Men, Meat, Milk, and Toxic Masculinity

Vegan feminism is not only a critique of women’s experiences, the feminization of protest, the sexual and sexist exploitation of animals, or the patriarchy in the abstract. To be fit for purpose, vegan feminism must also contend with the male experience. Anthroparchy, a social system of human and male rule, is a conflict-based, hierarchical arrangement of power that is especially detrimental to women and other animals, but it is also detrimental to boys and men.

Vegan feminism examines sociological, psychological, and social work research on the relationship between masculinity, speciesism, and wellbeing. Research increasingly demonstrates that men’s aggressive or demeaning attitudes toward nonhuman animals are linked to similar attitudes toward women and other marginalized groups, but masculinity itself is quite fragile, requiring its adherents to constantly navigate a hierarchy of worth that regularly threatens to degrade the status of boys and men at the hint of any weakness.

Because masculinity is primarily enacted and demonstrated through power over others, boys and men who lack access to this power (such as those from the lower classes, communities of colour, or the global majority) will be at a disadvantage. All men, regardless of background, are expected to participate in this conflict-based social system and may be punished for deviating. This is certainly the case for vegan men who must balance their compassion for other animals with the societal pressure to appear tough and dominant.

Ultimately, the anthroparchy facilitates a type of toxic masculinity by enforcing violent, dominant, anti-social attitudes in boys and men. The considerable expectation that boys and men consume animal products, for that matter, creates–quite literally–a culture of toxic masculinity, as they will experience higher rates of fatal and chronic diet-related diseases resulting from their embodiment of masculine gender norms through food.

Lastly, vegan feminism acknowledges masculine norms as they persist in the animal rights movement. With compassion for other animals and plant-based eating considered feminizing traits, male-identifying activists sometimes work to protect their fragile masculinity with aggressive, confrontational, and even violent tactics and macho claimsmaking. Ultimately, it is argued that the protection of masculinity in anti-speciesist efforts only buttresses the problematic anthroparchal social system that the animal rights movement hopes to dismantle.

Corey Lee Wrenn

Dr. Wrenn is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. 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 is the co-founder of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, 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), Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits (University of Michigan Press 2019), and Animals in Irish Society: Interspecies Oppression and Vegan Liberation in Britain’s First Colony (State University of New York Press 2021).

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