By Nick Gutkin
It’s no news that in many Western countries, industries exist that are traditionally dominated by men (manufacturing, extraction, finances) while others are traditionally dominated by women (healthcare, customer service, teaching). These gender roles have been the source of much discussion and disagreement, but the fact remains: industries and occupations that involve more caring, nurturing, and community-oriented thinking and action are more commonly staffed by women. Meanwhile, industries involving exploitation, rugged individualism, and financial domination are largely male jobs. This difference even extends to caring about the environment and maintaining ethical, conscious habits. Even caring about climate change seems to be something women are more involved in than men.
As a man both studying and working in sustainability, it’s a pattern I’ve personally noticed as well. Both in university classes and organisations that focus on sustainability, the overwhelming majority of people tend to be female. These trends in education and employment are also parallel to similar trends for consumption, with many reports having shown women to be more environmentally conscious in their purchasing decisions and habits – decisions that men seem to think make them more effeminate. And while closing the gender gap in many industries and especially in developing countries requires increasing both women’s pay and their participation to ensure sustainable development, when it comes to the field of sustainability itself, we need to bring men into the conversation. This is because climate change, biodiversity crises and the myriad other issues threatening the world today do not care about gender. The threats we face care not about what is “seen as effeminate” – they will affect us all, and together we will face the pain and suffering yet to come.
But why do men seemingly not care about environmental concerns?
Historically it has been male-led industries that have done the most damage to the world, whether it be through war, natural resource extraction, capitalist financing, or various forms of exploitation. Whether this is due to lack of opportunities for women in those industries, societal gender constructs, or biological differences is certainly up for debate. However, cultures and societies that have incorporated female perspectives into their governance and decision-making have also taken more holistic, relational, and sensitive approaches to the surrounding ecology and health of the environment. The Anishinaabe tribe indigenous to Canada traditionally had a Women’s Circle – a committee of women tasked with decisions that affected the future of the tribe. In fact, women’s active participation and knowledge are key in many indigenous cultures, especially concerning sustainable natural resource use. Even today, many of the most progressive environmental policies are proposed by women – just look at Jacinda Ardern or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for excellent examples of female environmental leadership.
It’s clear then, that in the raging battle for our planet’s future, women are leading the charge. And while we need more men to care about the environment and join this battle, this is not to say we need more male perspective. Rather, in this situation men must learn from women, and adapt their ways of thinking to incorporate more holistic and healthy ideas. Whether it be through nature or nurture, women do have more experience and knowledge to share when it comes to care and support. We shouldn’t shy away from that fact. Rather we should embrace it and use it to improve our own perceptions of the world, and to be better in all that we do. If we as men refuse to do so, choosing instead to ignore the glaring issues ahead, we all collectively face dangerous times as our biosphere degrades, ecosystems crash, and climate-driven disasters wreak havoc on our nations.
As somebody who is deeply embedded in the world of sustainability, it shocks me that men (myself included) can often be quite ignorant regarding the ways in which we have an impact on the world around us. It may well be due to the advertising industry’s efforts that men are groomed into having a rugged, individualistic worldview, and throwing any environmental caution to the wind. But it certainly is not the way we have to be. Men can be caring and nurturing. We can learn and apply behaviours to take care of our world just as well as women do. We need to let go of the social pressure to earn money at the expense of everything else and do away with the rugged stereotypes pushed by advertising companies to define our masculinity (though this is changing). Of course, men are more complex than that. Deep down, we all want to see our families and friends thriving in a safe, healthy, and well cared-for environment. We all have those sentiments deep down, but we must overcome the societal pressures to emancipate ourselves from our own gender roles to really start making a difference.
The reality is that we cannot have an intersectional, popular movement towards environmentalism and sustainability if only half of the population cares about it. Just like the most powerful civil rights movements were successful due to their having motivated ethnic majorities to action, and gender rights movements mobilise men and cisgender folk to their cause in order to see success. So too must we now mobilise men into caring about this planet that we all share. Men need to consider their personal habits, fight for the environment, and most importantly, uphold women as leaders of this movement. We need to increase women’s representation in politics and STEM fields, so that women have access to more decision-making roles. And, most importantly, men need to listen to these women. Men need to shift their thinking away from individualistic, exploitation-driven attitudes and towards caring about the health and wellbeing of our planet.
Only by getting men to care about our world can we truly come together to build a strong and unified movement to fight for the future of our children and our planet.