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Sep 24, 2016 - Past research has highlighted links between meat consumption and masculine ...... beverages (water, beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverage).


Eating meat makes you sexy: Conformity to dietary gender norms and attractiveness. Susanna Timeoa and Caterina Suitnera

a Department of Developmental and Social Psychology, University of Padova, Italy e-mail corresponding author: [email protected]

corresponding author: Susanna Timeo [email protected] via Venezia 8, 35131, Padova, Italy tel. +39 049 827 6402

Acknowledgments. For precious advise and manuscript revision, thanks to Anne Maass, Mara Cadinu, Silvia Galdi and Francesca Guizzo. For data collection, thanks to Roberta Azzini, Ana Cristina Fernandez Bermudez, Paola Buccio, Marta Businaro, Maddalena Daniele, Francesca Lazzaro, Victoria Mailleux, Carol Martinelli, Ilaria Ongaretto, Elisa Paluan, Giada Stevanin, Pasqualina Trocchia.

Author note: The preliminary results of the present research were presented the National Congress of the Italian Psychology Association (AIP), Social psychology section, Neaples,22th24th September 2016


2 Abstract

Past research has highlighted links between meat consumption and masculine gender role norms such that meat consumers are generally attributed more masculine traits than their vegetable-consuming counterparts. However, the direct link between gender roles and men’s food choices has been somewhat neglected in the literature. Three studies conducted in Italy investigated this link between meat and masculinity . Studies 1 and 2 analyzed female mating preference for vegetarian and omnivorous partners, confirming that women preferred omnivorous men (Study 1 and 2), rated them as more attractive (Study 1 and 2) and felt more positive about them (Study 1) than vegetarians. Moreover Study 2 showed that the attribution of masculinity mediated this relationship, such that vegetarian men were considered less attractive because they were perceived as less masculine. Study 3 tested the relationship between the endorsement of food-related gender norms and food choices in a sample of Italian men. The results showed that men who perceived vegetarianism as feminine preferred meat-based dishes for themselves and expected their female partners to choose vegetarian dishes. Together, these findings show that gender-role norms prescribing that men eat meat are actively maintained by both women and men and do in fact guide men’s food choices. Keywords: food choice, gender norms, vegetarian, mating choice, meat consumption



Eating meat makes you sexy: Eating meat makes you sexy: Conformity to dietary gender norms and attractiveness. Gender role norms regulate a wide variety of daily life, from the way people dress to the sports they choose to practice. Masculinity norms, for example, may prescribe that a man practice football instead of ballet. One of the most famous theoretical accounts of the masculine gender norms is the model of “hegemonic masculinity” (Connell, 1995), which relies on the concepts of dominance and power as characteristics of “real men”. Even though this definition has been criticized as being too rigid (Demetriou, 2001), many studies have continued to use these features to describe traditional masculine norms. Despite some variability, the stereotypes that tell men how to be and behave are relatively stable in their content across countries (Cuddy, Fiske, Kwan, et al., 2009) and over time (Haines, Deaux, & Lofaro, 2016). Masculinity has been defined as a precarious state (Vandello & Bosson, 2013). In effect, men, more so than women, need to constantly and publicly demonstrate their masculinity through their actions. Implications of precarious manhood are a) higher levels of anxiety connected to the concept of masculinity, b) more engagement in aggressive or risky behavior and c) the avoidance of feminine activities. An important implication of these predictions is that men tend to engage in more dangerous or unhealthy activities such as avoidance of medical or mental health care (Addis & Mahalik, 2003), less health care prevention(Mahalik, Lagan, & Morrison, 2006), risky sexual and driving behavior (Mahalik et al., 2006), substance abuse (Blazina & Watkins, 1996). In a sense, this is the pledge men must pay for their dominant and hegemonic position in society. Recent interest is emerging in the social drives of a new area of health-related behavior, namely food consumption. Recent studies have demonstrated that, for example, greater amount



