The Eco-Gender Gap and the Vilification of Molly-Mae
In a recent social media post, Molly-Mae elatedly revealed that she has taken on a new role as creative director at Pretty Little Thing (PLT). While the announcement was met with praise from fellow influencers and fans alike, it certainly did not escape criticism. Top commenters drew attention to the unsavoury reputation of the fast-fashion brand, calling upon the former Love Island contestant to “focus on being more sustainable as part of [her] role” and “use [her] voice to push the brand to become more ethical”. In the light of damning sustainability reports, the moral reprehensibility of Molly-Mae’s decision to undertake this role at PLT is definitely up for debate. However, the public reception of her announcement also gives rise to another important question: When did women decide to become the face of climate action? And is it Molly-Mae’s job “to fight fast fashion”?
Answering this question is no easy feat and requires an exploration of the concepts of environmentalism and eco-feminism more broadly. As a result of research suggesting that women have a “greater tendency to be prosocial, altruistic and empathetic; to display a stronger ethic of care; and to assume a future-focused perspective”, women have long been viewed as the natural protectors or “sacred custodians” of the Earth. Interestingly, several more recent studies posted in the Journal of Consumer Research support this sentiment, leaving little doubt that ‘greenness’ has become intrinsically and cognitively linked to femininity. Even more shockingly, studies have shown that some men view pro-environmental behaviour as incongruent with their heterosexual identity. It is unsurprising therefore that many prominent climate campaigners, namely Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and many other leaders in the zero-waste movement, are women.
This introduces the ‘eco gender gap’ which Jack Duckett, a Senior Consumer Lifestyles Analyst at the market research firm Mintel, suggests arises where “men are less likely to pursue environmentally-friendly behaviours than their female counterparts”. Examining the environmentally friendly habits practised by both genders within the household certainly points towards the existence of such a gap. Data from a 2018 report published by Mintel suggests that behaviours such as water conservation, where 38% of women try to use less water compared to 30% of men, or recycling, where 77% of women indicate that they recycle all the time compared to just 67% of men, provide strong evidence that the efforts of women in tackling the climate crisis are undeniably exceeding those of men. This contrast may also be attributed to the fact that many ‘green’ or zero-waste products are made by and marketed for women, adding to a growing social pressure on women to adopt green behaviours. These behaviours are simply “becom[ing] yet another marker of ideal womanhood”. The unequal expectations on women to remedy the climate crisis, particularly within the domestic sphere, is simply an example of men relinquishing responsibility in a way that is unsettlingly familiar.
Undoubtedly, everyone should be held accountable for their part to play in the current climate crisis and their role in tackling it, regardless of gender. For responsibility to be assumed equally, the gendered perspective of sustainability should no longer be ignored. Saving the planet is not women’s work and Molly-Mae, a 22-year-old woman, should not be held solely accountable for the failings of a company co-founded, and almost entirely directed, by men.