It's Time to Take Politics out of the Environment

My first impression upon seeing Trump’s disposable MAGA straws for sale was sheer exhaustion. I’m used to disagreeing with the President ideologically on just about everything, yet seeing the words, “Liberal Paper straws don’t work,” on his merch site still took me aback. Was this really another battle the conservatives were willing to fight? What makes environmentally-friendly straws the enemy?

Trump’s supporters were quick to snatch them up at a price of $15.00 for a pack of ten. The straws likely lasted them about ten beverages, and currently populate our landfills and waterways. What at first might seem like a light-hearted publicity stunt on behalf of the President’s reelection campaign actually has a greater, more concerning cultural context.

It’s no surprise that reusable straws are considered liberal. The democratic party is seen as a supporter of environmental protection, while many representatives of the republican party are reluctant to even admit that climate change is real. What’s surprising is why environmentalism makes people so angry, particularly those who identify as right-leaning.

In my opinion, it’s because environmentalism is not only conflated with liberalism, but also femininity and PC culture. For those resistant to change and progress, It’s seen as yet another attack on people’s old ways of life. The same people who become upset by having to learn new terminology thanks to political correctness are also averse to changing their lifestyle in order to be more environmentally conscious.

Thus, cognitive dissonance arises, and these people must produce a rationale for why they refuse to take any eco-friendly initiative. Climate change denialism is a response to threat: the threat to life as we know it and the threat of a changed lifestyle. Those who hold these beliefs either flat out deny scientific evidence of global warming or subscribe to marginally supported theories of a natural global warming and cooling cycle unaffected by humans.

When these people lash out against environmental advocates such as Greta Thunberg, the rhetoric surrounding these conversations is telling of a nationwide issue with toxic masculinity. Greta is oftentimes aggressively attacked and labeled, among other terms, hysterical, mentally ill, and emotional. Her views are oftentimes dismissed by the rationale that she is, “just a teenage girl.” Many of these insults are straight out of the old misogynists’ playbook: labels ascribed to women to silence them, particularly those who are outspoken.    

Aside from Thunberg, the conversation surrounding environmentalism is gendered in many other aspects. Vegans are frequently, “trolled,” on the internet by men who heavily associate meat-eating with masculinity. The trope of the feminine man who drives a Prius is a demonstration of male disdain towards electric and hybrid vehicles. 

A research study conducted by professors specializing in consumer behavior found that women, “litter less, recycle more, and leave a smaller carbon footprint,” and that this trend can be attributed to the fact that, “men and women judged eco-friendly products, behaviors, and consumers as more feminine than their non-green counterparts.” Some of the supporting evidence includes a survey where men judged a consumer as more feminine when using a reusable bag rather than a plastic one. Additionally, when participants recalled a time when they did something good for the environment they self-assessed themselves as being more feminine than when they remembered themselves doing something detrimental to the environment.

Thus, the popularity of Trump’s mainly useless straws among his supporters is not that surprising. Rejecting the movement towards reusable straws is not only an attack on the democratic party’s environmental agenda, but it is also a rebellion against (perceived) feminization. This is an issue deeply rooted in misogyny and toxic masculinity.

For Trump voters, in particular, gender roles are something to be preserved rather than broken. A University of Michigan study found that 47% of white female Trump voters believed that it’s better, “for the family as a whole if the man works outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” Therefore, a man engaging in environmentally friendly “feminine” behavior is something to be shamed for, not only because it rejects the conservative idea that climate change is not a threat, but also because it deteriorates the difference in behavior between the genders.

There is nothing inherently gendered about being kind to the planet that sustains us all. These misconceptions surrounding environmentally friendly behavior have to be fought if any progress is to take place. We cannot allow campaigns that promote wastefulness and environmental harms, such as the MAGA straws, to thrive while the state of the environment continues to worsen.

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Julia Swiatek