“We can try to increase our awareness and educate ourselves in order to change our individual behaviors in addition to collectively organising around changing society,” says Teju. “Working in silos doesn’t help since all environmental issues are socio-political issues.” Our social norms, culture and politics shape the way we’re able to relate to our environment and while individual habits can be more sustainable and we should work towards organising and being in solidarity with people who are trying to transform society as a whole.”
“One step in trying to make these connections of how men can be better advocates or trying to be much more efficient in their own work is realising if your own family member is doing this type of work and having to face this amount of violence?” Isaias poses. “I don't think it should come to the fact that if it’s a family member, you should care about it because in reality, we should all be caring for each other as living beings. And it costs $0 to advocate for human rights here in the West.”