We’ve talked before about the intersection of denial and misogyny, particularly when it comes to the overwrought reactions to Greta Thunberg. But now, thanks to a WUWT post pointing to an op-ed by professor Megan MacKenzie that asked if fragile masculinity is the biggest hurdle to climate action, we know there’s actually an emerging term for it: petro-masculinity.
The term, coined by Virginia Tech’s Dr. Cara Daggett in a 2018 paper, is a concept that looks at “the historic role of fossil fuel systems in buttressing white patriarchal rule” and finds that “fossil fuels mean more than profit; fossil fuels also contribute to making identities.” And with an accompanying proclivity towards authoritarianism, Daggett explains “how fossil fuel use can function as a violent compensatory practice in reaction to gender and climate trouble.”
Like most things intersectional, it’s both intricately woven and relatively straightforward. Fossil fuel extraction powered Western economies that allowed the white men at the top of the socioeconomic order to reap the bulk of the benefits. The stereotype of the noble coal miner, risking his life in the mines to provide for his family; the oil baron who becomes the noble patriarch of a wealthy dynasty; the coal-rolling truck driver blowing smoke at Prius drivers-- these are all different expressions of the same sort of petro-masculinity.
That identity of the man who is head of the household, bread-winner of a nuclear family who gets his hands dirty doing Real Work extracting fossil fuels from the ground, is increasingly under attack by a coalition of factors: the reality of climate change, the slow and steady dismantling of systemic misogyny, and the entrance and elevation of women and people of color in the workforce.
In response, traditional masculinity is being infused with the reactionary right’s embrace of fossil fuels, leading to this particular over-the-top petro-masculinity that’s contrasted with “eco-modernism,” as epitomized by Silicon Valley’s optimistic faith in technology as a solution, with Elon Musk as the posterboy.
But as “the failures of fossil capitalism to sustain its white masculine order” grow due to falling wages and increasing outside pressures, calls for climate action by a new generation of (non-white-male) climate activists “only exacerbates the sense of collective impotence” that motivates petro-masculinity. In response, fossil fuels have become “an icon of masculinist empowerment” that “can function as a performance of masculinity, even as it also serves the interests of fossil capitalism.”
And it’s not hard to see this sort of reactionary impotence in action. Take, for example, Jeremy Clarkson, British TV personality famous for the beloved and long-running Top Gear car program. In a recent interview with the Independent (excerpted by the Daily Wire,) Clarkson provided the perfect example of how fragile petro-masculinity just can’t handle the defiant activism of a young woman when he called Greta “a stupid idiot” and “a weird Swede with a bad temper.”
And Clarkson knows all about bad tempers, given that once when his dinner wasn’t hot after a day of shooting, he physically assaulted the producer responsible and yelled at him for being “lazy” and “Irish”, costing Clarkson his job and a $140,000 settlement.
Is there any more apt an example of toxic, fragile petro-masculinity than the man who got fired for a racist assault on a subordinate because there wasn’t a hot dinner prepared for him after a his hard day’s work test driving cars for television attacking a 16-year-old girl with autism because she isn’t, like, totes chill about climate change?
… if there is, we don’t want to see it.
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