Murphy: Meat and Masculinity

December 14, 2017 01:00 PM
A Penn State professor is claiming that there’s a quick and easy solution to the so-called scourge of patriarchy: Just embrace the Full Veggie, and … problem solved! As if.

Just about the hottest topic in the news right now is the seemingly unending string of allegations of sexual misconduct among prominent men in the media, in politics, and in entertainment.

Not a day goes by that somebody we once admired gets accused of conduct toward women that ranges from unacceptable to downright criminal.

Thus, it’s no surprise that a feminist professor is getting a lot of attention for her theory that the way to overturn patriarchy, the (alleged) source of all this bad behavior by men, is to go vegetarian.

You read that right. According to Anne DeLessio-Parson, a Penn State University sociology professor, eating meat is a form of what she called “hegemonic masculinity.”

Her article, titled “Doing vegetarianism to destabilize the meat-masculinity nexus,” was published in Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography. DeLessio-Parson’s thesis is that a meat-heavy food culture contributes to the problem of sexual harassment, and thus vegetarianism can be considered as a form of social rebellion, as well as an antidote to sexism and racism.

To investigate the connection between meat and masculinity, DeLessio-Parson conducted 23 interviews of men and women. Okay, I’m no social scientist, but can any broad social insights be gained from talking to less than two dozen people?

Not only that, but the good professor conducted those interviews in Argentina. Again, I’m no expert on cross-cultural comparisons, but I’m persuaded by all I’ve read and heard from friends who lived in various place in South America that male and female gender roles are generally, shall we say, “less evolved” in countries such as Argentina than they are here in the U.S.

Here’s what DeLessio-Parson wrote in her article:

“Vegetarians defy attempts to hold them accountable to gendered social expectations. Women … assert authority over their diets; men embody rejection of the meat-masculinity nexus by adopting a worldview that also rejects sexism and racism. I contend that in such a context, … doing vegetarianism drives social change, contributing to the de-linking of meat from gender hegemony and revealing the resisting and reworking of gender in food spaces.”

Couple serious problems with that theory.

Non-Traditional Foodways
For starters, her entire premise is based on gender stereotyping, ie, meat is manly, so rejecting meat-eating is a rejection of the “manliness” that is (allegedly) the source of the sexism that causes bad behavior and harassment between men and women.

That’s strike one for a professor dedicated to defying “traditional” gender roles.

Strike two is that food is not gender-specific. Foodways and food choices are tied to cultural norms and to economic status, much less so to gender. Yes, “traditional” societies have more distinct gender roles: men worked the fields, women managed the household. Men brought home the bacon, women handled the child care.

But those “stereotyped” roles aren’t tied to specific food items, they’re a product of economics and traditions based on so many cultures’ economies. It’s only in advanced, developed, industrialized nations that those roles are swept away by technological progress, educational opportunities and career fields tied to intellectual, rather than manual labor.

Strike three is best expressed by writer Angela Morabito, who analyzed DeLessio-Parson’s thesis in an article in the Washington Examiner. She wrote that we tend to think of some foods as “manly” and others as “girly.”

What’s the No. 1 girly food? Yogurt — but as Morabito wrote, “Not because of any inherent characteristic, but because of years of marketing it to women. And just as soon as whipped delight key lime zero fat yogurt concoctions became The Official Food of Women, food companies realized they were missing out on the male half of the market.”

Thus, the launch of “brogurt,” yogurt positioned and marketed to men.

Seriously? Let me tell you, it’s gonna be a cold day in you-know-where before I ask some stock boy at the local grocery store, “Say, where’s the brogurt aisle?”

Foods aren’t necessarily feminine or masculine, despite the professor’s impassioned conclusions. And going veggie is hardly the answer to the issue of men mistreating and harassing women in the workplace.

Ordering a salad instead of a steak might affect one’s nutritional status, but it’s not going to change the attitudes and behaviors involved in issues of sexual harassment.

Can 23 Argentinians be wrong?

Yes, they can.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

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