In Print: Volume 89: Number 2
By Zachary A. Kramer
89 Wash. U. L. Rev. 287 (2012)
In 2006, the fast food chain Burger King began airing a television advertisement for its new Texas Double Whopper, titled “Manthem.” The commercial featured a musical number, complete with elaborate choreography and intricate stunt work, sung to the tune of Helen Reddy’s classic song “I am Woman.” In the original version of the song, Reddy sings about female empowerment, famously declaring, “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.” The singer in Burger King’s man-minded version, by contrast, belts out that he is “way too hungry to settle for chick food.” Neither tofu nor quiche can satisfy his appetite; only the Texas Double Whopper will do. As he sings at the end of the song, “I am hungry, I am incorrigible, I am man.”
Of course, the commercial is not meant to be taken too seriously. The last thing we would expect a ravenously hungry man to do is break into song about a hamburger. Nor would we expect him to be joined by hundreds of other hungry men on parade. And the sight gags are intentionally over the top—the parading men burn their underwear (instead of their bras), they overturn a minivan, and they punch each other in the stomach, all the while devouring their Texas Double Whoppers. Yet the commercial works because it taps into a stereotype about the relationship between meat and manhood.
The idea that “real” men eat meat is firmly embedded in our culture. For those men who are benefitted by the stereotype, eating meat serves as a confirmation of their manhood, a kind of marker of their privileged status as masculine men. This is not the case for men who do not eat meat. In our culture, a man who does not eat meat is often seen as insufficiently masculine.
Take Prince Fielder. Fielder plays first base for the Milwaukee Brewers. Standing five-foot-eleven inches tall and weighing 275 pounds, Fielder is one of the most powerful hitters in all of professional baseball. He is also vegetarian. According to a New York Times story about his vegetarianism, Fielder gave up eating meat after reading about and becoming “totally grossed out” by the treatment of cattle and chicken. As soon as his decision became public, fans and critics questioned whether Fielder’s game would suffer on account of his new diet. Although it goes unsaid, these concerns are based on a gender stereotype, namely, that athletes need to eat meat in order to be successful; they will become less athletic—and therefore less masculine—if meat is not part of their diet. Not surprisingly, Fielder has continued to be a strong hitter since becoming vegetarian. But the important point is not that Fielder proved he could be both a good hitter and a vegetarian, but rather that the New York Times covered his switch to vegetarianism. Indeed, that the paper even considered Fielder’s vegetarianism to be newsworthy is telling of the extent to which the relationship between meat and manhood is embedded in the fabric of our culture.
In this Article, I use the relationship between meat and manhood as a springboard to challenge the way in which employment discrimination law—more specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act —conceives of sex discrimination. The Article focuses in particular on what is perhaps the most transformative theory of sex discrimination—the gender-stereotyping theory of sex discrimination. The thrust of the gender-stereotyping theory is that an employer cannot discriminate against an employee for failing to conform to stereotypical gender expectations. The Supreme Court announced the theory in 1989, in the seminal case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. In doing so, the Court ushered in a new wave of sex discrimination claims, shifting the focus of Title VII’s sex discrimination project from formal sex segregation to more subtle forms of discrimination concerning how employees look and behave in the workplace.