The intimate relationship between meat and masculinity

In the ancient Greek mythological text, Theogony, Hesiod narrates the coming of Gods into the universe that was originally in a state of chaos. Within this chaos comes a series of stable, analogous, mutually constitutive antitheses. These antitheses — night vs. day, human vs. divine and disorder vs. order (to name a few) can be viewed through the primary antithesis, female vs. male. This is due to the obsessive attention ancient Greek thought pays to gender. Gender basically determines the entirety of the cosmos.

Other antitheses, such as passion vs. reason, soft vs. hard and dark vs. light easily align with the female vs. male antithesis. This almost instinctual assigning of qualities to gender begs us to question how we think about female and male and why we think that way.

Now, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. What the hell does Greek mythology and its specific attention to gender have to do with veganism? And why am I reading misogynistic ancient texts in my spare time? (answer: I’m not, it’s for a class).

Theogony is one of the first sources of male hegemony. The male Gods control and shape civilization whilst regarding women as evil; in fact there is no race of women until Zeus creates Pandora. This masculine dogma — encompassing power, reason, and dominance — offers a lens to explore the relationship between meat and masculinity.

The masculine idea that “you are what you are” (whereas femininity revolves around dressing up to become something) is embodied in this text, and has become part of our social dogma. However, men are not inherently controlling, aggressive and non-emotional. Men may feel that their gender is natural, but they actually perform masculinity as a script given to them by society. This idea of performativity is important because it limits who you can be.

Statistically, there are more vegan women than vegan men. Big surprise. There is an unrelenting amount of social pressure on men to obtain optimum physical musculature (take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron if you’re ready to witness the horrors of extreme masculinity). One of the most convenient ways to bulk up is to consume protein-packed meat. Not only is eating meat convenient, but it’s been ascribed to the dominant dogma. In other words, not eating meat puts a man’s machismo at steak — I mean stake.

The idea of homosociality, or performing masculinity for the approval and recognition of other men, plays a vital role in the continual performativity of masculinity. Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger flashes his “guns” to the scrawny men in the gym, men eat meat when they’re together. When was the last time you saw a group of buff guys chowing down on sofritas at Chipotle?

Homophobia and misogyny are main vectors through which heterosexual masculinity is secured and circulated. So, when a guy stops eating meat, his masculinity can become subordinate, and even questioned by his male friends who are desperately trying to secure their own masculinities. Thus, masculinity is structured through systems of reward and punishment. When a man cries, for instance, his tears can either be rewarded or punished; rewarded in somber situations such as when a family member passes away, and punished in situations where his sensitivity is deemed unmasculine, such as when he falls and scrapes his knee.

So how can we push against the dogma and remove male veganism from subordinate forms of masculinity? Unfortunately, the construction of masculinity can’t come undone on a daily basis, as it has created regularity and that regularity has instituted a sense of comfort. To push against this comfort is the only method for progress.

We need to make it socially acceptable for men to feel vulnerable, to freely project their emotions and to feel compassion for other people and sentient beings. Fighting against this social stigma will give both males and females a sense of empowerment, because all identities intersect. After all, gender is just a social construct.

I think that what the intertwined relationship between meat and masculinity comes down to is a complex system of oppression. Men are culturally reinforced to eat meat to free themselves from subordinate masculinity, but isn’t it ironic that by doing so, they’re losing power by abiding by this system? And if that’s countered by the argument that contributing to violence (toward animals and others) makes one powerful, what kind of society are we if that’s what we truly value?

Moral of the story: It’s cool to be compassionate, regardless of gender. We all could use a little more love and compassion in our lives towards ourselves, the animals and our undogmatic identities.

Tessa Nesis is a sophomore majoring in NGOs and social change.  Her column, “The Sentient Bean,” runs on Thursdays.

2 replies
  1. Ben Williamson
    Ben Williamson says:

    It’s an old-fashioned idea that men need to eat meat to be macho, along the same lines as the notion that men need to hit women to show they are in charge. What men get from being meat and dairy consumers is an increased likelihood of heart attacks, cancer of the prostate and colon, high blood pressure and a fat gut. What’s more, there’s nothing quite as infantilizing as drinking milk, which nature only ever intended for babies.

    World number 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic, Mr Universe, Barney D u Plessis, Germany’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian; Russian Olympic gold-medallist Alexey Voyevoda and world free-running champion Tim Shieff, among others are vegans who are setting records in strength and speed while also promoting vegan eating. While not every man strives to be a champion athlete, most men want to live a long and healthy life and not have to turn to Viagra when the arteries to their sexual organs become clogged with fat. Also, the leading causes of premature death among American men – heart disease and strokes, for example – are preventable and, in some cases, reversible simply by adopting a plant-based diet.

    Aside from the health benefits of refusing to eat the flesh of sentient beings, anyone with any sense of empathy can imagine what life is like for animals raised on filthy, severely crowded factory farms where they are routinely castrated, debeaked and otherwise mutilated without painkillers and slaughtered in ways that would horrify any decent person, and everyone – regardless of gender – should reject all animal products.

    Isn’t it far more manly to follow one’s own path and stand up for those who are vulnerable in society, rather than follow the herd and bully the weak? Plus, what’s manly about knowing what is right but not doing it because you’re too weak willed? And if you don’t know what’s right, then a real man seeks the knowledge to inform himself.

Comments are closed.