The Gillette Ad, Vegetable Genitals, and Toxic (Vegan) Masculinity

Gillette, Vegetable Genitals, and Toxic Masculinity (Vegan Man or Not)

Last week, international animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) suggested that men can “cure toxic masculinity by going vegan.”

The statement was released in response to the American Psychological Association’s new 20-page guideline on psychological practices for boys and men, where it wrote, “Socialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health.”

Not long after that, Gillette launched an ad highlighting some of toxic masculinity’s biggest problems – the suppression of emotions, bullying those who don’t conform to standards, and sexual harassment, to name a few – leading to the hopeful message that men can help shut toxic masculinity down by calling it out when they see it. The internet kind of lost it and one guy even tried to flush his razor down the toilet, but some great memes were had.

On a side note, Gillette is owned by Procter & Gamble, which tests on animals, but there are cruelty-free and vegan razors and shaving cream out there – or, if you embrace your body hair, rock on.

Does Veganism Cure Toxic Masculinity?

Not long after that, PETA stepped in with its own hot take: cure toxic masculinity by going vegan.

The organization rightly points out that, on average, men eat 57 percent more meat than women – something that vegan feminist scholar Carol J. Adams explores in detail in the book “The Sexual Politics of Meat“.

The organization also points out that men also have a higher risk of heart attack – which is true, according to to the American Heart Association. A growing body of medical studies has also linked increased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease to meat consumption, but a plant-based diet is effective in lowering the risk.

“Did we mention the link between eating meat and erectile dysfunction? So much for proving your ‘manhood,'” PETA adds. On Twitter, the organization coupled its post with a (kind of David Lynch-ian) video where vegan men with vegetables for penises, um, strut their stuff.

While true that many causes of ED can be linked back to high meat consumption, is sexually shaming men the way to go? Isn’t that, in itself, kind of a toxic mindset? After all, not all men have penises and not all causes of ED have to do with eating meat.

Toxic Masculinity and Animal Rights

Is toxic masculinity really dead? No – the uproar against Gillette’s ad should be testament enough that we haven’t gotten to that point yet. And a couple of controversial moments that happened last year also revealed that veganism does not cure sexism – but society does seem to be getting better.

The biggest kicker out of the negative response by so many men is that Gillette’s commercial is doing its best to spread a positive message, unlike the breadth of advertisements that tell women that we’re too fat, too hairy, not trendy enough, and not pretty enough. If you’re not white or cisnormative, these messages can hit you even harder – speaking from the perspective of someone who was regularly bullied for being a teen who preferred to wear boys’ clothing and who didn’t quite understand why her friends wanted to date boys.

Ads like that imply that we’re not good enough as we are – and that buying a product is the solution to our self-esteem. That’s certainly not to knock anyone who does participate in wearing makeup (including myself) or anything else, but it’s something worth considering. Even many PETA ads and campaigns seem to cater to the male gaze.

Can Veganism Dismantle Toxic Masculinity?

Still, PETA makes some good points: “If macho hero movies have taught us anything, it’s that having a moral code is totally manly. Having compassion demonstrates strength. Just think of Tarzan, the masculine legend who protected his animal friends and family.” 

Not to mention, there is a connection to make between using animals as commodities and consent. The fact that animals cannot consent (but really, many animals do actively resist their slaughter and we celebrate those who have managed to escape) to giving up their bodies for food, clothing, painful cosmetic tests, etc, is part of what informed my decision as a feminist to go vegan.

“And as some of the greatest athletes in the world have proved, vegans can be just as brawny, if not more so, than meat-eaters—without chewing on the flesh of tortured animals,” it wrote.

A growing number of individuals are, rightfully, calling for a more inclusive, pro-intersectional animal rights movement.

Aryenish Birdie, executive director and founder of animal rights organization Encompass, envisions a “thriving animal protection movement that operates at its fullest potential because it reflects the racial diversity of the United States while its organizations and advocates embrace a culture of inclusion and equity.”

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the recipient of Harvard’s W.E.B DuBois Award for his impact on human rights, is best-known for bringing national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality against Black Americans for kneeling during the National Anthem. A vegan since 2016, his website states that he works to fight “all forms” of oppression.

Vegan scholar Christopher Sebastian’s work makes the connection between violence toward animals and oppression, covering topics such as anti-Black racism, queer rights, and class discrimination.

An anti-body shaming movement is also on the rise, pushing back against unsolicited comments on fat vegans’ body weight and diet. A panel at VegFest Colorado last summer which featured founder of the pro-intersectional vegan clothing company Compassion Company, encouraged, “Accept that someone else’s body is not your business” and “Instead of celebrating certain vegan bodies, celebrate all vegan efforts to do justice.”

Activist and documentary filmmaker John Lewis, aka the Bad-Ass Vegan has highlighted how race and class disparities affect access to healthy food.

These highlights are of course only a small portion of the individuals who are working to dismantle the institutions of toxic masculinity, racism, classism, and heteronormativity as the default within the vegan movement and humanity at large. Radical change is slow. The #MeToo movement and the Women’s March have only really just taken off (in some ways, they fail to be inclusive towards women of color and trans women) but we’re getting there – and it gives me hope for the future.

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