Environmentalism, Shady CEOs, and the White Male Effect

Happy Halloween, everyone! To change it up from the orange and black this week, I thought it would be interesting to talk about something green! I learned about this particular topic in my Environmental Sociology class. What does Environmental Sociology have to do with Feminism, you ask? I will get to that part soon, faithful readers, so just bear with me.

We already know a little bit about ecofeminism, thanks to lfleetwood’s post from a little while back, An Ode to Edo-Everyday. There isn’t one concrete definition for ecofeminism, but there is a core principle that I’ll remind you all of – most ecofeminists broadly agree that the domination of women and the domination of the environment are somehow inherently connected. Just as women are dominated by the Patriarchy (with a capital P), good old Mother Earth is also dominated by the Patriarchy, and all that comes with it – capitalism, the withdrawal of natural resources for modern production, the destruction of habitat and wildlife, and a consumerist society. Capitalism, a fundamentally patriarchal institution, really only works if people keep buying “stuff”. In order to continue making “stuff” to buy, our society that benefits from production and profit takestakestakes from the land, using up Mother Earth’s resources. Just look at half of the mountain tops in West Virginia, and you can see the literal destruction of Mother Earth, all for the (not so)noble cause of capitalism and consumerism.

Mountaintop removal at its finest...
Mountaintop removal at its finest…

Now, lfleetwood wanted to know why there wasn’t a demand for change in the way we treat Earth. I really don’t know the answer to that question. There are a few theories we discussed in my SOCI class, however, that are pretty relevant and sadly unsurprising.

The first is that as a society, we have a classic case of the bystander effect going on. Everyone knows that scary environmental shit is going down, but everyone also thinks that someone, somewhere, will do something. The government could do something (HAHAHA!…ahem, sorry); big businesses could actually take responsibility and do something; your next-door neighbor might finally get a recycling bin…and sort of do something! But, alas, no one is actually doing anything, ergo nothing is being done. Cool.

The second is that people are simply uneducated about what is really going down in their environment. There are over 100 different chemicals in our bodies today and many of them are synthetic. Some of them are definitely toxins, like DDT, for instance. How did DDT get in our bodies? Through the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Modern environmental threat can be very insidious and even invisible. People don’t necessarily see it, but it’s definitely there in a really big way.

The third theory is what instantly made me think, “Aha! Patriarchy!” This is my own personal theory, and kind of reveals my unbelievably cynical side (just in case you didn’t already realize I was cynical). My theory is that there are some pretty shady people leading our government, who also have lots of equally shady CEO friends. These CEO friends want to continue making as much money as they can, as quickly as they can, and don’t want to have to worry about environmental cost. Because our political leaders’ reelection campaigns are bankrolled by the CEO friends who have money…well you get the picture. Voilà!

Another interesting point to make is that there is STILL a grossly disproportionate number of white males in powerful, money-making positions in this country (IE, the political leaders and the CEOs). This brings me to the idea of the “white male effect”. This is the theory that white males have a much lower risk perception than any other demographic. Statistically, white males are more dismissive of risks…including environmental risks.

This data is incredibly interesting...thanks, Dr. Colocousis!
This data is incredibly interesting…thanks, Dr. Colocousis!

Do I want to unpack this theory a little? Hell yes, I do. White privilege and male privilege combine here. White males are more privileged, as a general rule, and they occupy those big decision-making positions that, frankly, allow them to buffer themselves economically from environmental problems. Baaaasically, that means that you aren’t going to catch a congressman (who probably makes six figures) living in a crusty apartment, a mile down the road from a factory that spews unregulated carbon monoxide into the air. So it’s okay for these guys to be Hierarchical Individualists (see the image above, and click for an enlarged view), because they have a shitton of money, fancy Brita filters, and a Trader Joe’s just down the street. All I’m saying is that I’m NOT going as a Hierarchical Individualist for Halloween. I feel like people would wrinkle their noses at me and think, “Ugh, this chick is a total asshole”.

We need to pay more attention to Mother Earth, not because she has resources that we want, but because she has inherent worth. Is this ringing a bell, fellow feminists? I know it did for me.

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