Real Men Eat Meat

Lecture 6: "Real Men Eat Meat"
Vegetarianism and Gender

The lecture on Gender and Sexuality highlighted the nature of discourse. These concepts had no definite intrinsic meaning but were social and cultural constructs. These discourses were founded upon biological basis. But instead of explaining it as natural determinism, a more accurate description would be that these discourses were formed by expanding upon sex differences. Hence concepts on what masculinity and feminity comprised of arose forming what people commonly understand as gender stereotypes.

Expatiating this idea of what composed masculinity and feminity,
an article in The Guardian,"It takes a real man to say he enjoys tofu", discusses the gender stereotypes associated with a vegetarian diet.

According to Barbara Ellen, the "male vegetarian" is emasculated.

1) Both scientifically
Intake of soy compounds have been found to contain natural estrogen, possibly decreasing sperm count.
2) And socially
They are "viewed as unmanly by the ladies" and "practically turning into girls".

man vs. food

More notably, Ellen also asserted that "the perceived link between meat-eating and machismo... is getting worse." Popular food shows like Man vs. Food, Epic Meal Time and burger advertisements with phrases such as "man-sized portions", the media too is propagating the need to cook and eat large amounts of meat as qualification for being masculine.

The question is, how does eating meat have any connection with being masculine?

Why has this association come about? Science is not the main reason for the association. The link had existed way before the time that science was able to determine the correlation between estrogen production and soy. Meat consumption has had a perennial status of being semiotically associated with masculinity and virility. In other words, meat eating has been perceived to be a symbol of "manhood".

epic meal timeUpon examining 23 languages which use gendered pronouns, researchers discovered that meat "was related to the male gender" in most of the languages (Rozin, 2012). This is not a phenomenon that has arisen with modern Western capitalist societies. In nomadic tribes such as the Dobe Ju'hoansi the rites of manhood are associated with the killing of animals in the "Rite of First Kill". In Africa and Indonesia, "non-meat foods, such as eggs and vegetables" are perceived as women's food and unsuitable for men to consume.

This could have arisen in patriarchal societies as meat is commonly valued more than vegetables as both a nutritional source and a commodity. As with any class system, the more powerful class would have better access to valuable objects and restrict such access to the weaker classes.Hence gender-specific restrictions with regard to the consumption of meat could be seen as an assertion of power by men over women

And patriarchy doesn't stop at the literal act of consuming meat.

Real Men Eat Meat - Anthropology & the Human ConditionIn her book The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol J. Adams proposed that meat eating perpetuates an acceptance of violence against animals. The process through which an animal becomes perceived as meat, requires what she terms as "absent referents" - the cow is no longer a 'cow' but instead has become merely 'beef'.

Adams relates this
phenomenon to an acceptance of sexual violence by men on females. The objectification of animals in meat consumption overlaps with the objectification of women, in a display of male power in a patriarchal system.

Condoning or practicing meat consumption is essentially consenting to patriarchical tyranny.

So are male vegetarians really as weak as they have been portrayed to be? Males refusing to consume meat have been perceived by media as deviant behavior, and hence descriptions of them being "weak" or "feminine" are labels that deviate from what is archetypically considered masculine.

This is a picture of a vegan. Would anyone call him feminine??batman

The fact that a vegan has successfully portrayed one of film's most "masculine" characters, essentially highlights the concept that gender concepts of masculinity is merely a social construct and subject to change over time according to societal perceptions.

Citations and links
(1) (
(2) Paul Rozin, Julia M. Hormes, Myles S. Faith, and Brian Wansink. “Is Meat Male? A Quantitative Multi-Method Framework to Establish Metaphoric Relationships.” Journal of Consumer Research: October 2012.

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