Where Are All the Ecomasculinists in Mining?





Gender, Men and Masculinities, Mining, Care, ecological masculinism, ecoman

How to Cite

Pulé, P. M. (2013). Where Are All the Ecomasculinists in Mining?. M/C Journal, 16(2). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.633
Vol. 16 No. 2 (2013): mining
Published 2013-04-02
Explorations of the intersecting terrain between the resources (or mining) sector and gendered socialisation are gaining currency (Laplonge and Albury; Lahiri-Dutt). Some argue that mine workers and their families are particularly vulnerable to divorce, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, injury, violence and worksite conflict, mental health struggles, financial over-extension, isolation, and loss of familial and community connection (Ashby; Paddenburg 14). Others contradict anecdotal evidence to support these concerns (Clifford 58; BHP Billiton 11-5). Substantive research on the emotional cost of mining remains sparse and contested (Windsor 4). Of concern to some, however, is that mining companies may be placing pressure on employees to generate a profit (Brough 10), while failing to acknowledge the cost of “hypermasculinised” mechanisms of domination that characterise mining cultures (Laplonge, Roadshow). I refer to these characteristic mechanisms of domination throughout this paper as “malestream norms” (O’Brien 62).

In this paper, I argue that mining cultures have become prime examples of unsustainable practices. They forfeit relationally and ecologically sensitive modes of production that would otherwise celebrate and indeed prioritise a holistic level of care for the Earth, mining cultures, work colleagues and the self. Here, the term “sustainable” refers to a broader spectrum of social, cultural, psychological and ecological needs of mine workers, mining culture, and the environment upon which mining profits depend. I posit that mining communities that tend to the psycho-social needs of mine workers beyond malestream norms are more likely to implement sustainable mining practices that are not only considerate of the broader needs of mine workers, not only profitable for mining companies, but care for the Earth as well.

Granted, employee assistance mechanisms do include substantial support services (such as health and wellness programmes, on-site counselling and therapy, mining family support networks, shorter rosters, improved access to family contact from site, etc.). However, these support services—as they may be offered by individual mining companies—do not adequately address the broader psycho-social impact of mining on mine site communities, the relational integrity of mine workers with their families, or how mine workers are faring within themselves in light of the pressures that abound both on-swing and off (Lahiri-Dutt 201). Discussions of a “softer” approach to mining fail to critically analyse malestream norms (Laplonge, Roadshow). In other words, attempts to make mining more sustainable have at-best been superficial by, for example, seeking to increase numbers of women on-site but then “jamming” these new women into cultures of hypermasculinism in hopes that a “trickle-down affect” of softening mining communities of practice will ensue (Laplonge, "You Can't Rely").

A comprehensive approach to sustainable mining practices must begin with deeper psycho-social care for mine workers (both women and men), and shift mining culture towards environmental care as well—an approach to mining that reflects a holistic and integrated model for pursuing profitable company development that is more caring than is currently the norm throughout the corporate world (Anderson). To accomplish this, we must specifically challenge malestream norms as they manifest in mining (Laplonge, Roadshow). In response, I introduce ecological masculinism as a relational approach to softening the malestream norms that pervade mining.

To begin, it is recognised that mining masculinities—like all practices of masculinity—are pluralised social constructions that are not fixed but learned (Connell). Ecological masculinism is explored as a path towards fresh systemic practices that can steer men in mining towards masculine identities that are relationally attuned, emotionally articulate, and environmentally aware. It is argued that the approach to mining masculinities introduced here can help the resources sector become more sustainable for men, more conducive to greater numbers of women, more profitable for mining companies over longer periods of time, and gentler on the Earth.

Where Are All the Ecomasculinists in Mining?

Ecology as a science of relationships can serve as a guide towards the order that emerges among complex systems such as those that pervade mining (Capra). I suggest that Ecology can assist us to better understand and redefine the intricacies of gender dynamics in mining. It would be easy to presume that Ecology is oppositional to mining. I argue that to the contrary, the relational focus of Ecology has much to teach us about how we might reconfigure malestream norms to make it possible for mining cultures to demonstrate deeper care for others and the self at work and at home.

An ecological analysis of malestream norms (and their impacts on Earth, community, others and the self) is not new. Richard Twine initiated some of the earliest explorations of the intersecting terrain between men, masculinities and the Earth. This discourse on the need for an “ecologisation” of masculinities grew out of the “broad church” of ecological feminism that explored so called Logics of Dualism that malestream norms construct and maintain (Plumwood 55-59). For more than 40 years, ecological feminism has served as a specialised discourse interrogating the mutual oppression of women and Nature by the male-dominated world.

