Men who choose not to eat meat have always dealt with a certain amount of jeering about their manhood, but this study makes it more clear than ever that even women who also do not eat meat think of vegetarian men as less masculine.
The study gave men and women descriptions of fictional students whose personalities varied on a single point: whether or not they ate meat or were vegetarian. Consistently the vegetarian students were estimated to be more virtuous, liberal, weight-conscious and pacifist, while the polar opposite was thought of the fictional students who ate meat.
The article implies that women are naturally more attracted to men they view to be more masculine, but it presents no evidence that this is a universal fact, and it’s simply not. Sexual attraction, like every other human preference from music to food, runs a diverse conscious gamut despite any subconscious bias.
It is true, however, that meat-eating has long been associated in human civilization – especially in the west – with a traditionally “masculine” gender archetype. Patriarchy, wealth and political power have been associated with meat because meat is inherently a luxury item. If meat is scarce in a community, the politically powerful get it first. If meat is scare in a family structure, the men and boys get it first.
But whether the masculine gender archetype is something that we as men should strive to live up to is another issue entirely.
As much as some animal advocacy groups are criticized for their over-sexualization of the animal rights debate, it can just as easily be said about the other side of the fence. Men are conditioned through subtle and not-so-subtle advertising and media saturation to associate meat with masculine sexuality in the most violent and oppressive ways.
Carol J. Adams examines the correlation of oppressive masculinity and meat-eating in her book and corresponding slideshow The Sexual Politics of Meat.
The idea that a choice not to consume meat could lead one to be considered less masculine or less attractive has more to do with our flawed cultural ideas about sexuality, gender roles, and power dynamics than it has to do with the personal failings of the individual who chooses not to eat meat.
If my choice to be vegan makes me less attractive or less masculine to a certain segment of the population, then I embrace that. I have no more desire to sacrifice my convictions to become more sexually attractive than I do to enhance my own personal convenience or satisfy a craving.
I do not define my manhood by my ability to overpower, dominate, or hurt other people or nonhuman animals. In the 21st century, we can hope to see a further denouncement of the stereotype that masculinity is defined by power and violence as athletes like Mac Danzig and Robert Cheeke give us a paradigm of masculinity that can include a thoughtful approach to animal exploitation as well as physical prowess.