I have always wondered about this topic. Been doing a lot of internet research since the last 10 years and I can take a wild guess and confidently state that 8 out of 10 vegetarians are females. Heck, most animal abuse advocates and environmentalists tend to be women too. On the topic of diet why is this the case? Is it because women generally have more empathy and compassion or is it something scientific like....men need more protein and muscle mass and women don't. I haven't looked around but I'd say the majority of people on this blog are women too.
I think you are asking some very interesting questions. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I will try to give you some general observations from my experience. I am currently teaching an Introduction to Women and Gender's Studies course, so that lens informs a lot of my opinion.
First, there seems to be a connection between meat-eating and masculinity, at least in American culture. Plant-based diets are often viewed as effeminate, although this is clearly not true. There are many classically masculine men who are vegetarian/vegan, and this group includes athletes, medical professionals and researchers, firefighters, authors, and musicians. Of course I say this not as a value statement, because all of us have to decide how much me invest in the typical gender paradigm, but this pressure to be manly is internalized by many men at an early age. It may prevent them from exploring vegetarian options, or it may prevent them from being as open and vocal about it as women are.
Second, I think there is a strong link between an omnivorous diet and privilege. In previous eras, meat and animal products were more expensive,and so the wealthy had more access to these things. The presence of meat on your dinner table was a social cue to your guests that you could afford to feed them such delicacies. This is not to say that lower to middle class people were vegetarian, but they ate animal products in much smaller quantities. Today, meat and animal products are more affordable due to factory farming. If you look at culinary history, many recipes for baked goods began including eggs after the end of World War II. This was in response to the end of War rations, and also to signify that America was prosperous. This "American Abundance" mind set still continues to this day.
What does all that have to do with privilege and vegetarianism? I think members of oppressed groups tend to recognize and identify other forms of oppression. In this way, women may be more sensitive to the exploitation of animals than men are. The same can be said of race. In previous research, I came across statistics that showed larger percentages of racial minorities were vegan/vegetarian than those of a white/Caucasian background. I do not remember the exact study, but I could probably relocate it if you'd like.
And last, I think women often understand the world through a mother's heart. Not all women are mothers, nor do all want to be, but some part of us understands and feels maternal compassion. A large part of the cruelty in the animal farming industry relates to the unnatural reproduction of animals, and the separation between mother and calf/chick/piglet/etc. We as women can feel this grief very sharply. I think men can understand and feel this, too, but the leap may not be as quick or as natural.
These are very broad observations, and please forgive me for my generalizations. I have often wondered about the same questions, and I am sure my opinions are limited by my own perspective and experience. I hope others will join in and give their insight. Thank you for listening to my ramblings. :-)
Jessica, you definitely touched on some really interesting facts and observations. I relate to much of what you stated about maternal compassion and although I'm not a mother, when I realized what the dairy industry is really about it completely disgusted me and broke my heart for what they have to endure. That was a huge factor in making the transition to veganism easier. As a generalization, women are more emotional and compassionate and it's easier for us to make those connections to suffering. It's interesting that although its still seen as a sign of affluence to have a omni diet, the perception of veganism has shifted to a sign of privilege or as Stephen Colbert said "the vegan elite." Hilarious bit Btw.
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