New Study Reveals Effects of Gender Stereotypes on Environmental Consciousness

Gender stereotypes may be preventing straight men from being environmentally conscious, according to a new study from Pennsylvania State University.

The 960 participants in the study were asked to assess whether a fictional character’s actions were “feminine” or “masculine” and then went to guess what the character’s sexual orientation might be.

Researchers found that certain attempts to be more environmentally conscious, like using reusable bag at the grocery store, were labelled a “feminine” act by the study participants. Both male and female participants were more likely to be uncertain of a man’s sexuality if he was to participate in more gender-nonconforming actions like these.

On the flip side, other displays of environmental friendliness, like caulking windows, were labelled “masculine” by subjects, and they also would question a woman’s sexuality if she took part in these actions. Men were also found more likely to avoid women who showed “masculine” environmental traits.

“People may avoid certain behaviors because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them,” said Janet K. Swim, the psychologist who led the study. “Or they may be avoided if the behaviors they choose do not match their gender.”

While participants didn’t explicitly say people that didn’t conform to these stereotypes were gay or lesbian, Swim concluded that men who prioritize appearing heterosexual may avoid “feminine” environmental actions like using reusable bags.

“If being seen as heterosexual is important to a person, that person may prioritize gender-conforming over gender-nonconforming pro-environment behaviors in anticipation of how others might see them.”