“Bro Veganism” and “Dude Veganism” are trying too hard to be masculine
For a small number of men, veganism and masculinity cannot be separated. Ditching the idea of the hunter gatherer, red meat-eating, grill-dad stereotype, there is no shortage of guys who feel the need to continue to assert their masculinity and value after going vegan. In the same vein as the “real men don’t buy girls” anti trafficking campaign that many celebrities took part in, “real men don’t eat meat” seems to be peaking. Is masculinity really so fragile that it must be asserted when a male shows compassion? Apparently. From the Vegan Bros to Durian Rider, super-fit vegan men are seizing the spotlight, and being as Dudely As Possibly is the end goal. Dude Veganism comes so easily, so naturally, that it has me wondering why it hasn’t raged this strongly sooner.
What the enthusiasm of Dude Veganism tells us is that even progressive men have a great terror of being thought of as feminine or gay in any way, and will work hard to maintain their posture as entirely masculine, without an ounce of feminine blood in their veins. I find it to be entirely separate from the Animal Rights Movement at large, where male voices are amplified within the context of academia and organization. Is Dude Veganism really saying anything? Nah, it’s just a tofu sausage fest. Media is partially to blame, as they can’t get enough of this shit.
Joshua Katcher, who hosts an all-male vegan barbeque (NO GIRLS ALLOWED!) and runs a website called The Discerning Brute (lots of beards, very few shirts, crazy amounts of sweat) told NPR in a profile piece that meat eating is a club of sorts, and I couldn’t agree more. “It’s considered a sign of weakness to other men — like you’ve left the club.” Indeed, meat culture is steeped in sexualization, misogyny, and masculinity, as anyone who has so much as flipped through The Sexual Politics of Meat or caught up with Corey Lee Wrenn’s blog can tell you. Meat eating and the violence that comes along with it is an assertion of power, and is constantly used to reinforce strict adherence to gender roles within the western gender binary. One attendee of such a barbeque, triathlete Dominic Thompson, accidentally hit the silliness of it all right on the head; “Everyone always thinks vegans are weak, skinny, frail, pale,” Thompson says. “I get people that think, ‘You’re like Gwyneth Paltrow.’ ” He has a point. For a man, no insult is as powerful, as frightening, as being compared to a woman. The fear of being called a pussy, a f*g, and acknowledging their own compassion has Dude Vegans scared shitless. “To me, compassion is the new cool.” Dominic, buddy, does compassion have to be cool?
Professor Kyla Wazana Tompkins, who studies gender and food, was approached by NPR for comment, and something about her words made me feel uneasy. Tompkins is a meat eater (as is this reporter), but she finds something very masculine about following a vegan diet. It’s ‘total control … of the body,’ she says. Veganism is less about “total control” (whatever the hell that means) as an individual, and is simply about the animals. It puts a strict focus on the “purity” myth of controlling one’s diet, and ignores that veganism is a movement and a lifestyle.
Justin Van Kleeck wrote a piece for Vegan Publishers with his own reaction as a vegan man shortly after NPR published their article. “I do not want my life as a vegan man to be constantly measured against some code of abstract qualities, from appearance to behavior, so that some of my fellow males might not worry about becoming more “feminine” should they decide to live a kinder life and go vegan,” he wrote, adding, “I am sick and tired of how much harm we do to individuals by trying to fit them into the masculine-feminine ideological box or judge them based on their ability to cram themselves in it. I am hopeful that ethical veganism can help us all to see the dangers in oppressive systems, no matter what form they take.”
While I find some agreement with the Dude Vegans mentioned above when they denounce how tightly wound traditional manliness and meat culture is, I find it bizarre that they feel the need to transfer that masculinity to meet their own lifestyle, and grasp at an outdated and tired concept. Dudes, it’s 2016! Gender is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and the frantic attempts at maintaining a proper level of masculinity is entirely unnecessary.
Back in 2010, the Boston Globe made an attempt at creating the word “hegan,” when yet another variation on the word “vegan” is the last thing the movement needs. “Men leave their own mark on veganism,” the piece was titled. Really. How important is it for men to continuously leave their mark on everything? They’re the dominant gender, the world over, and my eyes rolled into the back of my head when I came across the headline. Hegan. The Post and Courier’s “Rise of the Hegans” piece used the word again, and I’m thrilled to say that it looks like the term has begun a slow fade into oblivion. Stop trying to make hegan happen! It’s not going to happen!
While Dude Veganism might just look like an innocuous pain in the ass, at it’s worst, it’s openly hateful of women. The worst possible result of trying to masculinize veganism is visible when you have men like Gary Yourofsky literally wishing rape upon women who wear animal products and PETA continuing to get away with campaigns that eat away at women’s welfare and present them in violent situations. Of course, before anyone gets too fussy, I don’t think that a bro-tastic backyard barbeque has much to do with events such as these. They all just exist in a patriarchal society and whether intentionally or not, can certainly validate one another.
Instead of posturing themselves as DEFINITELY NOT SISSY GAYS, it would be helpful for male identifying vegans to drop the bro-act and educate new vegans on the lifestyle in ways that aren’t so obsessed with gender. Compassion is a wonderful concept that must be stressed. It’s a concept without any gender.
If you need me, I’ll be at my girls-only barbeque where we don’t make any veggies that are phallic and have decided to call ourselves she-gans.