Do men avoid 'green' products because they seem 'feminine'?

A new study suggests so.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File
Electric cars sit charging in a parking garage at the University of California, Irvine.

Those tasked with selling electric cars and other products friendly to the environment must confront multiple obstacles as they try to win over often-skeptical consumers.

That's something that comes with the territory when marketing new technologies or practices.

But could public reticence to adopt green products be influenced by more than just questions about the products themselves?

Could gender, and gender perceptions, also play a role in people's attitude toward green things?

Men may avoid green products because they perceive them as feminine, a recent article in The Washington Post suggests.

It cites a study by James Wilkie—a business professor at the University of Notre Dame—arguing that both men and women connect the concepts of "greenness" and "femininity."

Consequently, men are more likely to avoid green products out of a desire not to appear feminine, according to Wilkie.

In one survey of 127 college students, respondents were asked if they thought green products appeared masculine, feminine, or neither.

The majority of respondents—both men and women—said the green products appeared more feminine.

In a separate survey of 194 college students, respondents were asked to consider two grocery shoppers: one carrying a reusable shopping bag, the other a plastic bag.

Respondents were asked which seemed which seemed more eco-friendly or wasteful, as well as which seemed more masculine or feminine.

They tended to identify the shopper carrying the reusable bag as more eco-friendly and feminine.

This tendency influenced men's purchasing decisions when it came to specific products, according to the study.

When presented with two versions of the same car at a simulated BMW dealership, men tended to choose the "Protection Model" over the "Eco-friendly Model," while women expressed no obvious preference.

Men were also less likely to choose the green option among a theoretical selection of batteries presented by researchers in another scenario.

Researchers even found that men were less likely to donate to an environmental group with a logo that didn't "seem masculine," although logo design didn't influence women at all.

Advocates may have to consider the gender issue when it comes to marketing green products, but electric cars also have at least one attribute that cuts the other way.

Because electric motors develop peak torque from 0 rpm, unlike gasoline engines which must rev up to achieve maximum power, electric cars are known for quick acceleration from a standing stop.

This can make them "sleeper" hot rods when driven with a heavy foot on the pedal.

Still, electric cars today may face more fundamental challenges than the diffuse issue of gender perceptions.

A recent Sierra Club survey found that car dealers aren't particularly enthusiastic about electric cars, and that staff often lack even the most basic knowledge about them.

The group recommended that dealers, automakers, and government officials redouble efforts to promote electric cars in order to make them more visible to consumers.

This story originally appeared on GreenCarReports.

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