Beyond Beefcake: The Patriarchy And Animal Rights
Sexualized images of women pictured alongside meat or portrayed as animals are often used in Western advertising. Some philosophers and feminist scholars argue that such social trends are evidence that women and animals are seen as lesser than men in Western society. These scholars believe that prejudice against women (sexism) and animals (speciesism) are connected, and that eating meat is seen as a symbol of masculinity. The authors in this paper explore these theories from a social-psychological perspective.
The authors first discuss the theory that women’s comparably lower status than men in society has happened because women are portrayed as having fewer humanistic traits (e.g., they may be portrayed as less mature and rational). Moreover, women are often reduced to their reproductive and sexual functions, thus turning them into “objects” for men to “consume.” This mimics how animals are reduced to their status as products for humans to eat. Studies have also shown that people who think animals are less important than humans are more likely to have stronger prejudices against women and other human groups.
In line with this theory, the authors explore a common psychological link between sexism and speciesism. For example, research has found that people who are sexist tend to think that humans are better than animals and that it’s okay to exploit animals for food, entertainment, and medical experiments. These findings suggest that sexism and speciesism are both motivated by a desire for dominance over a group perceived as inferior. This in turn suggests that patriarchal values shape people’s attitudes toward both women and animals.
The authors also look at the psychological connection between meat and masculinity. They point out that the idea of meat consumption as “masculine” may stem from hunter-gatherer times, when hunting for meat was a job assigned to men (who were also granted a higher status in society). Over time, they say, this symbolism lives on as many people connect meat to Western masculine ideals of strength and domination over nature.
Indeed, the way people think and talk about meat, as well as gender differences in meat consumption and attitudes, show that meat and masculinity are strongly intertwined. Studies have found that meat dishes are often considered more masculine than vegetarian dishes. Men typically eat more meat than women, have more positive attitudes towards meat, and show resistance to reducing their meat consumption. According to research, even plant-based meat alternatives are often considered less masculine than regular meat.
In the authors’ view, the idea that meat is associated with masculinity can affect how people perceive vegetarian and vegan (veg*n) men. Studies have found that people often see veg*n men as less masculine than meat-eating men, which can lead to negative social consequences for men who avoid meat. Men may feel pressured to eat meat to show that they are masculine and to conform to gender norms. Furthermore, studies show that men who strongly believe in traditional gender roles are more likely to prefer meat-based dishes and feel threatened in their masculinity if they don’t eat meat.
For animal advocates, this paper suggests that aligning veg*nism to masculine values like strength and athleticism may encourage men to reduce their meat consumption. However, the authors caution that this strategy could end up doing more harm than good, as it condones oppressive masculine norms. Similarly, they argue that using sexualized images of women in animal rights campaigns feeds into the underlying masculine values responsible for objectifying women and animals in the first place. Instead, they emphasize the importance of shifting gender-based social norms and redefining masculinity to be more equitable.