The Sexual Politics of Halloween Meat

Halloween has earned a nasty reputation for perpetuating oppression.  Women are encouraged to wear “slutty” costumes that leave little to the imagination and also leave women to freeze in the late October weather (for Northern Hemisphere folk), generally for the enjoyment of men.  Caricatures of Native Americans, disabled people, people of size, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arabs, etc. all become fair game for costumes.  In other words, Halloween has become a celebration of white male Western dominance, and anyone who has a problem with that “can’t take a joke.”

Gender, class, ability, size, and race all intersect in the multitude of horrendous, problematic costumes, so we should not be surprised to find the same for species.  There are countless costumes that degrade other animals.  One of the most horrific is a strap-on sheep that is made to appear as though she is being raped by a stereotypical “hillbilly” (a derogatory caricature of Appalachian peoples).

Man in red long johns with hat and full beard wears a toy sheep attached to his groinThere are many variations of this costume for men.  But, for women?

Woman dressed in small tight fitting black dress with sheep's earsNotice how the male version, while horribly classist, still demonstrates male superiority over the feminine.  The female version demonstrates female vulnerability/animal vulnerability.  In both cases, the “sheep” is feminized and portrayed as a male sexual resource.  See also American Apparel’s “zookeeper and animals” costumes.

There are several costumes that also juxtapose femininity with animality, sexual availability, and the desire to be consumed.  Check out sexy bacon, sexy pepperoni pizza, and sexy hamburger and hot dog:

Woman in tight fitting mini dress patterned like bacon

Woman in tight fitting mini dress patterned like pepperoni pizza

Two women in tight fitting mini dresses, one patterned like a hamburger, the other like a hot dogThese are brilliant examples of Carol Adams’s sexual politics of meat theory:  Women are animalized, animals are feminized, and living persons become dead objects.  They become fragmented pieces of flesh for those in power to pleasurably consume.  These pieces of meat are made sexy.  They want you to eat them.

In researching this article, I actually came across several “sexy” women’s costumes that sexualized non-animal food items as well.  While sexy hamburgers and hot dogs are especially problematic because they intersect sexism and speciesism, I’m not convinced that sexy corn-on-the-cob, sexy chewing gum, or sexy watermelon is much of an improvement.

Woman in tight fitting mini dress patterned like watermelonSexualized food costumes for women reinforce the notion that women are resources to be consumed.  They are non-persons, they are objects, they are here at your disposal.  At least these costumes leave Nonhuman Animals out of it, but they’re still pretty darn  problematic.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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The Neoliberalism Behind Sexy Veganism: Individuals, Structures, and “Choice”

Not Safe for Work:  Contains a pornographic “pin-up” drawing.

Woman sitting on street holding PETA sign. She is naked except for underwear. "SOUP BONE" is written along her thigh. Men are gathered around her, one is taking a picture with his cellphone.

Some time ago, I published a piece with Feminspire on the spread of sexualized Nonhuman Animal advocacy. In doing so, I spotlighted a small organization in Wisconsin that had either encouraged or otherwise allowed two young women—naked from the waist up with cabbage leaves fastened to their breasts—to hand out “I SPONSORED A PUSSY” stickers to passerby who donated.

I wrote the article for two reasons. First, the “cabbage chicks” stunt demonstrated how normalized the sexualization of female volunteers has become in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In fact, I suggest that this tactic amounts to little more than prostitution (these women are displayed as sexual objects in public places without compensation to raise money for the organization they represent).

I also published the piece to reopen the dialogue. You see, the organization had blocked out any discussion of the wider implications of its tactics. As is often the case in the movement, these important conversations are shut down.

Shortly thereafter, the president of the organization, who had blocked myself and my colleagues from participating in a polite (no, really) discussion on its Facebook page, visited the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page along with one of the female volunteers. They took our criticism of their approach to be, among other things, an individual attack. The president reassured us that the young women who participated in this promotional stunt were doing so of their own personal choice.

