How I Use Veganism To Cope With Toxic Masculinity & Redefine What It Means To “Be A Man”
I’ll be honest here—I can’t cry.
In fact, I can count the number of times that I’ve cried in the last 5 years on just a couple of fingers.
The first time was in 2014 when my childhood dog passed away. I was in my girlfriend’s university flat, weeping in her bed whilst she was in class.
The second was, coincidentally, also at my girlfriend’s place. This was a different flat though. My wisdom tooth had gotten infected on Friday morning and by Saturday I was a wreck, writhing around, not sleeping. It was some of the worst physical pain I’ve experienced. I spent the weekend fumbling around the city since we didn’t have a car, looking desperately for emergency care, balling my eyes out from the trauma of it all.
As a child I was incredibly emotional and I cried a lot. It was something that came naturally. Embarrassing and confusing situations are fraught in childhood (well, at least in mine) and there’s probably no coping mechanism more instinctive than just letting the tears flow.
Yet I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that I’ve become more detached from those feelings more and more. That fundamental response has withered bit by bit. Part of me has hardened and I can’t help but feel that I’m slowly becoming the stereotypical boys-don’t-cry sort of guy. And it’s not even because I think men should be that way. My body just can’t do what I want it to. It takes those aforementioned extreme moments of suffering just to illicit a reaction, and that can’t be healthy.
I’ve been this way for a while, but what I’ve slowly realized is how I’ve been using veganism as a way to combat the toxic masculinity preventing me from opening up.
Meat, somewhat bizarrely, is definitely a masculine thing to eat. Imagine the stereotypical BBQ scene, dad with culinary utensils in hand, obsessing over the technicalities and minutiae of grilling burgers, sausages, brisket and steak. Meat is definitely what we consider a ‘guy’ thing. Therefore, to most people the act of abstaining from meat is just the same as writing ‘not masculine’ on your forehead.
There’s still a similar masculinity found in veganism however. You’ll hear plenty—online or otherwise—of the rationality or common sense of vegan thought. Although used by many, this sort of argument is common in toxic masculinity. The words ‘logic,’ ‘reason’ and ‘evidence’ are big proponents of the rational man stereotype, and are reinforcements of what men expect themselves to be. Men believe they must be headstrong. They follow their head, not their heart. I felt this in my childhood, when all those years ago as I used to cry, running off to my room teary-eyed, scurrying up the stairs, and my dad would shout “You’re just like your mother!”
But I say: what’s wrong with emotion? Although evidence, facts and statistics are of course necessary for us to make choices, form opinions and develop as people, sometimes it’s okay to admit that it’s just your feelings talking. Sometimes feelings are enough; they are legitimate.
That kind of fervent rationality I mentioned never sat quite right with me. I never felt entirely comfortable with just facts and figures. I mean, they helped. But I always felt as a guy it was my responsibility to act as masculine as possible in my beliefs, rather than speak how I truly felt.
It think it’s reasonable to assume that it’s this same restricted access to emotion that also locks many men out of veganism. It can understandably difficult to make the first step into questioning your eating choices when for so many of us those first instances of self-reflection and discomfort with animal products were born from a gut-emotional reaction. Perhaps this is one of the contributing factors to the lower number of vegan men.
As a guy, there are things that are expected of me to do and things expected of me to enjoy—and there’s a fair amount of it that I do partake in and a fair amount I like. I like some so-called masculine things, and I enjoy some so-called feminine things. And these don’t have to be in perfect balance every day. Sometimes I just want to be in touch with my sensitive side, and promote a lifestyle that is positive and caring to all creatures of our planet.
I realize that there’s a lot for me to go through and I’m still working on it, but veganism affords me an outlet to openly and actively express my compassion. By abstaining from eating meat, I am openly rejecting the toxic reliance that so many men have towards meat products. Likewise, by being vegan, and appreciating the benefits of sensitivity, I show that I have a compassionate and empathetic heart, despite my failures to open up emotionally.
I realize that by using veganism, I have been able to tape into those feelings that brought me so much embarrassment in the past. That emotional connection was so distant to me before, but now I can see it a little closer, and hopefully one day it’ll be in my full view, and I’ll be able to cry again. Veganism doesn’t make me less of a man. It makes me a better one.
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