A headline for an article in Tuesday’s Daily Mail reads “Real men must eat meat, say women as they turn their noses up at vegetarians.” Of course, the article’s content is not quite as dramatic as the punchy headline promises. The study Fiona Macrae seems to be referring to, Meat, morals, and masculinity, by Matthew Ruby and Stephen Heine, doesn't actually cover romantic desirability.
Macrae claims, “...vegetarian men are seen as wimps and less macho than those who like tucking into a steak – even by women who do not eat meat themselves, research shows.” But the study doesn't mention words like “macho.” It uses terms of virtue (tolerant/intolerant, ethical/unethical, considerate/inconsiderate, concerned/unconcerned, virtuous/immoral) and masculinity (masculine/not masculine, or not feminine/feminine). Isn't it interesting how “less masculine” has come to be synonymous with “wimp” in Macrae's article?
The term masculinity comes with a lot of baggage. A not-so-useful dictionary definition of masculinity defines the word as, “Something traditionally considered to be characteristic of a male.” Which makes masculinity a rather silly term, if you think about it. Sylvester Stallone is just as male as Elton John, who is just as male as Robert Downey Jr or Tim Commerford. These men all (presumably) have Y chromosomes. They all (presumably) have penises. They all equally presumed to be men by reasonable people. So when did it make sense to rank them in terms of “male” characteristics? They're all, from a biological view, male.
When we start to explore the term though its association with patriarchy, things get more interesting. In the first chapter of Allan Johnson's The Gender Knot, "Where are we?," Johnson explains why masculine traits are considered masculine. Masculine traits resemble what a culture values, while feminine traits resemble what a culture marginalizes. These “masculine” traits are qualities like “control, strength, competitiveness, toughness, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and control over any emotions that interfere with other core values,” while “feminine” traits are “cooperation, mutuality, equality, sharing, compassion, caring, vulnerability, and a readiness to negotiate and compromise, emotional expressiveness, and intuitive and other nonlinear ways of thinking.” Which qualities are the “successful” people in our society portrayed to have? Which qualities would you associate with a stereotypical 1950s housewife?
And which qualities are animal consumption associated with? Control over others, belief in one's toughness, and the ability to brush aside any emotional responses that interfere with animal consumption seem to fit the bill. What about vegan lifestyles? Compassion, caring, and perhaps a sort of equality. So, yes, it does appear that, in this sense, a vegan diet is less masculine.
Is that in any way a bad thing? As a man, should I want to be a controlling, competitive, callous bastard in every possible way? Is that really what masculinity should mean? The complete antithesis to someone who is open, expressive, and egalitarian? Are these "masculine traits" what women are really looking for? If they are, Fiona, then I don't think it's going to work out between us.