I’m not really a traditionalist when it comes to gender roles. I consider stereotypes about how men and women “should” behave to be archaic, silly, and not much worth paying attention to. But since going vegan nearly seven years ago, I’ve found it hard to ignore how intent our culture is (or perhaps advertisers are?) on equating meat with manhood.
I think one reason for this association is that “being a man” has traditionally meant doing whatever was necessary to ensure the survival of oneself and one’s family. Historically, this included having to actually kill just to put food on the table. “Being a man” meant performing tasks that were gruesome, violent and ethically challenging. Tasks which required some serious mental and emotional rationalization as well as the suppression of our innate sense of compassion and justice.
Meat, therefore, represented a kind of twisted strength – both psychological and physical.
Unfortunately, it’s an association that still lingers today (even though the need to hunt for survival has long since passed). According to researchers who studied this issue, subjects “rated men who ate meat as more masculine than their non-meat eating counterparts.” The authors of the study noted that to eat vegetarian options, men would “have to give up food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy.”
I would argue however, that today, eating meat is what is “weak and wimpy.” After all, it takes no great feat of strength to drive through KFC and pick up a bucket of chicken parts. It takes zero courage to pay desperate (and often illegal) workers to slaughter the most docile and defenseless creatures on earth. And hunting down a hot dog while watching the game hardly qualifies as bravery.
What DOES take strength, courage and fortitude is standing up for what’s right – even if it’s inconvenient, or means going against the grain. While many stereotypes about manhood ring false for me, some do ring true. In my opinion, real men are those who stand tall to protect the weak and defenseless. Real men choose integrity over peer-pressure. Real men don’t harm and kill others for pleasure or “sport.” Real men fight for justice and refuse to participate in the needless exploitation and oppression of others.
In other words, real men are vegan.
Photo – Vegan bodybuilder Joel Kirklis from VeganStrength.org