of food intake is associated with masculinity (Vartanian, Herman, & Polivy, 2007) and that certain types of food are perceived as more masculine than others (Mooney & Lorenz, 1997). As Vartanian and collaborators reported in their review (Vartanian et al. 2007), people who eat unhealthy food and larger meals are typically seen as more masculine. Conversely, people who eat healthy food and smaller meals are perceived as more feminine. Conversely, people who eat healthy food and smaller meals are perceived as more feminine. Among the vast variety of food, meat seems to have the strongest association with masculine role and identity. Recent research has brought consistent evidence of a strong link between men and meat. A large-scale survey on the American population, indicated that men actually eat more animal-derived food (especially meat), whereas women eat more vegetables, fruit, yogurt and eggs (Shiferaw et al., 2012). A similar pattern can be observed in other populations, including Finland and Baltic (Prättälä et al., 2007), Italian (Vanuzzo, 2014), and UK (Gossard & York, 2003) populations, suggesting that this gender difference in food consumption is relatively stable across several societies. From an anthropological point of view, men were traditionally in charge of hunting and fishing (Nath, 2011). Moreover, meat consumption has always been associated with strength and power (Stavick, 1996) and meat such as raw beef is considered more masculine than vegetables or fruits, such as a peach (Cavazza, Guidetti & Butera, 2015a; Mooney & Lorenz, 1997). Such attributions are related to gender stereotypes and are culture specific. In fact, culture beliefs and attitudes towards non-meat eaters have also been reported. For example, a recent study conducted in Argentina, Brazil, France, and the USA (Ruby et al., 2016) showed that French people had negative attitudes towards vegetarians while American and Brazilian women showed admiration for them. However the meat-masculinity association appears to be quite consistent



across social contexts (Mooney & Lorenz, 1997; Rothgerber, 2013; Cavazza, Guidetti & Butera, 2015a; Cavazza, Guidetti Butera, 2015b). Given that food consumption is a common activity during social interactions, not only gender stereotypes prescribe that women and men eat particular types of food, but also what women and men eat leads to attributions about their femininity and masculinity. The amount and the type of food eaten is culturally informative during impression management processes. These prescriptions are culturally embedded, and as such culture-specific associations can be identified. For example eating eggs is considered an effeminate act in some tribes of southern Sudan (Adams, 1991). In Western Societies, women who eat lower quantities of food and healthier meals are perceived as more feminine and attractive (for a review see Vartanian, Herman, & Polivy, 2007). The meat-masculinity link is evident on attributions of maleness based on meat preference. When presented with hypothetical targets, participants’ impression formation was driven by the type of diet, with a target person consuming a beef diet being perceived as more masculine and less feminine than a target person characterized by a vegetarian diet (Rozin, Hormes, Faith, & Wansink, 2012). We can therefore observe a circularity in the meat–masculinity link, with meat being associated with masculinity (Rothgerber, 2013), and people who do not eat meat being perceived as more feminine (Rozin et al., 2012; Ruby & Heine, 2011). Up to this point, meat consumption as a strategy of self-presentation and impressionmanagement has been under-investigated (Vartanian, 2015). From this perspective, it is not clear whether people, and particularly men, may choose certain types of food in order to match a specific gender norm. To our knowledge, no previous study has directly tested the association between personal beliefs about gender norms linked to food consumption and the actual food



choices. Moreover, the social context and the meal situation become central in order to understand the motives that drive men to eat (or not) meat. Previous studies have demonstrated that women tend to eat less in a romantic dinner situation in order to “make a good impression” (Remick, 2010). On the contrary, there are few studies investigating the social influence on men’s eating habits and there is little evidence that men may modify their food choices in order to fit a specific situation (Cavazza, Guidetti & Butera, 2017; Dibb-Smith & Brindal, 2015; Vartanian, 2015). Moreover, even if there is some evidence showing that the social context might moderate people’s eating choices, there is almost no research on the direct relation between the eating behavior and specific impression motives (see also Vartanian, 2015). In this perspective, there is a lack of evidence directly acknowledging meat consumption as a means to prove or affirm masculinity. A better understanding of the meat-masculinity link is also critical with regard to health. Although meat is an good source of protein and other nutrients, it has been shown that an exaggerated consumption of red meat and meat products (i.e., ham, sausages) may be risky for people’s health as it increases the probability of long-term diseases as colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer (Bouvard et al., 2015). Previous research highlighting sex differences in meat consumption (Shiferaw et al., 2012), found no differences on chicken consumption (white meat), but did find that men eat more ham, steak or roast, wild game, hot dogs, bacon, beef stew and jerky. In this perspective, since the consumption of those meat products has been linked to health issues, this eating habit could be included among other risky behaviors (e.g., fast driving or alcohol drinking) that men carry out in order to reinforce their sense of masculine strength (Courtenay, 2000). Therefore, an understanding of the socio-psychological factors that might foster the meat-masculinity association also has important practical implications and benefits. If



