I’m a girl, and I eat meat. Unless you’re one of the 7% of women in the United States who identify as vegetarian, you’re probably thinking, “Me too!” So what’s the big deal?
Imagine this scenario: You’re sitting in a restaurant across from your male friend/significant other. The server comes to the table carrying a 1/3 lb. burger with fries in one hand and three tempeh tacos in the other. You look up at him and smile. You’re starving and the food has finally arrived! He slides the burger in front of your boyfriend/husband/friend. “Um, sorry, that’s mine actually,” you say. You get your burger, but the incident has left a sour taste in your mouth.
This is a recurring situation in my life. My husband is vegetarian and I am not. Whenever I order a meal that involves meat, the server assumes it’s for him instead of me. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is a big deal! I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what bothers me so much about this behavior and my husband has assured me that it’s offensive to men as well as women.
So why does it have to be the guy who’s eating the burger? There are so many stereotypes involved in that assumption: girls try to eat healthier than guys and watch their weight, men eat meat because eating meat is manly and real men are not vegetarian. So from the server’s perspective, the problem is this: if he gives me the burger, he risks suggesting that I eat too much and implying that my husband is somehow less of a man for not eating meat. But more than likely, the server doesn’t even think about it that much and just acts unconsciously based on socially rampant gender stereotypes. More than likely, he doesn’t realize he’s made a mistake. My problem with the situation is that these shouldn’t be stereotypes in the first place, and I don’t want me or my husband to feel judged for choosing to eat what we choose to eat based on someone else’s idea of what’s girly or manly. There are plenty of reasons for men to not eat meat, health concerns being a major one. Likewise, female customers should not be embarrassed eat steak if they want to or ashamed to eat a heavier meal than their male counterpart.
To make matters worse, I often find myself apologizing for pointing out that, no, the salad is not mine, I’ll take the pepperoni and sausage pizza, please. Deep down I know I’m acting based on the same stereotypes as the server. It’s a “Sorry for eating so much, I know I really shouldn’t, but it’s just this once, because this place has great burgers!” kind of apology. Or worse yet, it’s a “Sorry for being inconveniently a-stereotypical” apology that really makes me cringe at my own spinelessness.
I don’t have to apologize for what I eat (or don’t), and neither does any other girl or guy.
Yes, nearly twice as many women are vegetarian as men (7% versus 4%), but those statistics really don’t tell you anything about the combination of vegetarians and their meat-eating friends dining at your restaurant. So please quit assuming I ordered the veggie omelet instead of the pancakes with a side of bacon!
When we first started dating my husband and I would let the mistake go and switch our plates once the server left. I’d like to think that telling the server exactly whose food is whose is a step toward banishing this particular gender stereotype, but I’m not sure. Are we doing enough?
Feature image via.