‘Don’t just break the bias. Rethinking the system’, writes Soumaya Majdoub, a researcher at the VUB and the School of Economics at the University of Barcelona. She advocates an ecofeminist approach, which exposes and addresses the balance of power.
I frowned for a moment when I saw the International Women’s Day 2022 theme and hashtag. break the bias, with the ultimate goal of a world in which men and women are equal, free from prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination. If only it were that simple. A sustainable future requires more than getting rid of prejudice and stereotyped thinking. The future must be post-patriarchal for it to be sustainable. the focus on bias It implies that we are symptomatic in the design of solutions and do not question the system that causes inequality. Inequality that affects men and women. So a cosmetic procedure, which in itself does not change the roots of discrimination and injustice. Kind surgeons make stinky wounds.
The entire Diversity and Inclusion industry is an example of this. Workshops, training courses, awareness campaigns or even quotas. Disappointment follows when we look at the research looking at what exactly is the outcome of this approach to D&I. As well as a wipe for bleeding, such actions are often counterproductive. Who benefits most from this? The white woman.
Questioning the system: a sustainable future must be post-patriarchal
Instead of focusing on getting rid of prejudices, we must first understand that a certain hierarchy, that of hegemonic masculinity*, is inherent in our society and that it survives thanks to that hierarchy. The term hegemonic masculinity is not a sexist statement. Everything but. It refers to the specific practices that legitimize the dominant position of men in society. I don’t endear myself by saying this out loud, but consciously or unconsciously I maintain that feminist movements do this too. This is why I continue to advocate an ecofeminist approach to macroeconomics, because it exposes the balance of power rather than sharpening the edges of inequality.
Globally, 65 percent of all work is done by women…for 10 percent of wages
By distinguishing between productive and reproductive work and associating men with the former and women – of course – with the latter, a gender dynamic was created that continues to be the norm. Unpaid care work is a necessary condition for paid work, yet it structurally hangs at the bottom of the hierarchy. Globally, 65 percent of all work is done by women…for 10 percent of wages. In low-wage countries, between 60 and 80 percent of all food consumed is produced by women. Unfortunately, this global dimension of the fight for a resilient future in the face of climate change has been neglected.
By distinguishing between productive and reproductive work and associating men with the former and women with the latter, a gender dynamic was created that continues to be the norm
Ecofeminists argue that the break with historical patriarchal visions cannot be achieved without the liberation of those who are the object of ‘otherness’. ‘Otherness’ results in a certain group (ethnic or cultural) being seen as superior to other groups. The ecofeminist approach leads to a self-critical attitude towards existing power relations. For example, we primarily link feminist concerns about social equality with ecological justice and integrity. Not just for white women.
And where is the man in this story? An important caveat in my train of thought: Of course, not all men pursue hegemonic forms of masculinity. Simply because they can’t. There is an inherent hierarchy to that hegemonic masculinity that men also suffer from. And yet all men benefit from the social and economic system it creates.
All efforts to deal with the climate crisis must include masculinity in the analysis and try to give it new meanings.
Research has shown that men live less sustainably and have a larger carbon footprint, are less willing to become more environmentally friendly, and are more likely to fall into climate denial and adopt eco-modernist solutions than women. Am I saying that men have a genetic predisposition to be big polluters? No problem. I show how masculinity is formed throughout the history of capitalism in line with domination and exploitation. There is no clearer way to demonstrate this than to refer to how economic growth has disproportionately benefited men. The wage gap between men and women? Boards of directors with predominantly male seats? The highly unequal distribution of care tasks?
Paradigms like degrowth meet enormous resistance due to the intertwining of patriarchy and the mantra of growth.
What role, then, corresponds to man in the establishment of a new paradigm, away from the exploitation so characteristic of the current economic model? While much has been said about the origins of economic growth and much has been written about the oppressive nature of patriarchal systems, both on women and on the environment, I find little evidence of the effects that all these processes have on men. . I also don’t read much about where men can play a role in, among other things, destabilizing prevailing dichotomies, bridging the boundary between the monetized economy (and its hierarchy) and the invisible economy of care work, and also proposing alternative paradigms. . Paradigms like degrowth encounter enormous resistance precisely because of the intertwining of patriarchy and the mantra of growth.
This resistance is not based solely on fear of loss of prosperity. The emergence of alternative economic models is also seen as a threat to men and their place in society. And given that those who are most resistant to a future where economic growth is no longer central are likely to have the most to lose from an economic transition, understanding how hegemonic masculinity works at the moment is vital before developing new models. The donkey and the stone, right?
All attempts to deal with the climate crisis and the associated socio-ecological transition must include masculinity in the analysis and try to give it new meanings. Otherwise, a battle for greater gender equality, this year under the pathetic Break The Bias hashtag, is but an addition. What equality do we seek? More of the same system wrapped like a gift with a big red bow, offered by men?
Soumaya Majdoub is a researcher at the VUB and at the School of Economics of the University of Barcelona. His research is at the intersection of demography, human geography, political economy, and ecology, with a focus on the relationship between population growth and pressure, economic development, and international migration on the one hand, and political and public discourse on migration on the other. .
She is the author of the essay ‘Consuming like rabbits’ in which she corrects the dominant narrative about overpopulation and draws attention to the core of the (climate) problem: excessive consumption and the need for a paradigm shift. She is also the founder of Women In Urbanism.
*Hegemonic masculinity is a dominant form of masculinity, with femininity and other forms of masculinity subordinated to this dominant masculine norm.