Ever noticed how so many sustainable, environmentally friendly products seem to be almost exclusively marketed to women? Whether that be with household essentials because women are seen to be the managers of all things “domestic” or more sustainable products for menstruation, saving the planet on a personal level is often a load that invariably skews towards the shoulders of a woman.
So, is this just smart marketing in a capitalistic society, is it because women are actually inherently more conscious about the impact of their life on Earth or is it that these trends are allowing men to shirk their responsibility towards a more sustainable future purely because of the supposed feminine branding of individual environmentalism?
Who’s making the decisions in the home?
Unfortunately, with the way our society is structured, studies find that even today it is the women who are disproportionately responsible for the domestic sphere, including household management and childcare. In a 2018 Eco Gender Gap report by Mintel, Jack Duckett, a senior consumer lifestyles analyst, said women “still tend to take charge of the running of the household”, with laundry, cleaning and recycling falling under that banner. This results in brands making women the target audience of their eco-friendly campaigns and product lines.
Is green-washing really going pink?
If you think about it in today’s largely capitalistic, consumer driven world, women are the more powerful consumers. Female consumers represent a growth market that is allegedly bigger than China and India combined. The consequence of this consumer market and women’s role in decision making brand’s market sustainability to women, where we have started to see environmentalism as “women’s work”. This is what the market research firm Mintel has termed an “eco gender gap”, where green branding (often greenwashing) might as well be pink.
Are women inherently “greener”?
Women have always been viewed as the natural born caregivers, and with the above mentioned occurrences in the world today, they have unwittingly assumed the care and restoration of an entire planet. For instance, in the UK, 71% of women are increasing their commitment to ethical (sustainable) living, while just 59% of men say they’ve been living more ethically over the past year (2018). Mintel research shows that men are markedly less conscientious than their female counterparts when it comes to maintaining environmentally friendly habits.
“Research from the mid-90s to early 00s pointed to women’s greater tendency to be prosocial, altruistic and empathetic; to display a stronger ethic of care; and to assume a future-focused perspective.” A lecturer on sustainable development says, “Research suggests that women have higher levels of socialisation to care about others and be socially responsible, which then leads them to care about environmental problems and be willing to adopt environmental behaviours.”
This is further proven when “green choices” in the market prove a female target demographic, with the rise of reusable pads and menstrual cups, for a plastic-free period, sustainable cosmetics and personal grooming products in glass and aluminium containers and even apparel becoming more available in natural, eco-friendly materials.
But where does toxic masculinity come in?
There is evidence to suggest that femininity and “greenness” have come to be cognitively linked, by men and women, making it a “turn off” amongst men for doing their bit for the environment.
A study found that men could be disinclined to carry a reusable shopping bag – or recycle, or any environmentally friendly activity that had been gendered as feminine – for fear of being perceived as gay or effeminate. Similar concerns have been found to contribute to men’s reluctance to adopt vegetarian or vegan diets. Another study found that “men may be motivated to avoid or even oppose green behaviours in order to safeguard their gender identity” and that their participation in environmental action could be encouraged by weakening the association between femininity and sustainability, such as “by using masculine rather than conventional green branding”.
If we’ve reached a point where men believe that appearing “gay” is somehow worse than not saving the planet, then who can blame us when we say that toxic masculinity is literally killing the planet? The answer to the issue at hand is multilayered and complex.
Things to remember to combat toxic masculinity and save the planet
- A more equitable split of household responsibilities and domestic chores: the more we get men involved and accountable for their houses, the more “green choices” won’t just be marketed towards women.
- Gender neutral branding and marketing: things like recycling and going plastic free a have nothing to do with gender and brands have a huge role to play in getting the other 50% of the population involved in environmentalism
- Sustainability needs to be effectively adopted by all: it is not a revenue stream, it’s a universal necessity to ensure humankind's continued existence on Earth. It’s not a way to sell more product or an indication of gender identity.
A tote bag and a vegan alternative is not going to intrinsically change a person’s entire personality, identity or orientation, nor is it going to save the world in one fell swoop. But it is a step in the right direction. There is no space in this overheated world for a gendered approach to climate action.
Brough, A. R., Wilkie, J. E., Ma, J., Isaac, M. S., & Gal, D. (2016). Is eco-friendly unmanly? the green-feminine stereotype and its effect on sustainable consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 43(4), 567–582. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucw044
Swim, J.K., Gillis, A.J. & Hamaty, K.J. Gender Bending and Gender Conformity: The Social Consequences of Engaging in Feminine and Masculine Pro-Environmental Behaviors. Sex Roles 82, 363–385 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01061-9