In his contribution to the Essex Ecofem Listerv, Twine posted the following provocative statement:

Where are all the ecomasculinists? … there does not seem to be any literature on how the environmental and feminist movements together form a strong critique of the dominant Western masculine tradition. Does anyone know of any critical examinations … of this position, particularly one that addresses masculinity rather than patriarchy? (Twine et al. 1)

Twine highlighted the need for a new discourse about men and masculinities that built on the term “ecomasculinity.” This term was originally coined by Shepherd Bliss in his seminal paper Revisioning Masculinity: A Report on the Growing Men's Movement (1987). I suggest that this intersecting terrain between Ecology and masculinities can guide us beyond the constraints of malestream norms that are entrenched in mining and offer us alternatives to mining cultural practices that oppress women and men as well as the environment upon which mining depends.

However, these early investigations into the need for more nurturing masculinities were conceptual more so than practical and failed to take hold in scholarly discourses on gender or the pluralised praxes of modern masculinities. Coupled with this, the dominating aspects of malestream norms have continued to characterise mining cultures resulting in, for example, higher than average injury rates that are indicators of some negative consequences of a hypermasculinised workplace (Department of Health, WA 18; Laplonge, Roadshow). Further, the homophobic elements of malestream norms can give many men cause to hesitate seeking out emotional support if and where needed for fear of peer-group ridicule. These are some of the ways that men are subject to “men’s oppression” (Smith; Irwin et al.; Jackins; Whyte; Rohr), a term used here not to posit men as victims but rather as individuals who suffer as a result of their own internalised sense of superiority that drives them to behave inequitably towards other men, women and the Earth.

Men’s Oppression

Men’s oppression is a term used to illuminate the impact of malestream norms on men’s lives. Richard Rohr noted that:

Part of our oppression as men ... is that we are taught to oppress others who have less status than we do. It creates a pecking order and a sense of superiority. We especially oppress racial minorities, homosexuals, the poor and women. (28)

Men’s oppression is harmful to men, women and the ways that we mine the Earth. It is consequently of great importance that we explore the impacts of men’s oppression on mining masculinities with an emphasis on deconstructing the ways that it shapes and maintains malestream norms in mining culture.

Men’s oppression pressures men to behave in ways that can constrain the spectrum of permissible behaviours that they adopt. Men’s oppression is ego-driven, based in comparing and competing against each other and pressure them to work tirelessly towards being better, higher, stronger, more virile, smarter, richer, more powerful, outwardly composed and more adored by others through status and material wealth often acquired at the expense of others and indeed the compromising of their own capacities to care for others and the self. These products of malestream norms validate an inner sense of feeling good about oneself at the expense of relational connection with others, including the Earth.

As mentioned previously, malestream norms enable men to acquire socioeconomic and political advantages. But this has occurred at what has proven to be a terrible cost for all others as well as men themselves. Many men, especially those most strongly immersed in malestream norms, don’t even know that they are subject to this internalise superiority nor do they recognise it as an oppression that afflicts them at the same time and through the same mechanisms that assures their primacy in a world.. Notably, the symptoms of men’s oppression are not unique to mining. However, this form of oppression is intensely experienced by miners precisely because of the isolated and hypermasculine nature of minthat men (and increasing numbers of women) find themselves immersed in when on-site.

Unfortunately, perceiving and then countering men’s oppression can undermine men’s primacy (Smith 51-52). As a consequence many men have little reason to want to take a stand against malestream norms that can come to dominate their lives at work and home. But to refuse to do so can erode their health and well-being and set them on a path of perpetration of oppressive thoughts, words and deeds towards others.

Pathways to Ecological Masculinism

The conceptual core of ecological masculinism is constructed on five precepts (that I refer to as the ADAMN model). These precepts help guide modern Western men towards greater care for others and the self in tangible ways (Pulé). Accompanying these precepts is the need for a plurality of caring behavioural possibilities for men to emerge. Men are encouraged to pursue inner congruency (aligning head with heart and intuition) as a pathway to their fuller humanness so that more integrated and mature masculinities can emerge. In this sense, ecological masculinism can be adapted to any work or home situation, providing a robust and versatile model that redresses gendered norms amongst mining men despite the diversity of individuals and resistances that might characterise some mining cultures.

