Vegetarian + Vegan Issues Thoughts on Vegan Masculinity

Published on July 29th, 2014 | by Justin Van Kleeck


Thoughts on Vegan Masculinity

Thoughts 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 live a kinder life 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.

Editor’s Note: This piece by Justin Van Kleeck on vegan masculinity originally ran on his personal site. We are republishing it here with permission.

Image Credit: photo via Justin Van Kleeck

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About the Author

I am an ethical vegan (since 1999), a writer, an educator, an activist, an organizer, and a vegan-of-all-trades. I have a PhD in English but then left academia to work on social change. I focus on veganism, animal rights, local foods, farming practices, environmentalism, and sustainability--starting from the position that humans are just one part of the biosphere, not the center of it.

5 Responses to Thoughts on Vegan Masculinity

  1. Jessica says:

    Thank you, Justin for addressing this “masculinity issue” within the vegan community. I don’t’ have much to add because you’ve said it so perfectly already. Thank you for all the work you do. And also for name-dropping Adams: I love her work.

    • Justin Van Kleeck says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jessica. It means a lot to me, and I am glad there is a strong community out there thinking critically about these issues.

  2. HereHere says:

    I think it takes courage to step out of society and to try to change it. That is what matters, not societal preconceptions of masculinity or femininity.

  3. Ali Seiter says:

    YES YES YES I COMPLETELY AGREE. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve felt terribly uncomfortable with the recent discussion about “manly vegans,” but haven’t known how to address it. Considering this, I found your post incredibly cathartic. Thank you again.

  4. Virginia says:

    I really love your post. I think it’s the best post I’ve read about veganism, feminism, and the way that considering something femenine make us all not wanting to be involved with it anyhow. It is something really worth thinking about it and I am specially glad this comes from a man.

    I have to say that I have never heard of veganism being linked to be “girly” arround me, only in “humor” sites and blogs from the US. Maybe because in Spain where I live eating meat is just “normal”, not “manly” (or maybe because I am lucky and people I know are not that stupid). But when I read about it I was like…what? Seriously…what is in veganism that breaks role gender and (as you wonderfully exposed) what is in gender roles that deserves to be preserved?.

    Again great post. Thank you.

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