“My Dog gets Hit on More than Me:” The Objectification of Female Human and Nonhuman Bodies

Content Warning: Contains uncomfortable discussion of sexual harassment of girls, women, and dogs.

Melly

Melly getting ready for a winter walk.

It was a muggy, July mid-afternoon the first time a man hit on Melly, my Pitbull mix.

We strolled up Carteret Street towards the local park.  Wiping off sweat beads from my forehead, I soaked in the scenery.  The rows of houses’ shutters knitted together, blocking out the oppressive sun rays.  The yellow paint seemed to melt off the street pavement.  It was quiet, save for the faint buzz of air conditioning units and the hiss of mosquitos.  Melly, already panting, sniffed half-heartedly at a tree.

“Sorry, Mel,” I rubbed her white-and-brindle spotted head, “I know it’s hot.”

At twenty-one-years-old, I deftly calculated our walking routes down to a fine science.  I was my family’s designated dog walker since we adopted our first dog, Cody.  Nine years of dog walking taught me the art of avoiding sexual harassment.  I learned Jaguars owners were just as likely as unnamed Junker cars drivers to ogle out their window.  Walking with earbuds in, even if music wasn’t playing, lowered the honking rating; harassers won’t bother if they don’t have an audience.  It’s important to balance out the amount of naked skin: wear shorts with t-shirt or capris with a tank-top.  Never wear a tank top with shorts.

I checked my watch.  It was 3pm.  If I stuck to the residential Carteret, Midland, and turn around at Walnut Street, I could still wear my cool summer dress without being harassed.  But, I needed to move quickly on Midland; despite being buried in the suburban thicket, there were still plenty of cars zipping up and down.

Chills always ran down my spine whenever I turned onto Midland.  I was twelve, walking down this road, the first time a car followed me.

At first, I did not notice the reptilian green pick-up truck crawling next to me.  I wore my earbuds and I was looking down at my dog at the time, Cody.  Suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled.  I jerked my head to my left and found a middle-age man sitting in driver’s seat.  Small framed sunglasses covered his eyes.  His features were solemn as he peered out the window towards me.

I froze, unsure what to do.  A million questions raced through my head: what do I do?  Why did he stop?  Is he lost?

“Can I help you?” I asked.

He didn’t answer.  The truck continued to slide forward.  The man moved his head, never looking away from me.  Suddenly, the driver slammed on the gas pedal and screeched around the corner.

I shrugged and brushed off the incident; it was a fluke.  Maybe he was looking at the house behind me.  Maybe I had something in my teeth.  Cody and I walked further down the road.  He stopped and sniffed a pile of newspapers.

As I tapped my foot, a low rumble of a car came towards us.  Brakes screeched to a halt.

Looking up slowly, I came face to face again with the green pick-up truck.  This time, the man pulled over to curb and lowered his sunglasses.  His blond moustache sneered.  Mud eyes scavenged my pre-pubescent body.  It felt like his pupils slipped underneath my flat t-shirt and unbuttoned the top of jean shorts.  When he met my eyes, the man bit his lip, winked at me, and sped off before I could even scream.

That night, I scrubbed every inch of my body till I glowed crimson.  And yet, I still couldn’t get feeling of shame off of my skin.

My mom teared up when I told her about the incident.  She gripped me to her chest and whispered, “I’m so sorry, honey.  I didn’t think it would happen so soon.”  Mom then passed down to me my womanly inheritance: catcalling coping mechanisms, eye avoidance tactics, and developing thick skin techniques.

When I tried telling it to my girlfriends, they sighed.

“I mean yeah, it’s creepy, but I mean it’s kind of flattering, too,” they insisted.

So when the clunker Honda Sedan slowed down next to me and Melly, I had a thousand years’ worth of knowledge.  Eyes to the ground, I jerked her leash with one hand, and flatten the back of my white dress with the other.  Melly scoffed.  She dug her paws in the ground.  At 65 pounds of pure muscle, she was not going anywhere; she was going to sniff that tuft of grass whether I liked it, or not.

