On Vegan “Masculinity”

I have been a vegan for over 15 years. I have been a man for over 35 years. When I went vegan, I never felt particularly troubled as a man by the decision to stop eating meat and other animal products. I was aware of the caricature of vegetarians in popular culture, which attaches femininity (which is “bad”) to any and all things “veg,” but my process of going vegan was very simple: Could I continue living in a way that did, or even could, cause harm and suffering to other beings.

The answer was “no,” and I was vegan.

Recently, there has been a renewed attention to the issue of masculinity and its ability to withstand the supposed weakening, feminizing qualities of veganism. A recent story on NPR recounted the lifestyles and stories of vegan men who were seeking to expand the notion of masculinity to include things like compassion, sustainable living, and not eating other animals. A few months ago, VegNews published “The Vegan Man Issue,” making a similar attempt at dispelling the concerns of modern manly men that going vegan would mean…well, terrible things for their manhood.

A number of strongly negative reactions to these proclamations of vegan manhood have come out, thankfully. But as a vegan man, I have been particularly bothered by these efforts to save masculinity from the threat of veganism.

Or, put another way, I have felt deeply disconcerted by the attempts of some to save masculinity from supposed threats through an effort to make it subsume those threats within itself.

From my perspective, masculinity and the entire system of rigid gender binaries are not worth saving. They are not worth shoring up, they are not worth bailing out, and they are not worth the harm to be done by hamstringing the subversive political energy of ethical veganism–a subversiveness towards oppressive systems that has been talked about more widely since at least the publication of Carol J. Adams’s The Sexual Politics of Meat.

Let me be blunt. I do not want masculinity to feel safe about veganism, because I do not want patriarchy to squelch yet another effort to bring it down (which, I believe, ethical veganism damn well ought to be doing). 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 stop being assholes and go vegan.

And I sure as hell do not want feminism and the inherent feminist component of ethical veganism to be sanitized, silenced, and suffocated by some clumsy, panicked effort to expand or redefine “masculinity” so that it includes what has hitherto been denigrated as central to “femininity”–thereby continuing to relegate the feminine to the role of less than, secondary, or inferior.

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.


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Justin Van Kleeck

I am a vegan (since 1999), a curious skeptic, a bookworm, a nature lover, and your garden-variety neurotic. My wrestling with chaos manifests as writing and, with my wife, tending our friends the plants and spending quality time with our rescued furry kids. I am fun at parties (because I am never there) and so unique that I am easy to forget. So take that, modernity.

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