COVID Masculinities and the Meat of the Matter

On Super Bowl Sunday, households across the nation ignored Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice to only enjoy the iconic game with their immediate household. Instead, Super Bowl parties are expected to be ‘mini super spreader’ events with COVID-19 infections projected to grow exponentially because of these gatherings. Like cockfights in Bali (a case study often used by anthropologists to understand gendered politics in the region), Dr. Jan Huebenthal has argued that the Super Bowl similarly says something about masculinity in America. The potential for Super Bowl parties, often facilitated by men, to increase COVID-19 infections is not the first time toxic masculinity has been criticized for exacerbating the harm caused by COVID-19. Salon has written that “toxic masculinity has become a threat to public health,” the New York Times has argued that men’s “aversion to common sense protections” is inherently intertwined with men’s fear of seeming weak, and Wyoming News has simply stated that “toxic masculinity [is] a big reason for spread of COVID-19.” However, the implications of toxic masculinities and pandemics does not stop at COVID-19; toxic masculinity also increases the risks for future infectious disease outbreaks caused by animal agriculture.

Though the origin of COIVD-19 remains unknown, it has been argued that there are “many unshakeable links between modern animal agriculture and COVID-19.” COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means that it originates in animals and can jump to other species, such as human beings. The root cause of zoonotic diseases is  often animal exploitation;  modern agricultural practices, such as factory farms, are involved in high-risk interaction between humans and animals and pose a serious risk for future outbreaks, such as avian flu. This is why organizations, like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, have published white papers on the relationship between COVID-19 and animal agriculture in the hopes of reducing the likelihood of a future global pandemics.

In addition to necessary policy changes that the white papers discuss, we must also interrogate the relationship between toxic masculinity and meat consumption, specifically in the context of COVID-19. Toxic masculinity has been a hot-button term for the past few years and is used to describe how what society deems ‘being manly’ is can be harmful to women, as well as the men themselves. Similarly, hegemonic masculinity is the practice of structures and institutions that legitimize men’s dominant position in society and encourage toxic masculinities. In the autumn of 2020, NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies posted a call for papers concerning the masculinities of COVID-19 in which the journal contended that “political and social appeals to act responsibly seem to be intertwined with different assumptions of what a good man should and should not do, not only among politicians but also in everyday encounters between obliging and obstructing citizens.” It asked scholars to research why men are dying at higher rates than women from the COVID-19 pandemic, how toxic masculinities played out on the federal level through policy creation, and in which ways fear of seeming weak and vulnerable have affected some men’s usage of commonsense COVID-19 protections, such as wearing masks.

These traits of what being a strong man means, which Salon described as “individualistic, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric,” has been reified by Trump’s re-election campaign. As the Washington Post reported, Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be “This potentially deadly illness is something to dominate or be dominated by.”  These anxieties about seeming ‘weak’ are an example of toxic masculinities that directly affect public health, especially as men have refused to wear masks in fear of being seen as weak and have “turned mask wearing into a battlefield in the culture war,” as argued in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. This threat of emasculation by something as simple as wearing a mask has made “flouting public health guidelines became synonymous with manliness,” as reported on in Mother Jones.

Not only do toxic masculinities put people’s physical safety at risk, but COVID-19 has also exacerbated mental health crises. In “Men, Suicide, and Covid-19: Critical Masculinity Analyses and Interventions,” Khan et al. found that “Excessive pressure to conform to traditional modes of masculinity increases the risk of men’s suicidal behavior.” Over 75% of men in a Cleveland Clinic survey reported increased levels of stress and worsened mental health. As Healthline reported, “When asked about their own health priorities and stressors, the men surveyed cited the economy and their family’s well-being ahead of their own personal health.” This is troubling, especially as men attempt suicide at higher rates than women and that suicide rates are increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is well accepted that toxic masculinities hurt men themselves and that this harm has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic itself—as well as the potential for future pandemics—can also be blamed on hegemonic masculinity. The connection between meat consumption and masculinity has been well researched, and have inspired books like Carol Adam’s keystone work, the Sexual Politics of Meat, in which she argues that “white supremacy and misogyny together upheld meat as white man’s food.” Simply, men consume more animal products because meat and masculinity are inherently intertwined because meat is seen as a stand-in for power and strength. Not only does this form of masculinity have an ecological and ethical footprint, but it also hurts the men themselves who face health risks connected to meat consumption, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  

