Ecofeminist scholars including Stacy Alaimo (2000), Karen Warren (1997), and Kate Soper (1995), among others, point out that Western culture has tended to frame nature in feminine terms, while women are framed as somehow closer to nature, as the embodiment of nature. By contrast, men, and white men in particular, are often framed as closer to culture, as the embodiment of civilization (Bederman 1996). As Carolyn Merchant (1996) writes, the ability to conquer “wild” nature and turn it into a pristine (feminized) paradise is a mark of Western (white) masculinity and an important part of the way men, white men in particular, are seen as embodying “civilization” or the “civilizing” impulse. Thus, nature is often used, to borrow from Noel Sturgeon (2009), as a “tool of power,” legitimating social hierarchies and (re)producing a dichotomy in which men, culture, agency, and human subjectivity are aligned on the one hand, while women and nature are aligned on the other hand. A dominant ideology emerges of (white) men and (white) male-driven culture acting to conquer and control (female, nonwhite) nature. These ideologies, steeped in socially constructed dualisms that privilege a seemingly civilized white masculinity, are what Val Plumwood (1993) calls the “logic of domination.” Utilizing a diversity of discursive strategies, these ideologies are frequently circulated and reproduced within popular media.
This “logic of domination” has long been detrimental to women, people of color, and extrahuman nature, as the scholars cited above highlight. Martin Hultman and Paul M. Pulé (2018) write in their coauthored book Ecological Masculinities that a Western male/masculine ideal has had a harmful impact on both extrahuman nature and on humans who are frequently framed as aligned with such nature and thereby constructed as “other” to “man.” Similarly, Sherilyn MacGregor and Nicole Seymour (2017, 11) write in their introduction to the special issue of the journal RCC Perspectives titled “Men and Nature: Hegemonic Masculinities and Environmental Change” that, “Indeed, in every society on the planet, those with the most wealth and power to shape and control the natural world—for better or worse—have been men.” In short, these ideologies that tend to privilege men, and especially white men, within a culture/nature divide have consequences for material reality. When I refer to “white men” here, I am borrowing from Sara Ahmed (2017), who uses the term to refer to a system of power and the way that white men traditionally hold power within and across a range of institutional sites. For me, as for Ahmed, “white men” also refers to the mechanisms that maintain white masculinity as a persistent structure, a dominant institutionalized social relation.
White supremacy and heterosexism are also implicit within hegemonic constructions of masculinity and the environment. As Mei Mei Evans (2002, 183) writes, “It’s my contention that strategic deployments of representations of Nature or the ‘wild’ have been ‘naturalizing’ and thus privileging straight white men in U.S. society since ‘discovery.’” Utilizing autobiographical writings from Black Americans such as Evelyn White and Eddy Harris, Evans documents the alienated and fear-inducing relationship that people of color frequently have in wilderness spaces as a result of the social construction of wilderness that privileges white men. Evans (2002, 191) concludes, “I offer these readings to underscore my assertion that, not only is the hegemonic concept of Nature a masculinist social construction, but one that is racist and heterosexist as well.” Carolyn Finney (2014) argues that Black Americans are frequently left out of representations of wilderness spaces and the Great Outdoors, representations that frequently center whiteness and white masculinity in particular. For Finney, environmental representations that center whiteness translate into a worldview that excludes the environmental knowledge of Black Americans, such that Black Americans are perceived as not being interested in or concerned about environmental issues. This worldview has material effects, including the exclusion of Black Americans from decision-making roles in leading environmental organizations and the distancing of environmental justice concerns within these organizations in favor of seemingly race-neutral conservation discourses that often privilege whiteness. Dorceta Taylor (2016) highlights how environmental and conservation movements in the United States historically have been led by white urban elites, white men in particular, to the exclusion and disenfranchisement of people of color, Indigenous people, poor and working-class people, and women.