“Melly, walk walk,” I snapped.  The Sedan pulled over to the curb across from me and Melly, sputtering to a stop.  Its tawny body clashed with the electric green driver’s door.  The back side passenger’s side window was covered in duct tape and cardboard.

I cursed to myself for not bringing any treats.

“Melly, let’s go,” I urged, clicking my tongue.  A single brown ear shot up, but she didn’t move from sniffing the grass.

“Hey,” a man’s voice called out to me.  Gulping, I looked up.

The driver leaned against the mismatched door.  He was young thirty, with a shimmery bronze skin, black hair, and black eyes.  He wore a muscle-tee, jeans, with two black sweatbands around his wrist, and a black bandanna.

“I was wondering—” he began.

I gulped and took a step behind Melly.  Her head was towards the street and her hindquarters to me.  I nudged her back leg, trying to get her to look up.  Melly was a very loving dog; however, she was fiercely protective.  If the man could just get a glimpse of her jaws, may he would leave me alone.

“—is that a girl?” he asked.

I blinked, “What?”

The man motioned to Melly, “Is it a girl?”

Stunned, I nodded, “Yes, she’s a girl.”

He crouched on the other side of the street, inspecting her like a car needing a tune-up.  Melly kept one eye on him while chomping on grass.  The hairs between her shoulders stood-up ever so slightly.

I scrunched my forehead. There was something familiar about his expression.

“She’s a real beauty,” he said.

“I know.”

He sat on his heels and looked up at me.

“Can I breed it with my dog?” he asked.

My jaw dropped, “You want to do what with her?”

“Breed it,” he repeated, “I’ve been searching for a girl with that same brindle and white color.  Wait, does she have that diamond spot on the top of her head.  Man, that’s perfect!” he said.

I could have told him that Melly was found on the streets, abandoned by her previous owner.  She was twenty-three pounds and sickly when my family adopted her.  After she started to gain some weight, her stomach bulged out.  The vet found her uterus sloshing with retained fluid after an ultrasound.  When the vet spayed her, he found her uterus corroded with disease.  The vet reasoned it was probably because she was breed too early, compounded by neglect.

I settled on, “She’s fixed.”

The man scowled, “What the hell did you do that for?”

Suddenly, it dawned on me.  He was inspecting my dog the same way the man in the pick-up truck inspected at me.  It was a certain configuration: the narrowed brows, dilated pupils, taunt mouths.  It wasn’t about lust, but about ownership.  Melly and I did not exist.  To them, she was only good for her fur, diamond spot, and uterus.  I was only good for my legs.

Anger burned the back of my throat.  I was tired of putting up with the stares, catcalling, and honking.  I was tired of adjusting my route and my body to prevent others from objectifying me.  Melly’s past owners, the drivers in the green truck, and the man standing before me did not care that Melly and I snore, enjoyed napping, or loved peanut butter.  They only cared how well we pranced.

I wanted to say, “Because people like you force puppies like her to get pregnant, pop out more puppies, and then just leave her to die.”

Instead, I gripped the leash, and said, “She was sick.”

He clucked his tongue, “Too bad.”

The man got back in his deprecated car, winked at Melly, and sped off.

Staring after his car, I broke out in hysterical laughter.  I fell to the sidewalk and doubled over, tears springing to my eyes.  Melly nudged my face with her wet, brown nose and licked my cheek.

“How about that, Melle-Belle,” I held her downy face between my palms, “you get hit on more often than I do.”

“You should be flattered,” I said.  The sarcasm tasted bitter on my tongue.

 


SM- Author PictureSarah McGrail is currently a senior at Monmouth University. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Sociology. Her poems, “A Ten Minute Love Story,” “Blind Reflection,” and “Victoria Tube Station Food Chain” were published in the literary magazine, The Monmouth Review in Spring 2015 and in the upcoming issue Spring 2016. She was awarded the 2015 Monmouth University English Departmental Creative Writing Award for her nonfiction essay, The Martian. She is currently a research assistant for Monmouth University’s director of Sociology and Gender Studies program, Dr. Johanna Foster.

