This post is a little different from the kind of thing I normally write about, but an article in Scientific American kind of inspired me to go on a bit of a rant. It may be a bit disorganized and it may ramble, but oh well. Tough titties said the kitty, as my wife often says.
First, a bit of a story. I remember once when I was in the Marines… I was with a small group and we were on duty, driving from Phoenix to Las Vegas in a 15-Pack van. We had stopped at a convenience store on the way out of town to pick up road-trip supplies. On the road, the youngest of us was driving. I watched him unwrap a Twinkie and toss the wrapper out the window. When I confronted him on it, I was utterly surprised by his lack of giving a shit. I mean, I’d like to make sure my kids don’t have to trudge through piles of garbage while just walking down the street. The U.S. Marine Corps is a very testosterone-driven, “masculine” entity, and it’s male members most often (though not exclusively) follow suit. It did not occur to me at the time, but this one Marine’s behavior was indicative of a larger social issue.
One of the biggest cultural norms that has really made me think over the last few years is the idea that “men” need to be tough and not sensitive. Like somehow not feeling emotions or not having empathy for others makes you stronger (I’ve often found it to be quite the opposite, but I digress). We’re taught that boy’s don’t cry, that boys like to rough-house, that they like dirt, that they’re not feminine and that (GASP) they’re not gay… All of this is epitomized in the phrase “Boys will be boys.”
So, it comes as absolutely no surprise when Scientific American put out this article recently showing that being green and environmentally conscious are often viewed as feminine and emasculating. And, I’ll be perfectly honest, I do occasionally feel the socially-in-bred sensation of this when faced with certain aspects of going green. Now, people that know me (I hope) would likely be surprised to see that I give a shit about being “masculine.” In truth, I don’t. But we’re talking socially trained behaviors that are as ingrained as biological instinct. In fact, some might actually perceive them as biological instinct. While I’m no sociologist or anthropologist, I lean more toward the idea that these are social constructs and not actual genetic/biological reactions.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be all Social-Justice-Warrior-y or anything. (I’ve never labeled myself as such. However, if you look at what the words mean, is that actually such a bad name? Someone who fights for justice in society?) What I am trying to say is that sometimes, I think the things we teach our kids, that we were taught, that our parents were taught, that our parent’s parents, and their parents, and their parents and… you get the idea. Anyway, sometimes those things are not the healthiest.
What SA’s article seemed to miss entirely was how this is all connected to toxic masculinity. For those not familiar, toxic masculinity is “traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.” (Wikipedia) SA makes some great points and it is good to have actual research to back up things that should be obvious to us. I also think it isn’t necessarily bad to tailor a cause’s message to particular demographics. However, not pointing to the root cause of the issue is kind of a big miss. SA talks about addressing the symptoms, but not the actual cause of the problem. And I’m sorry to say, society is not like the human body, you can’t take a few aspirin to feel better and let the immune system do its job. We ARE the immune system.
See, to me, being a “man” has always meant being the protector. Yes, some view this as a bit antiquated, and I don’t disagree. But I look at it like this. Males are statistically physically stronger than women. (Again, some of this may actually be socially constructed behavior). And, while I’m not the beefiest, or even remotely fittest, male around, I still feel the instinctual/ingrained need to be protective. This should mean protecting everyone and everything, including the environment. Is it masculine to use resources and not care what it means for everyone else? No. We are not in a tribal scenario where we have to choose between our tribe and the “other” surviving. We live in a GLUT of resources, we don’t have to compete and fight for them. What we DO have to fight for is to make sure there is a breathable are and a decently clean ocean for our grandchildren.
In truth, I think we are all protectors and all have equal parts to play in this. Some of us are good at somethings, some others. These abilities, skills, and talents cross genders, race, sexual orientations/identifications and any other boundary you can imagine. Look, being green, environmentally conscious or whatever you want to call it is not about being a “MAN.” I know lots of people think that is soft and girly, but you know what? Fuck that. It’s about being a caretaker, it’s about giving just the tiniest shit about the world around you and, in the end, it IS about survival of the species. Because if we let this planet’s environment go to shit, the world will keep on spinning. It will just do it without us.
So no, taking care of your recyling, not dump toxic or caustic chemicals into the environment and keeping our drinking water clean…these things are not about being manly.
They’re about being a decent fucking human being.