At the public pool where I swim, there are two lanes for fast swimmers. I choose which one to use by number of swimmers, but this is often pretty equal. So the tiebreaker? Choose the one with fewer men in it. Surprisingly, it was only recently I figured out that men were the ones more likely to be inconsiderate lanemates (read: pushing off right in front of you when they’re slower, tailgating, not leaving room at the wall, and, much more often than women, being in a lane that’s too fast for them). A recent column in the Guardian exposed just this problem in U.K. swimming pools. It applies to the other lane I use on the regular too: the bike lane. Guess who is running lights, blowing by you without signalling, etc.? Nine out of ten times, not a woman.*
Both these situations are annoyances and inconveniences, but of course it brings to mind other spaces that could use some more women—say, governments (especially those currently voting on women’s bodily autonomy), or the boardrooms of corporations (only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women). This lack of representation is bothering me even more than usual lately, because of some reading I’ve been doing about—surprise!—the environment.
In the last week, both the Zero-Waste Chef and Minimum Viable Planet wrote about gender and the environment, pointing out an important fact about low-waste/zero-waste spaces online: 90% of the discussion comes from women. Women are the ones darning socks and taking their jars to the bulk store, hunting for biodegradable package-free dental floss and making their own toilet cleaner. Bonus domestic labour, which, I’m sure you know, women still do more of anyway. Why is the green movement so pink? This Vox article has a couple theories, among them that women control what they can (family purchasing, the domestic sphere). We may lose control of our reproductive organs and thus entire futures, but boy is our recycling clean and sorted! But here’s the bigger thing: women are more sensitive to the needs of our planet and other people. A U.K. study found 71% try to live more ethically, compared to 59% of men. (Apparently eco behaviour isn’t manly enough. Plus, in the Apocalypse, all that Crossfit will really pay off.)
But wait, there’s more. Yesterday, I was reading the excellent Project Drawdown, which ranks educating girls as the #6 most effective climate intervention, and access to family planning as #7. That’s more effective than solar power, more than electric vehicles, composting, and mass transit (in fact, more than all those interventions combined). One of the interventions was equal rights for women as small-holder farmers (#62), and it presented some staggering statistics: “If women small-holders get equal rights to land and resources, they will grow more food, feed their families better throughout the year, and gain more household income. When women earn more, they reinvest 90% of the money they make into education, health, and nutrition for their families and communities, compared to 30 to 40% for men.” Also, if those women the same access to resources as men, their yields will rise 20 to 30% (to surpass men’s by 7 to 23%). 150 million hungry people will get fed, and with more productive land, there will be less deforestation, which is also accelerating the climate crisis. And of course, let’s not forget that climate change is also more devastating to women and to racialized people.
Tl;dr: a great way to make a space, governing body, or organization more considerate of other people and the planet? Put women in it, and get out of their way.**
Feminism is an environmental position. Equality isn’t just something that will make the world more pleasant, more fair, our swim lanes more civilized. Equality just might save us all.
* Now before anyone gets all #notallmen, duh. But the ones most likely to cause problems? Men. And of course this is reductive and doesn’t acknowledge the nuances of gender identification, but we’re talking about sweeping patterns.
** We’ll also need to give them what they need to succeed (e.g., fair pay, maternity leave, flexible hours, freedom from workplace harassment) and address gendered double standards so that they don’t have to act like men just to keep those positions. And let’s not forget men picking up the slack at home, like partners in more than just name.