Green+Woman=Wussy; Green+Man=Technology?

too many men

I’m not the only one who’s noticed that men are taking over the environmental discussion. An eco-event in Bryant Park in New York City tomorrow is just one example that recently crossed my desk. There will be five speakers and not one woman! If there was a panel of five women, and no men, would people see it as a ‘woman’s event’? I think so. So why does this get to be an eco-discussion and not a men’s roundtable on the environment?

A great piece over at Grist questions whether the ‘new’ environmentalism isn’t just all about making ‘green’ more appealing to men, since women are already on the bandwagon, and most importantly, what that means for how we make changes in the future.

“[Thomas Friedman] wrote that America should redefine green to make it more “muscular” and transform its characterization by opponents as “sissy,” “girlie-man,” and “vaguely French.” Elsewhere, he has summed it up this way: “Green isn’t some ‘wussy’ tree-hugging thing. Green is patriotic. Green is strategic. Green is the new red, white, and blue.” Wussy being derogatory slang for “especially unmanly,” consider Friedman’s view to be the opposite. Call it “manly green.”

Do we need ‘manly green’ to keep environmental discussions on the table as a serious issue? Why are women’s issues (typically thought of as healthcare, reproductive rights, education, the environment) always pigeon-holed as such? I mean, doesn’t everyone go to school, get sick, decide to have kids or not, and breathe air and drink water? Why are these issues feminized? And relegated to second-class status because of it?

Surveys — from sources including the Yale School of Forestry, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and American National Election Studies — consistently show that women feel a stronger connection to the environment than men do:

-Women are up to 15 percent more likely than men to rate the environment a high priority.
-Women comprise up to two-thirds of voters who cast their ballots around environmental issues.
-Women are more likely than men to volunteer for and give money to environmental causes, especially related to public health.
-Women report both more support for environmental activists and more concern that government isn’t doing enough.
-Women support increased government spending for the environment, while men favor spending cuts.

Polls also show that about 68 percent of American consumers have gone green, preferring health-conscious and environmentally responsible products. Since 90 percent of women identify themselves as the primary shoppers for their households, and women sign 80 percent of all personal checks, it’s safe to say that women are leading a quiet revolution in green consumerism.

These trends suggest more than simply stronger support for the environment — they reveal a completely different attitude about it. Prevailing masculine views see environmentalism in terms of energy independence, as a political or military tactic. In the speech quoted above, President Bush pointed to alternative fuels such as hydrogen as a way for America to wean itself off foreign oil. A few years earlier, the CIA called the environment “the national-security issue of the early 21st century” and “the core foreign-policy challenge from which most others will ultimately emanate.”

If making the environment more of a manly issue means relying on technology, how does that impact what decisions are made and what to focus on? Instead of relying on innovation to solve our problems, what about the more prosaic ideas of cutting down on consumption, recycling, and conservation? Are those too girly? Not exciting enough? I think this argument takes a lot of liberties about what is ‘male’ and what is ‘female’; the writers are making pretty huge generalizations here. I think in the end, whether and idea is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ is irrelevant, but I hate to see one sex dominating the discussion and having a bigger voice on any subject as important as the future of the environmental movement.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.