Veganism has a gender problem in that the vast majority of vegans are women. Veganuary showed that of the over 250,000 people who registered in 2019, only 11% identify as male.
Worldwide, on average only 33% of vegans are male – most vegans being likely to be female and under 35.
What could be the reason so many fewer men choose vegan-ism than women? Or why do more women choose vegan-ism? There are a few theories.
Meat and ‘manliness’ have been linked for centuries.
In many cultures, men were the ones who hunted (and in some, still do) and even today, hunting as a ‘sport’ is more popular with men than women. But we’ve seen in many species, it’s the females who do the hunting – lions are the most famous of these.
Imagery of masculinity is often tied to meat and many marketing campaigns for meat are directed at men. This has led men and women to associate eating meat with strength and masculinity. “Barbecue-ing” the perfect steak or hamburger at the cookout is seen as the ‘man’s job’. The majority of BBQ joints are owned and led by men. The majority of butchers are men.
So, is hunting, preparing and eating meat intrinsically male? Of course not. Females hunt. Females can also roast, grill or otherwise prepare meat. And females eat meat. So, why do women choose vegan-ism more than men?
Culture. This view of meat as ‘manly’ is pervasive in so many cultures. This imagery and culture of seeing men as ‘manly’ for preparing and eating meat may be why many men do not consider vegan-ism as very masculine and why they may not want to try it, and why it’s easier for women to do so.
Women are far more likely than men to have body image issues and eating disorders.
While vegan-ism is not an eating disorder in any way, some may adopt the lifestyle – not for the ethics – but to have more control over their food and possibly, as a way to hide their eating disorder. It’s easier to say “I can’t eat that”, when you’re vegan than if you’re anorexic. Vegan diets have helped many lose weight and therefore may be more attractive to those who want to control their body size, whether in a healthy way or not.
Due to the stresses society places on women on how they look, it is not surprising that more women would choose a lifestyle that can help them look better while being compassionate. Men, on the other hand, do not have as strong of a pressure to look a certain way (though this has been increasing lately), and are not expected to be compassionate.
Tied into a lot of this is compassion. Vegan-ism is all about compassion. Compassion to animals, to our Earth.
Culture dictates that women are more compassionate, and men don’t need to be. In most cultures, men are expected to be ‘strong’, whether that means physical strength or emotional, or both. Compassionate men therefore are often labeled as ‘feminine’. One study showed that men who are vegetarian were viewed as 35% less masculine than men who eat meat. Vegan groups have been trying to combat this stereotype with the slogan “compassion is sexy”. But until men feel it’s acceptable for them to be more compassionate towards animals, they may not want to change to a vegan diet, let alone speak out about saving animals and being vegan.
I saw another article that focused on the practicalities. While top chef spots are dominated by men, the vast majority of cooking is done by women.
Household food preparation is conducted mostly by women globally. As I’ve mentioned before, changing to a new diet can be difficult because all the foods you’re used to eating and cooking are now different and you have to find new food and recipes. If you’re not used to cooking, preparing food in a different way and finding new recipes and foods you like becomes even bigger of a challenge. And meat is pretty easy to prepare compared to some of the more complicated vegan dishes. The argument is that since men are less experienced with the day-to-day preparation of food, it’s harder for them to change from the few dishes they know how to make.
This argument is based on the assumption that men are lazy. I don’t particularly like this one, as I am also lazy (hello Jumia).
With the majority of food options still focused on meat, it’s just easier to choose a dish with meat. But honestly, it’s not that hard to spend a few extra minutes choosing a dish that’s vegan. I throw this one out.
So, what is it? My feeling is that men do not choose vegan-ism because of culture and society’s expectations of them, and the view that meat is somehow tied to masculinity. Women on the other hand have an easier time because we do not have the same pressures to be masculine. We are expected to be compassionate and kind, and some may choose it because of the pressures to be thin, attractive beings.
Whatever the reasons, I hope we can move past these outdated views of men and women and all be compassionate humans who want to be healthy, save animals and the planet – while also looking and feeling good!
Curious about the vegan lifestyle in Rwanda? Follow me on my Instagram @vegan_in_rwanda.
All opinions expressed are the author’s