from isabelle: something timely
Masculinity with the Climate Crisis and Dorothea Lange
This week I have more of an essay type piece on the connection between gender and the environment and how the masculine identity is threatened by the climate crisis. I also have a review of sorts on the Dorothea Lange exhibit at MoMA.
Emanating feminine energy this week. Enjoy and much love.
Why the Male-Dominated Geopolitical World Can’t Move Forward With the Climate Crisis
Despite the universal context of the climate crisis, caring about the environment is seen as a feminine act, boy-cried wolf scenario, and threat to masculinity. The link between the environment and gender dates back to the origins of the term mother nature. The word nature itself comes from the Latin word “natura,” which means birth. Nature was and still is viewed as life-giving and nurturing, taking the role of the mother. While this feminine idea of nature has a positive connotation, it has negatively affected opinions on climate change. In the male-dominated geopolitical world, the climate crisis is viewed as a threat to masculine identity.
Modern definitions of gender shed light on its relation to the environment. As discussed by Jack Halberstam, a prominent author and professor who focuses on women, gender, and sexuality, “gender is understood as a marker of social difference, a bodily performance of normatively and the challenges made to it… it also names a primary mode of oppression that sorts human bodies into binary categories in order to assign labor, responsibilities, moral attributes, and emotional styles.” Male, the sex role, and a masculinity, the social role, are used in this form and contextualization of gender to oppress women and gain control. Because the environment is also seen as feminine, the same logic applies. Men with a toxic masculine power complex additionally see the environment as something to control, oppress, and use to their own benefit regardless of the consequences.
With the rising threat of Armageddon, the apocalypse, the inevitable demise of the human race, or whatever you want to refer to it as, the climate crisis is now a global issue and topic of discussion. Despite all of the hard scientific evidence, the far-right still denies any notion that climate change even exists. Those who do believe it exists— which is not even the correct language to use when discussing the topic because one can not believe in science, science is fact— are unwilling to put aside their personal agendas to act and advocate for legislation. Complicating the matter even further are the feminine connotations caring for the environment and even social justice has. Not to be misunderstood, the femininity of nature, mother nature, is not a bad thing. Nature in its power should be regarded as feminine on some positive level, especially since virtually everything else has a masculine identity. What is troubling about this feminine connotation is how this femininity translates into a male dominated economic society where the environment is seen as something to abuse and profit on.
In The Misogyny of Climate Deniers, Martin Gelin identifies how the masculine far-right is threatened by climate change because it challenges their frail sense of identity. “In 2014, Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman of Chalmers published a paper analyzing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics. The common themes in the group, they said, were striking: ‘for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.’” Society as it has been functioning since the dawn of time, has been run by men, unfortunately. Basically, the fact that something they built is falling apart, that on some level it is their fault, and that saving the planet would disrupt their lives— and finances— completely, means masculinity is threatened by climate change. Masculinity is then defined by the sense of group identity under threat and being united by a common enemy, whether it be climate change or feminism. As Gelin states, “male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another.”
In an interview with Anne-Sophie Brändlin for Deutsche Welle, Martin Hultman referred to this form of masculinity as “industrial breadwinner masculinity”. “They see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It's a risk perception that doesn't think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment.” Through “industrial breadwinner masculinity,” strong man politicians have justified the destruction of the environment in the name of economic progress.
Another opposition to the climate crisis is that skeptics see climate action and science as feminine. This should not be an opposition, yet, the female connotation of caring about the environment is in actuality limiting male involvement with the movement. This notion of climate change as feminine originates from the concept of mother nature. As discussed by Aaron R. Brough and James E.B. Wilkie, research published in 2017 contained an experiment where, “participants of both sexes described an individual who brought a reusable canvas bag to the grocery store as more feminine than someone who used a plastic bag—regardless of whether the shopper was a male or female.” The simple notion of bringing a reusable bag is regarded by someone as feminine. This issue is not about how companies are branding environmentally friendly products, but how fragile the masculine identity is that something as minute as a reusable bag can disrupt the entire male psyche.
With the current danger of COVID-19, social distancing, and self quarantine, there are good things and bad things with how the virus will affect the climate crisis. The upside: there have been tremendous improvements in air quality, less greenhouse gas emissions, and overall less pollution. The downside: the climate crisis has now been put on the back-burner of global issues that need to be dealt with immediately. The urgency of the climate crisis is comparable to that of COVID-19. Yes, the virus has led to thousands of deaths and the toll will continue to add up but the climate crisis will lead to the death of Earth as we know it. The virus is something that we can and will move past while the climate crisis is the actual END. Admitting that climate change exists is admitting that the far-right is wrong. The question is, are they willing to die for their beliefs, because we all will when the world ends. At this moment in time the climate crisis is facing opposition from the “industrial breadwinner masculine identity” and how to make its voice heard in the wake of COVID-19.
The sad truth of it all: in the male-dominated geopolitical world, the climate crisis is viewed as a threat to masculine identity and it will remain on the back-burner until it's too late.
Something you should see
Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures
This week's recommendation/review per say: Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
While none of you are traveling right now or possibly not even in New York to see it, I recommend looking into Lange’s work and hopefully catching the exhibit which is at MoMa through May 9th.
Dorothea Lange was a photojournalist before the concept existed. As an activist and documentarian, she traveled all over the US photographing hardships and injustices. Her work influenced great change and allowed stories of those suffering to be heard.
Even if you did not know her name till now, you probably know her most famous photograph: Migrant Mother.
Depicting a mother and her two children during the Great Depression, “Migrant Mother,” captured in March 1936, has been published widely in many different forms with different captions alluding to who the woman was. Lange, at the time, had been hired by Farm Security Administration to capture photos of those suffering from the Great Depression in order to justify Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The identity of the woman was not revealed until 1978. Her name was Florence Owens Thompson, a peach-picker in California of Cherokee descent. This fact bears the question of: would the image have been used differently if the world knew she was Native American.
Just want to state that I don’t mean to step on anyones toes or downplay the threat of COVID-19 at all. As always I want to bring up the climate crisis and highlight issues relating to it. I am incredibly scared and worried about the virus but happy that efforts to tackle it have had an incredibly positive effect on the environment. Just making the piece more timely is all.
Please STAY INSIDE, stay safe and stay healthy.
Love and best wishes,
photo by Hannah Leahy