The ADAMN model draws on the vernacular encouragement for men to “give a damn” about all others and themselves. The five key instructions of masculine ecologisation are:

  • A: Accept the central premise that you were born good and have an infinite capacity to care and be caring
  • D: Don’t separate yourself from others; instead strengthen and rebuild your sense of connection with others and yourself
  • A: Amend your own past hurts and any you have caused to others
  • M: Model mature modern masculinity. Construct your masculine identity on caring thoughts, words and actions that nurture the relational space between yourself and others by seeking a life of service for the common good
  • N: Normalise men’s care; support all men to show their care as central features of being a mature modern man

Collectively, these key instructions of the ADAMN model are designed to raise men’s capacities to care for others and the self. They are aspects of ecological masculinism that are introduced to men through large group presentations, working with teams and at the level of one-on-one coaching in order to facilitate the recovering of the fuller human self that emerges through masculine ecologisation. This aspect of ecological masculinism offers tangible alternatives to malestream norms that dominate mining cultures by subverting the oppressive aspects of malestream norms in mining with more integrated levels of care for all others and the self.

The ADAMN model is drawn as a nested diagram where each layer of this work forms the foundations of and is imbedded within the next, taking an individual man on a step-by-step journey that charts a course towards a heightened relational self and in so doing shifts the culture of masculinities within which he is immersed (see Figure 1).

Trials of the ADAMN model over the past three years have applied ecological masculinism to groups of miners, at first in larger groups where hypermasculinised men can remain anonymous. From there masculine ecologisation drills down into the personal stories of individual men’s lives to uncover the sources of individual adherence to malestream norms—interrogating the pressures at play for them to have donned the “armour” that malestream norms demand of them. Stepping further towards the self, we then explore group and team dynamics for examples of hypermasculinism in the context of its benefits and costs to individual men’s lives in a support group type setting, and finally refine the transformational elements of this exploratory in one-on-one coaching of men across the spectrum from natural leaders to those in crises. At this final level of intensive personal reflection, an individual man is coached towards integrative alignment of his head, heart and intuition so that he can discover fresh perspectives for accessing his caring self. The project’s hope is that from this place of heightened “inner congruency” the ecologised man can more easily awaken and engage his care for others and himself not only as a man, but as an active and engaged citizen whose life of service to his employer, community, family, friends, and himself, becomes a central fixture of the ways he interacts with others at work and at home. Effectively, ecological masculinism reaches beyond the constraints of hypermasculinism as it commonly pervades mining by “peeling the onion” of malestream norms in a step-wise manner.

It is hoped that, if the ADAMN model is successful, that the emerging “ecomen” become more sensitive to the needs, wants and intrinsic rights of others, develop rich emotional vocabularies, embrace the value of abstract thinking and a strong and engaged intuition concurrently, engage with others compassionately, educate themselves about their world at work and home, willingly assume leadership on the job, within their families and throughout their communities and grow proactively through the process. Such men embody a humanistic worldview towards all of life. They are flexible, responsive, and attentive to the value of others and themselves. Such is the ecoman I suggest might best benefit resource companies, mining cultures, mining families and miners.

Figure 1


Central to a more gender-aware future for men in mining is hope—hope that we will adapt to the challenges of mining culture swiftly by reaching beyond engineered solutions to the problems that many mine workers face; hope that our responses will be humanistic, creative and transgress malestream norms; hope that those responses are inclusive of softer and more caring approaches mining masculinities. This hope hinges on the willingness of resource companies to support such a shift in mining culture towards greater care for all others and the self.

One path towards this fresh future for mining is through ecological masculinism as I have introduced it here. This new conversation for mining men and masculinities gives priority to the ending of men’s oppression for the benefit of individual mining men as well as all those with whom they share their lives at work and at home. In this paper, my intention has been to emphasise a more caring approach to mining. It is my earnest belief that through such work, mining will become more sustainable for men, women and the Earth. The ecologised mining man will have an important role to play in such a transformation.


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Author Biography

Paul Mark Pulé, MenAlive Australia

Dr. Pulé is dedicated to helping men care about themselves, each other, their families, their communities and the Earth. He completed his Ph.D. titled: A Declaration of Caring: Towards an ecological masculinism at Murdoch University in Perth, exploring ecological wisdoms to reawaken men’s capacities to care. Paul founded MenAlive Australia, which offers organisational change and coaching to help men’s lives go well. He has a special interest in a gendered analysis of the Resources Sector