In recent years, the gender imbalance in vegan and vegetarian populations has received much interest from researchers seeking to explain this phenomenon. As it turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, the reasons for this imbalance are deeply complicated.
The Vegan Society’s first Research Briefing was published last month which explored the reasons why men are less likely than women to go vegan. The publication, titled Research Briefing: Veganism and Masculinity, provides a succinct overview of the topic, offering key recommendations for professional practice and identifying potential opportunities for future research.
The Research Briefing and its key recommendations were informed through careful consideration of current literature and research into effective campaign strategies. We found that the main barriers men face when going vegan are social stigma and pressures to conform to masculine expectations, and misinformation relating to nutrition.
It’s been widely noted in the literature that masculinity is something which needs to be reinforced through action, hence the concept of ‘performative masculinity’. Meat-eating, and animal-product consumption more broadly, has been widely viewed as a key masculine performance for a long time, and breaking from this behaviour by going vegan may be perceived as a gender role violation.
Gender role violations are thus often met with hostility, potentially invoking harsh judgement from meat-eating individuals or groups. We found that it is this expectation of experiencing social stigma which may be preventing many would-be vegan men from going vegan. In the briefing, we also discuss how men are more likely than women to justify meat-eating as natural and hold hierarchical attitudes towards non-human animals.
Myths around soy
Our Research Briefing also found that evidence of social misinformation regarding vegan nutrition that may be putting men off going vegan. Specifically, the oestrogen present in soy has been used by those seeking to spread misinformation to insist that soy-heavy diets will affect testosterone levels in men. The implication often being that men who consume a lot of soy will be less physically strong and more feminine – the supposed link between soy consumption and feminised men being rooted in colonial-era racism. In fact, research has shown that these claims have no academic credibility, and that soy consumption does not affect testosterone levels.
Research suggests that vegan men are more likely to reject traditional or rigid understandings of masculinity: Masculinity is dynamic in that it does not mean the same thing to everyone and that popular understandings of masculinity change and adapt over time. Research suggests that vegan men are likely to reject the idea that veganism is fully compatible with hegemonic (mainstream) masculinity, and instead embrace a more hybrid understanding of masculinity which centres empathy rather than dominance. We argue that veganism may be a pathway for men to break free from rigid gender norms and expectations and live a life that is more aligned with their values.
The purpose of this Research Briefing, besides being an information and educational resource, is to directly inform our Vegan and Thriving campaign. We are currently in the process of planning the next stages of this research which will help us to convince more men to overcome some of the barriers we’ve highlighted in the Research Briefing and to go vegan.
You can read the full Research Briefing here.
With sincere thanks to Dr Lorna Fenwick McLaren and Alexander Huntley and The Vegan Society for your work and contribution.