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7th November 2020

Why gendered meat eating has passed its expiry date

Soy Boys, steaks and sausage rolls – Pippa Dennis takes us through gendered stereotypes around food, eating and diets
Why gendered meat eating has passed its expiry date
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“He’ll have the steak and she’ll get the salad”

How many outdated romcoms have you watched where the typical date night scene portrays the food order with the man ordering a steak and the woman getting a salad?

Don’t get me wrong, people can order whatever they want. However, meat consumption stereotypes are so perpetuated by society that the ‘steak for him and salad for her’ cliché is something we can and will continue to witness in our day to day lives.

Dieting and femininity unfortunately go hand in hand. Society tells women that to fulfil their true potential, they must order a salad. As a result of this, the woman who is always encouraged to diet is much more likely to be making health-conscious choices. Women’s diets have for a long time been expected to be thin and lacking meat, much like their bodies.

This aggressive and damaging stereotype is equally damning for men as it encourages notions of toxic masculinity. It echoes Neanderthal ideas of men as the hunter-gatherer, suggesting men need their meat to grow big and strong, men need their meat to be alpha.

These habits create a metaphorical food chain of men and women. Men, the meat-eaters, are the top predator with the most strength, the greater the muscle mass, the greater protein consumption. Women, much like rabbits, should nibble on ‘nakd’ bars, and pick at their meals.

Mother nature eats natural

There’s a huge emphasis on eco-friendly choices being feminine choices, even anti-masculine choices. The media suggests that it’s emasculating to make environmentally friendly decisions. Consumer culture heavily suggests that meat loaded meals are made for men. 

Prominent females in popular culture are linked to this idea. The first woman ever created (according to the Bible) was named Eve because in the same breath she was created in, she was labelled the ‘mother of all living’. Similarly, when you picture ‘Mother Nature’ you don’t exactly picture a big steak in her hands… The women of popular culture are eco-friendly, and if they existed in 2020 they would be front of the queue for a Greggs vegan sausage roll.

An article by Kate Stewart and Matthew Cole explores how food advertising perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. This looks at a 2015 ALDI Father’s Day advert, in which a girl says that her favourite thing is cooking her father roast dinner. Following this, a boys voiceover reflects his favourite thing is watching his father eat a “juicy steak”. The authors of the article suggest that “this communicates a subtle message- girls aspire to prepare and serve cooked animals and sons aspire to share the adult male pleasure of consuming those animals.”

The Soy Boys

You don’t have to look far to find evidence of negative perceptions of vegetarian men- and this is a big problem.

The term ‘soy boy’ is defined by Urban Dictionary as ‘Slang used to describe males who completely and utterly lack all necessary masculine qualities’.

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A video by highly influential YouTuber PewDiePie titled ‘Soyboys’ looks into what the Soy Boy stereotype really means. The YouTuber satirically explains that the categorisation is based on the idea that Soy contains oestrogen, meaning that consuming soy products turns men into women.

The consumption of soy supposedly leads to Gynaecomastia which is ‘the enlargement of a man’s breasts, usually due to hormone imbalance or hormone therapy’. He explains Soy Boys are ‘beta males’ and ‘physical degenerates’.

PewDiePie’s video on the concept generated a whopping 1.5M views, and the idea of the soy boy took meme culture by storm.

In right-wing politics, the term is used by the Alt-Right as a means of insulting liberals based on the “scientifically dubious idea that soy products feminize men” and “presupposes that eating soy will corrode manliness”.

This powerful political tool fetishizes meat-eating as a means of defending masculinity. This perpetuates the damaging stereotype that making eco-conscious choices marks an end to masculinity. It’s a trend which has gained a lot of attention. 

Plant pioneers for quorn-clusivity

I spoke with a vegetarian student from the University of Manchester, Matthew Suddart, about his thoughts on stigma for vegetarian males. In his seven years being veggie he said: “Maybe a couple of years ago there was a stigma around vegetarianism and veganism. However, I think you can point to the success of Veganuary and the huge increase in those adopting vegetarianism and veganism.”

He concluded: “I personally haven’t found a stigma, the vast majority of people are really supportive and interested to find out more.”

As the student observed, it really seems that the industry has moved on. In 2020, Quorn advertisements feature a man feeding his children. In 2020, restaurants which don’t serve vegan food are seen as out of touch and behind the times. Veganism is borderline mainstream, and certainly celebrated, as this year has shown us with a huge influx of plant-based products in supermarkets and ‘Veganuary’ taking the nation by storm.

Without this turning into an ad for veganism, I think it’s safe to hope that these gendered dieting roles in society are now coming to the end of their shelf life.

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