In an interview concerning COVID masculinities conducted by history PhD student Matthew Sparks, an interviewee explained the anxieties COVID-19 created for their masculinity:

Men are supposed to be the protective, providers, go out and hunt the boar and bring back the meat, go out and fight and defend the home, protect the home and the hearth and all that kind of stuff, it’s kind of ingrained in us, even if we don’t necessarily relate to that kind of behavior, it is ingrained in our way of thinking and in our society…So, here we are in survival mode, and those perceived gender roles are just sporadically going everywhere…We’ve redefined and rearranged our roles in the household to where it’s like “what the fuck are we supposed to do right now?”

This confusion over identity and purpose illustrated above, as well as the perceived failing many men currently feel for not being able to provide for their families as unemployment rates rise, is another example of toxic masculinity harming men themselves. However, as explained earlier, toxic masculinity has a body count—when men see wearing masks as ‘feminine,’ people get sick and masculinity literally threatens public safety and health. When eating meat is seen as manly, zoonotic disease outbreaks can occur that can detrimentally harm our global community, when men feel pressured to uphold the ‘right’ kind of masculinity, men’s mental health suffers. In order to mediate future pandemics, it is imperative that we as men question what it means to be ‘manly.’ Toxic masculinity isn’t helping any of us—give yourself the freedom to pursue healthy forms of masculinity and let’s redefine what being a ‘man’ means together.  


Z. Zane McNeill is an activist-scholar, co-editor of Queer and Trans Voices: Achieving Liberation Through Consistent Anti-Oppression, and the founder of
Sparks & McNeill
.

Des Hommes Rongeant des Steaks

Translation by Hypathie: Feminist and Anti-Speciesist Blog. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.
Man in a suit sits in front of a plate with a raw steak, knife and fork poised in his fists on the table

A la suite de mon essai “Des femmes riant seules avec des salades “, un collègue curieux google-ise ce qu’on pourrait considérer comme le contraire : des hommes mangeant des steaks. Ce qu’il a trouvé, et qui s’est trouvé confirmé lors de mes propres recherches d’images sur Google, est le thème répétitif  d’hommes s’agaçant les dents sur une grosse tranche de viande, souvent avec la fourchette et le couteau fermement plantés de chaque côté de leur assiette.

Man gnawing on raw steak

Le message primordial envoyé par ces images semble être ” JE SUIS UN HOMME ; L’HOMME A BESOIN DE VIANDE “. Ses poings bien alignés et leur prise ferme sur les ustensiles sont des codes genrés communs, présentant les hommes aux commandes et au contrôle de leur environnement.

De façon intéressante, les steaks sont presque toujours montrés crus. L’intention vraisemblable est de montrer la consommation de chair crue par les hommes (un comportement anti-naturel) comme naturelle. Le fait est souligné par l’abondance de photographies qui montrent des hommes consommant le steak directement sans l’aide de couverts, rongeant la chair comme s’ils étaient une espèce carnivore non humaine. A contrario, quand je cherche des images de femmes mangeant des steaks, à maintes reprises, elles sont aux prises avec de la viande crue positionnée au-dessus de leur tête, l’air accablé -personne ne mange la tête à la renverse. Ceci suggère aussi la soumission, une soumission souvent sexualisée à travers leur pose et leur nudité. Quand elles ont des couverts, elles sont davantage montrées les utilisant de manière faible ou peu sûre.

Woman Eating Steak

Par dessus tout, les images de femmes mangeant des steaks sont moins nombreuses, car la notion est contraire aux normes de genre. Quand on en trouve, il est clair que la hiérarchie des genres doit être préservée en démontrant que la consommation de chair (un acte de domination et de pouvoir) est moins naturelle et plus maladroite chez les femmes.