How Farmers are Making Dairies Sexy for Men’s Health

Young white woman naked in a wheel barrow; she is covered in hay and wearing very large pump red heels

Macra na Feirme, a farmer’s association in Ireland, is creating a pornographic calendar to raise awareness about mental health problems and suicide in the farming community, particularly that of young men.

This project is gendered, as pornography predominantly involves the display of women’s bodies, while farming is masculinized. Women are the objects on display, while men are the subjects of concern.

Advertisement for Macra; A pair of legs and the top of a skirt is visible, a woman is sitting on a bail of hay in high heels

Calendar sales will go to the mental health non-profit Walk In My Shoes

What is interesting is that the campaign seeks to challenge unrealistic masculine gender roles (which discourage boys and men with depression from seeking help or admitting weakness), and yet those same roles are protected by framing the campaign in clear scripts of patriarchal dominance.

Importantly, the centering of men’s experiences also makes invisible the multitude of research that shows clear correlations between the sexual objectification of women and women’s higher rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm, as well as lower rates of self image and self efficacy.

But more is going on in these images–we’re also seeing the romanticization and sexualization of speciesism. In one image, the Rose of Kilkenny (Ireland’s version of Miss America), poses seductively with a milking device. An instrument of torture for the Nonhuman Animals involved, but a very naturalized symbol of power, domination, and the pleasurable consumption of the female body for humans who interpret the image.

Woman in red high heels with legs exposed holds a milking device in the middle of a dairy, with the back ends of cows lined up on the machines visible in the background

What’s also made invisible is the relationship between mental health and participation in systemic violence against the vulnerable. Yes, the campaign seeks to bring attention to the emotional challenges associated with farming, but no connection is being made to the relationship between hurting others and the hurt one experiences themselves. Slaughterhouse workers, for instance, are seriously psychologically impacted by the killing and butchering they must engage. Dairy workers, too, are paying a psychological price for their participation. This isn’t just about “farming” in general, this is about speciesist practices in particular. Speciesism hurts us all: Nonhuman Animals in particular, male farmers as a consequence, and women who are objectified and hurt in a society where the exploitation of feminized vulnerable groups is normalized.

Indeed, I find it interesting that, for women who want to participate in a social movement, the “go to” response is so often to get naked or make pornography. It is a powerful statement about the gender hierarchy in our society and the limited and often disempowering choices available to women. Ultimately, it speaks to a considerable limitation on our social justice imagination.

 

Thank you to our Hungarian contributor Eszter Kalóczkai for bringing attention to this story.


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with 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. She was awarded the 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).

PETA’s Sexy Pregnancy Campaign Against SeaWorld

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Trigger Warning: Discusses pornography and the sexual exploitation of pregnant women.

Not Safe For Work: Contains discussion of pornography and erotic imagery.

Anti-Seaworld ad by PETA featuring Marisa Miller, a young white woman, nude and pregnant in a bathtub covering her breasts with her arms and looking at the camera from below

Supermodel Marisa Miller, widely regarded as a “sex symbol” for her work with Victoria’s Secret, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues, and Maxim, has posed nude while pregnant for PETA’s SeaWorld ad campaign.

Because the media space is so saturated with sexualized images, pornographers consistently seek to push the edge with more and more taboo or sensational sexualizations.This means that children will be sexualized, grandmothers will be sexualized, pregnant women will be sexualized, etc. This is not to say that children, grandmothers, and pregnant women can’t or don’t feel sexual or enjoy sexual agency–the point is that pornography tries to encroach into spaces where women and girls are traditionally honored and protected from being viewed as a sexual resource to men as a marketing ploy. It is the taboo that sets them apart and sells product. Of course, with, many pornographers taking this route, what was once “taboo” is now accepted and normalized.

PETA protest against Seaworld float in Macy's Parade. Two nude women with body paint like orcas sit in a bathtub holding a sign, "Could you live in your bathtub? Boycott Seaworld!"