Advocating for a queer ecofeminism, Greta Gaard (2004) adds reason/erotic and white/nonwhite to the list of Western dualisms alongside binaries like culture/nature and male/female. As Gaard (2004, 25) argues, erotophobia is at the heart of Western culture’s oppression of nature and “all that is associated with nature, including women, the body, emotions, and reproduction.” In their introduction to the Queer Ecologies anthology, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson (2010, 29) write, “One of the most valuable insights to come out of Gaard’s work is her emphasis on ‘erotophobia’ as a key link between heterosexism and ecological degradation, as it opens the door to a consideration of environmentalism as a sexual politics, as a form of aesthetic and corporeal struggle against the disciplinary logics of heteropatriarchal capitalism.” Like Evans, Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson further explore the way that wilderness has historically been represented as a site of heteromasculinity and valued as a space for heterosexual men to engage in outdoor activities. Similarly to Gaard, Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson (2010, 22) write of the importance of a queer ecological perspective in which to challenge dominant heteromasculinist ways of seeing or claiming “nature” as well as the need to “green” queer politics, “an invitation to open queer theory to ecological possibilities.”
There has been more recent attention given to the intersection of gender, race, and sexuality within ecomedia studies. For example, these social categories are factors of analysis in core anthologies within the field such as Ecomedia: Key Issues (Rust, Monani, and Cubitt 2015). Yet there is very little scholarship within the field of ecomedia studies that explicitly addresses masculinity, examines and critiques “white men” as an institution of power within environmental media and film, or utilizes an intersectional analysis to address the complexities of masculinity, including masculinities of color, queer masculinities, female masculinities, and other alternative or nonhegemonic constructions. There are no single-authored monographs, edited collections, or journal special issues dedicated to this topic. There are, however, a range of book chapters and individual journal articles. For example, the edited collection Gender and Environment in Science Fiction (2019), edited by Christy Tidwell and Bridgitte Barclay, includes a section with three essays on the male hero trope in popular environmental media, including material on queer and subversive comic book ecoheroes (Anderson 2018), petromasculinity in the Mad Max series (Soles 2018), and my essay on hegemonic white masculinity and environmental nostalgia in Soylent Green and WALL-E (Yates 2018). I have written about the way environmental media is an important site in which to explore the lability of white masculinity and, in particular, the way that the white male injury discourse is increasingly becoming dominant within popular ecocinema (Yates 2021, 2019). Other individual essays on the topic of men and nature in environmental media include Martin Hultman’s (2013) examination of the way that Arnold Schwarzenegger is framed in popular media as an environmental hero. Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson as well as Nicole Seymour (2013) celebrate Brokeback Mountain as an exemplar of queer ecomedia, portraying wilderness as “a vast field of homoerotic possibility” (Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson 2010, 3) even as the film frames the wilderness as white and male. As Alexa Weik von Mossner (2017, 421) notes, “Given that in many parts of the world and throughout much of cinema’s history, heterosexual, white men and their beliefs and values hold central focus, it seems regrettable that to date, there is no comprehensive focus on masculinity narratives in cinema as they relate to the environment.” There are even fewer analyses of queer, Black or Brown, and other nonhegemonic masculinities in ecological media. What Weik von Mossner notes can be applied to environmental media studies more broadly speaking, and this stream (what Media+Environment calls a special collection) is, in part, a response to Weik von Mossner’s observation, while broadening the call to encompass a range of media including cinema, television, social media, radio, and print media.
As MacGregor and Seymour note in introducing their “Men and Nature” issue of RCC Perspectives (2017, 11-12), “What we now bring to the discussion, as scholars of gender and environment, is the insight that hegemonic masculinities have been constructed in opposition to nature. Controlling the environment, using it for survival and/or profit, and being resilient in the face of ‘Mother Nature’s wrath’ are well-nigh compulsory traits of normative ‘true’ manhood in Western cultures. […] But this is not to say that all masculinities or all men are unavoidably engaged in environmental domination and destruction.” The goal of MacGregor and Seymour’s special issue is to consider the “multiplicity of masculinities and their internal complexity” (Connell 2017, 6). The “Men and Nature” issue includes two engagements with ecomedia, Susanne Leikam's essay exploring the white male savior trope in Sharknado and Nicola von Thurn's artist statement for the installation boys will be boys, a series of self-portrait photographs of the artist in drag as a way of deconstructing gender stereotypes of wilderness. As MacGregor and Seymour (2017, 13) note, “We hope that this issue of RCC Perspectives will prompt further interdisciplinary, intersectional discussions in the environmental humanities and social sciences on gender relations and identities, and on men and masculinities in particular.” This stream of Media+Environment is, in part, a response to MacGregor and Seymour’s call, specifically to consider the complexities of men, masculinities, and nature within ecomedia studies.