men were to consume more red meat because they fear appearing feminine, then appropriate campaigns may be developed to change this dangerous association. Vegetarianism and masculinity The choice to become vegetarian is commonly linked to the ethical and health-related concerns not to eat animals. In recent years, vegetarian and vegan eating habits have become more common worldwide as also acknowledged by a keyword search in Google Trends (Mintel, 2014; Probios, 2016; Sareen, 2013). Notably, there is a greater percentage of women than men following a vegetarian diet (The Two Vegans, 2016). One cause of this disparity could be the social rule prescribing men to eat meat. In fact, beyond a well-known stigma against vegetarians as part of the do-gooder stigma (Minson & Monin, 2011), vegetarian men may undergo even harsher discrimination, probably because they challenge their gender identity. In previous studies, for example, non-meat-eating men reported to be verbally derided and called effeminate or gay (Merriman & Wilson-Merriman, 2014; Nath, 2011). Even if recent studies reported that vegetarians are seen as more virtuous, they are still considered less masculine and physically weaker (Monin, 2007; Ruby & Heine, 2011). One important implication of this stereotype is that vegetarian men may be considered less attractive than meat-eating men. In effect, a study involving 37 countries (Buss, 1990) investigated mate preferences showing that the characteristics that participants valued in a potential mate are in line with the content of gender roles (see also Eagly & Wood, 1999), and that this pattern is relatively stable across cultures. In this perspective, if women rewarded meat-eating men this would foster even more this conduct among the male population. Following this perspective, in the present research we aimed to investigate sociopsychological factors that may motivate men to eat (or not) meat. The present investigation was



conducted in the Italian socio-cultural context. Indeed, food preferences are highly socially grounded in this context. In Italy for example, parents’ food repertories and a shared cultural environment have an important impact on children’s food preferences (Cavazza & Guidetti, 2008). Moreover, peole decide the quantity of their food intake depending on the social norm of the group they eat with (Cavazza, Graziani, & Guidetti, 2011). Despite evidence suggesting less adherence to traditional gender norms among Italian than American students (Tager & Good, 2005), norms about food consumptions are strongly related to gender roles. Similarly to gender norms reported in other social contexts (Mooney & Lorenz, 1997; Rothgerber, 2013), meatbased dishes are perceived as more masculine than the vegetarian counterparts by Italian participants as well (Cavazza, Guidetti & Butera, 2015a; 2015b). The link between meat and masculinity is therefore well established in the literature. However it is not clear whether this link affects mating choices. In the first study, we investigated how vegetarian males were evaluated by young women. Specifically, we aimed at exploring whether women would prefer omnivorous or vegetarian men as possible mates, thus fostering or reducing men’s preference for meat. As demonstrated by previous research (Buss, 1990; Eagly & Wood, 1999), people prefer potential mates that follow gender-role norms. Taking into account that gender norms prescribe meat consumption to men, we expect women to seek potential partners that consume meat. We also expect this mating preference to be related to the attribution of masculinity to meat-eating men and to the belief that vegetarianism is a feminine eating style. This is specifically investigated in Study 2. In the third study, we investigated the social motivation behind food choices among young men. As already said, men face a precarious gender identity that requires social proof and validation (Vandello, Bosson, Cohen, Burnaford, & Weaver, 2008), and eating behavior can be



strategically used to affirm gender identity. In this study, we specifically tested the relationship between the gendered beliefs about vegetarianism and personal food choices. We hypothesized that the endorsement of the belief that vegetarianism is feminine would be linked to the reduction of vegetarian alternatives in food choices. The self-presentation component of meat preference was investigated by comparing food choices in a romantic vs. alone context. Study 1 Study 1 investigated the meat-masculinity stereotype from the female perspective, studying the potential role of women in maintaining this specific gender prescription. The association between meat and masculinity (Rothgerber, 2013), together with the attribution of femininity to people who do not eat meat (Rozin et al., 2012; Ruby & Heine, 2011), envisage a gender norm related to food consumption, suggesting that men are expected to consume meat. According to the social-role theory of mate selection, the criteria that define the characteristic of potential mates are driven by culturally expected gender roles and the stereotypes derived from them (Eagly & Wood, 1999). We therefore hypothesized that eating habits would affect attractiveness ratings, and specifically that meat-eating men would be preferred over vegetarian ones. We ran a pilot study asking fifty Italian women (age M= 23.26, SD= 2.72) to rate carnivorous and vegetarian dishes on Femininity, Likeability and Frequency of eating on a 6point scale. Participants rated vegetarian dishes as more feminine (Mveg= 3.74, SDveg= .38 vs. Mmeat= 2.55, SDmeat= .64, paired-sample t=10.53, p