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Veganism And Gender

A blog by Laura Buchenlicht

A group of four laughing, interracial children sitting in a sunlit forest

Veganism is steadily on the rise – in 2024, vegans make up about 4.7% of the UK population. But a survey by the Vegan Society from 2023 found that only 37% of UK vegans identified as male.

It’s not a secret that carnism is linked to toxic masculinity – it is a strong form of violence after all. As mentioned in a recent blog, for example, the valuing of hunting was such a strong bias for past (male) researchers, that they created the myth of prehistoric people eating nothing but meat.

As far as ideas about nutrition go, it’s especially the link between meat and physical strength that keeps many cis and heterosexual (cis-het) men from going vegan. Furthermore, compassion in general, and especially for animals, is seen as a “feminine” trait.

The greatest barrier to becoming vegan for cis-het men is therefore peer pressure from other cis-het men who have narrow views on gender.

When people talk about the “male” gender, the implication is usually that they’re talking about cis-het men. Along with being white and abled, this is the “ideal” human of the capitalist patriarchy of Western society. Anyone who deviates from that norm is considered inferior.

A participant in a Scottish survey that interviewed vegans who identified as male, stated:

I’ve always understood that women and queer people, or anybody who’s marginalised in any way, understands what it is like to be victimised or targeted by a discrimination that’s based on something arbitrary.

Other participants echoed this by confirming that it was easier for them to become vegan, because they had already broken gender norms in another way, for example by having come out as queer.

So what can be done to get more cis-het men to transition to veganism?

A recent report by the Vegan Society which asked exactly this question, rightly stated that trying to promote veganism in a way that reinforces toxic gender norms is not a good idea.

This is what a lot of vegan cis-het male influencers are doing – for example, athletics trying to promote veganism by talking about their increased strength and performance. Others try to frame compassion for animals as the traditional hero/saviour/protector role for men.

However, statistics show that “ordinary” vegan men cannot relate to these messages. Moreover, reinforcing toxic values is a contradiction to the vegan value of compassion - machos who turn vegan in order to feel more superior are hardly a win for humanity.

Sadly, despite the Vegan Society’s report and it’s clear message of not reinforcing gender norms in order to sell veganism to more men, their latest “Vegan & Thriving” campaign video aimed at men, is still doing exactly that.

Even though some of the featured men talk about the importance of compassion and kindness, and there is a soft piano music playing in the background, these things stand out:

-All of the five featured men have an athletic and/or stout build and/or are seen playing sports.

-They shoot out exactly those catch-phrases that the report discouraged – for example, one man saying that becoming a father meant that he realised his role as a protector, another saying that he’s fitter and stronger now that he’s vegan, and another emphasising that vegan food is “big and hearty” and you can “eat it at the pub with your mates, but also go to the gym”.

One wonders about the cognitive dissonance within the Vegan Society. Maybe they should listen to their own researchers.

What about you – what do you think of the video? And do you know any positive vegan promotion aimed at men?

A smartphone on a table showing a thinking emoji.

While the statistics clearly show that there are more barriers for men than women to become vegan, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any gender-norm-based obstacles for females.

Sadly the still common oppressive raising of many girls means that they learn to hide their opinions, be pleasant at all times, and put the needs and wishes of others before their own.

This is termed the “good girl syndrome”. Due to this, they struggle with feeling like they are not allowed to become vegan and make their own food choices. As with men, eating is seen through a social lens, being pre-occupied with other people’s reactions to their diet.

A participant in a focus group of British vegan women said that the fear of being seen as “difficult” by her family, initially kept her from going vegan for years.

It is clear that the question of going vegan or not, is considered from a social point of view for many people. While we as vegan activists naturally wish that people would just put greater importance on animal well-being, it is necessary to address these social barriers in people’s minds in order to successfully promote veganism.

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