Penn State Study: Men Who Recycle Fear Being Called Gay

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An unusual new study from Penn State suggests that straight men avoid recycling due to fear that they may have their heterosexuality questioned by their peers.

A new study by Penn State Psychology Professor Janet K. Swim suggests that American men often avoid engaging in environmentalist acts out of a fear that their peers might assume they are gay.

The study, which was highlighted this week by various news outlets, was titled “Gender Bending and Gender Conformity: The Social Consequences of Engaging in Feminine and Masculine Pro-Environmental Behaviors.” Professor Swim studied the behaviors and attitudes of 960 participants across three separate research sessions before reporting her findings.

Swim argues that men are aware that there are “gender-related consequences” for engaging in acts that protect the environment. “There may be subtle, gender-related consequences when we engage in various pro-environmental behaviors,” Swim said a Penn State press release. “People may avoid certain behaviors because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them. Or they may be avoided if the behaviors they choose do not match their gender.”

In one part of the study, participants were read descriptions of a fictional person’s daily activities. Swim says that participants rated the fictional people that engaged in pro-environmental behaviors as “feminine.” “Reflecting the tendency to see environmentalism as feminine, all the people were rated as more feminine than masculine regardless of the behaviors they did,” Swim explained.

“Behaviors don’t just help us accomplish something concrete, they also signal something about who we are,” Swim added. “Line drying clothes or keeping tires at proper pressures may signal that we care about the environment, but if those behaviors are seen as gendered, they may signal other things, as well.”

Swim’s study was published in an academic journal called Sex Roles, which claims to examine sex and gender issues from a “feminist perspective.”


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