Researchers have long thought that women are more environmentally friendly than men. Now they think they know why.

“Men’s resistance may stem in part from a prevalent association between the concepts of greenness and femininity and a corresponding stereotype (held by both men and women) that green consumers are feminine,” researchers, led by University of Notre Dame business professor James Wilkie, told the Journal of Consumer Research. “As a result of this stereotype, men may be motivated to avoid or even oppose green behaviors in order to safeguard their gender identity.”

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The researchers performed experiments to see if we actually do consider products “feminine” if they’re “green” and they found that humans do make a connection between environmentally friendly products and femininity. They found that both men and women found that “green” products were more “feminine.”

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Men, however, were more likely than women to have their buying decisions impacted, at least according to the experiments. In one experiment, participants were given the choice between two different versions of a fake BMW that was a “green” car. One version was called the “Protection Model” and the other the “Eco-Friendly Model.” Men preferred the “Protection” name, perhaps because it sounded more “masculine,” while women expressed no preference. This suggests that men see femininity as having a negative connotation and avoid any products that could give that connotation – and it further suggests that men might be seeing certain types of green products – or simply certain names – as too feminine.

This could pose a perception problem for EVs as the market grows, especially with high-power gasoline-powered engines on the market (Dodge’s Hellcats are almost certainly seen as masculine, while a Prius almost certainly is not) and a small subset of diesel-truck owners who like to modify emissions equipment to allow them to “roll coal” in defiance of environmental regulations – that behavior is almost certainly seen as “masculine.”

“Stereotypical feminine behavior and attitudes are more in parallel with taking care of the environment,” Wilkie said. “Male traits tend to conflict with this idea of maintaining a nice environment for other people.”

He blames stereotypes that peg people who care about the environment as nurturing, caring, hippies – and “hippies” aren’t considered masculine. Furthermore, men are more likely to be socially punished for order products labeled as feminine, while women wouldn’t be – women might even be rewarded for buying something considered to be masculine.

“That says what’s feminine is bad, is lesser, is second class,” Carrie Preston, director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Program at Boston University, said. “Although men’s and women’s roles have changed significantly, masculinity hasn’t changed as much.”

The researchers do propose one way that things could change.

“Despite a prevalent stereotype that green consumers are more feminine than non-green consumers, we show that men’s inhibitions about engaging in green behavior can be mitigated through masculine affirmation and masculine branding,” they said.

Washington Post