Intro to Petro-masculinity Title Image with image of young women at climate protest

Written by Katie Elizabeth Robinson

Imagine a world in which men are becoming extinct. That’s the world the 2015 mockumentary No Men Beyond This Point has created and whilst it is very funny, it also gets you thinking. It’s not the only piece of fiction that has proposed a world in which the historical roles of men and women have been reversed. In Naomi Alderman’s The Power*, women evolve the ability to manipulate electricity and do unspeakable harm to men. Neither of these parallel universes stretch the imagination all that much either as the sentiments are eerily familiar.

“For the last 200,000 years men have been keeping civilisation afloat. We’ve been steering the ship. We built the ship’.

“I am a proud western chauvinist, I refuse to apologise for creating the modern world”.

One of these quotes is fiction, the other very real. Which do you reckon is which?

The first is from the entirely fictitious leader of the Male Liberation Organisation in No Men Beyond This Point when women of the 1970s have taken power across the world. The second is the very real members’ oath for the Donald Trump supporting hate group, The Proud Boys.

As Zoe Chace has said, Trump’s battle-cry “Make America Great Again” was entwined with a need to return to the good’ol days of the suburbs, nuclear families and male breadwinners to in fact, “make men great again”. This is as fictitious as No Men though and is as much a fantasy as when pro-Brexit politicians used the slogan “Take Back Control” which resonated with a British nostalgia for a time that was built on colonialism. This is not something we should ever want to return to.

In her paper Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire** in which she coined the term, Cara Daggett shows us that this toxic masculinity is also inextricably linked to the fossil fuel industry which built our modern world. This isn’t to blame men for the climate crisis either but to acknowledge that toxic masculinity suppresses all genders.

There are many, including Daggett, who have rightly noted that industrialisation brought with it many social justice advantages such as the abolition of slavery, a move towards gender equality and increased literacy across class divides. However, these continue to be the large scale advantages of the ‘Global North’ which has fostered a fossil fuel democracy whilst those countries where they are extracted from the earth for our industrial use, are repressed by authoritarian regimes. Those who focus too heavily on what Daggett has poignantly described as our ‘oil-soaked and coal-dusted’ society blatantly ignore our Western privilege and continue to support the subjugation of MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas).

To disentangle ourselves from this society will be no easy feat as a threat to fossil fuels is also a threat to the status quo and ‘Climate denial obviously serves fossil-fuelled capitalist interests.’ 

It’s no wonder then that Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, creator of the ground-breaking, status quo shaking, Oscar winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, became the target of Americans For Prosperity’s campaign to fight back against the 2008 Cap and Trade Plan that would limit greenhouse gas emissions for American traders.

‘Why do you feel it’s your right to tell us what to drive, what to eat, where we can live, and how much energy to use to heat our homes? If you’re tired of the hypocrisy of Al Gore, please join Americans for Prosperity and sign our petition.’

Hot Air Tour, 2008

Guess who founded and funded Americans For Prosperity? The petroleum industry leaders Charles and David Koch! Their exceptionally well phrased campaign, ‘Cap and Tax’, suggested liberals like Al Gore were threatening the American way of life and lo and behold, the plan was shot down.

It was around this time that the topic of climate change shifted from a political debate to a cultural one and until very recently, the leader of America wouldn’t even enter a conversation about the climate crisis. It was “fake news”!

“the skyscrapers, the missiles, the oil drills [...] eventually all of that aggressive phallic energy had such a corroding effect on the planet that nature had no choice but to extinguish it.”

No Men Beyond This Point

Daggett’s paper shows how close to the truth (minus the bit about nature extinguishing men, we don’t want that!), this really is. She analyses the role of masculinity in the historic subjugation of nature and introduces the political activism and intellectual critique of Ecofeminism in her conclusion when discussing gender- and environmental-based violence within this toxic masculinity that thrives on fossil fuel extraction. 

The inequities that Daggett explores are beginning to reveal themselves and as we said in our Intro to Ecofeminism, it is precisely because of this disproportionate violence towards women in the climate crisis that they are in fact at the forefront of the environmental movement. There is also growing public awareness of just how close we are to the collapse of ‘the capitalist system built to hide its waste’. The cracks are beginning to leak across the globe and its effects aren’t just being suffered by MAPA. That is why we must challenge and turn the status quo around. Not to the fictional extremes of No Men and The Power but Daggett has shown us that ending the use of fossil fuels is not only an environmental imperative but could help to end centuries of social injustice and violence. Perhaps in freeing ourselves from our dependency on fossil fuels, we can tackle domineering but arbitrary notions of what it means to be a man. 

‘Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.’

The Power, p.338

So now, if we’re ever asked why we hate fossil fuels so much and if somehow the fact that they’re destroying our planet isn’t enough, we can say they’re also making a mockery of social justice and gender-equality.

Two easy things you might like to do on this fine sunny Monday:

  • Switch to a renewable energy provider. We’re making great strides in the UK with renewables such as wind and water outpacing our use of fossil fuels.
  • Join us in the Rental Revolution and help us challenge the Fashion Industry's dependency on fossil fuels and social justice abuses.

*Alderman, N. 2017 [2016]. The Power. London: Penguin Books.

**Daggett, C. 2018. Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire. In: Millennium: Journal of International Studies. 47:1. pp.25-44.

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