In their 1997 classic film Orgazmo, Matt Stone and Trey Parker ask an eternal question within the movie’s theme song: “What makes a man, is it the power in his hands? Is it his quest for glory?” The track goes on to ask more anatomically oriented inquiries, but the initial thrust remains — what makes a man?
Traditionally, masculine roles — today epitomized by the “alpha male” archetype — have to do with dominating social situations, getting lots of action with the ladies, making buttloads of money, and dying earlier than those weak-willed women. You know what it doesn’t include? Being very concerned about the Earth or recycling. As the eternally insightful Pacific Standard reporter Tom Jacobs points out, “mulching isn’t manly,” and neither is cutting back on the steaks or taking the bus. All together, according to a study he just wrote up, taking care of Mother Earth has a nurturing, feminine aspect to it. In order to preserve a macho self image, guys avoid green behaviors.
With that in mind, the research team — led by Aaron Brough of Utah State University — did four studies of interventions to suss out what makes bros go green. In one with 472 participants, a group of the participants got a faux analysis saying that they definitely “write more like a man than a woman.” Then everybody read about a drain cleaner that was either better at killing grease or better for the environment. And guess what: Dudes who were told their writing was oh-so-manly were more like go green. Then, in another experiment, 322 people were pitched to donate money to an environmental group. Half of people were pitched about “Friends of Nature,” which had a frilly logo and a cute tree as a symbol. The other half were sold on “Wilderness Rangers,” whose symbol was a was a badass wolf. And guess what? The guys were less likely to donate to “Friends of Nature,” and the males and females were equally likely to donate to “Wilderness Rangers,” largely because participants thought that the “Rangers” logo would look more awesome on a T-shirt.
One lesson from this is that wolves are awesome and everyone loves them. The second is that if you want guys to be receptive to environmentalism, you have to put a masculine spin to it. In a way, this isn’t a new insight: Teddy Roosevelt put a rough-riding face to conservation. “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received,” he declared in an 1886 address, “and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” So if we want to make more guys actively take care of the planet, it might help to make conservation badass again.