Men aren’t recycling because they think it looks gay

Photography by Jilbert Ebrahimi

He’s at the front door, a full recycling bag in one hand, whilst his other sweaty hand rests on the latch. After psyching himself up, finally, he musters up the courage to push the door ajar. He looks around, no neighbours in sight, so off he darts down the garden path quickly flinging the bag of plastic bottles and paper into the recycling wheelie bin. “Phew,” he sighs, “I hope nobody thought I was gay!” 

You’re right to think recycling seeming like a “gay” thing makes literally no sense, but a new study claims that one of the reasons men are not recycling is because they are fearful their sexuality will come under question. That’s right: cis, straight men are “no homo-ing” sustainability. Because nothing screams “gay” like helping to save the planet from impending doom. 

The report from Sex Roles, run by Pennsylvania State University psychologist Janet Swim, asked 690 participants to decide which fictional characters playing out eco-friendly scenarios felt “feminine” or “masculine”. The report, which was split into three studies, showed scenarios which included recycling, paying bills online and using reusable bags – these were rated on a 10-point scale from “heterosexual” to “homosexual”. The research suggested that if people did activities that stereotypically “fit” their gender identity, they were seen as more heterosexual. So, some men may avoid doing jobs that they deemed as gender nonconforming. Professor Swim stated, “Reflecting the tendency to see environmentalism as feminine, all the people were rated as more feminine than masculine regardless of the behaviours they did.

“The research suggested that if people did activities that stereotypically ‘fit’ their gender identity, they were seen as more heterosexual. So, some men may avoid doing jobs that they deemed as gender nonconforming”

“There may be subtle, gender-related consequences when we engage in various pro-environmental behaviours. People may avoid certain behaviours because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them. Or they may be avoided if the behaviours they choose do not match their gender.” Sigh. So to paraphrase the study’s results; some aspects of environmentalism, like recycling, are seen as feminine and, if you’re a man recycling, it means you too could appear feminine and gay. 

This report creates more questions than answers. Why are some men still holding onto archaic gender stereotypes around perceived “housework” like recycling? How on earth does environmentalism link to someone’s sexuality? Why is femininity still so demonised? Which bit about recycling is the gay bit? Is death by human-made environmental catastrophe somehow better than appearing “gay”? Make it make sense. 

Sadly, this study is just another example of how toxic masculinity, homophobia, and binaries will literally kill us all. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, but do we even need fish if it means men might feel feminine? As Greenpeace reports, “plastic waste floods into the countries that aren’t prepared to stop it – or manage it”, and those are countries with black and brown people in the Global South, and poorer communities in the Global North. But of course, environmental racism doesn’t come close to being rinsed by the lads for recycling. 

“By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, but do we even need fish if it means men might feel feminine?”

I’m sure these are the same people who only purchase hair dye “for men”, think daddy-daughter “dates” are healthy activities, don’t clean their bums, eat bananas with a fork and can’t muster up the courage to buy their partner’s tampons. Gendering environmentalism is the single most ridiculous thing ever. What must we do now? Dye recycling bags blue? Make reusable bags look like manly rucksacks? The obsession with gendering absolutely anything and everything is getting out of control, just as out of control as plastic pollution. Which, by the way, is getting increasingly worse. Less than a fifth of all plastic globally is recycled, we’re ingesting one credit card worth of plastic per week and plastic takes up to 500 years to decompose, about the same time as some of these men’s egos. 

Yes, the world won’t be sorted out solely from recycling correctly, but needing to perform this warped idea of masculinity, harbouring femmephobia, whilst upholding binary stereotypes is violent and a danger to society. The sooner we spread the good word that gender is a construct, the sooner we can save this planet.

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