In the past five years, scholarship has also emerged articulating masculinity to environmental studies by looking at the way that men could or do care about the environment and thinking through the notion of ecomasculinities. As Greta Gaard (2014, 225) asks, “Are there masculinities that could be consistent with ecofeminist praxis?” In one of the only monographs on the subject of masculinity and the environment, Martin Hultman and Paul Pulé (2018) examine male domination and patriarchy as a way of exploring alternatives, in terms of the constitution of maleness and masculinity as well as the human relationship to the earth. Hultman and Pulé advocate for the constitution of a masculinity that cares about women and the environment. A recent edited collection, Ecomasculinities: Negotiating Male Gender Identity in U.S. Fiction, uses literature as a site for conceptualizing ecomasculinities, specifically “feminist conceptualizations of masculinity” (Cenamor and Brandt 2019, x). Ecomasculinities includes a section on the “ecoman” in contemporary film, including chapters on Harrison Ford (Luzón-Aguado 2019), True Detective (Phillips 2019), and the construction of queer ecomasculinities in corporate commercials (Heiliger 2019).
Apart from ecomedia studies, a number of scholars have begun to cultivate and add to the literature interrogating the relationship among men, masculinities, and nature. In the past fifteen years, important scholarship, especially within the environmental humanities and humanistic social sciences, has surfaced: to wit, Mark Allister’s Eco-Man: New Perspectives on Masculinity and Nature (2004) and Men, Masculinities and Disaster (2016), edited by Elaine Enarson and Bob Pease. Much of this scholarship expands upon existing scholarship in feminist ecology by interrogating the way that men, and white men in particular, function as a persistent and dominant structure within environmental institutions. For example, there has been a range of social science research exploring “the white male effect,” showing how white men are significantly more accepting of environmental risk and more likely than other social groups to reject current scientific consensus around climate change (McCright and Dunlap 2011; Marshall et al. 2006). Drawing on political theory, Cara Daggett coins the term “petromasculinity” to describe how the fossil fuel way of American life historically and currently supports white patriarchal rule and, as such, how the burning of fossil fuels becomes intricately linked to the power and privilege associated with white masculinity.
Articulating both feminist and queer ecologies as well as masculinity studies to ecomedia studies, this “Men and Nature in Environmental Media” stream aims to examine the complexities of men and representations of nature as a discursive formation within environmental media. This stream aims to examine and critique media representations of men, masculinity, and patriarchal power structures that tend to (re)produce a binary system that values masculinity (and a particular kind of hegemonic white masculinity) and culture over femininity, nonwhite and queer people, and nature. This includes consideration of the way that men, white men in particular, utilize various discursive environmentalist strategies in which to maintain a position of social privilege, frequently with consequences for women; gender nonbinary people; queer communities; people of color, including men of color; and extrahuman nature. In short, this stream aims to consider the way popular environmental media/film is one of the dominant institutions that maintains “white men” and particular constructions of hegemonic masculinity as a persistent structure. This stream also proposes to look at environmental media representations that present more complex representations of or alternatives to hegemonic masculinity and what are too often dominant images of (white) men and masculinity conquering, controlling, or intervening into both women and nature. This includes consideration of the way the “logic of domination” may be appropriated and/or subverted as a discursive strategy by queer men and men of color as a way of providing alternatives to the environmentalist discourses traditionally utilized by white men, or the way that nature is traditionally framed as a space for heterosexual men. While these representations may be rooted in the “logic of domination” in some way, it is important to note the attempt at constituting nonhegemonic relationships between men and nature. While ideologies are frequently (re)produced in and through media, media are also a powerful site for the subversion of dominant ideologies. This stream highlights four articles that focus on American discourses of masculinity, showing the range and complexity of men, masculinities, and nature in American environmental media and film.
