This was a topic I had initially planned for down the road, but then this study came out two weeks ago, and I decided I wanted to lead with it.
What does it mean to be a man?
While every answer will be different, I am sure there will be some commonalities. Strong. Masculine. Brave. Confident. Charming.
Sure, those qualities are all great, but how many would answer with vulnerable? Emotional? Compassionate? Environmentally-friendly?
There is currently a strong backlash against toxic masculinity in our society--and for good reason. The atmosphere that has persisted for so long is being shown to harm both men and women, personally, professionally, academically, and otherwise. But very seldom, if at all, is that toxicity associated with its effects on conservation and environmentalism.
In that recent study I spoke of, researchers found that men were less likely to engage in eco-friendly actions as such actions could be perceived as 'feminine' or 'weak'. They would be less inclined to purchase environmentally-friendly options if it in some way threatened their perception of their own masculinity. And if men engaged in such actions, they would be more likely to engage in some detrimental behavior shortly after to reassert their sensation of 'manliness'.
What if we dig into that even deeper? What are some of the activities that come to mind when you think 'manly'?
Hunting. Fishing. Fighting. Driving big trucks.
The urge to kill. To pollute. To assert oneself, over others and the natural world.
It becomes a challenge, then, in getting men to protect and preserve, when their societally-bred instincts say the exact opposite. Why care about that adorable endangered mouse species, when your friends might call you 'gay'? Why buy a Prius versus an SUV or pickup truck, when it makes you 'a pussy'? Why not hunt a grizzly or a lion to prove how alpha you are? Or act like you don't care about the environment, because not caring is that cool, aloof thing that 'real' men do.
So how do we address these issues that have been so ingrained into our culture over the years?
One option is to do as suggested in that article linked, to make the branding of eco-friendly products more 'strong' and 'masculine'. To market options more directly towards men, in a more manly fashion. And in the short run, I do see that as a viable option. But, at best, it is more of a band aid than a true fix. We would not be allowing men to embrace conservation as a noble cause, in and of itself, we would only be making certain actions and choices more appealing to those macho men. If we are not addressing the root cause, the culture of toxic masculinity itself, then we are not creating a truly better situation.
When I speak of toxic masculinity, I refer to that drive to feel 'manly' at all costs. The perceived threat men experience when one is labelled 'weak' or 'feminine'. The need to reassert a sense of masculinity when that manhood has been threatened. The long-term solution needs to be in addressing these perceptions, and changing the tide of this culture.
And how do we do that?
MEN: Be more willing to be open and vulnerable in your lives. With your significant others, sure, but also with your family and friends. Especially with your guy friends. Show the other men around you that it is okay to be more open and open-minded. Learn to be comfortable in who you are, rather than whop you think you should be. Let those perceived threats to your masculinity roll right off. Be less judgmental towards other men when you see them doing things that don't live up to your standards of what it is to be a man.
LADIES: Encourage and support the men in your lives. Husbands, brothers, fathers, sons; don't submit them to shame or humiliation for not being 'man enough'. In that study linked, the authors found that even women perceived environmentally-friendly choices to be more 'feminine'. And so it becomes just as important for you to feel less judgment when a man is acting in a way that you perceive is less than 'man enough'. Raise sons with compassion and empathy. Praise your brothers and boyfriends when they open up to you. Engage with your fathers and grandfathers on a deeper level.
Similar to the concepts I had addressed last week, when men are constantly forced to prove and maintain their sense of masculinity, it leaves no room for growth or change in other areas of their lives.
When this culture begins to change, it becomes less necessary for us to worry about 'masculine' versus 'feminine' branding and marketing. A healthier attitude towards masculinity will allow men to make decisions without worry about how it affects their own perceptions of their manhood. Men can begin to embrace the environmental movement with less judgment, real or perceived, about their social standing.
Let's work on being 'man enough' to be compassionate and caring. To give a shit about the world we live in, and the others with whom we share it. Be 'man enough' that you're not at all worried about whether you're 'man enough'.
Coming next week-- Climate Depression: How a changing climate is affecting our mental health!