Petro-Masculinity: The Link Between Fossil Fuel Consumption and Toxic Masculinity

Kate Fraser - Teen Aspect - September 1st, 2022
 

Every teenager looks forward to getting their license. It’s a momentous milestone, a symbol of freedom. Some teenagers are lucky to get their very own car. In my high school parking lot, there’s the occasional Honda Civic or Subaru. Nonetheless, the vehicles that are known for their reliability are outnumbered by trucks. Their presence is rather overwhelming all over my town; incredibly large, decked-out F-150s or Colorado's spewing out thick clouds of exhaust. And their owners are almost always men or teenage boys.


I had always believed that this large truck culture was centralized to my South Florida town. After all, we are considered the cowboy town of the region.

I held this misconception up until watching a lecture by my Geography professor at the University of Vermont Summer Academy. Uncovering a series of complex socio-ecological issues, I heard my professor say the term “petro-masculinity.” This word immediately clicked for me. It matched the prominent truck culture in my town, with the overwhelmingly large male truck-driving population. I have seen this term play out everywhere. As I listen to music in my compact sedan, a massive pick-up truck pulls up right next to me, asserting dominance with its excessive noise, horsepower, and height.


However, as my professor continued, I realized that truck culture is not the only thing that goes into the term “petro-masculinity.”

Fossil fuels have been beneficial to investors for years, providing benefits that go beyond fiscal and economic gains. There are underlying societal implications and ties that have complicated efforts to move towards renewable forms of energy due to consistent climate denialism. Cara Daggett, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech, has worked on much of the academia that surrounds feminist political ecology. She coined the term “petro-masculinity” in a journal article published in Millenium: Journal of International Studies. Daggett goes on to explain that by analyzing petro-masculinity, we become aware of “those perilous moments when challenges to fossil-fuelled systems, and more broadly to fossil-soaked lifestyles, become interpreted as challenges to white patriarchal rule.” (i) In other words, much of the pushback that seems to immediately follow massive climate action proposals results from the fact that white men are usually beneficiaries of the fossil fuel industry. This challenge to their dominance drives much of the climate denialism we see in conservative white men today. For context, per a polling data analysis conducted by Aaron McCright, a Michigan State sociology professor, 29.6% of conservative white males believe that the projected impacts of global warming will never happen.


This is a relatively high number when comparing it to only 7.4% of other adults who hold the same belief (ii).


Additionally, within the journal article, Daggett recognizes the influence of the Trump Administration in the portrayal of masculinity tied to fossil fuels. Former President Trump’s MAGA mission paid respect to the mid-20th century traditional American life and family. Patriarchal structures of the time were upheld by the growing continuous supply of cheap fossil fuels. Basically, the American dream was driven by a cheap energy supply. Consequently, the American dream is simultaneously driven by male hegemony and toxic masculinity. Daggett explains that “extracting and burning fuel was a practice of white masculinity.” Because fossil fuels contribute to much of the authoritism we see today, any threats to such a power dynamic are similar to the threats we can identify towards masculinity.


Take the example of the American recession in 2008. Thousands of men lost their jobs, knocking them out of the usual breadwinner position. This challenge to authority can foster a sense of non-masculinity and weakness, often leading to violent or toxic displays of behavior to make up for this loss of power. And, we have seen this same phenomenon within efforts to limit our reliance on fossil fuels.


Circling back to Former President Donald Trump, he was a huge advocate for the coal industry. I believe he is the epitome of petro-masculinity in this domain. After rolling back the Clean Power Plan, he celebrated with coal miners instead of addressing what this meant for climate policy or pollution in the future (iii). “Trump Digs Coal” signs were held high at his several campaign rallies, symbolizing his prioritization of traditional means of energy, despite necessary efforts towards sustainable solutions.


Speaking of rallies, Trump supporters mirrored the former President’s love for non-renewables. Gas-guzzling trucks filled highways across the country, with Trump flags waving on the pick-up beds during the divisive presidential election. I still see this in my town: massive trucks “rolling coal” as blue and red Trump flags wave in the air behind them.


Outside of the conversation of fossil fuels, many men with misogynist tendencies view environmentalism as a feminine virtue. In fact, according to Penn State University research, men avoid environmentally friendly activities as they fear it may challenge their heterosexual identity (iv). Yes, a man will most likely reject a reusable shopping bag out of fear of being perceived as feminine.


As a teenage girl pursuing environmental science, I have consistently felt belittled and babied for my career interest. This can be tied to the societal connection between the “feminine” trait of nurturing. Some people naturally draw lines between caring for the Earth and a mother caring for her child.


When men are able to break out of this toxic mindset of challenged masculinity related to environmentalism, that is when we will start to see real change when it comes to climate policy. Until now, we will continue to see the male demographic “roll coal” and defy the rule of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”


References

i Daggett, C. (2018). Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and authoritarian desire. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 47(1), 25–44. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829818775817

ii McCright, A. M., & Dunlap, R. E. (2011). Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change, 21(4), 1163–1172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.06.003

iii Grunwald, M. (2017, October 15). Trump's love affair with coal. POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/10/15/trumps-love-affair-with-coal 215710/

iv Brough, A. R. (2017, December 26). Men Resist Green Behavior as unmanly. Scientific American. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/men-resist-green-behavior-as-unmanly/


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