COVID Masculinities and the Meat of the Matter

On Super Bowl Sunday, households across the nation ignored Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice to only enjoy the iconic game with their immediate household. Instead, Super Bowl parties are expected to be ‘mini super spreader’ events with COVID-19 infections projected to grow exponentially because of these gatherings. Like cockfights in Bali (a case study often used by anthropologists to understand gendered politics in the region), Dr. Jan Huebenthal has argued that the Super Bowl similarly says something about masculinity in America. The potential for Super Bowl parties, often facilitated by men, to increase COVID-19 infections is not the first time toxic masculinity has been criticized for exacerbating the harm caused by COVID-19. Salon has written that “toxic masculinity has become a threat to public health,” the New York Times has argued that men’s “aversion to common sense protections” is inherently intertwined with men’s fear of seeming weak, and Wyoming News has simply stated that “toxic masculinity [is] a big reason for spread of COVID-19.” However, the implications of toxic masculinities and pandemics does not stop at COVID-19; toxic masculinity also increases the risks for future infectious disease outbreaks caused by animal agriculture.

Though the origin of COIVD-19 remains unknown, it has been argued that there are “many unshakeable links between modern animal agriculture and COVID-19.” COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means that it originates in animals and can jump to other species, such as human beings. The root cause of zoonotic diseases is  often animal exploitation;  modern agricultural practices, such as factory farms, are involved in high-risk interaction between humans and animals and pose a serious risk for future outbreaks, such as avian flu. This is why organizations, like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, have published white papers on the relationship between COVID-19 and animal agriculture in the hopes of reducing the likelihood of a future global pandemics.

In addition to necessary policy changes that the white papers discuss, we must also interrogate the relationship between toxic masculinity and meat consumption, specifically in the context of COVID-19. Toxic masculinity has been a hot-button term for the past few years and is used to describe how what society deems ‘being manly’ is can be harmful to women, as well as the men themselves. Similarly, hegemonic masculinity is the practice of structures and institutions that legitimize men’s dominant position in society and encourage toxic masculinities. In the autumn of 2020, NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies posted a call for papers concerning the masculinities of COVID-19 in which the journal contended that “political and social appeals to act responsibly seem to be intertwined with different assumptions of what a good man should and should not do, not only among politicians but also in everyday encounters between obliging and obstructing citizens.” It asked scholars to research why men are dying at higher rates than women from the COVID-19 pandemic, how toxic masculinities played out on the federal level through policy creation, and in which ways fear of seeming weak and vulnerable have affected some men’s usage of commonsense COVID-19 protections, such as wearing masks.

These traits of what being a strong man means, which Salon described as “individualistic, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric,” has been reified by Trump’s re-election campaign. As the Washington Post reported, Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be “This potentially deadly illness is something to dominate or be dominated by.”  These anxieties about seeming ‘weak’ are an example of toxic masculinities that directly affect public health, especially as men have refused to wear masks in fear of being seen as weak and have “turned mask wearing into a battlefield in the culture war,” as argued in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. This threat of emasculation by something as simple as wearing a mask has made “flouting public health guidelines became synonymous with manliness,” as reported on in Mother Jones.

Not only do toxic masculinities put people’s physical safety at risk, but COVID-19 has also exacerbated mental health crises. In “Men, Suicide, and Covid-19: Critical Masculinity Analyses and Interventions,” Khan et al. found that “Excessive pressure to conform to traditional modes of masculinity increases the risk of men’s suicidal behavior.” Over 75% of men in a Cleveland Clinic survey reported increased levels of stress and worsened mental health. As Healthline reported, “When asked about their own health priorities and stressors, the men surveyed cited the economy and their family’s well-being ahead of their own personal health.” This is troubling, especially as men attempt suicide at higher rates than women and that suicide rates are increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is well accepted that toxic masculinities hurt men themselves and that this harm has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic itself—as well as the potential for future pandemics—can also be blamed on hegemonic masculinity. The connection between meat consumption and masculinity has been well researched, and have inspired books like Carol Adam’s keystone work, the Sexual Politics of Meat, in which she argues that “white supremacy and misogyny together upheld meat as white man’s food.” Simply, men consume more animal products because meat and masculinity are inherently intertwined because meat is seen as a stand-in for power and strength. Not only does this form of masculinity have an ecological and ethical footprint, but it also hurts the men themselves who face health risks connected to meat consumption, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  

