Exploring the metaphoric link between meat and maleness in Western cultures
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In US popular culture, certain activities are often associated with either men or women. Fishing, card-playing and stockbroking, for example, are portrayed as 'male,' whereas, cooking, shoe-shopping and babysitting are 'female' activities. What about food? Is there a gender dimension to the act of eating a particular food or food group? This study was conducted to explore if consuming meat was associated with maleness, not only in the United States, but across Western cultures.
Researchers Paul Rozin, Julia Hormes, Myles Faith and Brian Wansink developed six different hypotheses to test. 1) Are meat and maleness linked in thought? 2) More specifically, does the muscle meat of mammals have male connotations? 3) In contrast, are 'feminized proteins' (i.e. foods from female animals such as milk, eggs and female reproductive organs) psychologically linked to femaleness? 4) Are foods that require extensive preparation, in other words, that cannot be eaten in their 'raw' state, considered more female? 5) Do females prefer less involvement in meat in order to maintain their gender identity? 6) Do feminists view meat as being more male than non-feminists?
These hypotheses led to six different experiments and their corresponding results: 1) US college students were asked to match food words (beef, pork, hamburger, corn, peas and broccoli) with human names (Joan, Claire, Mary, John, Robert and Paul). Their reaction time for matching meat words with male names was faster than with female names, suggesting implicit associations between meat and maleness. 2) Adults from the US, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Switzerland were given free association tests, in which they heard a word and recorded the first 3 words that came to mind. 'Meat,' 'beef,' and 'steak' generated more male than female-related words. 'Milk' generated more female than male-related words. 3) US college students read a description of a fictional person ' in different versions, the person's favorite food was beef, chicken, fish or vegetables. Students rated the beef-lover as less feminine and more masculine than the fish and vegetable-lover. 4) US college students rated how 'male' or 'female' different foods were. Mammal muscle meat rated more male, but female animal products did not rate more female. Foods requiring more preparation rated more female than raw foods. Female students who identified as feminists rated meat as both male and female, but at higher ratings than non-feminists. 5) Adults from the US, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Switzerland were asked about their dietary practices. More women than men restrict their intake of meat. 6) An analysis of 20 languages that assign genders to nouns was conducted. Both meats and female animal products were assigned the male gender more often than female.
Results show an association between meat and maleness and suggest that more research is needed to better understand how and why this came to be. For those who serve or sell food products, be aware of the gender of your consumers and also the gender perceptions of food!
Article Summary by Brooke Pearson and Julia Hastings-Black
• Download paper from the SSRN (the Social Science Research Network)
Rozin, Paul, Julia Hormes, Myles Faith, and Brian Wansink (2012). Is Meat Male? A Quantitative Multimethod Framework to Establish Metaphoric Relationships. Journal of Consumer Research, 39 (3), 629-643. doi: 10.1086/664970
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