Anthro Talks: Petro-masculinity

Graphic by Kayla Drazan

Petro-masculinity describes the relationship between fossil fuels and white patriarchal rule. According to Cara Daggett, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech, this concept presents itself in the American far-right’s hypermasculinity in response to the emergence of global climate crises which demand immediate action, an economic system dependent on fossil fuels destined to crash and a threatened hegemonic masculinity.

Petro-masculinity analyses observe the links between fossil rule and male-dominant authoritarian rule, along with the relationship between climate denial and traditional masculinity. According to Daggett, the overabundance of fossil fuels not only signifies profit but also the formation of identities (specifically, the archetypal masculine identities that developed during the pinnacle of the circa-1950s American Dream and that Trump so fervently longed to regress to). Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign revered mid-20th century America, an era that demanded widespread full-time employment for white men to support homemakers and children and maintain their cars and suburban homes. Consumption of fossil fuels was vital to achieving the American Dream, according to Daggett, despite fossil fuels’ degrading the environment and reflecting the inherent colonialist practices of oil extraction.

The Proud Boys, a white nationalist hate group that Trump told to “stand back and stand by,” are self-described “Western chauvinists” who embody petro-masculinity through their denial of climate change. Researchers have found that the climate denial among the white conservative male demographic stems from a need to “protect their cultural identity” and protect an economic system that disproportionately benefits them. Evidence finds climate change deniers are disproportionately made up of white conservative men, with researchers positing, “Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control, and benefit from so much of it.” One experiment even found that people using reusable canvas bags while grocery shopping were perceived as more feminine than plastic bag users. Evidently, climate science has become gendered to petro-masculine climate deniers.

Associate professor of anthropology Alex Blanchette reflected on the petro-masculinity phenomena.

On one level it is almost odd that some people are seeking identity in generic, bulk industrial commodities like fossil fuels or dead animal muscles. Yet, if some white male consumers can see these things not only as their rightful property, but also as reflections of who they are, it indicates how firmly American capitalism is rooted in hierarchies of race and gender.”

As clean and renewable energy systems pose threats to the fossil fuel capitalist order promised by 1950s America, Proud Boys and other petro-masculine populations feel a sense of powerlessness and have no choice but to perpetuate the authoritarian system of fossil fuel burning to cling to their identities. Petro-masculinity thus presents itself in global fossil rule, or governing that relies on immense fossil fuel consumption materially, through motor culture, and psycho-politically, through social identities like intense red meat consumption.

Petro-masculinity derives from hegemonic masculinity, which encourages men to dominate both the social sphere and nature. Hegemonic masculinity inherently expresses misogyny, a “system that polices and enforces the norms of patriarchal rule,” as described by feminist philosopher Kate Manne.

Petro-masculinity and climate denial, with their association to masculine identities through motor culture, perpetuate destructive patriarchy along with environmental degradation. Environmentalism is intersectional, so remedying the climate crisis must also include altering patriarchal values of fossil fuel consumption and adopting a feminist approach to justice.


COPYRIGHT 2021 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.