In an interview concerning COVID masculinities conducted by history PhD student Matthew Sparks, an interviewee explained the anxieties COVID-19 created for their masculinity:

Men are supposed to be the protective, providers, go out and hunt the boar and bring back the meat, go out and fight and defend the home, protect the home and the hearth and all that kind of stuff, it’s kind of ingrained in us, even if we don’t necessarily relate to that kind of behavior, it is ingrained in our way of thinking and in our society…So, here we are in survival mode, and those perceived gender roles are just sporadically going everywhere…We’ve redefined and rearranged our roles in the household to where it’s like “what the fuck are we supposed to do right now?”

This confusion over identity and purpose illustrated above, as well as the perceived failing many men currently feel for not being able to provide for their families as unemployment rates rise, is another example of toxic masculinity harming men themselves. However, as explained earlier, toxic masculinity has a body count—when men see wearing masks as ‘feminine,’ people get sick and masculinity literally threatens public safety and health. When eating meat is seen as manly, zoonotic disease outbreaks can occur that can detrimentally harm our global community, when men feel pressured to uphold the ‘right’ kind of masculinity, men’s mental health suffers. In order to mediate future pandemics, it is imperative that we as men question what it means to be ‘manly.’ Toxic masculinity isn’t helping any of us—give yourself the freedom to pursue healthy forms of masculinity and let’s redefine what being a ‘man’ means together.  

Z. Zane McNeill is an activist-scholar, co-editor of Queer and Trans Voices: Achieving Liberation Through Consistent Anti-Oppression, and the founder of
Sparks & McNeill

How Veganism Became an Integral Part of My Feminism

Woman lying in snow with a bear
Photo by Katerina Plotnikova

By Anna Varga

In Carol J. Adams’ 1990 groundbreaking eco-feminist text The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, she takes the reader on a journey that touches on patriarchy, meat-eating, feminism, veganism (though Adams calls it vegetarianism, as a vegan herself she addresses dairy and egg production), and the ways in which each influence one another. One of Adams’ most pervasive theories compares the ongoing oppression of women and consumption of animals as influenced by their roles as “absent referents,” which divorces the consumable object (figuratively as the female body and literally as the animal body) from the individual.

When I was first introduced to this text in college, I was an active and enthusiastic meat-eater. I once had a fleeting thought that I could try vegetarianism, but it was quashed pretty quickly when my breakfast sausages arrived. I even teased a friend of mine for being vegetarian. I didn’t give a second thought to the ethics of eating animal products because I cared about problems already! I was active in the feminist group at my university. I understood systemic oppression and as I learned more my eyes were opened to the most insidious injustices that faced humans. In sum: I cared deeply about addressing my own internalized biases, but only if it didn’t involve an upheaval of my everyday behavior.

Adams’ work was presented to my feminist group during the spring semester of my sophomore year. The woman presenting showed us images and advertisements in which farmed animals and women were interchangeable, treated as equal players in the eyes of the intended (meat-loving, heterosexual, male) audience. With warning of violence, we briefly watched footage from Earthlings (I closed my eyes). We were shown a White Castle advertisement in which a pig dances seductively and pours on herself barbeque sauce (described as “sweet, saucy, and oh so naughty”), resulting in the hooting and hollering of the male audience. In one heartbreaking photo, a pregnant sow documented in an undercover investigation of Iowa Select Farms was in a crate she couldn’t move in, attached to which was a card that described her as a “FAT/SELFISH BITCH.”

Sows crammed into gestation crates; identification paper attached to the top of the cage reads, "FAT/SELFISH BITCH"
Image from Mercy for Animals

We were captivated by the presentation. But, of course, following the meeting the majority of us did nothing to change. That would require too much effort when we could, alternatively, do nothing. We were engaged in learning more about and fighting human injustice, and adding farmed animals into our circle of compassion felt more like a chore than a choice. We didn’t want to acknowledge that refusing to eat animal products was as much a rejection of participation in suffering as anything else we strove to do. While outwardly agreeing the presentation brought our attention to disturbing information and offered avenues for action, we were internally defensive due to prior exposure to vegan activism. We perceived PETA to be the face of veganism and therefore extended our judgment of the organization onto all vegans. PETA’s alarming willingness to objectify women to make a point required us as feminists to dislike them and, consequently, all vegans.

