In thinking, talking and writing about being vegan, it can be easy for me to focus on my own personal journey. After all, that is what I can discuss most articulately and knowledgeably, given that they are my lived experiences. I find I am mostly at ease blogging about why I decided to become vegan, or what I find challenging about it. However, I have been thinking about veganism more broadly recently, and want to explore its wider themes and intersections, beginning with a post on how being vegan impacts on perceptions of masculinity.
| What is toxic masculinity?
Taking off my misandrist hat for just a sec, I will say that I think there is nothing wrong with healthy masculine energy. What I find objectionable is toxic, or hyper, masculinity – male energy at its most extreme, driven by the patriarchal structure of society. Examples of toxic masculinity are, broadly speaking, rape culture, which operates on the assumption that men are entitled to women’s bodies, and poor emotional wellbeing among men, who are expected at all times to be “strong” and to not talk about their mental health issues.
Toxic masculinity is incredibly damaging to our society, and affects absolutely everyone, regardless of sex, gender identity or sexual orientation. For example, hyper masculinity might promote the idea that trans men are not really men; it may be ignorant of non-binary sexual or gender identities; it may be anti-woman, in teaching men to police women’s bodies and feel entitled to access to them with a flimsy-at-best understanding of consent. Crucially, toxic masculinity also negatively affects the men it tries to empower; by preaching that men must behave in an unemotional, sexually aggressive manner, it is silencing conversations regarding suicide, abuse and other issues that affect men’s lives.
| Are vegan men wimps?
While toxic masculinity works in many ways, today I want to examine how it overlaps with veganism. If you are a self-identified man reading this post, have you ever had someone express surprise at your dietary choice or even be insulting of it? Do you yourself hold a preconceived view of non-meat eating men as unmanly, weak, or lacking in sexual prowess? Where did this perception of vegan men as wimpy, girly or other derogatory and problematic descriptors even come from, and how is it perpetuated?
As I often do when considering human behaviour, I look back on how cavemen might have behaved. Back in the day (you can see how far my academic research skills have been stretched), men were hunters who had to provide food to keep their families alive, and needed to be physically strong and able to do so. However, over several million years, we have reached a point where it is more acceptable for men to be more than just providers, but to be the emotionally complex beings that they are; to talk about their feelings, express weaknesses and seek help when they’re struggling. Even so, it would seem, there is still a social expectation for men to be “manly,” which includes eating meat.
Meat is marketed in a very overtly masculine way – steaks grilling on fires, with operatic music booming in the background – whereas the highly lucrative clean living movement is primarily geared towards women. Barbecues, as fun as they are, promote a traditionally masculine culture; while this can be good for male bonding, it is often built around the cooking of meat as a shared male experience – so where do vegetarian men fit into the mix?
I have previously seen tofu described as “girly,” and had a friend of a friend once tell me she’d been put off on a date when the man she was seeing had revealed himself to be a vegetarian. At work, I recently overheard a jovial conversation about a male vegan colleague, who was described as having “manned down” in his decision to not contribute to animal suffering. Speaking to my boyfriend, we realised that we are both regularly asked if he became vegan after I did, implying that I somehow forced the decision upon him as no man in his right mind could possibly be able to give up bacon; this is an experience that I understand to be quite common for vegan or vegetarian couples.
I think the pressure on men to not talk about their feelings contributes to society’s inability to understand why men might choose to become vegan. We don’t credit men with enough capacity for emotional thinking, or at best we invalidate and deride them when they do exercise their beliefs. The thought of a man being moved to action or, gawd forbid, tears by images of factory farmed pigs is unpalatable to us, and doesn’t compute with the idea of them as strong, muscular, sexual providers.
Quite frankly, I can’t think of anything more pathetic than such a restricted view of the male psyche. There is nothing about men avoiding meat that makes them any less attractive to me, or that makes me doubt their abilities to please, perform or just be regular human beings. I think the idea that to be “more of a man” – an idea which in itself is problematic – men must consume animal products is misguided and toxic, and needs to be dispelled.
Have any thoughts to add to this discussion? Feel free to Tweet me or let me know in the comments!