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It’s no secret that we strongly associate meat-eating with manliness, especially in developed countries. Given the link between heavy consumption of animal products and erectile dysfunction, I find this association quite ironic. But where did it come from? It’s hard to say, but we can speculate.
Hunting may be partially responsible for the idea that meat is manly. In ancient hunter-gatherer societies, men did most of the hunting, perhaps due to their higher testosterone levels and the fact that women were often pregnant. However, it’s thought that in these societies, men and women were fairly equal in terms of status. They didn’t have the same concepts of masculinity and femininity that we have today. The food hunted and gathered was shared; men may not have eaten significantly more meat than women.
In his book ‘The World Peace Diet’, Dr. Will Tuttle theorises that there’s a link between the domestication of animals for food and the gender roles that persist in our culture. He suggests that the domination of animals may ultimately have led to the oppression of women.
Like hunting, herding and slaughtering animals was considered to be men’s work. According to Dr. Tuttle, men had to become emotionally detached from the animals to dominate them. Aggression replaced compassion as animals were violently confined and mutilated.
Owning lots of animals became a status symbol, which lead to competition between herders. They started wars in an attempt to take their competitors’ animals and thus increase their status.
Dr. Tuttle believes that when this attitude of domination, possessiveness and aggression developed, herders began to treat women and children like property as a result. Herders exploited them and ‘owned’ them as a mark of status.
This brings to mind the high levels of violent crime, including rape and domestic abuse, committed by modern slaughterhouse workers.
It’s worth noting that meat and manliness don’t go together in every culture. Some Eastern religions like Buddhism and Jainism encourage vegetarianism and emphasise compassion for all beings, despite having developed in patriarchal societies. Western religions tend to promote the view that ‘God put animals here for us to eat’. These views reflect the cultures they developed in; many Eastern cultures eat a predominantly plant-based diet.
A man choosing to eat a plant-based diet in a heavily meat-eating culture is likely to face ridicule, as illustrated by the following:
I can only assume the creator had incredibly fragile masculinity (along with a poor grasp of punctuation).
Some men have told me they feel unable to connect to the animal rights movement, partially because they weren’t socialised to be loving and compassionate. Although they can objectively see that hurting animals is wrong, this reduced empathy makes it harder for them to give up animal products.
We socialise girls, on the other hand, to nurture and care for others. As a result, they tend to have more empathy when confronted with animal suffering. This is probably responsible for the disparity between the numbers of male and female vegetarians.
Many of us falsely think we need meat for protein. Because society deems muscular men more attractive, many men eat a lot of meat in an attempt to get stronger. As Italian actor Pino Caruso said, “People eat meat and think they will become strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.”
Why do you think we consider meat-eating to be manly? Let me know in the comments.