How Toxic Masculinity is Destroying the Planet

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You may be familiar with the phrase “toxic masculinity” — it’s the idea that our society has deemed certain traits and behaviors as “masculine,” and that doing so and encouraging men to adhere to that definition can be unhealthy for men, women, or everyone. For instance, we encourage boys to stifle many of their emotions and tell them it’s “girl” (undesirable) to cry, which leads to a whole host of psychological problems for men in later years.

A recent study has shown yet another downside to toxic masculinity and I have to say, it’s really on the nose about the “toxic” bit. Marketing researchers found that toxic masculinity may be to blame for men being way less environmentally friendly compared to women, who are much more likely to recycle, buy “green” products, and not litter.

The researchers conducted several different studies involving more than 2,000 people in America and China. For instance, both male and female test subjects were more likely to consider a person feminine if they brought reusable grocery bags to the store instead of using plastic. They even thought of themselves as more feminine after they were asked to remember a time they did something good for the environment.

These first studies established a link between environmentalism and femininity, so next the researchers tested whether that link was enough to discourage men from being “green” in order to protect their perceived masculinity. The researchers gave men a gift card and asked them to buy a lamp, a backpack, and batteries, all of which had “green” and non-green options. Some of the men were given a regular plain gift card while the other half got a card that threatened their masculinity because it was pink and had flowers on it. And let’s just take a moment to appreciate how fragile masculinity is: a pink card with flowers on it was enough to threaten it.

Sure enough, men who were “threatened” tended to reassert their masculinity by buying the conventional products instead of the “green” products bought by the men with the plain gift card. Yep: a pink gift card was enough to dissuade a man from being environmentally friendly.


I want to be really clear here that when I’m talking about, condemning, or mocking toxic masculinity, I’m not criticizing men. Well, not a particular man. This is our society, and like women, men are raised to believe certain “truths” even when they’re far from true. Men are raised to be tough heroes, just as women are raised to think of themselves as princesses and damsels and that mindset can be impossible to shake even when you know it’s bullshit.

Ideally, the solution to this problem would be to dismantle our society’s expectations of men, raising boys to understand that their feelings are natural and normal, and in no way makes them less “manly.” We’d also teach everyone that being less “manly” isn’t a bad thing anyway, and that there’s nothing wrong with being a woman, or feeling feminine, or wearing a skirt, or wearing makeup, or owning a cat.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen — at least not this century. So until we get there, the solution is to make sure that masculinity isn’t threatened when advertising “green” products or when encouraging men to adopt “green” behaviors.

I learned an interesting fact while reading up on all this, and of all places it came from the Reddit comment section where a user points out that Texas nailed this concept back in the 1980s. The Texas Department of Transportation wanted to reduce littering, and they noted that the biggest litterers were men aged 18 to 35. So they put up signs along the roadways with a brilliant slogan that ended up reducing the total amount of litter by 72% between 1986 and 1990. That slogan? Don’t mess with Texas.

That slogan went on to become so famous that I’ve only been to Texas a few times and I’ve heard of it, but I had no idea about its origins. In fact, it’s still the anti-littering slogan as you can see by visiting dontmesswithtexas.org. By making anti-littering a tough, manly thing to do, Texas was decades ahead of the science. And let’s be honest, how often can you say something like that about Texas? Well done to them!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. I wonder if one of the reasons eco-friendly practices threaten toxic masculinity is because care for the environment is basically a large-scale form of taking care of one’s house? After all, housekeeping and domestic arts are generally associated with women, not men. And perhaps by extension, environmental practices are as well.

    I think maybe the fact that eco-friendly practices have a domestic feel to them, as well as the fact that such practices are the antithesis of things like slaying or other acts that prove “toughness”, are what do this. After all, not all things supported by toxic masculinity are destructive, but none of them are things associated explicitly with home care. Care for the environment is – even the origin of “ecology” indicates that, comes from “oikos” which is Greek for home. But even if one does not know that origin, the domestic associations are pretty obvious, especially since moms or other homemakers tell people to do pretty much the same or similar types of things with one’s house that ecologists say to do for the Earth.

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