Rachel Vaughn examines how popular media draws from biomedical data to communicate and construct cultural anxieties around the plant-based phytoestrogens in soy. In highlighting the way that popular media privileges the perspectives of heterosexual cisgender white men, from conspiracy radio host Alex Jones to Men’s Health or Good Housekeeping magazines, Vaughn shows how discourses of fear and moral panic around soy as an effeminizing food function as a mechanism that maintains masculine cultural authority over nature and “others” that are framed as somehow closer to nature (i.e., women, queers, people of color). As Vaughn argues, the discourses around soy, what she describes as “gendered food fear mongering,” center heteronormative, transphobic, and white supremacist understandings of soy as a hormonal, reproductive toxin working against “normal” (male) bodies.
Mario Trono examines The Revenant (2015) and its multiplex, including the film’s promotions as well as the critical reception preceding, accompanying, and following its release. While highlighting how The Revenant embodies a “men in wilderness” narrative, a fairly common trope in popular environmental film, Trono specifically points to a discourse of suffering within the film’s multiplex: that the male director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, as well as the predominantly male crew and cast suffered to make this film, much like the wilderness heroes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the film represents. Trono shows how it is not just masculinities as represented on-screen that reproduce the “men in wilderness” trope of the film, but also the way this trope permeates discussions of the film’s production process. Trono argues that director Iñárritu frames himself, and is framed within the film’s multiplex, as an ecohero just for having made the film in supposedly severe weather conditions, and this likely contributed to the film’s garnering of critical acclaim, including Iñárritu’s win as best director at the 2016 Academy Awards.
Marisol Cortez examines the white male injury discourse in the Jackass media franchise. As Cortez argues, the literally injured white male body in Jackass interrupts the somatophobia that underpins a broader cultural disgust for “nature,” but does so through a recuperation of privileged white masculinity. In drawing on the discourse of white male injury in conjunction with scatological humor, Jackass reorganizes white masculine power from the traditional symbolic order of the phallus to that of an excessive anality. This “ambivalent anality,” as Cortez calls it, is fundamentally queer. Yet it is a queerness that co-opts representational politics to mark a privileging of the white men who star in the show.
Jill E. Anderson examines Instagram curator and environmental advocate drag queen Pattie Gonia (she/her), created by Wyn Wiley (he/they). Using ecodrag performances and social media activism, Pattie Gonia’s representation works against the way the outdoors and wilderness spaces have traditionally been framed as for cis-hetero-masculinity. In examining Pattie Gonia’s ecodrag Instagram account, Anderson analyzes social media as a form of environmental media, highlighting how ecoqueer Instagram in general and Pattie Gonia’s account in particular open up representations of who can access and enjoy the great outdoors, including those in the LGBTQ community.
The initial four articles in this stream do not begin to cover the range of media representations of men and nature. It is a start. More work needs to be done; for example, work on masculinities in non-US and non-Western environmental media. The journal sees streams as themes that can be continually added to, and it is my hope that articles in the future will further diversify and broaden the theme of “Men and Nature in Environmental Media.”
There is a significant and growing body of ecofeminist scholarship as well as various formulations within the ecofeminist tradition. For an overview of feminist ecology, see Merchant 1992 (183–210). See also Mellor 1997 and Warren 1997.
A more recent example is the assault of Vauhxx Booker, a Black man and civil rights organizer, in the woods in southern Indiana. Five white men pinned Booker to a tree and threatened to lynch him.
Through promoting an ecosexual movement, Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle present an example of a “green” queer politics that challenges dominant heteromasculinist ways of seeing or claiming “nature.” Utilizing media and performance art, Stephens and Sprinkle present the notion of Earth as lover instead of Earth as mother. See Sprinkle, Stephens, and Klein 2021 and the film Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story (2013).
Stacy L. Smith (2020) and her colleagues at the Annenberg Inclusion Institute, among other scholars, highlight the way that men, particularly white men, dominate as directors within Hollywood, to the exclusion of women and gender nonbinary filmmakers. Trono’s article highlights another dimension of the way that directing (and filmmaking in general) is framed as a fundamentally masculine activity, where supposedly great (male) filmmakers suffer for their art.