CUFA sticker that reads: "I SPONSORED A PUSSY"

But social scientists implore us to understand that there is no “choice.”

This isn’t about the individual. Instead, this is about systems of oppression and social structures that shape our behavior and limit what choices are available to us based on our social identity.  If you are a young, thin, white woman advocating for Nonhuman Animals in a pornified, hyper-sexualized society, one choice stands out loud and clear:  get naked.  It’s supposed to be empowering, and we think maybe it helps animals.

As sociologist Gail Dines puts it, women can either be “sexy” and visible, or “unsexy” and invisible. Therefore, women and girls are under intense pressure to be “sexy” because, honestly, who would want to be invisible? Also, we mistakenly believe that this requirement for visibility in a patriarchal world also holds true in the public’s social justice schema. In other words, if activists aren’t sexy, they must be invisible. If so, that can’t be good for the cause, right? However, research clearly shows us otherwise. The public is less likely to support anti-speciesism when it is presented by naked women, because they understand that sexually objectifying women is unethical.

Women who support the tactic justify naked protest because it is considered “empowering.” But this framework begs the question: is our participation about individual women’s experiences? Or is it about the systematic torture and killing of other animals? Choice feminism makes this distinction unclear. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s strong desire to make violence a turn on is also problematic. I suspect that this relationship speaks to society’s tendency to juxtapose women with violence. The sexualization of violence against women and other feminized social groups like Nonhuman Animals is evidence to the rape culture we inhabit. It follows the script of patriarchy and oppression.

Regardless, “choice” is often thrown into the dialogue as a means of deflecting critical considerations of systemic violence.  If it’s all about your individual choice, then only you are responsible and only you are to blame.  Anyone who has a problem with that must be judging you as a person. So often, our advocacy is framed as personal choice or an individual expression.  If you aren’t vegan, that’s your “choice.”  If you want to have sex with vegetables and have it filmed by PETA, that’s your “choice,” too.

“Choice” in this context is actually a co-optation of anti-oppression activism in a neoliberal structure of exploitation.

Neoliberalism is all about “freedom”:  freedom from government, freedom from regulation, freedom to buy, freedom to sell, freedom to reach your full potential, etc.  It’s about individuals out for themselves. Individualized competition in supposedly “free” social spaces (the market in particular) is foundational to capitalism. Ultimately, however, this freedom afforded to a privileged few comes at a cost to those who will inevitably be exploited to pay for that “freedom.”  The ideology of neoliberalism and individualism works to benefit the privileged when individuals can attribute their success to their own individual hard work (when, in reality, they had considerable help from their race, gender, class, ability, and age privilege).  Importantly, this ideology also works to blame those less fortunate for their supposed failure.  We call them lazy, “stupid,” or bums. We overlook the extensive barriers placed in front of them.

This myth of freedom and meritocracy is actually pretty toxic for social movements.

This myth of freedom and meritocracy is actually pretty toxic for social movements. If we fail to recognize how structural barriers impede some, while structural privileges benefit others, we will find it difficult to come together as a political collective.  When we absorb neoliberal ideology and begin to understand social movements (which are inherently collective endeavors designed to challenge unequal power structures) as something done by the individual, for the individual, then we’ve lost the fight right off the bat.

In other words, neoliberalism asks us to focus on the individual, not the collective. It also encourages us to ignore the structural influence of social inequality in shaping our attitudes and behavior. Neoliberalism also prioritizes the market and understands that our legitimacy and self-worth can be found in our resource accumulation and purchasing power (in this case, the belief that “sex sells” rationalizes the support for naked protest). These are all reasons why neoliberalism is so very not good for a movement that prioritizes anti-oppression.

Cartoon of cow facing two doorways, both of which lead to a slaughterhouse

Neoliberalism attempts to convince us otherwise, but our values and actions, successes and failures are not about personal “choice;” there is no personal choice.  Choice is socially constructed.  Who you are and where you come from will influence exactly what “choices” are or are not available to you.  Why are so many young women “choosing” to masturbate with vegetables on film to promote veganism? Why is it just women “choosing” to dance on mobile stripper poles on parade floats to promote kitten adoption?  Why choose sex and stripping instead of some other “choice,” such as leading a protest, composing a song, or writing a book? The answer lies in the unequal allocation of opportunities and possibilities across demographics. Sex and stripping are the “choices” forced on women, while leadership and innovation (activities that respect the personhood of activists instead of objectifying them) are reserved for men.

