By Amanda Riley, VegFund Operations Assistant
Mentions of factory farming in the media are increasingly negative, and the number of vegetarians and meat-reducers is increasing slowly but surely. However, women are more likely than men both to follow a fully vegetarian diet and to eat at least one vegetarian meal a week (Vegetarian Resource Group, 2012). In this blog, we’ll explore why this is and what we can do to bring more men into the vegan lifestyle.
Many animal activists are familiar with the frustrating notion that “real men eat meat.” There has been plenty of theoretical work on masculinity, feminism, and vegetarianism, but empirical studies were lacking until a recent study by Hank Rothgerber at Bellarmine University in Kentucky (Rothgerber, 2013). Rothgerber surveyed men and women on their beliefs and thoughts about meat eating to see what mental justification strategies they used in a world where the negative effects of animal agriculture are so well known.
Women were much more likely to use indirect strategies. They avoided thinking about where their food came from or chose to think of animals as separate from the meat on their plates. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to justify meat directly with reasons like religious sanction, human superiority, nutrition, and the inability of animals to feel pain. People who used the direct, male strategies ate meat more frequently and ate fewer vegetarian meals than people who used the indirect strategies (Rothgerber, 2013).
Do these direct justification strategies sound familiar? Asserting dominance and refusing to be swayed by compassion are two facets of our cultural ideals of masculinity. In advertisements, eating meat is often directly linked to masculinity. For example, in one Hummer commercial, the gas-guzzling SUV is presented as a way to “Restore Your Manhood” for men who may have lost it by eating tofu and other vegetarian foods (Rogers, 2008). And indeed, when Rothgerber measured masculine attitudes along with the meat justification strategies, those who valued masculinity more highly were more likely to use the direct strategies and thus to eat more meat. This suggest that men’s pro-meat attitudes and higher meat consumption may largely be due to a desire to represent the masculine ideal (Rothgerber, 2013).
Rothgerber offers some strategies that activists can employ to temper the effects of masculinity on meat eating:
- Educate people about the role that these messages may be playing on their identities and behaviors so that they can make more informed choices.
- Continue to influence women, who will in turn influence the men in their lives. Not only are women having increasingly more say in household decision making (Belch & Willis, 2006), but they have also been shown to have a direct influence on important behaviors in men such as seeking healthcare (Norcross, Ramirez, and Palinkas, 1996). However, Rothgerber notes that this doesn’t mean that men can’t change themselves or each other, or that women should be responsible for men.
- Normalize veganism by organizing discussion groups for men or by raising awareness about more “masculine” male vegetarians such as athletes or musicians.
- Use masculine ideals to promote veganism. For example, we could emphasize that veganism is a bold and rational choice, or that “real men” choose to protect vulnerable groups such as animals rather than harm them. PETA is already notorious for associating traditional masculine attributes like sexual stamina with a vegan diet.
Belch, M.A. & Willis, L.A. (2006). Family decision at the turn of the century: Has the changing structure of households impacted the family decision-making process? Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 2(2), 111-124.
Norcross, W.A., Ramirez, C., & Palinkas, L.A. (1996). The influence of women on the health-care seeking behavior of men. The Journal of Family Practice, 43(5), 475-480.
Rogers, R.A. (2008). Beasts, burgers, and hummers: Meat and the crisis of masculinity in contemporary television advertisements. Environmental Communication, 2(3), 281-301.
Rothgerber, H. (2013). Real men don’t eat (vegetable) quiche: Masculinity and the Justification of meat consumption. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14(4), 363-375.
Stahler, C. (2012). How often do Americans eat vegetarian meals? And how many adults in the U.S. are vegetarian? Retrieved on June 13, 2014, from http://www.vrg.org/blog/2012/05/18/how-often-do-americans-eat-vegetarian-meals-and-how-many-adults-in-the-u-s-are-vegetarian/