How we care for the environment may have social consequences

July 30, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Anyone can express their commitment to the environment through individual efforts, but some pro-environmental or "green" behaviors may be seen as either feminine or masculine, which Penn State researchers say may have social consequences.

In a series of studies, the researchers evaluated specific pro-environmental behaviors that previous research suggested were seen as either "feminine" or "masculine" and examined whether they affected how people were perceived.

They found that men and women were more likely to question a man's sexual orientation if he engaged in "feminine" pro-environmental behaviors, such as using reusable shopping bags. They were also more likely to question a woman's sexual orientation if she engaged in "masculine" pro-environmental behaviors, such as caulking windows.

Additionally, men were more likely to avoid women who were interested in "masculine" pro-environmental behaviors.

Janet K. Swim, professor of psychology, said it is important to understand these social consequences because they may hold people back from engaging in behaviors that could ultimately help the environment.

"There may be subtle, gender-related consequences when we engage in various pro-environmental behaviors," Swim said. "People may avoid certain behaviors because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them. Or they may be avoided if the behaviors they choose do not match their gender."

According to the researchers, environmentalism in general may be seen as feminine because it fits in with women's traditional role as caregivers. Yet, particular pro-environmental behaviors can align with traditional feminine or masculine roles.

"Behaviors don't just help us accomplish something concrete, they also signal something about who we are," Swim said. "Line drying clothes or keeping tires at proper pressures may signal that we care about the environment, but if those behaviors are seen as gendered, they may signal other things, as well."

In three studies with a total of 960 participants, the researchers assessed impressions and avoidance of men and women engaging in "feminine" and "masculine" behaviors.

During the first two studies, participants read fictional summaries of a person's daily activities, which included either feminine, masculine or neutral pro-environmental behaviors. Participants then rated whether the person had masculine or feminine traits and guessed what the person's sexual orientation might be.

"Reflecting the tendency to see environmentalism as feminine, all the people were rated as more feminine than masculine regardless of the behaviors they did," Swim said. She also noted that the tendency was strongest when either women or men engaged in feminine behaviors.

The researchers found that participants whose behaviors conformed to their gender were seen as more heterosexual than those whose behaviors did not conform to their gender, which may suggest participants were using traditional gender roles as clues to sexual identity.

Additionally, the researchers indicated that while participants did not view the nonconformists as gay or lesbian, their ratings suggested that on average they were uncertain about whether the person was heterosexual.

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

The researchers did a third study to examine whether people avoided others based on the other person's pro-environmental behavior preferences. In a room with several other people, participants completed a digital survey where they indicted which environmental topics they would like to discuss with a partner.

The participants were then given a list of what they believed to be the topic preferences of four other participants. The list included a woman and a man who preferred discussing gender-conforming behaviors, as well as a woman and a man who preferred gender-nonconforming behaviors. The participants were then asked to rank whom they would prefer to be partnered with in order of preference.

The researchers found that women avoided men more than women, as well as people who were interested in masculine rather than feminine behaviors. According to the researchers, although women's partner preferences showed gender biases, these preferences did not seem to be based on whether other's behaviors conformed to gender roles or not.

In contrast, the researchers found that men were more likely to distance themselves from women engaging in masculine behaviors than any of the other three potential partners. They were equally interested in partnering with women engaging in feminine behaviors and men who engaged in masculine or feminine behaviors.

The researchers said these results suggested that compared to men, women were more likely to experience negative social consequences from men for engaging in non-gender role-conforming pro-environmental behaviors.

"We were surprised that it was only women who experienced being avoided if they engaged in nonconforming gender-role behaviors," Swim said. "We can't say why this is happening, but it is a social consequence. Women may be experiencing this negative feedback and might not know why."

The researchers said that the paper -- recently published in the journal Sex Roles -- underlines the importance of continuing to study gender stereotypes surrounding environmentalism and its associated behaviors. They added that activists and policymakers who are trying to promote pro-environmental behaviors may want to take these pressures to conform to gender roles into account as possible barriers.

In the future, Swim said she and her fellow researchers will continue to study the effects of pro-environmental behaviors, such as whether social repercussions affect whether a person is willing to do a behavior or not.
-end-
Ash J. Gillis, graduate student in psychology at Penn State, and Kaitlynn J. Hamaty, University of Groningen, also participated in this work.

The National Science Foundation helped support this research.

Penn State

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.