According to a number of studies over the last few years, it’s now pretty clear that an Eco Gender Gap exists. But what exactly is it, and what can we do about it?
The Eco Gender Gap
Compared to women, men are less likely to be eco-friendly - whether it’s simply their attitudes, their choices or their behaviour. It’s been shown that men are more likely to litter, are less likely to recycle, and generally have a higher carbon footprint than women; they fly more, drive more, and eat more meat. And on top of this, men actually feel less guilty about living a ‘non-green’ lifestyle.
One recent study of 2,000 Brits found that females (64%) are more likely than men (58%) to turn down or switch off the heating when they are not at home, while 77% of the women surveyed said they recycle all the time, while this was true for only 67% of them. The study also found that only 30% of British men try to use less water compared to 38% of women.
It was previously thought that this gender gap was simply down to personality differences between the sexes, with women inherently being more caring and closer to nature. However, more recently, studies have shown that both men and women associate green behaviour with femininity - something that most men try to avoid. As a result of this stereotype, men appear to be avoiding and opposing green behaviors in order to safeguard their gender identity. In fact, one of the most recent studies into this area found that men even avoid choosing a vegetarian meal on a menu for fear of being ridiculed...
With men avoiding behaviour that could potentially undermine their masculinity, the association between femininity and green behaviour proves problematic, particularly given the urgency and scale at which we need to act.
However, what many of these studies also found was that men were more likely to engage in environmentally friendly behaviours if they had previously had their masculinity affirmed beforehand. One study found that while men typically prefer green products less than women, affirming their masculinity could actually increase their preference for green products to be similar to that of women. And, unlike men, women’s preferences for green products were unaffected by gender-affirmation.
So what exactly does this mean?
In practice, this essentially means that women are unlikely to be affected by a product’s branding if it’s seen as ‘masculine’, whilst the same cannot be said for men and ‘feminine’ products. So if men will only buy green products targeted at men, or undertake green behaviour if they’re already feeling particularly ‘macho’, does this now mean that all branding of green goods should be typically ‘masculine?’
In a wider sense, this isn’t just about branding and masculinity - this is about gender equality. Ultimately, women see no problem with appearing ‘male’ - whilst men appear to actively avoid any type of behaviour associated with femininity.
What these studies also expose is the extent of the toxic masculinity present in our society. Men are so afraid of being branded as feminine that it is significantly influencing their purchasing decisions - even affecting their diet, regardless of whether changes have been advised for their health. In fact, research has shown that men actively avoided a product named the “ladies’ cut steak” due to its feminine connotations, particularly when the product was to be consumed in public. Even more still, individuals even showed differences in the way that they prepare for hurricanes depending on whether the name is masculine or feminine.
So of course, we can conclude that changing the branding, the name or the image of the environmental movement would be a good course of action, to help make men feel more secure in their actions and behaviours. But we also need to go one step further, and ensure that men stop having a problem with being seen as ‘feminine’ - or indeed ‘sensitive’ or ‘caring’. If we are to transition to a truly sustainable world, we need gender equality, and we need it now.
This is why, as well as having typically ‘masculine’ branding, we’re also working with ethical manufacturers Freeset (who make our everyday and weekend bags), who provide employment to women previously trapped in India’s sex trade. As a brand, we’re committed to using our profits and supply chain as a force of good, to not only help consumers cut down on plastic, but to help emancipate women and girls all over the world.
Whilst changing branding and the image of the environmental movement is not a long term solution, in the short term it is perhaps necessary given the urgency at which we need to act. Gender equality won’t happen overnight, but we can all play our part in the way that we act, by showing men that being “feminine” is a positive thing.