Making it all about the “individual” also means prioritizing one’s privilege to engage certain behaviors at the expense of other less fortunate groups who suffer as a result.  Middle-class, cis gender, able-bodied, white women represent our movement with their thin, sexy forms, but where are the women of color?  Where are the women of size?  That’s right: they don’t get to be sexy. What about their “choice?” There is none. Not everyone is granted the “choice” to participate in the so-called “sexual revolution.” Women from less advantaged demographics who do participate are disproportionately vulnerable to shaming and stigmatization.

poleRelatedly, the sexual objectification of women and the consumption of pornography is linked to increased violence and rape against women.  Take a guess which women experience the highest rates of violence and rape?  The privileged able-bodied white cis women who dominate naked protest?  Nope, guess again.  It is actually women of color, poor women, lesbian women, trans women, disabled women, and other vulnerable women pay the price of white women’s “empowerment.”  Privileged young white women can enter public spaces, flaunt their sexuality, and find it “liberating,” but it’s the masses of poor and disadvantaged women who are not allowed to participate who also bear the brunt of that “liberation” through rape, sexual harassment, and beatings.

Listen up, it’s a trick. The “individualization” of social advocacy divides.  It masks privilege, otherizes, and excludes disadvantaged groups. Neoliberalism is what created the problem (speciesism) in the first place, so why would we think that digging in deeper with neoliberalism would fix it? Neoliberalizing our movement means we lose our collective power. When we play by the rules of this patriarchy with the bizarre assumption that we can only get people to drop that hamburger if they get a hard on, then we simply reinforce oppression.

We surrendered our power; we repackaged our social justice claimsmaking for pornified Playboy-speak. 

Neoliberalism has co-opted our  movement. We surrendered our power; we repackaged our social justice claimsmaking for pornified Playboy-speak.  Instead of loudspeakers, pens, and protests, it’s thongs, bums, and boobs. This isn’t a social movement anymore, it’s quelled resistance.  Not only are we disempowered, but we’re exploited further because we become another site of sexual objectification. The system not only gets us to shut it up, but it gets us to take it off, too. Take, for example, this Playboy image. Porn? Or Liberation?

White woman in high heels twisting around to expose her buttocks and breasts. She is completely naked except a swirling robe. She holds a wine glass and smiles at the viewer. Reads, "Male Supremacy is alright--but I favor a different position."

The caption reads, “Male supremacy is fine–but I favor a different position.”  The feminist position or a sexual position? Porn? Or liberation?  Having trouble deciding?  You should, because there is no difference.

Feminism is being repackaged in a way that absolutely eliminates any female threat to male power, it is being repackaged in a way that benefits men.  Women are stripping and performing for patriarchy, and they’re doing it willingly.  They’re doing it under the mistaken assumption that they’re liberated, as though they are acting of their own free will and individual choice.

Peta/Playboy ad with two thin white women dressed in lettuce bikinis. Reads: "Lettuce Entertain You"

The cult of “free choice” is so powerful in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement that some of the most ridiculous stunts can be approved of and protected by the movement, even when faced with public feedback and scientific research demonstrating that these tactics do not work, discredit the movement, and hurt women as a group. PETA regularly hires Playboy “bunnies” to perform their pornographic demonstrations.  There’s even a vegan pinup website and a vegan strip club.  It’s liberating!

See the adjacent PETA/Playboy pinup as an example.  “Lettuce entertain you.”  Get it? Veganism or sexual favors?  Which is it?  Serious social movement, or more patriarchal noise in the crowded pornography landscape of Western culture? Confused? You should be.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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What’s Wrong With This Soap?

