Meat and the Maintenance of Masculinity

If you were fussy about my first vegetarian post, steel yourself. We’re getting meatier and feminist-er in this criticism of meat. As I’ve spent more and more time with intersectionality, I’ve learned how meat intersects with concepts of masculinity.  Every other time I say my diet, someone says, “Oh, I could never give up meat. It tastes so good.” It’s almost always man. And he doesn’t mean “it tastes so good.”

“It tastes good” is not a reason. Doughnuts taste good; do you eat those 2-3 times a day? There are so many foods and tastes in the world that are delicious. If I said “I’m vegetarian because vegetables just taste good,”it’s true. I believe there are few thing in the world better than a garden fresh heirloom tomato. But that’s not why I’m vegetarian; it’s just a lifestyle perk.

Meat is about much more than taste– that’s clearer when you realize 59% of vegetarians are women. When you look at vegans, the number jumps to 79%. Our culture uses this split as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, vegetarian/vegan diet is a diet, and diets are for women; on the other, real men eat meat.

Carls Jr

Visually, the image invites us to join the man looking over his shoulder in objectifying the woman and meat as one and the same.

Meat is masculinity. It’s not just the Carl’s Jr. Superbowl commercial, featuring a near-nude model biting into a burger as men look on. (I’m not posting the video here; it’s objectifying and uncomfortable and this is a Christian blog). The meat is the object of the woman’s sexuality, giving her the appearance of dominance, but the commercial is built for men, casting the male gaze on the actress herself. It’s a male-gaze-within-a-male-gaze, sexualizing meat. Whether the woman or the meat is the focus is immaterial because both are essential for defining masculinity. (Subtext: you’re at the farmers market so you need all the masculinity you can get.)

Or look at the another image from Carl’s Jr., where meat becomes a device within the lesbian fantasy, but it is not “lesbian fantasy for lesbians,” it is lesbian fantasy centered on the male gaze and power. Because the image of the women alone doesn’t stand alone; it stands within the wider narrative of Carl’s Jr. commercials.

Carls Jr 2

This ad, speaking alongside the other, relies on what Adams calls “the absent referent,” so that we refer the male into the image even though he’s not present.

Carl Jrs 3

Former NFL player Terell Owens advertising his masculinity–meat and women.

Carol J. Adams laid this all out in The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990), marking the way masculinity and meat play off the same power structures. Historically, and still today in developing countries, if there is a shortage of meat, it goes to the man, because he is the power center of the household. In some medieval law, serfs could not kill meat on the Lord’s land, because it was reserved for the ruler. Meat has always been wedded to power structures, and so it is today, too. To say “meat just tastes good,” you might as well say “women just need to lean in.” It’s a denial that all individual systems happen within bigger systems of power.

It’s even stranger to watch PETA play into these power dynamics. It’s as if they’ve realized that in our minds, all vegetarianism stems from femininity and the way to lure men is to capitalize on the objectification of women. Even when PETA uses male celebrities (from Justin Bieber to Waka Flaka Flame), mostly they’re generic ads against animal cruelty.

justinbieberPETA300

Oh Justin, who knew we’d be nostalgic for the days when you were only known for “Baby Baby Baby”?

PETA 3

His whole career hinges on strip club misogyny, but deep down, he loves puppies.

PETA 2

Are you serious, PETA? I have no words.

The Chris Brown poster encapsulates everything! Chris Brown can refrain from beating animals, but not women, but he still eats animals, and he still consumes women when and where he wants, or else they get beaten. PETA is as bad as Carl Jr.’s. When it comes to feminism, all they have to say is this:

You turn over a new leaf, PETA. Maybe start with the 20th century?

You turn over a new leaf, PETA. Maybe start with the 20th century?

But it’s not just women and meat. Meat consumption in the U.S. not only highlights gender differences, meat processing disproportionately depends on the labor of undocumented immigrants.
Are you wondering, yet, what all this has to do with Jesus? Everything. Jesus sought to dismantle the whole interlocking systems of Roman and elite Jewish power. The same system that oppressed women used young boys as sex slaves; the same system that enforced the cross as punishment denied citizenship and basic rights to those who didn’t worship the Roman gods. The Jewish sages who would stone a woman are the same who would cast someone with a skin disease from their town. Jesus is the ultimate in deconstructing systems of power and understanding the way that power plays with power.

I’m not advocating a specific diet. I’ve found one that works for me; it may not work for you. But if you confess Jesus as Savior, you engage in the work of conscientizing yourself to the way sin is present on earth and disentangling yourself from all systems of sin. Maybe your solution is to eat meat only on weekends, or to eat only what you kill, or to eat meat low on the food chain (about those locusts and crickets…). Christianity is a conversation. Join in.

Because Communion “tastes good,” but that’s not the reason we eat it.

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