Animal Studies Journal


Tropes of ‘effeminized’ masculinity have long been bound up with a plant-based diet, dating back to the ‘effeminate rice eater’ stereotype used to justify 19th-century colonialism in Asia to the altright’s use of the term ‘soy boy’ on Twitter and other social media today to call out men they perceive to be weak, effeminate, and politically correct (Gambert and Linné). This article explores tropes of ‘plant food masculinity’ throughout history, focusing on how while they have embodied different social, cultural, and political identities, they all serve as a tool to construct an archetypal masculine ideal. The analysis draws on a wide range of material from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a qualitative media analysis of #SoyBoy tweets posted between October 2010 and August 2018. It argues that, given that we live in a world steeped in ‘coloniality’ (Grosfoguel), it is no wonder that sexist and racist colonial-era tropes are alive and well today, packaged in a 21st-century digital culture form. In the digital politics of the alt-right, dairy milk has become a symbol for racial purity, connecting pseudo-scientific claims about milk, lactose tolerance, race, and masculinity. The term ‘soy boy’ provides a discursive counterpoint, relying heavily on colonial-era stereotypes of so-called ‘effeminate’ plant eating, often linked to Asian and other non-white cultures. The article concludes by arguing that for those working to reframe centuries-old norms and tropes related to race, sex, and humankind’s relationship to other animals, part of that work may take place online using the tools of social media and reappropriation of derogatory language. However, ultimately the power of social media to change norms and minds depends on the power of the social movements driving those changes; success is likely to only come through a robust anti-racist, color-conscious, and gender-conscious vegan movement (Harper)