Three hula dancers

Hugo and Debra Naturals is a high-end vegan soap company that touts food-grade, ethically sourced, cruelty-free bath and body products.  To promote their new Creamy Coconut line, which it describes as an “exotic blend” of oils, exfoliants, and scents, the company has been posting a vintage image of three Hawaiian hula dancers (pictured above) on its Facebook promotional page.

Sociologists have noted that the hula girl is a symbol of western imperialism. She is the accessible ethnic woman ready to serve and please the colonizers.  In fact, the hula dance as we know it today is an adulterated version of a men’s storytelling dance.  Colonizers morphed it into a sexualized dance for “exotic” women to perform in front of white tourists.

When Hugo and Debra Naturals draws on the image of the sexualized, tokenized, and colonized brown woman to sell “exotic” products to wealthy (and primarily white) customers, it is drawing on a history of white imperialism and the “othering” of the oppressed.  Dr. Breeze Harper has often commented on the “whiteness” preserved and protected in vegan consumption and the concealment of human suffering behind many so-called “cruelty-free” vegan products.  The white-dominated vegan community has largely failed to welcome people of color, often alienating them and tokenizing them when convenient.

Using a symbol of racial colonization and sexual domination to sell “cruelty-free” “exotic” soap demonstrates the white normativity of veganism.  Obviously, products that are free from Nonhuman Animal ingredients and testing are a major improvement, but we should be cognizant of how human suffering often goes overlooked in ingredient sourcing and, in this case, product promotion.  The intention seems to be to romanticize luxury soap items by drawing on Hawaiian imagery.  In many ways, however, it is colonization, sexual conquest, and systemic racism that’s actually being romanticized.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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An Open Letter to PETA

Open Letter to PETA

Dear PETA,

We have such a complicated relationship and history. You were one of my first entry points into animal activism, made me feel not so alone, gave me a sense of connection, and so much passion and hope as a middle schooler. I proudly wore my PETA t-shirts to school, lived on your street team website, and even spent the summer interning with you. I learned how to organize my first protest from you. You provided advice when my teacher wouldn’t allow me dissection alternatives. The “Street Team” forums helped me not feel so weird in the world (although, now I know – weirdness is the best) and gave me the strength to keep going, to keep fighting, even after cruel kids and comments.

So much has changed – and it really, really hurts, to be honest. I know you haven’t changed, and I guess that is the problem. You are still doing what you’re doing – in the way you are doing it. I see your campaigns/advertisements – over the past few years, have reflected back on the media “brainstorming” sessions we had when I was an intern, and it creates these twisted knots in my stomach. It’s really hard to describe the feeling. It’s like when a family member says something really homophobic or sexist, does something that you know isn’t right – but they were the ones who stayed up with you  at night as a kid, read you bed time stories, and fought against some of the monsters in your closet. There’s always this soft spot, this hope that they can change, will change.

I’m just. Angry. And sad. Sad for the non-human animals – sad for the animal rights and social justice movements – because it’s a loss, a huge loss, and it’s hurting all of us. We need organizations that are working towards ending ALL forms of oppression – not perpetuating them in the name of justice for one – because it’s not possible. Nothing is a single level issue. And animal rights IS a social justice issue. The non-human animals need everyone.

I struggle when feeling the divide between the social justice/feminist movements and animal rights movements- as though they are separate non-connected issues. And I hate that you are so often the face of the animal rights movement – but you are, so it’s time to hold yourself accountable, take responsibility, and make a change. I beg of you. As that bright and teary fire eyed middle schooler. Please stop with this sexist, racist, non-consent centered bullshit, and please get rid of any remnants related to your latest campaign: “Vegans go all the way.” NO. NO. NO. We need to challenge rape supportive culture, not contribute to it – for non-human animals and human animals.

I don’t really have any more words, but please, I beg of you, on my hands and knees, for all the passionate teens, the cant-quite-fit-in people like me – teach them that we can make a difference, and support them in their multiple identities and experiences, and in ending all forms of violence. Because it’s all connected. Only then can we create a beautifully loving and compassionate world – where violence is not digested. Where sexualized violence is not normalized. Where marginalized non- human animals and human animals are not objectified and seen as inferior.

