Male tree huggers have a bad rap. The term immediately conjures up images of skinny, peace-loving, dope-smoking hippies/hipsters wearing slightly ratty, tie-dyed Ts, bandanas on foreheads to keep the long hair/man buns at bay, with some semblance of an untrimmed beard. At least that’s what springs to my biased mind. No place for any self-respecting male leader.
This is not surprising. Per an excellent article by Caroline Centeno Milton in Forbes that applies unconscious bias to sustainability efforts, being “eco-anything” is perceived as “feminine” by the public at large, regardless of the gender performing it. Intrinsic to this bias is the patriarchal presumption that anything feminine is of lesser value or importance. “Yeah, you can have your one day out of the year. Go ahead and dance around your freakin’ flowers. On the 23st, it’s back to profits-first.”
Confounding this situation is something called “gender incongruence,” the relatively large punishments incurred on both genders for not meeting cultural norms. Milton continues, “Research suggests that men experience greater psychological damage or face harsher consequences when associated with feminine qualities.” Aside from potentially explaining why my version of male tree huggers is stoned, experience bears this out. My cis male Caucasian, Catholic business partner received death threats on internal voice mail for running one of the first diversity and inclusion programs on Wall Street 20+ years ago.
A similar dynamic is echoed in results generated from a tool called the Stereotype Content Model. It measures how society perceives demographics in terms of Warmth and Competence. High Warmth/High Competence are to be Admired: middle management, middle class, Christians, and some entrepreneurs. Low Warmth/High Competence are groups people tend to Envy: executives, the rich, high net worth entrepreneurs, and Asians and Brits. The Despised, who “exhibit” both Low Warmth and Low Competency, include the unemployed, homeless, and (surprise) many politicians.
Male Allies turn out to be perceived as having High Warmth but Low Competence, which puts us in the same bucket/quadrant that is characterized as folks people Pity: housewives, social workers, and to some degree, teachers.
Well, at least we are perceived as Warm.
Clearly, we have some work to do in changing perceptions, and the stakes, as they apply to the spirit of Earth Day, have become urgent and massive. Climate change means “everything change”: economic droughts, poverty, starvation, migration, political disruption, and eventually war, with death, projected in the millions globally, at every step. Not to mention the occasional flood, roof-ripping storm, and heart-stopping cold spell.
There are signs that this needed change in perceptions of gender roles, acceptance, and dismissing pushback is starting to materialize. Larry Fink’s, founder of Blackrock, the largest asset manager in the world with $6 trillion assets under management, pointed support of Environmental, Social and Governance factors as part of corporations’, and their Boards’, responsibility is a bold move. When Blackrock speaks, the global markets listen.
The movement toward exponentially more sustainable plant-based diets, exemplified by world-class powerlifters, athletes, and warriors, as depicted in the kick-ass movie, Game Changers, which is due for release any month. Paradigm-breaking media campaigns such as the incisive Gillette “Is This The Best a Man Can Get?” ad. The number of amazingly talented women who are running for President, Jay Inslee’s (another presidential candidate) topical prime focus on climate change, and Peter Buttigieg’s startling rise in popularity and donations. Some seriously cool things are happening out there that are rapidly building awareness and platforms for even greater transformation.
All this said, change, of whatever sort, happens at the individual, mental level first. We MUST model our roles as men who aren’t afraid to take on, and publicly display “feminine” qualities as we are the best influencers of our own gender’s actions, starting top down. Men who knowingly accept the psychological and sometimes physical duress of being humans. Men who are true to themselves and understand that protecting and reinvigorating the earth, and everything associated with its health, pales in comparison to whatever flimsy social norms they may need to trample. Men who realize that real power is something that is not bestowed by their balls but emerges from their brains.
So, on this Earth Day, I invite you to join me in hugging the sap out of your favorite tree and uploading your image to your favorite social media channels. #maletreehuggers
internal image: Lawler Kang/League of Allies