It is becoming increasingly recognized that climate change affects men and women in different ways. Women are often seen as the most vulnerable and climate efforts are directed at them. But it is important to see that men and masculinity are also strongly affected by climate change, thinks Ellen Söderström, who has written an essay on the subject.
Gender is a vital part of sustainable climate work. Based on traditional gender roles, women are particularly vulnerable to an unreliable climate. Identified as “the poorest of the poor”, women in developing countries often become the target group for climate initiatives when a gender perspective is included. But women are only one side of gender. A perspective that is relatively invisible in the debate is men's, and how men, based on their gender roles, are affected by climate change.
Men are often associated with the concept of masculinity. The male gender norm legitimizes male dominance and subordinate women and is often described as hegemonic masculinity.
The question I asked myself when I was going to write mine bachelor's thesis where: how are men affected by climate change, and what is the connection between the effect of climate change on men and hegemonic masculinity? The result was telling to say the least - masculinity is an important aspect in understanding how climate change affects both men and women.
Men should be brave and invulnerable
In societies where patriarchal structures govern, the male gender norm often consists of attitudes and behaviors that mean that men should be brave, tough, adventurous and invulnerable. The norm also consists of gender-specific areas of responsibility in the home, where men are responsible for household income, while women are instead more tied to unpaid household work. It is a division that allows men to control resources, power and influence. Sociologists Margaret Alston and Jenny Kent write: "While in good times this hegemonic position provides men with power, privilege and prosperity, in difficult times it serves to restrain them".
In societies that have a close relationship with nature, changes in climate can mean that the source of income is drastically reduced or completely eliminated. As a result, men can no longer support their families, and women must take increasing responsibility for household finances. The hegemonic masculinity that has previously legitimized men's dominance over women is being challenged by drought, melting ice and rising sea levels as men become dependent on women's income.
In this way, opportunities are created for women to become economic actors to a greater extent, which strengthens their role in society. Gender roles in the home are being challenged, which from a gender equality perspective can be seen as something positive, "women empowerment", feminists rejoice! Unfortunately, empirical research does not always support this positive development. If masculine structures, behaviors and attitudes are not taken into account, climate change can also have the opposite effect on gender equality.
Loses its masculinity
A study of Inuit communities in Greenland shows that hunters who can no longer hunt due to melting ice not only lose their income, but also their masculine identity. To alleviate the feelings of powerlessness and stress that come with unemployment, it is common for them to resort to alcohol. This in turn has led to increased domestic violence.
In Australia, longer periods of drought have led to more and more men turning to alcohol and in some cases even taking their own lives because they cannot cope with the stress of losing their resources. In cases from South Africa, attention is drawn to the fact that men's ways of dealing with unemployment that climate change brings with it are through alcohol abuse and having unprotected sex.
In Peru, too, the inability of men (read machismo culture) to seek help has attracted attention in connection with climate change. The changing sea climate has limited access to fish, leading to increased unemployment among fishermen along the coast of Peru. Fishermen become dependent on their wives' income, which strongly threatens the culture of male dominance that in Latin America is called machismo. Violence is used to maintain their masculine identity, as if to indicate that men still have power over women, to indicate that men are strong and invulnerable. Because the masculine norm means that men must be invulnerable, they are limited in their ability to seek help from outside.
There is no debate about men and climate change
What I want to highlight is that there is a big gap in research on climate change that is now part of everyone's reality. Today, the climate issue is not just about how we limit climate impact, now it is also about how we must adapt to new conditions. Men and women are affected and adapt in different ways to climate change. The connections I have found between men, masculinity and climate change can be summarized in four points: changing gender roles, mental illness, alcohol abuse and violence against women. I really urge the debate to confirm or disprove that climate action is starting to include men in gender equality work and, in general, that masculinities are being raised in the climate debate.
To focus only on women would be to, in the wake of climate change, miss an opportunity to challenge the patriarchal structures that oppress women and men around the world. The time for climate change is here, whether we like it or not, and not seizing the opportunity to make it a time for equality would be a big mistake in the work for a sustainable future.