What I’d like to ask about today, briefly, is if vegetarianism is gendered. It just seems like I meet more female vegetarians than male vegetarians, and that when girls brag about eating a nice juicy steak there is always this shadow of masculinity lingering around, either in the way their voice changes when they say “juicy steak”, or in the decor of the places where such juicy steaks are consumed, etc.
Full disclosure: I have been a vegetarian for a year now, for a litany of reasons: the main two being ethical reasons (thank you Jacques Derrida, Rav Kook, Michael Pollan, Jonathan Safran Foer, PETA, etc.) and for practical reasons related to my religious dietary restrictions. In previous years, I have been a raw food vegan (2-3 months, I don’t remember), vegan (1 month), but this recent vegetarianism has been the longest to last. As for my role as a gendered consumer of vegetarian products and vegetarian culture, I am not sure where I fall. I mean, I wear polos and bro shorts on the weekdays, flannel and long skirts on the weekend. I was raised in female spaces and culture, and for feminist reasons identify with women as my “class,” but I am ambivalent about it at the same time.
So, basically, all I have at the start of this post is a question based on cultural cues that I’ve picked up for the years. What I’d like to do now is, through Googling, find a few clues to whether there is actually a cultural gender barrier in the vegetarian-omnivore divide, or whether I am just hallucinating.
So, the first thing I did, naturally, was Google “sociological images men meat” – since if anyone was up on this question, I’d figure Sociological Images would be up on it. I found this post, which skillfully dissects a Campbell’s Soup advertisement that says: “For Men Only: ‘He-Man’ is the word for these Hearty Soups, but Ladies, you can like ’em too!” oh, and “Beef! Beef! Beef!” Dr. Gwen Sharp explains:
“Writing about the British working class during the late 1800s in his book Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz argues, “…wives and children were systematically undernourished because of a culturally conventionalized stress upon adequate food for the ‘breadwinner’” (p. 130). Men’s privileged access to meat actually spurred the consumption of sugar: “…while the laboring husband got the meat, the wife and children got the sucrose…” (p. 145). Sugar provided a relatively cheap source of calories for women and children’s diets to make up for the fact that they got less of other foods.”
A reader of this post submitted the following image of a Weight Watchers advertisement that tells men they can “EAT LIKE A MAN. NOT LIKE A RABBIT” through the Weight Watchers Diet, and from the picture, one could venture to guess that a real man eats a grilled steak with a few sides of potatoes and vegetables. I’m assuming the rabbit orders a salad or something. Anyways, this means other people have also picked up on it through advertisements, which is one piece of evidence that there is some sort of gendering at play.
Next, I will Google “vegetarianism by gender.” Let’s see what I get. Brb. Hmmm… Wikipedia… section on the Vegetarianism entry under “Gender”… aha! A study says 68% of vegetarians are women. 32% of vegetarianism are men. This links me back to the article I avoided in my Google search, the first one that came up called “The gender gap: if you’re a vegetarian, odds are you’re a woman. Why? – includes related articles.” I avoided it because I saw it was a several page article, which set off my tl;dr alarm (sorry LadyG!), but now that I am reading it, it is quite interesting… So basically, in summary, here are the observations the article makes:
- Among adults, women are more likely to be vegetarians since the majority of vegetarians do so for health reasons, and women do things for health reasons more often than men. Iiii’d also venture to argue that they’re used to adopting “diets” a lot more than men, I’m not gonna google it now, but I’m sure women go on diets in much larger numbers, aaaand that “health reasons” more often than not is linked to “cosmetic reasons” for women in perhaps slightly larger numbers than for men.” Again these are not corroborated yet, but these are my hypotheses.
- Another important factor is women’s higher concern for animal suffering, supported by the statistics that say that around 75-80% of people active in the animal rights movement are women. This linked me to a book I have been meaning to read since I became interested in the topic (a month ago) called “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” by Carol Adams, which makes the following connection: “For Adams, as well as Bauman, whose animal rights group tries to show the connections between the oppression of animals and women, vegetarianism is firmly rooted in feminism. In our patriarchal society, women are still on the underside of power: “We know what it’s like to be powerless,” says Adams. Because of that, she says, “we can see a relationship between our powerlessness and others’ powerlessness,” including animals.” I think this is quite great, and probably is related to the reasons for a lot of conscious feminists to undertake vegetarianism, but is it a guiding factor for the majority of women?
- Another interesting angle that Adams brings up is the perspective of a power struggle, similar perhaps to my previous post on Conversa women, in which vegetarianism is a way for women to assert themselves through a traditionally gendered practice, like cooking. “Indeed, becoming vegetarian is a literal act of liberation for some women who see getting away from the hot, greasy preparation of meat as a kind of freedom.Once they are liberated from cooking meat, these women can often influence what their husbands and sons eat.”
Anyways, there are more and more things that this article gives as evidence to the gender camp, so I don’t want to just be copy and pasting all day, but I’d check it out if I were you for more interesting evidence, including a study in which people rated the “femininity” and “masculinity” of certain dishes and what not.
Maybe two Google searches are not conclusive, but I hope they help start a conversation on how our consumption and, in particular, our health and ethics-based consumption is affected by gender.
*PS: To all of my vegetarian friends, tofu actually does have high estrogen content. Consider yourself warned.
Oh! Before I forget. Next week, I’d like to continue on this theme, but I’d like to find out more about male vegetarians. If you or someone you know is a male vegetarian, please let me know if I can interview you for a brief, anonymous survey that I’d like to put together about vegetarianism and masculinity and use in my next post. If you’d like to do that, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can exchange recipes or something and chat a bit about why you’re a vegetarian and how that’s worked out. Thanks!