The Masculine Marketing Formula

I am a vegan. This means I don’t eat animals or any food that’s obtained from animals. It also means I don’t use any items made with animal products or items tested on animals, as much as possible. I say that because it is an ongoing process of learning what exactly contains animal products. I was quite surprised to learn that many beers and wines contain stomach acids obtained from animals to assist the fermentation process and that black tattoo ink uses animal bone char (For a great vegan tattoo shop check out Scapegoat Tattoo in Portland, Oregon).

Now I haven’t always been a vegan. For most of my life, minus the last 3 years, I followed the Standard American Diet. As I have said elsewhere, though, our complicity cannot prevent our current ability to critique. In order to change ourselves, we will, by definition, have to contradict our former actions. What I want to discuss here is not veganism specifically, but rather the pressures that keep many of us from even entertaining the idea, as it’s a process I went through myself. We’ve all heard it before…

 “Real Men Eat Meat”

What men eat is strongly connected with ideas of manhood. The power of masculinity is so strong, the choices, if we can even call them that, that we make about food many times are made based more on the worry of “not being a man” over other concerns such as taste, health or ethics. This restriction, this pressure, this narrow box put upon us by the cultural demands of masculinity restricts our individual freedom, reducing our ability to choose.

Its important to realize how strong this pressure is. You may be shaking your head, saying, “no, you are completely free to eat how you wish. There is no law against it one way or the other. Nobody is physically forcing you to eat meat.” When we speak and think like this, we miss how strong family, culture, gender, and society pressure actually is. When fathers forbid their sons from even trying a meat-less hot dog at a family bar-b-que, when commercials market products based on ideas of manliness, or when reasons given for not wanting a particular thing is that it’s ‘chic food,’ we don’t have freedom of choice, rather we have a tyranny of manhood. This Burger King commercial is a good example:

It has all the aspects mentioned above as is made even worse by the fact that it is a remake of the song, I am Woman, by Helen Reddy from 1972, which focuses on women empowerment and became an anthem of the women’s movement.

Eating animals has become another way for achieving this narrow standard of masculinity, the making of men by requiring constant swagger, shows of aggression, and “manning up.” Putting animals on our plates becomes another way to wear that “Tough Guise,” the constant performance of manhood driven by the never-ending fear of being thought less than a man. In the current set-up of masculinity, being a man is not something you are, but is always in danger of being taken away.  This is not a positive identity, but an identity defined by anxiety.

If the standard for which food men consume is based on the amount of violence that went into getting it onto the plate (“The bloodier the better.”), what does that tell us about the notion of manhood we are being given? It certainly makes comments related to rape and sexual violence such as, “he treated me like a piece of meat,” have even more significance. A manhood that requires continual displays of violence, aggression, and dominance, as we see in the eating of animals, is one that contributes to an epidemic of seeing women as things, sexual violence, and rape. It’s not the food itself; it’s the motivations behind it. All too often eating animals and sex are linked, like in this commercial from Carl’s Jr.

A preoccupation with food and its relation to manhood shows how tenuous, how fragile, the current idea of masculinity really is. Having a plate of food without some kind of dead animal on it is enough to call one’s manhood into question. When we take a step back, the insanity of it becomes extremely visible. Once we break out of the restrictive, pre-given standards of masculinity, only then can we begin to have the discussion about what we should or should not be eating and why. As it currently stands the all-encompassing pull of manhood prevents us from freely choosing, and it’s not just the animals that are harmed.


3 thoughts on “The Masculine Marketing Formula

  1. David,

    I didn’t realize you were vegan. So am I. Transgressing masculinity through a moral choice not to eat meat is a tremendous social taboo. Statistically, more women are vegan and are sympathetic to the movement. However, I think ultimately we, men and women, are not extending the notion of caring or morality to its logical conclusion if it does not include our relationship with animals.

    Check out this article:

  2. Hi David

    I think you argue your case extremely well, and make many good points which are certainly food for thought (pun intended!)

    I am a meat eater but I don’t see this as connected to my identification as masculine, certainly not in the sense demonstrated by the clips you’ve included.

    In the UK we have our fair share of sexist men, misogynists, so-called “Men’s Rights Activists” and the rest, but we don’t have the same level of insistence on ‘manning up’ as you seem to labour under in the states. The truly awful Burger King ad is, as far as I know, not shown here and would no doubt come under fire very quickly if it were. The Memphis one would be howled off the screen in 5 minutes, if it ever reached it at all (not that our advertising is free of sexist attitudes – far from it – but we do have the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) which frequently acts to remove all manner of adverts which contravene its codes).

    The idea of a father forbidding his son from trying a meat-free hot dog would be faintly ludicrous. It occurs to me that the barbecue culture is nowhere near so established on our cool, damp little island, so that maybe those attitudes haven’t found fertile ground!

    Some years ago, Bruce Feirstein wrote a book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche”. described as ‘a hilarious tongue in cheek tribute to masculinity, its strengths and its flaws’. This more accurately sums up most people’s attitude here to overt masculinity. It’s seen as amusing, if slightly bewildering, and, although the issue of death and rape threats aimed at prominent feminists on Twitter has reared its ugly head recently, I do believe that recognition of men and women’s essential humanity is inching forward gradually.

    Now, before I begin to sound like just one more insufferable smug Brit,I should just acknowledge that we’re far from perfect; I guess my main point is that the issues present themselves rather differently over here. It’s got me wondering if the attitudes you describe are a relic of the sheer determination, grit, bravery and brutality associated with the pioneering spirit necessary for the early settlers to carve out a new nation, and that if you go a bit further back in our history, you’ll find the same grim reality.

    One thing I’m certain of, though, is that we don’t have to contend with the religious right in the same way that you do. For once, I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to talk about a war being waged on women in the US, with over a hundred different bits of legislation aimed at reducing reproductive and other rights. I find it quite horrifying and am always on the lookout for an upsurge of the same kind over here. I’m glad I live in a society where I can say I’m an atheist and still be friends with my local vicar, where I can have a passionate but respectful debate about issues such as abortion without being attacked for it, where people don;t go around shooting doctors for performing abortions. The price of freedom, though, is eternal vigilance and it wouldn’t do to assume things will always be like this. After all, some of the best and finest of liberal principles originally established a new era of democracy in the US and you still have some of the finest academics and philosophers anywhere. My hope is that reason and goodwill will prevail.

    For now, thanks again for your thought-provoking posts. I’m glad I signed up.



  3. Great post! There’s a line in the movie Escape Plan that I think shows the link between eating meat and masculinity quite nicely. Stallone hits Schwarzenegger who laughs and says “You hit like a vegetarian.” What does it mean to be a man? Apparently it means you need to be violent, and eat meat. The top comment in the second link below says “hahaha vegetarians hit weak because they eat no protein.” The second top comment says in response “nuts and eggs have protein.” I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on perceptions of protein and masculinity.
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