Women are more likely to care for the planet. Men worry about their masculinity.

girl wearing veggie necklace
CC BY 2.0 Sinéad McKeown

Men resist many of the sustainable lifestyle practices that women have embraced, such as reusable shopping bags, smaller cars, and vegetarianism.

Gender could be affecting your level of commitment to sustainable living. Women are more likely than men to carry reusable shopping bags, drive smaller cars, and be vegetarian. Men tend to have higher carbon emissions because they eat more meat and drive larger vehicles. There is a general reluctance among men to engage in sustainable lifestyle practices for fear of appearing unmanly.

In an article for The Guardian, titled “If sustainable living is seen as ‘feminine’, that’s bad for the planet – and women,” author Bhavya Reddy provides examples of men being mocked for driving a Prius. One shocking story describes a Sikh man who was the victim of a racist attack and received “obscenities and racial slurs, including ‘Bin Laden,’ ‘Terrorist,’ ‘Go back to your country,’ and ‘Why are you driving that small Prius, I’ve got a big SUV’.”

When it comes to vegetarianism, many men are hooked on the idea that meat is masculine, and putting grill marks on a veggie burger just don’t cut it. A study from the University of British Columbia called “Meat, morals, and masculinity” set itself an interesting task – to investigate “people’s perceptions of others who follows omnivorous and vegetarian diets, controlling for the perceived healthiness of the diets in question.” It found that “in both studies omnivorous and vegetarian participants rated vegetarian targets as more virtuous and less masculine than omnivorous targets.”

Indeed, a man with whom I spoke last week, said, “I know it’s not true, but I have this preconceived notion of all vegetarian guys being pale and frail.” Interestingly, there are more male vegans than female, and that is likely due to the fact that there is something “hardcore” about veganism that appeals to men’s desire to appear masculine and committed to a cause.

According to the Swedish Defence Research Agency, in 2009, "Men consumed 70-80% more energy on transport than women in Germany and Norway, 100% more in Sweden and 350% more in Greece." They drive far more miles annually, use less public transportation, and buy larger, gas-guzzling vehicles.

“I know it’s not true, but I have this preconceived notion of all vegetarian guys being pale and frail.”

The rivalry that exists between the concepts of virtue and masculinity is troubling, as is femininity’s negative connotation, especially when you consider that the wellbeing of the planet is at stake. Masculinity should be about protecting the planet, rather than dominating it. We do not need yet more barriers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions; the task is huge enough as it is.

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