Rediscovering Empathy: Arguments for the Eco-Feminization of Traditional Masculinity

By: Dan Teano.

Bridging the Gap

What’s stopping man from getting closer to nature, practicing empathy towards animals, and considering their environmental costs to others (Tang and Luo, 2016) are both personal and societal forces. On an individual level, man thinks of himself as a “machine” in relation to nature (i.e. a lumberjack), and nature is a resource for him to exploit, as opposed to enjoy.

While the cowboy helped males appreciate the aesthetics of nature, it did little to teach sustainable use. For this reason, man must foster an intimate relationship with the land, understanding what adds to its health and what detracts. Although this type of intimacy is foreign to hegemonic masculinity (“intimacy” alludes to sensitivity and thus, femininity), Henry D. Thoreau believes the beginnings of such an interconnected relationship begins with hyper-masculine activities.

In Thoreau’s “Higher Laws,” he praises the sport of hunting, deeming it a child’s necessary “introduction to the forest.” While hunting (i.e. searching and killing animals) seems counterproductive to eliciting empathy, without immersing himself into the forest, man could never encounter “to the most original part of himself.” Here, Thoreau argues that man learns who he is through approaching nature in a hyper masculine way.


Finding the Real

 From the different images, ideals, and archetypes of masculinity, it is clear that man has trouble defining what a “real man” is. Is a real man someone who fits the muscular ideal? Or is a real man someone with a slenderer frame who abstains from eating animal products? In “Higher Laws,” Thoreau gives this prescription for how a man can find himself: by understanding his role in nature. When man understands that he is not apart from nature, but actually a part of it, the need to define who he is by disparaging what he is not becomes petty and unnecessary. Yet, Thoreau makes it clear that hunting is but a “child’s” introduction to nature. After being acquainted, “if he has the seeds of a better life in him…he must…leave the gun and fish-pole behind” (Thoreau, 145).

Somewhere along his maturation, man ought to realize and respect the natural environment. Thus, choosing not to hunt, or choosing not to be hyper masculine, is actually an evolved form of being. For this reason, the feminization of masculine attitudes towards nature, should not be seen as a threat to hegemonic masculinity, but rather as a means for evolvement. For this to be acceptable on an individual level, though, society as a whole must stop venerating aggressiveness while demeaning empathy. If it is wrong to be gay or vegetarian, then is it wrong to be empathetic as well? How do we reverse the sentiments underneath these judgments so that “equal consideration” is a critical component of real masculinity (Singer)? For one, we could start with reforming man’s ideal body image.


The Incidence of “Bigorexia”

When the term “body image disorder” is mentioned, an image of a female looking worriedly at the bathroom mirror typically comes to mind.While females struggle with accepting their appearance, males are not exempt from this disorder derived from mass media’s marketing ploys. From model’s Instagram accounts to pop culture fitness magazines, both males and females are bombarded with unattainable beauty standards. Unknowingly, when they subscribe to these ideas, they place themselves on a never ending journey of self-approval.

Since the beginning of time, masculinity has been equated with physical strength. Thus, when a male sees a scrawny reflection in the mirror, he sees a submissive, feeble, and inadequate figure. Rather than questioning the outdated norms, he surrenders himself to weight lifting, stressing himself for a chance to be considered manly. While women eat less and less to look skinny, men tear their muscles more and more to look bigger. While both insecurities should be immediately addressed, we have grown to idolize the Mr. Universe physique. Diseased with what’s commonly known as “Bigorexia,” an increasing number of male teenagers have an insatiable desire to gain muscle.

When men are obsessed with their physique, they are more likely to become ignorant of the environmental costs their actions bear. In the quest for bigger guns, they lift more and increase their intake of animal protein. To be clear, the protein intake is not so much the problem. The real issue is that weightlifting men begin to prioritize their “gains” over the health of the natural world. In other words, they are more likely to consider their carbon footprint as trivial, if their entire identity depends on how much protein they consume. Moreover, from Tang and Luo’s study, the researchers show that it is within a hyper-masculine mindset to not “disclose” or “consider” their environmental impact if it risks their “profit.” To maintain their chiseled physique, then, males have no incentive to assess what they eat and who it may harm.

So, what is needed is a new ideal for men to pursue: one that cares about the Earth more than an individual’s physical appearance and one that does not ridicule people who abstain from animal byproducts for the sake of the environment. Yet, this is not to say that males should not aspire to be dominant, competitive, or aggressive. Certainly, dominance, competitiveness, and aggression are useful in some contexts. For instance, rather than seeking hierarchical domination over animals, males should aggressively pursue their purpose and dominate their target niche who they compete with so they can be changed for the better. Put succinctly, dominance should not be eliminated, it just needs to be reframed.

Like an adept hunter, man should learn to find which activities gives his life meaning and then become masterful in its practice. Whether it’s teaching, speaking, or writing, he should transmute his desire to dominate in a way that not only betters his community, but also springs from a source of divine purpose. Of course, any attempt to better oneself and society at large is met with great resistance—both internal and external. Internally, man must combat his nature which would rather him be lazy, safe, and comfortable. From the outside, the man’s “prey” or “niche” will refuse his influence, no matter how positive it may actually be. In the face of resistance, man must cultivate his competitive side so that he can actuate (and dominate) life as he’s been called to.

Though the hyper masculine characteristics of dominance, aggression, and competitiveness infer an abusive way of living, that is not true all the time. The desire for these traits lie within us not because they are bad, but simply because they long to be expressed in a way that will change humanity drastically, permanently, and positively.

Writer: Dan Teano, ’18

Course: Environmental Studies SCE

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