This goes out to all the feminist movements as well – it’s time to recognize the role violence against non-human animals plays in desensitizing us and normalizing other forms of violence and oppression.

-A once young PETA lover, hoping for change.

By Mary Sue Savage

You can follow her on her blog, Confessions of an Activist with Social Anxiety.

Are You Demanding Respect and Safety or Just Bickering?

Content Warning:  Discusses pornography and sexism.

Not Safe for Work:  Contains coarse language and sexually explicit subject matter.

PETA posted on Vegan Feminist Network today in response to my article that deconstructs their “Veggie Love Casting” campaign.  The campaign depicts young women in bikinis and high heels performing oral sex and other sex acts on vegetables “for the animals.”  The statement is reproduced here. I have emphasized the problematic statements and will unpack them below.

The smart, compassionate women who participated in this spot choose to do so because they supported the idea and wanted to take action to help animals. PETA admires them for that and would never tell them that they must behave a certain way in order to gain someone else’s approval. PETA applauds all that everyone does to help animals and attempts to have something to appeal to everyone.

Not everyone agrees with all of PETA’s tactics–and they can choose not to show our videos if they wish–but surely we can all agree that it’s more effective to focus our time and energy on animal abusers rather than bickering with one another.

If you want to learn more about PETA’s other campaigns, or see our ads featuring men, please visit http://www.PETA.org. Thanks again for all you do to promote vegan living and make the world a kinder place for animals.

A white woman deep-throating a cucumber.

An image from the campaign

PETA claims that it did not tell the women to engage these behaviors, but this is a disingenuous justification. Obviously, PETA designed the campaign and hired the participants. This was not a spontaneous grassroots movement to promote vegetable sex for Nonhuman Animals.  For that matter, is having sex with cucumbers what women are supposed to do if they want to help animals?

In one way, PETA is correct to say that women are not “told” to engage these behaviors. This is because PETA is normalizing sexist advocacy as female-appropriate advocacy. Female-identified activists increasingly enter the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with an understanding of what is to be expected of them (Gail Dines refers to this socialization phenomenon as “porn ready”). Pornified campaigning is now normalized in the political imagination of the movement. It has become taken for granted as useful, despite social psychological research demonstrating that it is not only ineffective, but also counter-productive.

The tropes embedded in PETA’s response work to protect this normalcy and thus warrant discussion.

1. Choice

“Choice” is a loaded concept that generally works to detract from structural inequality and places responsibility on the individual.  It hides privilege and reinforces oppression.

Women “choose” to work in porn because a patriarchal society gives them extremely limited options.  Women make this “choice” because they are raised in this society to understand that their worth is tied up in their sexual attractiveness and their sexual availability (unlike men who are taught that they can succeed with strength, leadership, intelligence, wit, etc.).

The Girls Gone Wild tour bus. Depicts two blonde white women, reads "Do you have what it takes?"

Most porn actresses come from low income and/or abusive households and have extremely short careers (about 3 years, a time span that has been declining dramatically). The vast majority of porn actresses make very little money.  We’re talking about a few hundred bucks for each movie, with a movie deal every few weeks or so. Once they’ve “done it all,” they’re spent, and no longer of use to the industry.  Sound familiar?  That’s exactly how humans treat layer hens and dairy cows: as expendable sexual resources.  Women continue to consent to increasingly degrading, painful, or dangerous sex acts in order to keep in the game as long as possible. The industry exposes women to these precarious and unsafe work conditions with zero job security. If this is the “choice” available to women, something is seriously awry with our labor system.

I’m not blaming these actresses (advocates?) who work for PETA. They’re just doing their job, trying to make a living. Some probably even enjoyed themselves and had fun participating. Instead, I’m blaming the patriarchy that raises women as resources for men. I’m blaming a social movement that is supposed to be about peace but instead exploits women’s vulnerability for fundraising.   Under a patriarchy, the rules of the game are rigged to benefit men at the expense of women (and other vulnerable populations, including Nonhuman Animals).  All women are products of a patriarchy that grooms them to believe:  “Your social worth = Your sex appeal.”