Despite our skepticism, we had living proof that at least two vegans, Carol J. Adams and the woman presenting Adams’ work to us, cared about both feminism and veganism. To justify our unwillingness to make fundamental changes in our behavior, we claimed excuses that many people make when encountering veganism for the first time. We lived on campus and had to rely primarily on dining hall food, which had vegan options but certainly not as many as there were non-vegan options. And vegans have so many health concerns, right? (We couldn’t be certain the speaker didn’t have protein, calcium, and B-12 deficiencies!) We really couldn’t live without cheese—being vegan was an ascetic lifestyle that some could handle but most couldn’t, and we feigned sadness when conceding we were part of the latter group. Our friends liked to get burgers and go to the local ice cream shack, and we would be left out. Plus, our families ate animal products, what would we do when we went home? We had a laundry list of excuses that sounded really convincing and we hid behind them. I remained staunchly non-vegan, but all the information I had been exposed to during the one-hour meeting stayed in the back of my mind and slowly ate at me.

At the end of that year I found myself eating a hamburger as my mother boasted about how much I had always loved animals. I never played with dolls, but I had piles of stuffed animals and absolutely loved cats, dogs, horses, and even hamsters (I have pictures of myself as a child with nearly every animal I ever met as proof). I looked at my hamburger and it was no longer simply beef. It was an animal who was killed, ungraciously and without necessity, to become an object for my consumption.

Well, shit. Here I was halfway through a burger, uncomfortably burdened by two distinct realizations: 1) the list of excuses I began making nine months earlier suddenly seemed entirely inadequate and 2) Adams was right (she, too, realized her hypocrisy while consuming a hamburger). For the first time I understood Adams’ politicized version of the absent referent.

One does not eat meat without the death of an animal. Live animals are thus the absent referents in the concept of meat. The absent referent permits us to forget about the animal as an independent entity; it also enables us to resist efforts to make animals present. (51)

The absent referent allows us to buy prepackaged meat at the grocery store without reflecting upon the living animal it was part of not long before, and what conditions she lived and died under. It allows us to order ice cream without recognizing that milk can only be obtained by (typically artificially) impregnating a cow and separating her from her baby, and without considering what happens to that baby, or his mother. We can eat an omelette at brunch without thinking of the millions of male chicks who are ground up alive or suffocated each year because they are worthless in the egg industry, chowing down with nary a thought that the “cage-free” eggs we’re charged extra for might only be a marketing tactic. The role of living animals as absent referents means “I want these leather shoes!” is rarely followed with, “I love the feel of animals’ hides and skin on my feet.” We celebrate the success of one cow escaping the slaughterhouse and the kindness of a family rescuing a piglet found in the snow but have difficulty applying that compassion when considering the approximately 140 million cows and pigs that are slaughtered throughout the course of a year in the US. We see the individual animal when she presents as a fighter—as desperately wanting to live—and only then does she deserve her life. When she doesn’t earn that recognition, she ceases to deserve any thought at all. Without a publicized escape attempt she is not an animal who may have desperately wanted to live, but a product to be bought and the absent referent at the dinner table.

The absent referent is eagerly upheld by eateries who have a stake in the willing naïveté of their customers. The “farm-to-table” movement gets its popularity from its we-put-our-foot-down demand of “humane” meat, dairy, and eggs. Restaurants participating in this movement strive to only serve “antibiotic-free pork” and “pasture-raised dairy” as if they have a garden patch with flowers that spurt cows’ milk and bacon that grows like a root vegetable. The terms hide and further prevent us from acknowledging the experiences of “happy” cows, who are forcibly impregnated as often as possible so we can enjoy the milk they’ll produce as a consequence of pregnancy. Once these “pasture-raised” cows have had a few calves and are “spent,” they’re killed as well.

Animals are made absent through language that renames dead bodies before consumers participate in eating them. Our culture further mystifies the term “meat” with gastronomic language, so we do not conjure dead, butchered animals, but cuisine.” (51)

Neither Adams nor I mean to imply people don’t know the general source of food. Rather, we critique the widespread and harmful adoption of fantasies like grassy hills, happy cows, and harmless slaughter. It is the willful ignorance on the part of the consumer and the encouragement of ignorance on the part of the provider that play an important role in the continuance of consuming animal products. Animals are given positive emotions for marketing purposes, but we refuse to believe they can and do suffer.

