Illustration by Hannah Robinson

Does traditional masculinity block ethically responsible behaviour?

Most of my female friends have a Keep Cup. Perhaps this is unsurprising- we are young, privileged and exhausted enough to buy coffee on a semi-regular basis and, despite all its pejorative connotations, at least a little bit woke.

There is little that distinguishes my male and female friends so much as the fact that none of my male friends use KeepCups. A few own them, certainly many returned to university after Christmas clutching a suitably inoffensive, neutrally coloured cup, but these seem to have been used a grand total of once before they were left festering in the sink or the bottom of a rucksack for the indefinite future. 

Perhaps, young men are just lazier? But these are also men who go the gym five times a week and cook dinners that regularly transcend the typical student culinary boundaries of pesto pasta or oven pizza, so this I find hard to accept.

A Keep Cup is emblematic of care for the environment and sensitivity to its degradation, and this remains a notion that continues to sit uncomfortably with young men. 

University should be the ideal environment for the dismantling of crude and constraining gender binaries. Surely, this must what be education is for? The development of progressive thinking based on sound academic knowledge. Indeed, many of my male friends from university are feminists, many of them express their emotions unreservedly, many of them are actively engaged in political causes. 

Yet, equally, within this same environment ‘lad culture’ continues to triumph, (as much as it may now operate under another name) and young male students are, too often, celebrated by their peers for acting recklessly, spontaneously and boorishly. Carrying a Keep Cup or some other such reusable item, is neither spontaneous nor reckless but indicative of thoughtfulness and care. 

Moreover, it is not the kind of care that fits comfortably with traditional masculine notions of valour or protection: it is not a fierce reaction to an immediate personal threat, nor the kind of care that receives affirmation from other young men. It is care that is quietly given, depersonalised and has no immediate reward. The environment cannot be saved by valorised demonstrations of assertion and power. The environment is indifferent to your courage.

Gender stereotypes are now simultaneously recognised as the antique idiocies of a backward age and conformed to in the politically charged space of every university faculty building. It might well be a matter symptomatic of youth. University is a tumultuous time in which different identities are tentatively tried on and the insecurity of teenage hood still lingers. Bluff masculinity can be a safe costume to wear.

Men care about the environment. There is nothing that makes climate change an issue for women and not men. We all inhabit the same burning world. Yet, women use Keep Cups and men don’t. A Keep Cup is not going to save the world, but unashamed, unabashed care just might.