“Choice” relies on a very narrowly defined set of options that patriarchy allows women.  If we want to have a serious discussion of “choice,” I suggest we get a straight answer from PETA as to why they intentionally choose women for fundraising and media attention, and why women are disproportionately placed in degrading scenarios, oftentimes (though not in this case) simulating the horrific suffering and death of a Nonhuman Animal by drawing on scripts of violence against women. Like any pornography, PETA campaigns sexualize the humiliation and hurt of women.

2. Appealing to a Wide Audience

The demographics likely attracted to pornography are not likely to be interested in seriously engaging social justice.  Pornography further entrenches oppression and reinforces the notion that some persons are objects of resource to other, more privileged persons.  Hardly the type of framework we would expect to challenge speciesism. Again, research demonstrates that PETA’s campaigns actually repel viewers who can easily recognize that women are being demeaned.

3. Cricism of Rape Culture as “Bickering”

One in 3 women will be raped, beaten, or otherwise abused at least once in their lifetime. This violence is strongly tied to misogynistic media, and PETA both creates and promotes misogynistic media.  To refer to feminist criticism of this systemic violence as bickering is insulting and trivializing.  Standing up against the violence that I endure, the violence that millions of women endure, is not bickering, it is social justice in action.

4. Men vs. Women

We do not live in a post-gender/post-feminist society.  The bodies of men and women are not viewed or treated similarly.  One cannot say, “We use men, too!” with accuracy. It will not negate the misogyny being engaged in the majority of PETA’s outreach.  Ninety-six percent of the sexual objectification that occurs in the media depicts women.  Women are also many, many times more likely to be victims of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.  It is unfair to disregard sexist depictions of women simply because a man’s body is used from time to time.

This argument is particularly nonsensical in PETA’s case.  PETA’s advertisements featuring men by and large depict men who are in command over their social space, and their power and status is reinforced.  Some of their ads depict men as being silly, Again, there is no serious sexism going on.  We find these ads silly because men are so rarely sexually objectified and portrayed in a submissive position.  Men are not depicted in sexually submissive positions or as victims of violence, only women are.

Take, for instance, this image of a Bollywood actor advocating for PETA.  Notice his confident gaze into the camera, his power over the situation, and his ability to control the space around him and enact change.  Notice the posture that depicts confidence.

Indian Bollywood actor freeing birds. He is shown giving direct eye contact to the camera and displaying his power and strength.

In contrast, examine this typical PETA ad depicting a naked woman.  She is shown in a submissive position, vulnerable, not on her feet, at the mercy of the viewer.  Her eyes do not meet the camera directly, but look up from a down turned face.  She gently touches the rabbit; there is no command over her space.  Her buttocks are raised to denote sexual availability.

Reads "I'd rather show my buns than wear fur." Shows a naked white woman prostrate on the ground touching a rabbit.

The argument that sexism is nonexistent in PETA’s campaigning because nude men are occasionally used as well is a red herring.

We cannot end the objectification of Nonhuman Animals with the objectification of women.  We cannot end violence against Nonhuman Animals with violence against women. It’s time to decolonize the activist schema.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Meat Misogyny: The Sexual Politics of Menugate

TRIGGER WARNING: Discusses state-supported sexism and extreme sexual harassment.

Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard

Many of us in the United States were introduced to Prime Minister Julia Gillard when her sharp counter-attack on Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott’s rampant sexism went viral.  Last month the Australian candidate for the Liberal Party, Mal Brough, came under fire for some unbelievably sexist “jokes” in a fundraising menu.  The menu refers to Gillard as a “Kentucky Fried Quail,” inviting attendees to consume her “small breasts, huge thighs” and “big red box.”