Without its referent point of the slaughtered, bleeding, butchered animal, meat becomes a free-floating image. Meat is seen as a vehicle of meaning and not as inherently meaningful; the referent ‘animal’ has been consumed. (59)

The living animal becomes an object to purchase and consume, experiencing unimaginable conditions throughout his life before parts of his body hit shelves in time for the Sunday rush. The living animal loses his identity in the food process, advertised only as “grass-fed steak” or “pasture-raised beef,” already an object when describing a time during which he was very much alive and not yet butchered body parts. As the absent referent, the animal never lived nor was he slaughtered, he was only a dozen cuts of meat in a field, patiently waiting for his time.

Despite initial resistance, my feminist roots eventually brought me to vegetarianism and then veganism. I began noticing the shared language surrounding the treatment of women and animals. Objects to be consumed. Loss of identity during objectification. Mouth-watering breasts, legs, thighs, and rumps. Being reduced to body parts for others’ enjoyment. Adams offers additional insight regarding how the absent referent relates to the politics of reproductive justice. Adding to Adams’ politicized concept of the absent referent, I conclude that human suffering, like the suffering of animals during the process of objectification, is a hidden cost of the consumption of meat. I watch how we not only ignore the routine suffering and death of the animals when choosing a package of chicken wings, we also turn a blind eye to the serious health implications of working in a poultry slaughterhouse. The absent referents are slaves in the seafood industry, and families affected by factory farm pollution. The mechanism that allows us to overlook injustices like these against humans is the same that allows us to sit down at dinner without considering the lives, suffering, and deaths of the animals that made it possible.

Being a feminist vegan is not changing the world single-handedly; the real changes take a group effort and for that I’m thankful for activists who understand the prevalence of human and non-human animal  suffering and strive to address both. However, my participation in both movements did change me: it made me more aware of the world I live in and how I can act within our current society to avoid contributing to systems of oppression.

My veganism has been a reconciliation of existing ideologies and concepts I once could not adopt because they were so inconvenient and unfamiliar. Already a feminist, veganism was a step outside the path I was already comfortable taking. Adams opens The Sexual Politics of Meat with, “My becoming a vegetarian had seemingly little relationship to my feminism—or so I thought. Now I understand how and why they are intimately connected, how being a vegetarian reverberates with feminist meaning” (23). Like Adams, I also realized my vegetarianism had and my veganism has everything to do with my feminism and the reality is clear: the parallel suffering of women and animals in their roles as the absent referents will continue to exist as a consequence of objectification so long as we continue to deny their fundamental interconnectedness.


Anna Varga is a feminist and vegan advocate living in Washington, D.C. with her partner and two cats, and is particularly passionate about the ways in which vegan politics and theory can and do address both human and non-human animal suffering.

Steak & BJ Day: Because Women’s Cancer is All about Pleasing Men

Not Safe For Work: Contains graphic discussions of sex acts. Website discussed is pornographic.

Content Warning: Intense degradation of women, particularly women disabled with cancer.

Close up of a woman's bottom, legs spread. She appears to be naked except for an apron and a pair of underwear with the organization's logo printed over the back of the panties. The logo is a cartoon of a steak and a pair of lips.

On “Steak and BJ Day,” women are encouraged to please the men in their life by cooking them a steak and performing fellatio . . . to “help punch cancer in the face.” You know, because breast cancer, a perfect excuse to serve men.

The event’s corresponding website is a veritable celebration of degradation and male entitlement.  The small print is all that distinguishes it from a run-of-the-mill pornography service, but I’m still not convinced. Multiple detailed and graphic instructional essays and videos are available to teach women how to give “the perfect head.” Here’s Step #11 “The Blowing of the Load” from “Blowjob 101”:

Spitting it out means like. Swallowing means love. And gargling with cum makes you look like a crazy slut that probably has STDs. Most guys don’t care about where it goes eventually, but there are some ways to keep it sexy and fun. If he’s into it, he may want to cum on your face. It’s just cum and you trust him. It has to go somewhere and it’s good for your skin. Wherever it goes, wipe it up soon. No one can relax and fall asleep when paste is hardening around them.

Swallow it or wear it if you want to demonstrate perfect servility.

