Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

Sexuality and the Environment: Latin American Machismo

Photo A: An increasing number of young Americans are supportive of gay rights, as indicated by this banner hung in the middle of a major university campus.

In the United States, we are seeing increasing support for gay and lesbian (and other sexual minority) rights (Photo A).  We recently understand the problems with hyper masculinity as it pertains to an individual’s social behavior, as well as societal behavior.  Men are able to express their emotional needs and concerns without as much scrutiny, and women enjoy nearly the full benefits of full and part time careers, finical independence, and other rights that were previously exclusive to men.

Recently I traveled to Ecuador, a country in South America.  The culture in Latin America, with regards to gender roles, is much different than in the United States.  Because Latin America’s cultures are heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, among other things, gender roles fall more in-line with the status-quo.  For example, during my visit in Ecuador, I opened a travel guide to the page that had tips and advice for gay and lesbian travelers.  The travel guide advised gay and lesbian couples not to display affection in public due to the intolerance of homosexual acts, especially among men.  The travel guide noted that gender roles in Ecuador were very defined, with the men being the dominant figure and the women as being passive and “going along” with what men desired.  Also, homosexual men were nicknamed with a Spanish word (which I have forgotten) that is similar to the English word “faggot” as a derogatory term.

This form of Latin-American hyper masculinity is often referred to as machismo.

While machismo is clearly visible at the individual level, it is less obvious but even more powerful and the social, political, and environmental realms.

Consider this: When we talk about preserving nature, we feel that we must protect “mother” earth or “mother” nature.  We view our planet and its resources as our mother, or someone who nurtures and cares for us.  On the other hand, referring to earth and nature with female pronouns implies that environmentalism is a feminist movement.

This becomes problematic in Latin America (as well as other cultures) where men and masculinity are the dominant social forces.  Men are seen as breadwinners who get stuff done, make money, date lots of women, and ridicule homosexuals or any other men that are seen as feminine.

Still following me?  I am getting to the point now:  If people in Latin America view the earth as a feminine entity, then they are likely to treat the Earth and its natural resources in a similar fashion as they do women and sexual minorities.

In Ecuador, for example, tropical forests and ecosystems are exploited beyond regeneration by oil companies, timber companies, and corrupt politicians.  Often, the leaders of these organizations are men, and they do everything they can to increase their wealth, reputation, and personal satisfaction, while the rest of society has to bear the consequences and “go along with it.”  The photo below of a section of the Amazon Rainforest is testimonial to the “emasculation” of the landscape.  Most of the destroyed sections of forest in Figure A are a result of economic exploitation in a masculine-controlled political environment:

Figure A: Fires and Deforestation in the state of Rondônia create a degraded and fragmented landscape, leading to the environmental decay of vitally important ecosystems. Most logging of neotropical forests is done by large corporations and timber companies.

The consequences of feminising a cultural and natural landscape are numerous.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Higher and faster rates of environmental destruction (aka exploitation of natural resources)
  • Increased social stratification (such as racism, sexual discrimination, large lifestyle differences between rich and poor, etc.)
  • Reduced connection to natural earth systems (and more emphasis on political machines, technology and dogma)

Bare in mind that I am being very general and that I am only giving a basic overview of a rather heavily loaded topic.  Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind in our everyday lives how we engender and how we sexualize our lives.  We can either stick with the status quo, or we can question our thinking and our actions to gradually move towards more positive change.


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