Photo of menu with the comments on Gillard highlighted

The sexist comments against Gillard are not all that I see here.  The overwhelming presence of Nonhuman Animal flesh, particularly the ostentatious meats like “100% Acorn-Fed Jamón Ibérico” speaks the language of masculine power.  The Australian Liberal Party is roughly the equivalent of the Republican Party in the United States: it’s a conservative party, one that benefits men, often at the expense of women and other vulnerable groups. It’s a party that protects the wealth and power of the privileged.  A menu rife with subjugated animals of the “highest class” (premier caviar, foie gras, grass-fed tenderloin, etc.) smells of patriarchal oppression.

Notice also the stab at the Green Party:  “Please ensure you eat up all your greens, before they take over completely.”

The “joke” here is simply a demonstration of patriarchy: eat, consume, dominate, and control women, nature, and animals.  By insulting her body while simultaneously offering it up as food, the message to Gillard and other women is that women’s worth is tied to their sexual desirability, but desirable or not, they are still a resource.  Certainly, men are given the privilege to decide what is desirable and what is not, something which inevitably rests on a woman’s ability to adhere to strictly defined gender roles.  Gillard is a powerful leader who is unapologetic about the oppression she and others experience.  She is a challenge to patriarchy, and patriarchy responds by fragmenting her into breasts, thighs, and genitalia and tossing her on the dinner menu.

KFC poster that reads:  "Julia Gillard Snack Pack:  2 Small Breasts, 2 Extra Large Thighs, 1 Red Box"

The Liberal Party has put Gillard on the menu as a object to be eaten, degraded, and disempowered.  Vegan feminist Carol J. Adams has also written on this story and comments:

In The Sexual Politics of Meat, I say “if meat eating is a sign of male dominance, then the presence of meat announces the disempowerment of women.” And one way to try to disempower a powerful political woman is to imply that she is nothing but meat.

Attacks on Gillard’s gender from other influentials is relatively common.  A colleague in Australia sent me this meme listing comments from others which demonstrates the true level of misogyny:

Meme of Julia Gillard with various misogynistic attacks listed along with the person who said them

Calling a woman a witch is a gendered slur, but speciesist slurs are used as well (bitch, shark food, and a cow).  The overlap of misogyny and speciesism demonstrates how women are not even viewed as human, but rather as objects of consumption and resource.  It has been suggested she be drowned, shot, assaulted with bats, kicked to death, and have her throat slit.  In a world where violence against women is at epidemic levels (about 1 in 3 women will experience rape or assault at least once in their lifetime), the violence menancingly and even “jokingly” aimed at PM Gillard is horrific.  When we see threats of violence that draw on imagery of violence against animals (suggesting she be minced like cow flesh and grilled), this underscores how devalued she is simply for being a woman . . . and how Nonhuman Animals are the most devalued of all.

According to Australian independent media, David Farley, CEO of Australian Agriculture Company, called the Prime Minister “an unproductive old cow” while discussing new techniques for animal slaughter.  In challenging patriarchy, Gillard is not conforming to her role as a resource to the  powerful.  Patriarchy insists on repairing this breach, suggesting she must be killed and minced to serve their benefit in another way . . . as meat.

When women are compared to Nonhuman Animals, the intention is to dehumanize them and reduce them to resources for the powerful.  The flip side of this, as evidenced in the menu, Nonhuman Animals who are exploited and killed for food are often sexualized, drawing on the subjugation of women to legitimate their consumption.  The oppression of women and other animals entangle and reinforce one another.  In the understandable commotion over the misogynistic attacks on Gillard, we lose sight of the Nonhuman Animals who are being physically tortured, killed, and literally eaten.    Just as the patriarchal attacks on Gillard fragment her and strip her of her personhood, so does the patriarchal institution of meat-eating strip Nonhumans of theirs.  Behind the “jokes” and the elegant words (brioche, saffron butter poached crayfish tail, porcini cream sauce) are living beings who suffered and died for the benefit of the privileged.

For more information on the sexual politics of meat, be sure to check out the work of vegan feminist Carol J. Adams

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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