Stay in your lane

In a study that’s caused much appalled amusement, researchers at Penn State have discovered that men avoid things such as using reusable shopping bags for fear others will perceive them as gay.

It’s interesting but not surprising that the policing of this stuff is done by both men and women.

In a series of studies, the researchers evaluated specific pro-environmental behaviors that previous research suggested were seen as either “feminine” or “masculine” and examined whether they affected how people were perceived.

They found that men and women were more likely to question a man’s sexual orientation if he engaged in “feminine” pro-environmental behaviors, such as using reusable shopping bags. They were also more likely to question a woman’s sexual orientation if she engaged in “masculine” pro-environmental behaviors, such as caulking windows.

A man with a Bag For Life is gay; a woman doing minor DIY is a lesbian.

The researchers found that participants whose behaviors conformed to their gender were seen as more heterosexual than those whose behaviors did not conform to their gender, which may suggest participants were using traditional gender roles as clues to sexual identity.

There’s a whole knot to unravel here, but ultimately it’s about the way we – often unconsciously – reinforce stereotypes. A man who does the recycling isn’t manly; a woman who can fix something isn’t womanly. Clearly, that means they’re gay.

These beliefs are so facile there’s no point digging into them here. But the wider point is that these beliefs aren’t just perpetuated. They’re policed.

It’s not just the policing by others that happens, although God knows that happens. We police ourselves too. We internalise the rules and actively try to ensure we don’t break them for fear of the consequences. Sometimes we pass on those rules to our siblings or our children, sometimes as advice and sometimes as mockery.

Every day in myriad ways we’re told to stay in our lanes.