As if women don’t do more than enough, we’re now expected to save the planet too?
“Arre, yeh kya ghaas poos kha raha hai tu?” It’s commonplace, in certain parts of India, to bash vegetarians—and it’s especially acceptable if the vegetarian in question is a man eating with his male friends. After all, as far as toxic masculinity is concerned, is there anything more manly than eating meat?
The idea of an eco-gender gap is exactly what it sounds like—women bear more of the green burden than their male counterparts. We recycle more, we make an effort to avoid plastic where possible, and we are, by and large, just more conscientious when it comes to the environment. A 2018 UK study found that 71% of women try to live more ethically, compared to 59% of men. In a country like India, where machismo reigns supreme, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the disparity would likely be larger with respect to eco-gender gap (NB: no data are available in the Indian context at the time of writing).
Similarly, it would not be far-fetched to extrapolate the findings of an American study recently that found that men don’t recycle because they believe recycling is a gendered task. In other words, “Women do it, and I don’t want to be perceived as girly.” In an article for Harper’s Bazaar, aptly titled “Anti-Vegetarianism Is Sexism in Disguise,” Diana Spechler writes: “Our culture feminizes compassion. It also masculinizes meat-eating. Women become easy targets.”
The idea of an eco-gender gap is exactly what it sounds like—women bear more of the green burden than their male counterparts. We recycle more, we make an effort to avoid plastic where possible, and we are, by and large, just more conscientious when it comes to the environment.
While Spechler refers to American culture in her article, similar trends of eco-gender gap are evident in India. Sexism in our society is still prevalent and pronounced. And our diets are no exception. According to IndiaSpend’s analysis of national health data, more men eat meat than women, with the comparative ratios being 80% (men) vs 70% (women).
Granted, reasons for vegetarianism and veganism aren’t always environmentally-minded in a country as vibrant as India. But consider the environmental cost of your diet, for a moment: According to The Poultry Site, it takes 4,300 litres to produce a kilogram of chicken, 5,500 litres for a kilogram of mutton, and 6,000 litres for a kilogram of pork. Similarly, for a kilo of milk, we’re looking at 1,020 litres of water, and 3,300 litres for a kilo of eggs.
In other words, in a country that is looking at an alarming water crisis, going vegetarian (or gasp, vegan), or just consuming mindfully is in everyone’s best interest. It’s about being educated on matters like the fires ablaze in the Amazon being due to deforestation linked to food (meat, soy, and palm oil, alongside animal byproducts). By this point, we all (hopefully) agree that climate change is a very real phenomenon. But what’s truly sad is, that when sea levels rise or droughts hit (as they already are), they will discriminate against women (compared to men).
By this point, we all (hopefully) agree that climate change is a very real phenomenon. But what’s truly sad is, that when sea levels rise or droughts hit (as they already are), they will discriminate against women (compared to men).
When the 2004 tsunami hit, four times as many women died, compared to men. There is truly no end to the depths of gender inequality when it comes to natural disasters. Consider this: Poverty hits women substantially harder than men in this country. Without money, more women risk starving and going thirsty from not being able to afford food and water. Mothers will starve before they let their children go hungry. Without money, more women will make sure their families are safe before evacuating themselves. This was the case in Bangladesh in 1991, when nearly 90% of the people killed by a cyclone were women.
So the fact is, being vegetarian, or choosing to forgo meat every so often isn’t about men not being able to feel manly—it’s just better for the planet. It’s high time that we brushed aside uninformed beliefs of what it means to be ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ and looked into the benefits of consuming mindfully, ethically, or leading a low- or zero-waste lifestyle.
The onus cannot and should not fall solely on women.
So go ahead and gift the ‘real men’ in your life a jute tote for their shopping sprees just as you would menstrual cups to people with vaginas; it’s time men stopped taking us and the planet for granted.
Akanksha Singh is a freelance culture journalist and feminist killjoy based in Bombay. Her work has appeared in the BBC, The Globe and Mail, The Independent, HuffPost, and more.
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