We and others have talked about Cara Daggett’s concept of petromasculinity a lot since she coined the term in 2018 to describe the way that the fossil fuel industry has been imbued with testosterone. Even if you aren't familiar with the phrase, you know what it means — like truck nuts rolling coal and gushing oil rigs symbolizing the patriarchal dominance of the natural world. Beyond justifying, and perhaps even glamorizing, brutally dangerous working conditions, it’s also a key entry point into the culture wars. It gives the industry natural backers in the patriarchy to help reinforce the narrative of elite, emasculated environmentalists shrilly nagging the noble, rugged, hardworking blue collar everyman of the oil field out of a job.
That story is designed to conceal the truth: it’s Big Oil that’s currently killing jobs in oil. Specifically, it’s oil company executives who, for example, received millions of dollars in aid during the pandemic and, instead of using that money to keep workers employed, declared bankruptcy, laid off workers, and gave the government handout to themselves as a bonus. (And who says they don’t deserve it? Firing people as you drive a company into the ground is hard work, after all.)
We wish that were an exaggeration or oversimplification. But BailoutWatch recently revealed that Diamond Offshore Drilling got $9.7 million in a tax bailout as part of the CARES Act, filed for bankruptcy protection anyway, paid $9.7 million out to executives as bonuses, and then this month, “disclosed it has laid off nearly a quarter of its workforce.”
And it’s not the only one. Seadrill Limited got a $3 million bailout last year, yet that did nothing to stem its layoffs or bankruptcy for the London-based drilling company and its various affiliates.
Superior Energy Services was even worse. In May of 2020, it announced $115 million in payroll cuts, layoffs and furloughs. Two months later, it got a $30.5 million tax bailout. Then, in September, apparently impressed with having saved so much money by laying off its workers, the board paid $7.3 million to each of its six top executives.
Three months later, Superior Energy Services filed for bankruptcy. Apparently $42 million in executive bonuses wasn’t quite enough to save the company, and all those jobs.
What’s petromasculinity got to do with this? Well, when pressed about how they steered millions of dollars of public funds into the private profits of polluters, people like Ted Cruz are “proud to defend jobs in Texas.” Cruz is supposedly a fiscal conservative who claims to care deeply about government spending and interference in the energy industry. So why isn’t he mad about the fact that these companies took that money, gave it to executives, and slashed jobs anyway?
First and foremost, because the industry didn't give him millions of dollars so that he would be mean to them. Secondly, because he probably just hasn’t figured out a way to blame it on his wife or children.
But part of the reason why he’s so supportive of corporate socialism is because petromasculinity blends fossil fuels with the patriarchy. Therefore, you can look like you’re helping the regular Joes keep their manly jobs, while in reality you’re actually just helping elite millionaires keep their caviar and champagne stocks topped up.
If the fossil fuel industry had never waged sustained and decades-long campaigns to make the public feel certain ways about its products, including that it comes from big strong sweaty men who support loving families with a generous paycheck, then people might actually stop and think about whether handing over millions of dollars to executives at these companies actually does anything to “defend jobs in Texas.” But they did.
It's just a shame they paid someone as bad ad delivering thinly-veiled patriarchal, homophobia (with a good dose of anti-semitism thrown in for good measure) as Ted Cruz.