You never expect to wake up and see Franklin Graham posting foodie pictures on his Twitter account with captions like “Vegan Day #4! This isn’t that bad!”
Even a broken clock is right twice a day?
Franklin Graham is one of the biggest Christian purveyors of Christian toxic masculinity (“complementarianism”), the idea that women are submitters and men are leaders – women are gentle, men are strong – women are nurturers and men are fighters. In Graham’s world, men stand up and fight the battles while the women carefully protect and tend the homefront. I think most of us can see where this can go terribly wrong – it goes wrong when a little boy wants to play with dolls, but his dad won’t let him because it isn’t what men do – and all the little boy wants is to nurture and care for babies. This goes terribly wrong when a little girl wants to organize, lead, and speak, and she’s “bossy” and “aggressive” and as she gets older, a “ballbuster” – when all she wants to do is lead, and she is uniquely gifted for it.
In this instance, it also goes terribly wrong when the “leading” and the “submitting” become caricatures of themselves, absorb negative Western cultural narratives about what masculinity and femininity look like, and soon the Church is having Boys Nights where everyone watches Gladiator and talks non-ironically about Fighting for the Kingdom of God; and the women are reading Esther and having a Spa Night and talking about how God uses our submission to further God’s kingdom and how when we accept of femininity and beauty and grace, Jesus works through us (the irony of Esther being used to talk about traditional Christian femininity!). Soon being a Christian woman gets wrapped up in cooking, silence, and strangely, makeup and dresses. Soon being a Christian man gets wrapped up in violence, aggression, control, and power.
So what does this have to do with veganism?
How many times have you heard a dude joke about eating meat “because he’s a man”?
Maybe you haven’t noticed.
When you’re vegan, it’s hard not to notice. Women can be snippy about what other women eat (culture has trained us well to police each other’s food habits), but when men hear that someone, somewhere, has chosen not to eat meat, it can get nasty. Men can get snarky and defensive, aggressively excited to talk about how they grill their steak, or how they wrap everything in bacon, or how they “eat their meat with meat.”
There is a connection between cultural masculinity and eating meat, which the meat industry has capitalized on to create a loyal customer base that can’t leave their product because leaving the product means leaving behind their sense of themselves as men.
It’s important for me to take a half-second here, and take a breath, and tell you all that I don’t always eat vegan, in fact I usually don’t, and most of the people that I love most eat meat, and lots of people that I don’t like at all eat vegan. I also *love* how meat tastes, and think it’s delicious, whether I’m eating vegan or not. We’re all so wrapped up in justice and injustice as a consumer society that we all of us are participating in unjust practices in ten thousand ways, so looking for someone to judge about their consuming habits is a waste of time. We all find our square patch of justice that we can live into well, and do so with integrity and withholding judgment from those whose patches of justice look differently.
What I am talking about is not people who don’t eat vegan – it’s men who aggressively assert that eating meat is part of what it means to be a man.
Can we parse out why that is? Can we be awkward and brave enough to name what that connection is?
Well, let’s start with the positive: some of it is the cool sense of self-sufficiency that eating meat conjures up – out alone, you versus nature, hunting to sustain yourself and your family. It’s a wilderness thing that, as a kind of masculine woman, I get super excited about too. I love the pioneer image of battling the elements and securing sustenance against all odds. Another one is probably the element of facing danger for a greater good – you ride out in the Sahara to face dangerous beasts and conquer them, man versus nature, humanity versus the odds.
So picking up a package of processed turkey at Kroger somehow lets us tap into those primal urges. I get it.
But can we also talk about how toxic masculinity gets wrapped up in this particular type of anxious defense of meat eating? When a man doesn’t just say “oh, I eat meat” but “I eat meat because I am a man”? How this idea of the man as the one who does violence for the greater good somehow has been packaged into what it means to be Male and Human? That the idea of “subduing” the earth has become a type of Christian mantra that taps into toxic masculinity as an excuse for our destruction of the environment in a mirade of ways, not just by factory farmed meat?
Manly men kill things, manly men participate in oppression of the weaker, manly men fight evil but don’t nurture the oppressed, manly men hunt but never tend gardens, manly men win fights by getting larger and bigger and louder but never by becoming smaller and gentler and more compassionate. Manly men eat meat.
So this is why I am happy that Franklin Graham is eating vegan. I’m glad because any time we can find a way to split meat eating from Maleness, I think it’s a win for men and women. I’m glad because any time we have more options about what it means to be our particular gender, it’s a good thing. I’m glad because I don’t think Jesus was the kind of “manly man” that would have celebrated faux masculinity based on power, control, and violence.
I think Jesus definitely ate meat. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t do it with an ironic nod to being a manly man and I am positive that he did not feel that people who did not eat meat decentered his sense of self as a man human.
And carry on, Mr. Graham! Thanks for spreading a tiny bit of justice into your world.