Archive | August, 2010

Hegans and guys named Rip

16 Aug

So there’s a long list of things we expect of the (assumed) dual genders. Some of the gender lines are so rigidly constructed and staunch that a particular topic will be gendered without any reference to women or men. For example, veganism is often considered a “feminine” movement without having any historical connection to women or having been started by women.

Something about caring for animals is considered feminine; perhaps it’s emotion in general. As I’ve discussed in a past entry, men are associated with killers and violence. To seek peace is gendered as feminine. It’s considered passive and inactive to want peace.

In thinking about this though, while masculinity is associated with violence it can also be associated with saving someone’s life (heroism) if it relates to activity, especially if it also involves violence (the military, the police).

Veganism also poses a threat to masculinity in that it involves removing meat from the diet. Meat is associated with protein, protein is associated with muscle strength, muscle strength is associated with activity. Masculinity is associated with action and therefore men are expected to eat a lot of meat to support that action.

Additionally, veganism is associated with healthy living and men are taught not to be concerned with that. Men are assumed to be able to handle anything, including indigestion from over eating and/or eating unhealthy things.

So if veganism is so foreign to masculinity, how do we talk about men involved with veganism? With action words of course! recently posted an interview with Rip Esselstyn who wrote a book about the benefits of the vegan diet from a firefighter’s perspective. The following is not to diminish what Rip is doing; in fact I truly admire his efforts to bring healthy eating and also veganism to America. I want veganism to be accessible to any and all genders and perhaps his efforts are helping to bring this goal to reality.

But I thought it was important to discuss the ways he’s making veganism “safe” to men.

The first description of Rip is that he’s an “Ironman triathlete and former firefighter”. So immediately we are seeing this qualification of Rip as a “real man”; as active, “iron” and a firefighter (by far one of the most masculinized occupations: an occupation involving “a man” overcoming the elements).

The interviewer points to the use of “hegan” as the term for a man who is a vegan. But there is no vegan term for a woman. There is no “shegan”.

Rip: Well, I want you to know up front that you’re talking to the ultimate hegan!”

There is also the discussion of Rip’s term “plant-strong” to overcome the taboo that those who don’t eat meat are weak.

“You know, eat plant-strong, meaning eat more plants, and also, I’m plant-strong—I’m eating plants, and I’m strong. Real men eat plants.”

And no test of masculinity (for veganism) would be complete without a reference to testicles as strength:

“Rip: Somebody e-mailed me the other day saying that they love Engine 2, and when people ask them what it is, they say it’s a vegan diet with balls—a vegan diet with cojones.”

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