Men may avoid reusable shopping bags because it ‘looks gay’

Even when it comes to looking after the planet and the environment we are influenced by gender and sexual stereotypes, claims a new study.

Researchers at Penn State University in the US say that pro-environmental behaviours that are seen as “feminine” or “masculine” may affect people’s perceptions and actions.

The study, published in the journal Sex Roles, found that men and women were more likely to question a man’s sexual orientation if he engaged in “feminine” pro-environmental behaviours, 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 behaviours, such as sealing windows. Additionally, men were more likely to avoid women who were interested in “masculine” pro-environmental behaviours.

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

“There may be subtle, gender-related consequences when we engage in various pro-environmental behaviours,” Swim said. “People may avoid certain behaviours because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them. Or they may be avoided if the behaviours 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 behaviours can align with traditional feminine or masculine roles.

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

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

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

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