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An interesting research that is under way in Ecolinguistics is whether using terms such as vegan or plant-based or vegetarian makes a difference in people’s perception of the movement and lifestyle, and ultimately their adoption of it.
The use of the word vegan itself has peaked since the ’70s and after a short dip in 2003, has soared again. (You can see it on Google ngram – an online search engine of corpora found in sources printed between 1500 and 2008). Having the internet sure helps in spreading the word and helping the movement not only gain in supporters but also enlarge the adherents base in terms of introducing different ‘styles’ of vegans (moving from the initial hippy image) and develop the concept of the vegan identity.(See how ecolings and sociolings are one and the same?)
“The terms ‘vegansexuality’ and ‘vegansexuals’ entered popular discourse following substantial media interest in a New Zealand-based academic study on ethical consumption that noted that some vegans engaged in sexual relationships and intimate partnerships only with other vegans.” (Potts, 2010, in Feminism & Psychology)
Potts and Parry (2010) argue that the rhetoric associated with the mostly negative backlash that was unleashed by the media hype constructs vegansexuals – and vegans more generally – as (sexual) losers, cowards, deviants, failures and bigots. It is such a paradox that vegans, who choose a non-violent, compassionate lifestyle are the ones presented as deviants. (:/) The omnivorous male reaction to the study was very aggressive, much like most of the media’s hostile engagement with vegan issues.
Potts and Parry (2010) note how the hype around vegansexuality was exaggerated by the media. “British and North American publications quickly picked up on the excitement… The number of people who strongly associated their sexualities, and their choices in relationships, with their dedication to cruelty-free lifestyles was embellished (‘a few’ – actually six – quickly morphed into ‘many’), and for the most part ‘vegansexuality’ was presented by the media as a fixed, easily compartmentalized category of sexual identity, with the UK newspaper The Independent even stating ‘there are heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals and metrosexuals. And now there are vegansexuals’ (Marks, 2007). The publicity elicited vigorous and heated debate on internet discussion boards and comments pages.”
The authors situate themselves in the paper as vegans (Arran Stibbe, who is the founder of The Ecolinguistics Association and head of the Ecolinguistics program in Gloucester University, also calls for the need to develop one’s ecosophy) and claim, echoing Foucault (1978), that non-mainstream sexualities often arose in the past to fight a repressive or restrictive culture. Are vegansexuals fighting against a dominant meat-eating culture?
Sociolinguistic gender research goes back to Folklinguistics where Jesperson (1922) claimed that women are less able to use language than men. [As a side note, last week Goldsmiths organised for Andy Kirkpatrick (I know, it’s amazing!) to be a guest speaker and he was telling us how difficult it is to sell Korean language studies to female students in Australia. In Korean, women always have to use the respectful form when addressing men, while men don’t have such a linguistic obligation. The culture in Australia makes it difficult for them to accept such different linguistic practices.]
Then came Robin Lakoff (1975) who claimed that girls speak the way they do because they were conditioned to by society which reflects their reltively powerless position in respect to men. This what is called ‘deficit approach’ was later dismissed due to Lakoff’s methods (or lack of = Lakoff haha) and the form-function problem, i.e. one form does not mean just one function, for example, there are many forms to perform politeness.
Variationist studies on gender (such as Trudgill), were critiqued because gender interacts with a lot of different variables and so you cannot allocate one way of speaking to men and another to women. The constructionist approach attempts to move away from the binary, static notions of gender. Supporters of this view such as Eckert, and McConnell-Ginet (1995) who studied the community of practice of Jocks and Burnouts in American High School found that identity is not fixed but constructed and congeals (Butler, 1990) over time.
In western culture, there is a strong connection between masculinity and meat-eating. The consumption of meat is central to the performance of normative masculinities, and eating the blood signals vitality and virility in many cultures. Not eating meat is considered feminine but also eating meat is associated with female love of sex and virility. Have you seen the US version The Office? Do you remember the episode where Dwight and Isabel walk around the adult arcade and he asks he if she’s a vegetarian and she says ‘I love meat’, soliciting a raunchy, complicit laughter. There is a clear connection between sexual appetite and meat consumption.With the crisis in masculinity described by the linguist Nigel Ederly, what is The New Man to do? What is the new masculinity? How should someone perform their masculinity?
Choosing a more compassionate lifestyle has definitely made me more empathetic, if nothing else. I think that this brief but strong reaction to ‘vegansexuality’, the connection between gender, ethics, and human-animal relationship will continue to be discussed and researched.
What do you think about this? Would you only go out with someone who was vegan?
Before you go and have a Happy World Vegan Day, here’s a lovely poem that will send you smooching (Esther this is for you! mouaa!):
There’s nothing like a vegan kiss
to send you off to sleep at night,
And then another vegan kiss should touch you
When the day is light,
You should get a vegan kiss
When you break your vegan fast,
And then when you go off to school
A vegan kiss will really last.
– Benjamin Zephaniah
Potts and Parry (2010) Vegan Sexuality: Challenging Heteronormative Masculinity through Meat-free Sex in Feminism Psychology February 2010 vol. 20 no. 1 53-72
Edely, Nigel and Whetherell, Margaret (1997) “Jockeying for position: the construction of masculine identities”, 203-218 Discourse & Society 8/2
Lakoff, R.(1975) Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Harper and Row.
Cameron, Deborah (2011) ‘Performing Gender Identity’ in Coates and Pichler (eds.) Language and Gender. A Reader: 2nd edition. Blackwell.
Zephania, B.(2001) The Little Book of Vegan Poems, Ak Press.