Women Cutting Steak

La viande est un symbole de masculinité. Donc, les hommes interagissent avec la viande pour démontrer leurs prouesses, les femmes interagissent avec la viande pour démontrer leur soumission.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Research Finds Gender Bias in Self-Reported Meat Consumption

Woman Eating Meat

New research confirms that women downplay their flesh consumption. Gender roles strongly influence our attitudes and behaviors…and this includes what we eat and how we eat it.

Caring about Nonhuman Animals is “for girls.” Women are socialized to be empathetic to other animals, while men are socialized to have instrumental, non-caring relationships with other animals.

For women and men, gender is something that is performed. Eating animals or not eating them is part of that performance. Not only do women eat less flesh than men, they also underreport their actual consumption. This is because femininity requires that women consume less flesh, and women feel pressured to conform to that feminine ideal.

The gender binary aggravates this, pushing women to care about animals (and not eat them) and pushing men to not care about animals (and eat a lot of them). This binary stretches and distorts the behavior of men and women. Performing gender according to this exaggerated binary helps to reinforce the perceived natural differences between women and men. This not only erases the existence of nonconforming persons, but it also supports patriarchal dominance.

What does this mean for activists? First, women are clearly the “low hanging fruit” in terms of outreach, as they are more receptive to anti-speciesist campaigning because of their gendered socialization. It also means that men will be a tougher audience as they must overcome both human and male supremacist ideologies on their path to veganism. According to the research, simply making mention of a PETA video was enough to induce the guilt and denial response from women, but men had no such reaction.

 

Thank you to Carol J. Adams for bringing attention to this story.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Men Gnawing on Steaks

Man in a suit sits in front of a plate with a raw steak, knife and fork poised in his fists on the table

Following my essay on Women Laughing Alone with Salads, a colleague became curious and googled what we might consider to be the reverse: men eating steaks. What he found, and what I was able to verify in my own Google image search, was the repeated theme of men gnashing their teeth at a big slab of flesh, often with a fork and knife firmly planted on either side of its plate.

Rather primordial, these images seem to read, “I AM MAN; MAN NEED MEAT.” The firm, just-slammed look of his fists and the strong grip they have on the utensils are rather common gender codes that present men as in control and in command over their surroundings.

Man gnawing on raw steak

Interestingly, the steaks are almost always shown uncooked. The intention is likely to portray men’s flesh-consumption (a very unnatural behavior) as natural. This is underscored by the frequency of stock photographs that show men consuming the steak directly without the help of utensils, gnawing on the flesh as though they were a carnivorous nonhuman species.

Interestingly, when I searched for images of women eating steaks, time and time again, they are grappling with raw flesh positioned above the head as though overwhelmed (people don’t eat upside down). It also seems to suggest subservience, a subservience that is frequently sexualized through pose and nudity. When she is using utensils, she is more likely to be handling them weakly or in an unsure manner.

Woman Eating Steak

Overall, images of women eating steaks are few, as the notion is contrary to gender norms. When pictured at all, it is clear that the gender hierarchy must be preserved by demonstrating that flesh consumption (an act of domination and power) is less natural and more awkward for women.

Women Cutting Steak

Meat acts as a symbol of masculinity. Therefore, men interact with meat to demonstrate their prowess, while women interact with meat to demonstrate their subservience.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Veganismo y Políticas de Género

 

Translation by Mariángel Villalobos. You can follow her on Twitter @mvillabe. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

Por Corey Lee Wrenn

Un lector, Alexander Lawrie me envió esta historia y pensé que sería un ejemplo excelente de la supremacía masculina y la vigilancia de género como una barrera en contra del avance de los intereses de las mujeres y otros animales. Un periódico Escocés reportó que los empleados de un restaurante se burlaron de una mujer la cual solicitó que un artículo del menú se hiciera vegano. Su recibo leía: “Vegan Vegan Vegan Pussy”. El restaurante añadió sal a la herida cuando se burlaron de la mujer en su página de Facebook.

¡Pero no termina ahí! El periódico que cubría la historia encontró la página de Facebook de la mujer e imprimió su foto de perfil junto con su nombre completo y lugar de empleo. El acoso adicional que siguió fue lo suficientemente severo para que el periódico moderara los comentarios y eliminara su foto.

