Men and Meat III

After recent postings here and here about the supposed connection between men and meat comes a press release from Meatinfo.co.uk, which talks up a new study that shows:

Male meat-eaters are seen as more masculine than their vegetarian counterparts, even by steak-dodging females, research from British Columbia has found.

Vegetarian men are seen as wimps and less macho than those who like tucking into cooked animal flesh, according to the study, although non-meat eaters were seen as being more virtuous.

I went and had a look at this study, “Meat, Morals and Masculinity” in the journal Appetite. This four page “short communication” offers a good example of the absurdity of the socially-constructed nature of gender. Summarising other research, the authors describe “pancakes and syrup” as a “masculine food” and “bagel with cream cheese” as a “feminine food” (working on the assumption that high fat content is masculine).

This is the kind of thing that annoys me about a certain way of doing social science: supposedly commonly-held “perceptions” are presented in studies with no critical framework. How can someone seriously perpetuate such nonsense that a pancake with syrup is masculine and a bagel with cream cheese is feminine? Perception it may be, but science it is not: however, many social scientists would paradoxically argue that the way a humanities researcher might deconstruct such a statement is itself unscientific.

The article concludes:

Through purposefully abstaining from meat, a widely established symbol of power, status, and masculinity, it seems that the vegetarian man is perceived as more principled, but less manly, than his omnivorous counterpart. People may benefit from knowing about this consequence in how their diet affects the way that others perceive them.

I would argue that people would benefit more from a study that critiques these ludicrous perceptions, rather than perpetuating them. I understand that the authors may not consider this to be the business of their research, but presumably neither is being fodder for meat industry marketing.

There’s a lesson there for all researchers and writers: it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see how our work may be mobilized by others in ways we do not intend.