STUDY: Fossil fuels contribute to ‘petro-masculinity’

A feminist professor at Virginia Tech University is warning that fossil fuels are contributing to a warped sense of “masculine identity” and “authoritarianism” among men. 

Cara Daggett, who teaches classes on politics and global security at Virginia Tech, penned her criticism of petro-masculinity in an essay “Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire” for the most recent issue of Millennium: Journal of International Studies.

Writing in response to the 2016 election, Daggett coins the term “petro-masculinity” to describe what she sees as a convergence of “climate change, a threatened fossil fuel system, and an increasingly fragile Western hypermasculinity.” 

[RELATED: UCLA fining itself for air travel to fight global warming]

“Petro-masculinity, like fossil fuel systems, arguably has global dimensions,” Daggett asserts. “However, like other masculinities, petro-masculinity should be understood as manifesting in multiple, and locally specific, ways.” 

“Petro-masculinity approaches masculinity as a socially constructed identity that emerges ‘within a gender order that defines masculinity in opposition to femininity, and in so doing, sustains a power relation between men and women as groups,’” she adds, quoting other academic literature on the topic.

Unlike the “hegemonic masculinity” of the past—which is a general term to describe masculinity under patriarchy—Daggett claims that petro-masculinity is a recent phenomenon, specifically triggered by global warming. 

Petro-masculinity, she claims, ultimately aims “to defend the endangered status quo, entrenching the petrocultures that have historically propped up Anglo-European fossil-burning men.” 

“In this context, burning fossil fuels can come to function as a knowingly violent experience, a reassertion of white masculine power on an unruly planet that is perceived to be increasingly in need of violent, authoritarian order,” Daggett argues. 

[RELATED: CU-Boulder teaches students about ‘eco-social justice’]

According to the professor, men’s desire to burn fossil fuels can also explain the concept of misogyny.

“Fossil-fuelled life has always been violent,” she says, later adding that “fossil violence” should “also be appreciated as a misogynist tactic, if we follow Kate Manne to think of misogyny not as an individual belief—the hatred of women—but instead as a set of practices.” 

Prior to her essay on petro-masculinity, Daggett’s most notable publication was a 2015 article titled, “Drone Disorientations: How ‘Unmanned’ Weapons Queer the Experience of Killing in War.”

The academic declined an interview with Campus Reform.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen