Fragile masculinity is back in the news with a new poll, which showed almost three quarters of men would choose to die a decade earlier over giving up meat.
The Australian survey was commissioned by No Meat May, a group that encourages people to give up meat for a month to combat climate change, global food scarcity, health problems, and animal cruelty.
The poll, which included 1,000 respondents, found that almost half (47 per cent) of all participants thought of meat as a “masculine undertaking”, and almost three quarters (73 per cent) of men surveyed said they would rather die ten years early than give up eating steaks and burgers.
Although a vast majority of respondents (81 per cent) said they cared about the climate crisis, 79 per cent said they were not willing to give up meat to combat it. One 2018 study found that “men routinely incorporate red meat to pre-empt the negative emotional states caused by threats to masculinity”.
It gets weirder. This is not the only environmental choice men think of as “feminine” and therefore lesser. In 2019, researchers found that straight men perceive using a reusable shopping bag as a “feminine” act, and would avoid recycling for fear of “looking gay”.
Further research published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2016 also showed that men will reject choices perceived as environmentally friendly if their masculinity is “threatened”. When researchers showed men a “pink gift card with a floral design” and asked them to buy a lamp, backpack, and batteries, they chose products that were far worse for the environment than those presented with a plain gift card. Researchers said: “Men may shun eco-friendly behaviour because of what it conveys about their masculinity.
“It’s not that men don’t care about the environment. But they also tend to want to feel macho, and they worry that eco-friendly behaviours might brand them as feminine.”
Vegan brands and campaigns are fighting back trying to claim the manly mantle. There has been a rush of viral marketing and media pushing the message that, far from being soy boys, meatless men are butcher.
The Vegan Bros run a blog, sell an online fitness course and, at the end of last year, signed a publishing deal with Penguin Random House. They are the self-proclaimed leaders of an “army of fit, sexy, vegan soldiers”. The former mixed-martial-arts fighter James Wilks has claimed that veganism improved the quality of his erections. Arnold Schwarzenegger and boxer David Haye are poster boys for the new muscular veganism.
It’s perfectly reasonable to want to show that it is possible to be physically strong and vegan, given popular concerns about whether plant-based diets can provide enough protein, but the choice of musclemen and fighters as spokespeople for veganism is about more than athleticism or health.
The macho culture around meat is destructive and pathetic, but the answer is not an equally macho veganism. We should fight gender stereotypes that confine and limit us.