It’s no secret that the western culture of masculinity puts pressure on guys to be over-the-top macho—an attitude which manifests itself in many ways, including cat-calling and a whole bunch of other unpleasant stuff.
Just think about the show Man vs. Food. The name says it all: Adam Richman, the star, doesn’t just have to eat every meal, he has to conquer it.
Masculine culture dictates that these guys are “real men” because they treat their food as something to be beaten. Even better if it's an animal, especially if he shot and killed it himself. Uber-masculine!
Nevertheless, eating can often be viewed as an assertion of dominance over the (often) deep fried animal. Eating meat is also a rejection of “feminine” foods like salads, but let’s not get started on how problematic it is that women are expected to subsist on iceberg lettuce.
A recent NPR podcast unveiled a different kind of guy: the male vegan, part of a counter to the male culture of dispassion. The men interviewed included semi-professional triathletes, competitive bodybuilders, and mixed martial arts fighters, all of them vegan. "Everyone always thinks vegans are weak, skinny, frail, pale," says Dominic Thompson, the triathlete. "I get people that think, 'You're like Gwyneth Paltrow.'"
But Thompson doesn’t think of veganism as effeminate; "[There's] nothing more cowardly to me than taking advantage of something that's defenseless," he says.
Joshua Katcher, founder of The Discerning Brute, a men’s lifestyle website, and designer of high-end vegan menswear, says that people have tried to make him feel unmanly because of his diet; "It's considered a sign of weakness to other men — like you've left the club."
"There's an illusion that manhood is this confidence that is exuded at all time," says vegan chef Dan Strong. "Veganism is that kind of confidence. It really is. It's a choice that we make that guides us on our lives.”
It takes a lot to take a stand against gender norms—from any angle, and that’s really what we need to do if we’re going to change this cultural assumption of domination, of food or anything else, as inherently “male.” Kudos to these guys for taking a stand about something they believe in, regardless of other people’s gendered associations!
Images courtesy of backoutofwhack.com, grist.files.wordpress.com, addictinginfo.com, npr.com, and rack.2.mshcdn.com.