Men Eating

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Text and Performance Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 1, January 2009, pp. 77Á93

Metrosexuality can Stuff it: Beef Consumption as (Heteromasculine) Fortification C. Wesley Buerkle

In this essay I explore the importance of beef consumption in performing a traditional masculinity that defies the supposed effeminization embodied in the image of the metrosexual. Research on perceptions of men and women eating demonstrates cultural visions of eating as a masculine activity. Furthermore, cultural analysis bears out the link between meat consumption and masculine identity. The recent popularization of metrosexual masculinity has challenged the harsh dichotomies between masculine and feminine gender performances. Against such a trend, burger franchise advertising portrays burger consumption as men’s symbolic return to their supposed essence, namely, personal and relational independence, nonfemininity, and virile heterosexuality. In all, I demonstrate the relationship between men and food as productive of a masculinity that perpetuates a male-dominant ideology in juxtaposition to women and metrosexual masculinity. Keywords: Food Studies; Masculinity; Meat; Metrosexual; Gender Performance My father once recounted to me that some acquaintances of his felt the need to drive off gay-male clientele from their family-style restaurant. The restaurateurs in question changed their establishment to a steak house because, as my father explained to me, ‘‘they [homosexuals] don’t eat meat.’’ He spoke as though he were citing the 1975 World Book encyclopedias we had as children: ‘‘Homosexual: . . . non-carnivorous.’’ To my father, the assumed lack of meat consumption was simply one more sign that homosexuals*especially, gay men*defied normality. In his understanding of the world, gay men had senselessly denounced their God-given right to social dominance C. Wesley Buerkle (PhD, Louisiana State University) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at East Tennessee State University. The author would like to thank Kelly Dorgan, the editors of this issue, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments, suggestions, and encouragement. The essay is dedicated to the author’s late father who generously sent him shipments of frozen steaks throughout his graduate school career. Correspondence to: C. Wesley Buerkle, Communication Department, East Tennessee State University, Box 70667, Johnson City, TN 37614, USA. Email: buerkle@etsu.edu ISSN 1046-2937 (print)/ISSN 1479-5760 (online) # 2009 National Communication Association DOI: 10.1080/10462930802514370

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by allowing themselves to become effeminized; as a matter of course, they also refused to eat beef products, if not all animal flesh. Though, clearly, my father held*what can charitably be described as*anachronistic principles on gender and sexual politics, his brash assessment provides an overt statement of otherwise submerged cultural practices and beliefs. Where it may seem ‘‘un-ladylike’’ to eat much, consuming large quantities of food seems expected from men. In western culture, consuming animal flesh, especially beef, has a long association with traditional masculinity. The image of men as hunters with hearty appetites eating their kill cooked over an open flame haunts our cultural conceptions of gender.1 Despite changes in conceptions of masculinity that include a broader acceptance of men’s participation in the home and of equality with women, men’s eating behaviors remain a characteristic assumed to be biologically driven, a point of gender distinction beyond cultural change. Harry Brod observes that western culture accepts as a given that there exists a natural essence to masculinity as opposed to feminine performance, which openly discusses changes in social fashions and politics (13). The cultural recognition that men too perform their gender began with the emergence of ‘‘metrosexuality,’’ a masculinity concerned with aesthetics and other heretofore...
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