The myth about men and ‘their’ meat

Image: Guy James Whitworth.

Ahead of No Meat May, Sydney artist and author Guy James Whitworth talks us through the links between toxic masculinity and the meat industry.

This last month has seen a major uprising – a revolution, if you will – of women around the world. Here in Sydney, we had a spectacular ‘March 4 justice’ campaigning for women’s right to freedom from violence and for men to be held accountable for their actions, along with an outcry against toxic masculinity.  

This makes perfect sense and I have no issue in joining in the chants of ‘smash the patriarchy’ and ‘the future is female’ despite being male bodied.   

But while I do not believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen, I do think the success or failure of this revolution will depend on who we allow to do the catering.  

As a portrait artist, I’ve trained myself to view subjects intimately, honestly and to look for visual connections within the reality of what I am seeing.

And as the co-founder of No Meat May, I am fully aware of the violent horrors of factory farming and the gendered politics of the meat industry.  

And you know what? It’s all connected. Hear me out.  

As a man, we are taught to play within rules, to bask in the privilege our genitals bestow on us and rely on our brothers for back up when needed. Obviously, this is unfair and must change. 

However, while men must change how they think about women, they must also change how they think about identity and masculinity.  

Our entire cultural structure is built around ‘man’ being top of the food chain; the apex predator. However, we all know deep down this isn’t really true, it’s a cosy lie we men are sold to numb our deepest anxiety that we are really just a middle of the chain ape.

There are lots of lies we get told as men (for example, that we are kings; that we are mighty, invincible lords that society will never question) yet we enforce and administer those lies to help build up the boys’ club we are born into.  

The reality is, however, that humankind (not just ‘man’-kind) is only top of the food chain because of a few unfair evolutionary advantages; we manufacture weapons and enjoy advanced communication skills unparalleled in the animal kingdom. Our dominance is not our birthright, it is because we use our skills tactically, and we fight dirty. If we played fairer, we would have many natural predators, although not really, as we’ve destroyed most of the natural world within the last few centuries.   

It is through the industrialisation of food production and factory farming that we have destroyed much of that natural world.  

Modern ‘farming’ practices, particularly the breeding of livestock, are toxic to say the least. They are backed up with the marketing machines’ mythical link of meat and masculinity to drive profits – leading to the blind destruction of our forests and buggering up our climate.  

The devious advertising strategies employed by the meat marketing industry over the past few decades have been surpassed only by the tobacco industry. The parallels between these two problematic industries are both unpleasant and enormous.  

The connection between ‘classic’ (or, as we now recognise it, toxic) masculinity and the toxic meat industry is nothing new, and has been well documented, but the reinforcement of that particular masculinity – the noxious and overbearing kind – is something we need to readily acknowledge and actively discourage.  

Examples of toxic masculinity in meat advertising

Last month I read a Facebook post by one of my favourite Sydney politicians, Jenny Leong, that said the words, ‘Men, please check your dominance’ and I’m afraid to say, no one has ever actually said those words to me previously. Although, quite honestly, I really needed to hear those words. A lot of men do. 

To refer back to the women’s marches happening locally and around the globe, men are in the process of having their dominance checked. If you choose to walk past sexism or any other oppression, there is a good chance you will also ignore others: racism, homophobia, ablism and so forth all along the line to speciesism. All oppressions need to be systematically brought to an end, not just periodically pointed at, or else it will just hide behind another oppression next in line.  

My partner and I founded No Meat May to challenge habits and make a difference to how someone sees and impacts on the world. Usually, around 85 per cent of participants are women. Presumably that’s because (and let’s go with a trusted gender stereotype here) women are more compassionate and thoughtful.  

That percentage has to change, men have to lead other men with compassion and honesty, and we are purposefully targeting more men with this year’s campaign. Men have to talk to men and call out toxic masculinity when we see it. 

I had an exhibition a few years back called What Maketh a Man and I have thought about this subject a lot as part of my art practice. To me, standing up for courage and compassion, standing against bullshit advertising, and creating a better world for the next generation, regardless of gender, should be traits we all embrace.  

Going plant-based for the month of May can be tough and requires bravery, stamina and strength to see the challenge through – and it’s something we need more men to do.

Convinced yet? Or do we need to point out the connection between red meat and erectile dysfunction, to make our point? 

Guy James Whitworth is a Sydney-based artist and author. His book, Signs of a Struggle – is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst and good bookshops everywhere. He can be followed on Instagram and TwitterMore information on No Meat May is available on their website and Facebook page