Since becoming vegan two years ago, I mostly hang out with people who follow a plant-based lifestyle. Whenever I travel to a new city or country, I always try to meet vegans and animal rights activists. So I have quite a lot of vegan friends from different places and I recently noticed that there are significantly more vegan women than men. First I thought that this is only the case in the few vegan groups to which I belong. Then I looked for some statistics and I found out that there are definitely more vegan women than men. A survey of 11,000 vegans in the United States shows that only 24% were men.
This gender difference is too significant to be a mere fluke, so I tried to look for some studies to explain it and I found some very interesting results.
The main reason there are more vegan women than men is connected with masculinity. In our society there are some gender stereotypes we use to describe women and men. For example, we often say that women are sensitive, emotional, or weak while men are strong, brave, and confident. A lot of men turn to meat to see themselves as strong and masculine. Studies show that think meat can make men feel like “real men,” and that vegetarian men are seen as “wimps” by even other vegetarians and women. This belief has been perpetuated by evolutionary psychologists who claim that men are natural hunters and are driven by their instinct from time immemorial.
Precarious Manhood and Displays of Physical Aggression
A lot of men are afraid that they would lose their status if they do something not masculine. They can get frustrated, angry, or try to prove their masculinity. In a University of South Florida study, a group of men was asked to braid a female mannequin’s hair. Another group was asked to braid rope. Afterwards, they asked both groups to punch a pad. The group that had to do a hairstyling task before punched the pad more aggressively than the group with rope-reinforcing task. en feel the need to compensate for perceived unmasculine activities.
Masculinity and the justification of meat consumption
It is becoming abundantly clear that meat consumption harms the animals, the environment, and our health. Because of that, meat eaters can experience increased pressure to justify their behavior. This study figured out that there is a difference between women and men when it comes to justify eating animal products. Women normally use indirect strategies to justify eating meat, like avoiding thinking about the treatment of animals. On the other hand, men prefer to use direct strategies like denying animal suffering or believing that animals are lower in hierarchy. The consequences of this study in the personal life of the participants also shows some interesting results. After the study, most female participants started to eat less meat while in men’s case, it was the opposite.
Myths used to legitimize the exploitation of animals: An application of Social Dominance Theory
Social Dominance Theory can provide another explanation why eating meat is more attractive for men than for women. The basic principle of this theory is the male-centered, hierarchical society. In order to consume meat we need to kill animals, which makes men feel that they have power over animals. According to this study, people who believe in a hierarchical society can justify animal exploitation based on the same philosophy.
Gender differences play a huge role when it comes to people’s choice to eat meat. But as society becomes increasingly aware of the toll of toxic masculinity on people of all genders, more men are recognizing that being vegan is not a gendered activity—but a universally ethical choice. Acting with compassion and justice isn’t just a responsibility for the women, but for all humankind.
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