Todo el incidente apesta a misoginia. Si la víctima hubiese sido hombre, esperaría que la reacción hubiese sido similar, aunque probablemente con la adición de la homofobia. Bajo el patriarcado, el dominio sobre otros y del consumo de la carne es altamente masculinizado. El veganismo ha sido feminizado no solo porque es más común que los veganos sean mujeres, sino también porque el veganismo representa los intereses de quienes son subyugados a la opresión masculina. El veganismo lucha contra el patriarcado.

No deberíamos de estar sorprendidos de que una compañía que saca provecho de la explotación de los Animales No Humanos use un insulto especista y sexista para desestimar a la mujer, ni deberíamos estar sorprendidos de que los medios de comunicación (que por lo general existen para proteger y reproducir los intereses de la élite) solo hagan las cosas peores. ¿Pero por qué la mesera actuó de esta manera?

En “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women in the Rise of Raunch Culture” (Disculpen el título especista), Ariel Levy explica que la popularidad del “post-feminismo” en realidad representa una co-optación de una ideología céntrica en la mujer anti-opresión patriarcal. Las mujeres son puestas a competir entre ellas al rivalizar por la aprobación del hombre. En un mundo donde la masculinidad es igualada con prestigio y poder, es común que las mujeres abandonen su feminidad y recurran a la masculinidad. Denis Kandiyoti (1998) le llama a esto negociación patriarcal. Para hacer frente a un mundo que es hostil hacia todo lo femenino, la mesera estaba cuidando sus intereses al apoyar los valores masculinos y al condenar la cena vegana.

Por supuesto, esto significa que los hombres mismos están bajo una enorme presión de conformarse a estos valores masculinos. Este comercial para el “Carnivore Club” (Club Carnívoro) busca reafirmar el control masculino, la inteligencia masculina, y la superioridad masculina de cara a los valores femeninos invasores.

 

Este comercial juega con muchos estereotipos del veganismo: Es para mujeres; es castrante, sin sabor, y fastidiosamente saludable. El unirse al Club Carnívoro promete a los hombres proteger su dominio, su control sobre la naturaleza y hasta su virilidad (aunque consumir productos de Animales no Humanos es vinculado a una letanía de enfermedades que amenazan a la vida, incluyendo problemas cardiovasculares y diabetes, que son unas de las causas principales de la disfunción eréctil).

Carnivore Club Advert

Formular este producto como un “club” es intencional. Los anunciantes esperan usar la masculinidad como un espacio exclusivo para miembros, que están al día. Como los CEOs de Fortune 500, los cuerpos legislativos, los ejecutivos de los medios de comunicación, y otros espacios exclusivos de chicos y su privilegio masculino, el “Carnivore Club” invita a los hombres a que se unan al rango de la élite masculina en su dominio sobre los vulnerables. Verdaderamente, uno no puede siquiera tener acceso a su sitio web sin iniciar sesión como un miembro. Nota también el cuento de la “esposa boba y despistada” tan común utilizado en comerciales, programas y filmes. Las mujeres son demasiado incompetentes para darse cuenta de lo que hacen sus compañeros masculinos de mentalidad superior.

Esto es una masculinidad tóxica. No solo los hombres son motivados a dar rienda suelta a comportamientos nutricionales que les causa enfermedad y muerte, pero las mujeres son también motivadas a que rechacen el veganismo al planear su supervivencia en un patriarcado anti-feminista. Y no nos olvidemos, los más grandes perdedores son los Animales No Humanos cuya opresión es vista como natural y sus defensores son burlados, acosados y silenciados.

 

Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).

 

Sustainability If

Painting of two bluefin tuna surrounded by swirls of hundreds of little fish

By Lisa Kemmerer

All oppression creates a state of war.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

 

“Sustainability” refers to an “ability to endure across time.” In the environmental movement, “sustainability” statements always entail an unstated “if.” In this usage, a particular action is deemed unsustainable if we value and wish to protect and preserve certain aspect of the natural environment.  Certain actions/consumer options are considered sustainable if they do not cause worrisome environmental problems.  Environmentalists who note that our beef habit is unsustainable are really saying that our beef habit cannot be sustained if we are to preserve rainforests and freshwater, if we are to arrest dead zone growth and climate change.  In these instances it is readily apparent that sustainability rests on common shared moral commitments to protecting the environment on which we depend. In this context, if we were to make a full and complete statement with regard to sustainability, we might say:

  • Eating bluefin tuna is unsustainable if we intend to protect endangered species.
  • Eating cheese is unsustainable if we hope to arrest the spread of dead zones.
  • Eating shrimp is unsustainable if we value ocean ecosystems, including essential, fragile deep-sea reefs.

