Meat has long been associated with masculinity. It goes all the way back to prehistoric times, right? Men were the protectors and the hunters, and women were the gatherers and the mothers. Only, this might not actually be true. In 2020, one analysis of the remains of an ancient female found that she was actually lying beside a hunting toolkit. She was likely a big game hunter, and further research suggests she was far from alone. According to one study, between 30 percent and 50 percent of big game hunters were biologically female.
And yet, today, in a world where the concept of gender is consistently evolving and progressing beyond binary stereotypes, for many men who want to be perceived as “manly” and “masculine,” meat remains a dietary staple.
Last year, research carried out in Sydney interviewed several self-confessed meat-loving men after they had visited vegan restaurants, and found that most felt their masculinity had been threatened during the process. One said the beef-free patties were “ruining his reputation as a man,” reports the Conversation. Another said, “I was feeling I was sacrificing my manhood, my masculinity.”
But the number of men who reject this idea, that meat and masculinity are intrinsically connected, is rising. In fact, for some, showing compassion seems to be the new demonstration of true masculinity. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example. He used to be a meat-loving, bodybuilding icon. Now, he lives off of mostly plants and takes care of a flock of animals, including a newly adopted companion pig. And he’s not alone, either.
Celebrity men, masculinity, and companion pigs
He might no longer be showing off his bulging muscles at Mr. Olympia, but most can agree that if you think of the stereotypical image of masculinity, it still looks quite a bit like six-foot-two Schwarzenegger. And yet, he has cut his meat consumption by around 80 percent since the height of his bodybuilding days.
And he has also become a keen animal lover. Right now, he shares his home with one donkey, called Lulu, one miniature horse, called Whiskey, three dogs, called Cherry, Dutch, and Schnitzel, and one pig, called Schnelly. Proudly announcing the new arrival on social media, he recently posted a photo of him cuddling both a dog and Schnelly, with the caption “The family is growing.”
And the athlete, actor, and former California governor is known amongst friends for his love for animals. In January, Danny DeVito told The Sunday Times that at Schwarzenegger’s home “the animals just roam around all over the place.”
If you take a look at Schwarzenegger’s social media today, you’ll see the proof of DeVito’s observations. There’s a sea of old bodybuilding images and clips (partly in promotion for the new Netflix documentary Arnold), and a plethora of animal photos. Lulu is a common indoor house guest, it seems.
But Schwarzenegger isn’t alone in proudly displaying his love of animals. Just recently, James Cromwell, who starred in Babe, the 1995 movie about an orphaned pig, announced he had also welcomed a new addition to his home: a rescued piglet, also now called Babe, who recently fell from a truck on the way to slaughter.
“Having had the privilege of witnessing and experiencing pigs’ intelligence and inquisitive personalities while filming the movie ‘Babe’ changed my life and my way of eating,” the 83-year-old actor said. “So I jumped at the chance to save this real-life Babe.”
Jason Momoa, who is frequently labeled the epitome of “manly” by the media, also opened his doors to a pig companion recently. Like Schwarzenegger, he also has a donkey, as well as two dogs and a snake. He adopted the new pig after working with him on the set of his new film Slumberland. “This is why I can’t work with animals,” he said on Instagram, underneath a video of the new companion animal. “I want to bring them home.”
George Clooney, once dubbed the “number one man’s man,” has also long been an advocate for animals. For two decades, he shared his home with a pig named Max. While he said pigs could be hard work, he also said in an interview, “Pigs are really smart. And [Max] was funny, and he made me laugh.”
Compassion and manliness can go hand-in-hand
Not all of the celebrities listed above have cut meat from their diet—despite attempts at persuasion. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals actually recently sent Momoa a basket of vegan pork products, after he said he wouldn’t change his diet after welcoming his new pig into his home.
But their open love for animals does say something: in their view, compassion and care for living creatures aren’t at odds with “manliness.” Schwarzenegger has even gone one step further and openly called out the meat industry for pushing the meat masculinity myth onto unsuspecting consumers.
“I’ve lived in that world,” he says in the 2018 documentary The Game Changers, referring to his long career in the bodybuilding industry. “They show these commercials—burgers, George Foreman with the grill and epic sandwich—this is great, great marketing for the meat industry, selling the idea that real men eat meat. But you’ve got to understand. It’s marketing. It’s not based on reality.”
On the flip side, many women have no problem accepting meat alternatives and opening their hearts to animals. In fact, research suggests that in the US, nearly 80 percent of vegans identify as women. And yet, research tells us that, when they had to be, women were once great hunters, too.
The difference is that womanhood has never been associated with grilling up piles of burgers and sausages in the same way that “manliness” has, making it far easier for women to swap meat for beans and vegetables. No questions asked.
This indicates, just like Schwarzenegger suggests, that meat and manliness is simply a narrative, a story spun by marketing campaigns, rooted in an image of masculinity that isn’t real. So with that in mind, maybe being a “man” doesn’t have to be about ordering the biggest slab of steak. Instead, it could be about embracing companion pigs and eating veggie burgers.