PETA also takes a more “traditional” approach in its Seaworld campaign by featuring nude women in public protest who do not appear to be pregnant.

There is definitely a connection between SeaWorld’s imprisoned whales and women in PETA’s ads, but it is not the connection PETA hopes we will decipher: vulnerable demographics are exploited for gain, and this exploitation is seen as entertainment.

We, the viewer, are invited to feel good by consuming, to feel good by gazing at a naked woman and then (maybe) donating to PETA, and to feel good by gazing at a trapped whale and paying admission and buying stuffed Shamus. More importantly, we see it as something the participants “enjoy” doing, and we are discouraged from thinking about the ugliness that lies behind the scenes. In all likelihood, Miller probably did enjoy it, being a supermodel is a career for her. However, we should consider how pornography hurts vulnerable women who do not have the same privilege and access available to wealthy white women. It is important to acknowledge how capitalist framing can obscure the exploitation involved with consumption with imagery of choice, independence, individualism, enjoyment, pleasure, and other good feelings.  SeaWorld uses the same rhetoric to justify the imprisonment of their whales: they love what they do. They’re enjoying themselves, so sit back and enjoy the show.

While lacking a feminist critique, Jezebel covers the campaign and admits similar confusion:

A pregnant Miller chilling in a tub makes me think SeaWorld is a place where pregnant Orcas chill in tubs. While that’s by no means a great life for an orca, it’s not exactly the right message.

Clawfoot bathtub with orca reclining inside, a baby orca is diving into her belly

Image from Jezebel

But maybe the image isn’t meant to be a metaphor at all. Maybe it’s just a continuation of PETA’s long-used tactic of stripping celebrities down as a way of titillating their audience into some kind of low-level version of awareness.

OK, fine. It’s probably that. But it’s still a crappy ad.

Indeed, the level of awareness is quite low. Social psychological research demonstrates that using sex to “sell” ethics backfires. Protest observers actually find the degradation of women to be a serious turn-off. Outside of social movements, research also finds that “sexy” advertising can distract an audience to the point where they don’t even know what was being sold to them.

 

Corey Lee WrennMs. 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.

On the Hegemony of White Male Vegan Voices

Sarah Woodcock

 

If you claim to be against all forms of oppression but find yourself mainly subscribing to, valuing, and sharing the voices of white men when it comes to veganism or really all of life’s topics, you need to think about why. And you need to think about the consequences of that.

 

– Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society

Miss Molly & Masculinity

Trigger Warning: Contains a graphic description of violence against a Nonhuman Animal and a discussion of domestic violence.

Closeup of emu face

Nonhuman Animal rights groups have been circulating a horrific story of the kidnapping, battering, torture, and murder of a female emu by high school football players at a party:

On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015, eighteen-year old student Cassius Mankin entered the property of Bob and Carol Falk in Comanche County, Texas with several other people, both minors and adults. They took the couple’s emu to a party where they allegedly punched out her eyes and choked her to death. Police charged Mankin, a high school football player, with felony animal abuse.

How did this happen? A few bad apples? No, this incident is much more insidious . . . it is systemic. What happened to Miss Molly the emu reflects the power of masculinity and the normalization of violence against feminized bodies.

Violence against the vulnerable in highly-masculinized spaces such as football team parties and frat houses is a phenomenon that is increasingly gaining media attention. Importantly, as the crimes continue to pile up and are kept visible and relevant thanks to the efforts of feminist activists, the facade of gender neutrality in reporting is beginning to lift. That is, the narrative of crime and violence is more likely to acknowledge that there are gendered patterns in this behavior. This isn’t just a perpetrator that happens to be male and a victim that happens to be female. We are starting to recognize that we live in a system where men are socialized to be aggressive and violent, a system where men must prove their masculinity by enacting dominance and control over the vulnerable.

In reading the report of Miss Molly’s terrible death, if we did not know she was a bird, we might easily imagine the victim was a human female. This universality is key–masculine violence knows no species barrier. Patriarchy is a system that privileges men and exploits and terrorizes all feminized bodies.

