The planet is entering an era of crisis: the atmosphere is full of carbon dioxide, species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate, our oceans are filling up with garbage and men are avoiding re-usable grocery bags because they look kinda’ girly.

At least, that’s what researchers from Penn State University are suggesting. The scientists, led by psychology professor Janet K. Swim, published an article in the journal Sex Roles that examined pro-environmental behaviors and how they affected someone’s perceived masculinity or femininity.

And apparently, according to their research, both men and women will put their own perceived heterosexuality before the well-being of the planet. That is to say, looking straight is sub-consciously more important than caring about the environment.

“Behaviors don’t just help us accomplish something concrete, they also signal something about who we are,” Swim said in a press release. “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 and her team ran three studies, assessing a total of 960 participants, studying the impressions/avoidance of men and women engaging in behaviors that were either perceived as “masculine” or “feminine.”

For instance: window caulking is a pro-environmental activity that is perceived as masculine. Men will gladly caulk the hell out of a window because it feels manly and it’s good for the environment (saving a building heat/energy). It’s a win-win for the environment and the hetero-ego.

Using reusable grocery bags, however, is a pro-environmental practice that is perceived as feminine, and, according to this research, dudes avoid it even though it’s good for the environment.

By that same token, the researchers said that women are more likely to avoid caulking windows because, well, that makes them feel too masculine.  


This applies to all kinds of other “gendered” sustainable practices, too, the researchers say. Meaning that, apparently people are going about their lives so sub-consciously worried about looking heterosexual that we’re consciously avoiding practices that could save our planet.

“If being seen as heterosexual is important to a person, that person may prioritize gender-conforming over gender-nonconforming pro-environmental behaviors in anticipation of how others might see them,” Swim said.


But allow me to propose an alternative explanation: that men don’t use reusable bags because, in fact, we simply, earnestly just forget to use them or leave them at home or in the car.

It’s a bold idea, I know, but it’s certainly the case for me, at least. I kick myself for forgetting to bring a reusable bag into the store (which, I am afraid, happens pretty frequently). And, that seemed to be a consensus among all the other men who I asked about this study’s “findings.” The fear of coming off as feminine at the grocery store isn’t one that seems to cross many people’s mind.

And as for women caulking windows — do they really avoid that because they are worried about looking butch? Or is it because they honestly don’t know how? If a woman needs a window caulked, and she knows how to do it, I doubt she’ll be too concerned about her perceived sexuality during the act.

(Especially because, who really caulks windows in public anyway?)

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my bad habit of forgetting reusable bags is really just a manifestation of my sub-conscious mind, fearful of looking like a pansy in front of all those potential grocery store mates. Maybe women avoid caulking windows because they really are latently afraid of coming off as a tom boy. Maybe our innermost desire to attract the opposite sex is going to be the real cause of the downfall of this planet.

The sub-conscious mind can be a powerful thing…

But I’m not totally sold. I think greed, money, comfort, entitlement and normalized environmental abuse are probably contributing more significantly to the climate problems facing humanity, than heterosexual signaling is.

Either way, the moral of this story is the same: don’t forget to use those reusable grocery bags at the store, and don’t ever be afraid to caulk a window that needs caulking. Just do it. 

Even  if it makes you feel kind of funy.