Website visitors can also learn how to cook a steak, purchase merchandise, or pleasure themselves to a gallery of pornographic images of naked women cooking and cleaning for men. Only young, thin, attractive white women, though, all of whom have large, full, and undiseased breasts. Based on the imagery of the website, there are clearly age, weight, racial, and health restrictions to participation in Steak & BJ Day.

Cringing yet? Don’t, because this is actually for a good cause!

In 2015 we’re supporting Coppafeel® – a charity formed to raise boob awareness, fight cancer and save lives. 1.7 million people a year are diagnosed with breast cancer, and who knows how many more are indirectly affected.

You read that correctly. A deadly, painful, miserable disease that disfigures and kills millions of women is really all about saving women’s breasts so men can “cop a feel” and keep the blow jobs and steaks coming.

Beyond the clear pornographic aim of Steak and BJ Day and aside from the atrocious sexualization of a deadly disease for men’s enjoyment, it is also vital to acknowledge clear intersections between the objectification of women’s body parts with the objectification of Nonhuman Animal body parts. The organization’s tag line:

Rumps and Romps. Fillets and Fellatio. Sirloins and Sucking. Best. Day. Ever.

Women’s breasts, mouths, vaginas, and buttocks are put on a plate for men’s pleasurable consumption alongside the slices of lightly cooked and bloodied cow’s flesh. The language used makes the degraded body of the woman indiscernible from the degraded body of the cow. This is all about paying homage to patriarchy. Nothing is sexier in a patriarchal relationship than the humiliation and death of the vulnerable. In this case, the vulnerable could include cows tortured and killed to produce steak, women hurt and humiliated in the performance of androcentric sex acts, and women suffering and dying from breast cancer.

The intersection of these values is especially visible in the below image of a partially nude and sexualized woman covering her breasts with rotting flesh for the male gaze. The pain, vulnerability, humiliation, disease, death, and objectification of vulnerable bodies is considered a turn on.

Thin white woman on her knees, kneeling in front of a plate with silverware and blood. She is rubbing bloody steaks over her breasts and looking seductively at the camera

Actual image from the website

To those who have loved ones impacted by breast cancer or are struggling with the disease themselves, I can only imagine the humiliation they might feel if they were exposed to this “charity’s” imagery and claimsmaking. Beyond the misogynistic nature of the campaign, the fact that animal flesh consumption is known to be a primary cause of cancer makes this approach not only offensive, but conceptually backwards. Appealing to male privilege to raise awareness for women’s health is also suspect. Historically, women’s diseases have been trivialized or ignored due to patriarchal prioritization of men’s interests. But, again, I do not believe this to be a project with a primary goal of fighting cancer. This is pornography: the sexualization of suffering and subjugation. The cancer variable was likely thrown on superficially as a means to justify this grotesque display of male entitlement. Drawing attention to the fact that women are suffering and vulnerable to death and disfigurement is probably an added bonus: more female pain to fetishize.

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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Prison Rape and the Sexual Politics of Meat

Billboard that reads "The Freshes Meat outside the prison"

The above image was taken on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The billboard pictured reads, “The Freshest Meat Outside of a Prison,” and advertises a fusion restaurant called Chino Latino.  The mocking reference to prison rape is both saddening and telling.

Though we often critique patriarchy in relationship to female disempowerment and violence against women, it is also true that the rape culture evidenced in advertisements like that of Chino Latino celebrate male violence in ways that hurt vulnerable men as well.  Rates of rape in the prison system (an institution that targets primarily men) are astronomically high.  Victimization is tied to severe emotional trauma, but also increased exposure to disease given the closed nature of the institution.  Gay men and transgender persons are extremely vulnerable to assault, but all men are at high risk within the hyper-masculinized and violent environment of the prison system.

Prison rape is a feminist issue for several reasons. First, male-on-male rape is a product of patriarchy and normalized male entitlement to vulnerable bodies.  Second, prisoners are, in many ways, feminized bodies. That is, they are disempowered persons who have been stripped of their agency and identity.  They generally fall into the “feminine” category within society’s masculine/feminine dichotomy.  They become deindividualized and are controlled and exploited by a capitalist/patriarchal institution (the privatized prison system is highly lucrative, relying on an inmate work force that is paid in pennies and cannot unionize).  Many are mentally ill when arrested or become mentally ill from the incarceration experience.  Imprisoned persons are often forcibly medicated.  Imprisoned persons are also forced to wear demeaning uniforms meant to deindividualize or humiliate them. Many are kept in solitary confinement to prevent meaningful and healthy social interactions or relationships.

