What Is It with Men and Poison?

During our shift on the Alabama Master Gardener Help Line Thursday, Amanda and I fielded four calls from people seeking help with their gardens. Three of the four were from women trying to deal with the damage done by men spraying poison.

Why is it that men love poison so much? Obviously, merely asking the question is an adventure in stereotyping. There are men who are cautious when using any chemical, and there are plenty of women who view the world as a canvas on which to paint Roundup. But in general, it does seem to be the men more than the women who reach first for the poison, and it seems to be the women more than the men who are nervous about it.

To the extent the stereotype is accurate, of course, it’s the women who have it right. It’s shocking how comfortable we have all become with the knowledge that we live surrounded by varying concentrations of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. We know it’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, and we remain complacent. But nowhere is poison residue more scary than in the food grown in the home gardens of men who use poison.

Commercial growers and their families may live in a poison cloud, but by and large, they’re careful to follow the label directions on the poisons they use, and those directions are designed to minimize the amount of poison that remains in the food itself. Homeowners, on the other hand, rarely read label directions. It’s not unusual for a homeowner to spray poison on his or her food crop within days before harvest and not even to know what the poison was, let alone what instructions applied to its use.

timtaylorSo back to the question; why is it that men love poison so much? Certainly testosterone has something to do with it. Like Tim (“The Tool Man”) Taylor in Home Improvement, men forever crave MORE POWER, and the use of poison obviously fills the bill. We men seem to have an unquenchable desire to change the world around us for the better. Wrongly or rightly, we view the application of herbicide or pesticide as a way to make our world better; our heart is generally in the right place.

Perhaps of equal importance is our masculine impatience. We don’t just want to solve the problem; we want to solve it now. We are ill-equipped and unwilling to wait another week to see if this pest or that weed is a genuine threat. We crave an immediate resolution that will zap the interloper instantly and irrevocably.

So what can you do if you live with a habitual poisoner? My best recommendation is that you appeal to his masculinity by focusing on your health. Many men who have no regard for their own health are nevertheless hard-wired to protect their family. So don’t waste time telling him how this may kill him. Talk instead about how it may cause health problems for you or for others he loves.

Be the designated label-reader. I can’t tell you why we men hate to read directions; I just know we do. So you be the one who quietly reads the labels on the chemicals he loves to use, looks them up on the Internet, and talks to him about the risks he is causing for those he loves.

Build him a playpen. One way to minimize the damage men do with poisons is to restrict the area in which they can wreak havoc. If your man is conscientious (and most at least wish to be), he will respect a clear, unambiguous agreement that he confine spraying to a designated area on a windless day. If he has an area where he can play with his poisons freely, maybe he’ll agree to leave yours alone.

Be patient. Time is on your side. All or nearly all the poisons your man loves to use require petroleum to make. Over time, they will become harder to obtain and more expensive. He won’t be able to keep using them. Eventually, we will ALL become organic gardeners, not because we love the earth but because that’s the only way we will be able to do it.

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