Masculinity defined as cowardice and bullying

Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, Sacramento Bee, July 25, 2015, fair use.
Fig. 1. Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, Sacramento Bee, July 25, 2015, fair use.

I have to admit that when I first became vegetarian ecofeminist—I then called myself vegan—I had no idea that eating meat was somehow connected with masculinity (figure 1). I’ve since become acquainted with the view, mainly from comments I have seen from vegans.

Not only does this view of masculinity seem to be out there in the wild, and not only does it fit with Barbara Ehrenreich’s image of prehistoric human men as hunters first and warriors second as megafauna went extinct,[1] but of course the so-called ‘sports’ of hunting and fishing are traditionally masculine pursuits. But what is truly remarkable about this view is that it frames masculinity as violent domination over nature and over non-human animals.

After all, hunting and fishing are activities typically done in wilderness or out on the ocean. And in a frame of wilderness not as a supplier of all our needs[2] but as an evil place to be subdued[3] man (gendered reference intentional) still braves the wilderness populated by dangerous animals—bears, wolves, and mountain lions—or the ocean, dangerous in its own right, to kill and bring home a trophy. For this, many of us see such men as heroes.

And I guess it feels heroic. Michael Pollan reports that his experience hunting wild pigs apparently includes having a photograph taken of him covered in gore, standing triumphantly over the kill with a silly grin.[4] Oh yes, this is adventure.

Never mind, of course, that animals are nowhere near as well armed as their human hunters and that, in reality, human hunters and fishers face far fewer risks in their pursuits than their prehistoric ancestors could ever have imagined. Indeed, with the advantages hunters and fishers now enjoy, they might more objectively be seen as cowards and as bullies, terrorizing non-human animals in their final moments of life.

Or, more commonly, going on a big game hunt in the supermarket and purchasing the flesh of a non-human animal that was mistreated its entire life—yes, even an allegedly “free range” or “humanely raised” one—then slaughtered in horrible and ghastly conditions.[5] That’s a man for you. Even women do this (apologies to all the vegetarian ecofeminist and vegan women out there).

And nowadays such domination is how we define ourselves as human. We are “civilized” as we sit around a table with fine china, silver cutlery, and drink a toast over the flesh of a terrorized and murdered animal while the environment around us has been ruined at, truly, even the profound level of fresh water.[6]

Sanity seems impossible. Recognizing the sheer hypocrisy of evaluating non-human animals by human standards, reversing that, and concluding, “Stumbling, bumbling, clumsy, land-lubbers are we, whose main talent seems to be destroying the ecosystem, threatening animals, and self-servingly prizing ourselves as superior to all others — ‘homo sapiens’ — ‘the wise ones’ we label ourselves — no other creature approaches our arrogance,” Louis Pojman nonetheless rationalizes the exploitation of non-human animals on the grounds that we can.[7]

We can, therefore we may. Or because our ancestors did it (but not so much really, if you go back far enough[8]). And we claim to be ethical creatures.

What it really all illustrates, when you consider the ways in which livestock are abused, especially those in which female animals are valued for their reproductive capacities, including milk-producing and egg-laying, is that we remain an intensely patriarchal society, and our abuses of animals are indistinguishable from our abuses of women.[9] Which is all very manly indeed.

  1. [1]Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999).; Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (New York: Henry Holt, 1997).
  2. [2]Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991).
  3. [3]Alice Outwater, Water: A Natural History (New York: Basic, 1996).
  4. [4]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2007).
  5. [5]Erik Marcus, Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money (Boston: Brio, 2005).
  6. [6]Alice Outwater, Water: A Natural History (New York: Basic, 1996).
  7. [7]Louis Pojman, “Do Animal Rights Entail Moral Nihilism?” Public Affairs Quarterly 7, no. 2. (1993): 165-185.
  8. [8]Rob Dunn, “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians,” Scientific American, July 23, 2012,; Ann Gibbons, “How modern humans ate their way to world dominance,” Science, February 6, 2015, doi: 10.1126/science.aaa7825; Humane Hominid [pseud.], “Why “Meat Made Us Smart” Is A Dumb Idea,” Discerning Brute, March 20, 2013,
  9. [9]Carol J. Adams, “Ecofeminism and the Eating of Animals,” Hypatia 6, no. 1 (1991): 125-145; Deane Curtin, “Toward an Ecological Ethic of Care,” Hypatia 6, no. 1 (1991): 60-74; Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146; Greta Gaard, “Ecofeminism Revisited: Rejecting Essentialism and Re-Placing Species in a Material Feminist Environmentalism,” Feminist Formations 23, no. 2 (2011): 26-53, doi: 10.1353/ff.2011.0017; pattrice jones, “Mothers with Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2004), 137-156.

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