Pink Uniforms Jail

Third, the prison system is notoriously racist and classist, meaning that poor persons and persons of color are disproportionately targeted for imprisonment.  Beginning in the 1970s, this trend increased significantly after the end of legalized slavery and the share-cropping system.  Previous economic forms of enslavement were simply replaced with the for-profit prison system.

Finally, of course, female prisoners experience high levels of rape as well, particularly from male prison staff.  Too often, the experiences of imprisoned persons are written off because these persons are presumed to “get what they deserve.”  This ideology, however, ignores the role of systemic oppression, gross violations of human rights, and the intentional targeting of vulnerable groups.

The Chino Latino advertisement makes light of this horrific system and plays on the rape of vulnerable, deindividualized and feminized bodies to sell the body parts of vulnerable, deindividualized and feminized bodies in the form of “meat.”  Exploiting and consuming the bodies of those who cannot consent is funny . . . and sexy . . .

The sexual politics of Chino Latino food is unmistakable. On their website, you are invited to look at “sexy pictures” and “hot shots” of their food and drinks.  Many of these images display the corpses of Nonhuman Animals in all varieties of dismemberment and display.

Screencap from website that shows a large piece of animal flesh being sliced. Labeled under "Sexy pictures!!" and "Hot shots"The advertisement for their party room (a webpage entitled, “Explore Our Private Parts – It’s Okay to Stare”) proclaims:

We don’t like to brag, but why be coy? For parties and private events, Chino Latino is unusually well-endowed, with five unique spaces.

One suggested use (there was no mention of any female equivalent, such as a bridal shower):

[ . . . ] have us host a bachelor party the groom won’t remember to regret.

In other words, spaces where “meat” is served and consumed are considered male spaces, and the products are framed as feminized and waiting for male penetration.

The consumption of animal bodies is embedded within the patriarchal language and imagery of sexualized entitlement to and domination over feminized bodies, be they imprisoned persons, women, or other animals.  The references to rape and voyeurism denotes the right of persons of privilege to the private and personal spaces of vulnerable persons.  They become objects of resource and enjoyment; their individual agency is obscured and ignored.

The institutionalized and epidemic levels of violence, rape, and death imposed on imprisoned persons (primarily poor persons and persons of color charged with drug offenses), women, and Nonhuman Animals is neither funny nor sexy.  That a billboard like this could be posted at all indicates how ingrained rape culture and patriarchal values have become.  The presence of these messages demonstrates how the public space is, by default, the male space, maintaining a rigid gender/class/race/species stratification system.


References to the sexual politics of meat in this essay are based on the work of Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, The Pornography of Meat, and other vegan feminist titles.


Party with the Meat Stick: The Sexual Politics of Slim Jim

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.

Image from Slim Jim website that shows 2 white women's bodies in tiny shorts and tops with midriffs exposed. They are touching each other with the beef jerky sticks.

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.

Man dancing behind Slim Jim display surrounded by several dancing women.

Older woman in a pink cat sweater holding two cats next to "impostor" jerky

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.

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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Male Entitlement, Meat, and Sports

Not long ago, the Vegan Feminist Agitator published a piece on rape, meat,1 and “taking what is not ours.”  Marla writes:

In both rape and our role in oppressing animals, both can be framed as a birthright (“They were born for me to use as I wish,”) and as what is one’s due (“I spent money and this is what is owed me,”) and also presented in a way that completely belittles the experience of the victim (“Come on, don’t be so melodramatic; it wasn’t that bad.”). Only a sadistic psychopath would use such terms to justify violating another person, but we accept those terms without question on a daily basis involving the animals we consume. Underpinning both rape and eating animals, though, is the conceit that because we can do something, this confers the right to do it, no matter who is harmed or killed in the process.

Under patriarchy, that is, under male rule, feminized bodies (women, nonhuman animals, people of color, the environment, etc.) are understood to be resources.  Under patriarchy, the male ruling class is socialized to internalize their entitlement over their subjects.  Women exist to give sex, if they don’t give it, then it should be taken from them.  Animals exist to use and eat, we take that from them.  People of color exist as cheap or free labor, and that is also taken from them.  The environment is reframed as our “natural resources,” something to be freely taken.  In other words, the world is man’s oyster.  Notice even this phrase frames Nonhuman Animals and the environment as a birthright to men!