In each of the above cases the “if” is rarely stated, and what we are likely to hear or read would look or sound something like this:

  • Bluefin tuna is unsustainable.
  • Cheese is unsustainable.
  • Shrimp is unsustainable.

When we finish the sentence, stating clearly the unspoken but essential “if,” we realize that statements of environmental sustainability rest on a moral commitment to make selections that decrease, rather than increase, environmental degradation.  In short, we come to see that sustainability statements rest on commonly held moral values.  We also come to see that our responsibility as consumers is often omitted—the product is labeled “unsustainable.”

What is most interesting about the missing “if” in the environmental context is that reinserting this conjunction allows us to see that sustainability is the key not just to environmental justice, but to social justice more broadly. Sustainability can fruitfully be employed in any social justice context. Consider in these more diverse applications of the term:

  • It is unsustainable for racist police to brutalize Black civilians if we hope to arrest the spread of hatred and violence.
  • Forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term is unsustainable if we value self-determination.
  • Permitting only heterosexuals to enjoy the financial and social benefits of legal marriage is unsustainable of we intend to protect human rights.
  • If we are committed to an ethic whereby we value justice and protect the vulnerable from the exploitation of the powerful, eating chickens is unsustainable.

 

Landscape view of a cattle herd in a cleared rainforest area

Sustainability is not just about cycling and recycling, it is also about redistributing wealth, yielding wrongly-gained power to the disenfranchised, and protecting all who are vulnerable from the miseries of exploitation and oppression.  Unsustainable behaviors—racist, sexist, homophobic, speciesist, ableist, ageist, and consumer behaviors—ought to be avoided not only if we value clean water and forests, but also if we value justice and peace.

At the end of the day, these unsustainable behaviors are interconnected. For example industrial fishing is unsustainable not only because it harms ocean ecosystems, but also because it is unjust—industrial fishing harms indigenous communities dependent on depleted ecosystems for subsistence survival.  Industrial fishing is therefore unsustainable if we intend to protect the comparatively powerless—ocean ecosystems, indigenous peoples, and fish—from powerful corporate interests and their indifferent/uninformed consumers. Similarly, factory farming is unsustainable if we value rainforests, fresh water reserves, and the earth’s present climate, and also if we value worker’s rights, the protection of defenseless farmed animals, and the health of unsuspecting consumers who suffer from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and obesity because of animal products they consume. These practices are unsustainable if—but not only if—we intend to protect the natural environment from horrendous environmental degradation. They are also unsustainable if we value justice and peace—if we intend to protect the vulnerable, whether minorities, the disenfranchised, or other species.

 

Further Reading

Kemmerer, Lisa. “Defending the Defenseless: Speciesism, Animal Liberation, and Consistency in Applied Ethics.” Les Ateliers de l’éthique/The Ethics Forum 9:3 (2015).

Kemmerer, Lisa. “Ecofeminism: Women, Environment, Animals.” DEP: Deportate, Esuli, Profughe. Ca’ Foscari University of Venezia, Italy, 23 (2013).

Click here to download the introduction to Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices

Click here to download the introduction to Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice

 

KemmererDr. Kemmerer is a professor of Philosophy and Religion and a prolific author in animal ethics.  Her books include In Search of Consistency: Ethics and AnimalsAnimals and World ReligionsSister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice, Call to Compassion: Reflections on Animal AdvocacySpeaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices, and Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education. She is particularly interested in intersections of Nonhuman Animal advocacy and environmental advocacy in the spirit of Marti Kheel, as is evidenced in her 2015 publication Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice and her editorial work for the 2015 anthology Animals and the Environment: Advocacy, Activism, and the Quest for Common Ground.