These connections are essential to recognize for anyone hoping to dismantle oppression. For Nonhuman Animal rights activists, it is important to recognize the violence faced by women, as it supports the violence experienced by other animals. For domestic violence activists and social workers, it is important to recognize how men hurt animals like men hurt women. Fortunately, it is common for social workers to be trained to identify these connections when interviewing clients or performing house visits. Social services departments are aware that when Nonhuman Animals are being abused, it is likely that humans in the home are as well.

Great. Now . . . what about the Nonhuman Animal rights movement? It’s time to acknowledge that women matter because masculinity matters. A single-issue movement that frames vegan feminism as “selfish” or “speciesist” wholly misses the point.

Dr. Harper’s New Book, “Scars,” Brings Intersectional Theory to Life

I recently had the pleasure of reading Dr. Breeze Harper’s new fiction publication, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England and feel confident recommending the book for newcomers to intersectional theory, undergraduate students studying feminism, critical race, and other social justice issues, and seasoned advocates and scholars who might enjoy a fictional break that speaks to their interests. A trigger warning is in order because, as the title warns, Scars deals with many uncomfortable topics and visceral experiences, including racism, domestic violence, child molestation, and rape.

Although the concepts that shape the book are acute, Scars is an engaging read that both entertains and educates. The main character, Savannah (Savi), is a young college student that we can all look up to. As a poor white girl from Appalachia, I sat mostly silent in the classroom, absorbing what I was taught without question.  So, for me, Savi instantly becomes a hero of critical thinking as she challenges the white male normativity of the privileged world around her. She courageously speaks out against post-racial ideologies and the micro-aggressions of her more privileged peers, even when her friends and classmates resist. Savi is a little radical, and I love it.

Harper

Dr. Breeze Harper

But Savi isn’t a perfect superhero. She is certainly human, facing many structural barriers due to her race, class, and sexual orientation. Brave in some situations, she is scared and vulnerable in others. Her experience with racial slurs as a small child is heartbreaking. Her terrifying experience with a sexually aggressive customer alone in the gas station where she works brings chills. Her debilitating concern for her mother’s health and the constant burden of bills and cold temperatures reminds readers of the stark realities of difference in America.

There is also something to be said of the tension Savi faces in experiencing oppression. At times she is scrappy and outspoken, tackling challenges head on. Oftentimes, however, confrontation is pushed onto her and she feels quite helpless. We see this when she is engaged by her white male classmate who seeks Savi’s counsel in understanding his privilege, but we also see it with her struggle to come to grips with her lesbianism and the pressure to “come out” before she feels ready. Rarely does she feel comfortable admitting weakness and accepting help.

The book’s primary strength relies in its ability to carefully tackle the intricacies of oppression. Her best friend, who is hearing disabled, often engages his male privilege and abuses their friendship with near constant pressure for a relationship, seemingly unable to understand that no means no. Savi herself faces a considerable level of structural oppression, but she comes to recognize that she also maintains some degree of privilege as a human and as a Westerner. She learns that Coca-Cola is responsible for serious social and environmental injustices, but doesn’t want to give it up, so she creates rationalizations. Though she is lactose-intolerant, she continues to eat animal flesh and balks at the thought of giving up McDonald’s.

CocaColaInjusticeNone of the characters are perfect in understanding oppression; everyone is still learning. We see this in Savi’s heavy use of sexist and disableist language, the fetishization of animal bodies as food by most of the characters, and her vegan friend’s wool clothing. Oppression is never straight forward, and Scars helps readers to navigate these complicated concepts and relationships.

When all is said and done, Scars is not a doom-and-gloom story. Harper is careful to point out bright spots, altruism, and room for hope. There are characters that are willing to learn, and many individuals seek to disrupt violence in any way they can. Although there are definitely hierarchies of privilege, no character lives unburdened from some sort of systemic barrier or personal tragedy. Everyone has scars, but everyone has the potential to heal.