Slim Jim, an American brand of cheap, convenience store animal-based jerky has launched a new ad campaign, “Party with the Meat Stick.” A series of three commercials, all place “meat” within the realm of masculinity by feminizing their competitors. This is done in some cases to degrade the competition. In other cases, Slim Jim jerky is positioned with women to make their jerky appear more sexy, attractive, and consumable.
The first ad features two women’s bodies (their heads are cut off, because this is, much like the jerky, about the consumption of fragmented body parts). The Slim Jim women touch each other sexually with the “meat sticks” (an obvious phallic referent). The competitor’s jerky, however, is held by two fat men who rub and poke each other’s protruding bellies with the sticks. The commercial pulls on homosexuality (and fat-phobia) and makes it “disgusting” in order to feminize their competitor in the negative sense.
In the second commercial, a display box of Slim Jim gets progressively more masculine (first donning men’s sunglasses, then a mustache and an athletic medal, and finally a captain’s hat). The “impostor” jerky (or, what they call “impostor meat sticks”), however, gets progressively more feminized. First, the display box dons a baby’s bonnet and diaper, then a possum appears next to the box. In the case of Slim Jim, many masculine referents are used; in the case of the competitor, femininity referents are used (infants and Nonhuman Animals are both feminized bodies). Note that feminist theory considers any group that is marked with powerlessness, vulnerability, and low social status and is also oppressed, dominated, and consumed within a patriarchal society a feminized group.
In the final commercial, the Slim Jim jerky attracts a partying man with several young women dancing behind him. The “impostor meat sticks” attract an older woman wearing a cat sweater who holds two cats. With “real” meat, men can expect a sexy good time with lots of available women at their disposal. With “fake” meat, we should expect non-sexy, worthless women who are of no use to men because they are no longer viewed as sexual resources. The cats are additional markers of “negative” femininity, as, again, Nonhuman Animals can be considered feminized bodies.
In all cases, “impostor meat sticks” are feminized using references to women, children, homosexuals, older persons, fat persons, and other animals. “Real meat’ is masculine, or rather “real men” eat meat, and “real men” are defined by what they are not: feminine. They are in control, they dominate, and their power and social status comes from the denigration and consumption of vulnerable bodies. In the case of the Nonhuman Animals, cows, pigs, and other animals are tortured, killed, ground up, spiced, and squeezed into plastic tubes. Their bodies are literally being consumed to maintain male privilege. “Meat” becomes a signifier of masculinity. The consumption of animal bodies becomes a way of “doing” male gender. It is a performance of domination enacted through the consumption and the active maligning and mocking of the non-masculine. Men are encouraged to “party with the meat stick,” meaning, they are invited to celebrate and enjoy the privilege of masculinity using feminized bodies. Their privileged status is demonstrated by reinforcing the disadvantaged status of others.
This blog is based on the theory of Carol Adams. Learn more about the sexual politics of meat by visiting her website.
Ms. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.