Thursday 11 January 2018

Anti-vegetarianism is sexism in disguise

Our culture feminizes compassion. It also masculinizes meat-eating. Women become easy targets, writes Diana Spechier in Harper Bazaar. Read on: 

t a recent work dinner that involved a pre-fixe menu, I had a quick and quiet conversation with the waiter to let him know I don’t eat meat. A man at the table overheard and got a look on his face I’ve learned to recognize. I knew what was coming. “Do you not eat meat for, like, ethical reasons?” he asked.

“I’ve been vegetarian since I was a teenager,” I said evasively.

“You do know we’re part of the food chain, don’t you?”

I attempted a neutral smile.

“I mean… if animals were smarter than we are, they’d kill us first. We have the right to eat them because they’re dumb enough to get eaten.”

I pointed out that by his logic, we also have the right to eat our own pets, the senile elderly, and human babies. He laughed.

Mostly I wanted to avoid a conversation that I consider boring and that I know can become contentious, a conversation that, despite the ever-growing popularity of plant-based diets, I’ve been roped into more times in the last two years than in my 20 years of vegetarianism combined. There’s also a part of me that worries my vegetarianism proves I’m illogical, overly sensitive, “dumb enough to get eaten.” I worry that men who see my dietary restrictions will also see how unbearable my PMDD is, or how thinking about my love for my parents makes me cry. Our culture feminizes tears, compassion, any visible displays of emotion. It also masculinizes meat-eating. So we’re easy targets.

"What’s scary is the idea that compassion is effeminate and thereby un-American."

It’s hard not to internalize insults; it’s hard not to condemn ourselves for what others decide is wrong with us. “If I’m being completely honest, my vegetarianism was probably just a dumb, privileged thing I decided to do on a whim before my frontal lobe was even developed,” wrote one young woman on Man Repeller after she resumed eating meat. Another writer confessed last summer in the Boston Globe, “I’m a vegetarian. But I’m not proud of it. Vegetarianism can seem so sanctimonious and, when the barbecue heats up on the Fourth of July, so un-American. My grandfather didn’t fight in World War II so I could nosh on grilled eggplant strips.”

Since when is it un-American to eat eggplant? To make one’s own decisions? To aim to be ethical? To practice kindness? “Vegetarian” is not synonymous with “holier-than-thou”; in my experience, the opposite is true: It’s meat-eaters who are more likely to do the condemning. And then to accuse vegetarians of condemning them. It’s classic deflection, textbook self-victimizing, a transparent disguise for selfishness. It’s what many of Trump’s supporters do to Trump’s detractors. Instead of owning that their politics are self-serving, they attack those who suggest that their politics are self-serving. And consider the feminized insults they sling: if we disagree with Donald Trump’s tax plan, with his unwillingness to fight climate change, with his refusal to denounce neo-Nazis, we’re “special snowflakes,” we’re “triggered,” we’re “irrational libs.” They don’t say, I want my taxes lowered, even at the expense of those less fortunate.

In America, according to a study cited by the Huffington Post, 59 percent of vegetarians and 79 percent of vegans are women. No wonder so many seem so concerned about what we’re eating or not eating—people have always enjoyed chiming in about what women should do with their bodies. And with Trump’s ascent, those voices have gained steam: In today’s America, you can brag about grabbing an unsuspecting woman’s vagina and become president. The most anti-abortion-rights politician in the country can rise to the vice-presidency. Woody Allen can voice sympathy for Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby can do “town halls” to teach young men how to shield themselves from rape accusations, and Matt Damon can tell us we’re overreacting about men patting our butts at work. Harmless as it seems in comparison to rape apology, anti-vegetarianism is also sexism in disguise. Not even a convincing disguise. It’s sexism in a man bun.

"Our culture feminizes compassion. It also masculinizes meat-eating. So we’re easy targets."

There are many tools to choose from if you want to threaten those who are different from you, whose ways you might not understand—whether they’re women, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, people of color, or people who simply don’t eat the way you do. You can tease them. You can call them cunts. You can work to undermine their rights. You can shame them into silence. You can disguise your aggression as concern, the way this article questions the safety of vegetarian pregnancy, or the way this article ties vegetarianism to mental illness; the latter article’s subtext is this: “Vegetarians are crazy.”

Or women are.

To deny that veg-shaming is vag-shaming, to deny that meat-splaining is man-splaining, reeks of the “it’s not that she’s a woman, it’s that she’s careless with her emails” argument. Case in point: Under the Huffington Post article about the male/female vegetarian ratio, a male commenter wrote, “Because women are emotionally irrational.” Another wrote, “So glad I was born a man. Enjoy your beans and salads, ladies.” And a third man chimed in with the most well-crafted and honest response: “Vegetarians scare me.”

What’s scary, really, is the idea in the ether that compassion is effeminate and thereby un-American. “Socialist.” “Stupid.” “Snow flake-y.” That destroying the environment is man’s God-given right. That black lives should remain inferior to white lives. That refugees are terrorists. That immigrants are criminals. That sick people are scourges. That women have victim complexes and their concern for their safety and rights are invalid. That steak is patriotic.

"The subtext is this: 'Vegetarians are crazy.' Or women are."

Or maybe it’s not scary. Maybe it’s encouraging. If these antiquated beliefs weren’t verging on extinction, why would anyone have to defend them so vociferously? Why would white supremacists need parades? Why would anti-vegetarians become increasingly obnoxious? Why would powerful men have to shout, hysterically, that women are hysterical? Perhaps their fighting words are just death rattles.

I don't believe that everyone should quit meat. What I believe is that the “food chain” mentality is a dangerous one that grants the powerful license to prey on the powerless. What I believe is that no one should mock those who have decided against killing animals, or who have decided to cut down on killing animals, or who have decided to give some thought to what it means to eat dead animals. Or at least to the animals’ quality of life and the methods used to slaughter them. Gentleness and empathy, in this day and age, in whatever forms they take, should be treasured.

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