Real Men Go Green

 In Feature, Style

Protect the planet while maintaining your machismo


Given the prominence of “green” today in everything from lifestyle choices to political debates, I generally get warm reactions to the work I do when meeting new people. Sure, some disagree with the economic and political underpinnings of environmentalism (or, at least, their perceptions of such), but I can handle that. What still mystifies me a bit, though, is the reaction I get from certain other men.

I tell them I work on environmental issues, and they shuffle just a half-step away—with a slightly fearful look on their faces that says something along the lines of, “Jeez, he’s not going to try to kiss me, is he?”

Yes, environmentalism involves nurturing— call it “touchy-feely” if you will. And while I suppose I could go off on the masculinist, or even homophobic, foundations of such fears, I’ve never found that to win many converts. Still, I’m mystified by this reaction because connection with the natural world, and working to preserve it, have some pretty macho roots.

If visions of a “treehugger” in the form of a hemp-wearing hippie come to mind when you think of “environmentalism,” think again—and try some of these decidedly more manly models on for size.

The hunter: Get up really early, put on camouflage and grab a gun or a bow—if that doesn’t get the testosterone flowing, I don’t know what will! But without wild lands, clean air and water, and healthy ecosystems to support those deer, rabbits or birds, the pickings can be slim on a day’s hunt. Hunting advocacy groups such as Ducks Unlimited put environmental issues at the center of their work, and hunters themselves have become advocates for addressing climate change, air and water pollution and our over-reliance on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals.

The farmer: Wearing a trucker cap while driving a big machine—you’re probably flexing a bit just thinking about it. Whether small-scale and organic, or large-scale and conventional, farmers have to think constantly about the health of their soil and water supplies. Few groups know the results of rampant environmental exploitation better (think of the Dust Bowl), and more farmers now use environmentally-conscious practices like crop rotation, integrated pest management and cover cropping to keep their environmental impact low and their land productive. Local organizations like EarthDance Farms train people in ecologically sensitive farming—and it’s definitely not work for sissies!

The homesteader: Building a home with your own bare hands, growing your own food, producing renewable energy (even vehicle fuel)—these are all skills worthy of Tim Allen-style grunting. The notion of the American pioneer can bring up mixed feelings—the land they settled was taken from others, after all. But their rugged spirit still holds a powerful place in the macho imagination. Modern homesteaders, whether individually or in communities (several of which you can visit in Northeast Missouri), keep it manly and green by growing much of their own food organically, building homes and common buildings with natural and salvaged materials, and harvesting energy almost completely from the sun and wind.

The outsdoorsman: I’ve always used the word kayaker as shorthand for “big, rugged and macho.” You can also substitute rock climber, mountain biker or backpacker, but the effect’s the same: a guy who can get out into nature and engage with it on his own terms doesn’t get those sideways glances that come with the territory of my “environmental work.” Still, he probably wants to protect natural resources as much as any greenie; no one wants a nose full of polluted air while paddling. Groups like the Sierra Club have made their mark by combining enjoyment of the natural world with the desire to protect it.

Of course, you could also just not worry about your masculinity when you’re involved in green activities. You could consider that one of the most manly roles of all, the father, involves caring, nurturing and considerations of long-term health and well-being. You could recognize that there’s nothing macho about getting sick from polluted water or dirty air. But, if you’re still concerned, go green, and then get a pair of hiking or hunting boots to wear out with the guys. I won’t tell.



Real Men Go Green

Real Men Go Green


Photo credit: Illustration by Sarah Quatrano

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