Remember in The Lion King when Mufasa explained to baby Simba that everything the light touches is theirs?  That’s kind of how male supremacy works.  It’s an unrestricted entitlement to everything, and it’s an entitlement that is taught.

Mufasa and Simba overlook their kingdom

This afternoon while I was working, football was playing on the television in the other room.  One of the commercials caught my attention.  I was hearing a man yelling at another man, “Are you a little baby boy, or are you a BIG STRONG MAN?”  Hearing this male-on-male gender policing is always disconcerting, but in the context of football, a hyper-masculinized activity, I was especially bothered.  Upon investigation, it turned out to be a commercial from Buffalo Wild Wings, a sports bar and restaurant chain that attracts groups of men who want to watch the game, gawk at young underpaid waitresses, and stuff themselves with the body part of chickens glazed with various sauces (BWW is really just a less sexist, less atrocious version of Hooters).  In this commercial, there was one piece of chicken body left, and the male subject was afraid to take it and offend his friends who were distracted and watching the game.  A football coach had sidled in and was belittling him for not living up to his masculine role.  The man reacts and stands up to reassert his masculinity.  He announces that he is a MAN and takes the piece of chicken.

Jackson Katz has written extensively on the dangers of male gender policing, that is, pushing men into tiny boxes that equate manhood with aggression, violence, and domination.  Not only do fathers, brothers, and other male peers take it upon themselves to teach and enforce “manhood” to other boys and men, but our media is constantly bombarding us with these norms (and the subsequent shame and other consequences associated with failing to uphold those norms).  Katz argues that masculinity (like all gender roles) is something that is taught.  It is not an innate, testosterone-driven tendency towards oppression (oppression is often naturalized, thus making it difficult to criticize).  Rather, it is a socially supported, systematic reinforcement of a male supremacist social rule.  Vulnerable groups are not only taught to submit, but privileged groups are taught to dominate.  Both are encouraged to view it as natural and normal, that is, if this largely invisible power structure is ever jostled into view in the first place.

Football Violent

In the BWW commercial, the coach firmly reminds the male subject, “You know that one’s yours, right?”  He asks if he is just a slow eater or if he is “not man enough to claim what’s rightfully yours?”  This is sending a very clear message to male viewers:  You are entitled, so if you don’t get what is rightfully yours, then be a man and take it.  As men come together to celebrate the highly competitive and violent American football games (with grossly underpaid cheerleaders in bikinis with pompoms happily bouncing around for their enjoyment), the game and the commercials remind them that manhood is defined by fighting for one’s entitlement to absolute ownership.  The chicken is yours, it is rightfully yours.

The preoccupation with meat in this context is not coincidental.  Carol Adams’2 theory on the sexual politics of meat suggests that Nonhuman Animals, a highly feminized group, are fetishized as the ultimate “man food.”  Men kill, grill, and stuff themselves with corpses with great celebration.  It is the taking of something (once a someone, someone who was quite unwilling, though often portrayed as very willing indeed) that gives them pleasure.  Male domination is seen as an entitlement, as something enjoyable and natural. A bonding experience.  Maria Veri and Rita Liberti tackle the sexual politics of meat in the sport wellspring of male supremacy in their 2013 publication “Tailgate Warriors: Exploring Constructions of Masculinity, Food, and Football.”  They write:  “[ . . . ] the mediated pairing of food and football in TWs [a football cooking show] action on the blacktop reinforces hegemonic masculinity as it displaces and marginalizes women and femininity” (242).  Meat, they suggest, is a symbol of this male supremacy and women are largely excluded from sports-related meat rituals (like cook-offs and tailgating).

Stacked plates of cooked chicken wings

In all the hoopla over male greatness embodied in plates of dead chickens, pornified women, football games, beer, and yelling, the voices of the tortured dead are conspicuously silent.  No one hears the hen and no one sees the hen.  She is invisible.  According to Carol Adams, she is an absent referent.  We know we are eating something of course, but we are completely oblivious to the someone she once was.  And who cares anyway?  “It’s” rightfully yours, isn’t “it”?

Sickly looking chickens in a factory farm setting


1.  It is important to note that “meat” is a euphemism for animal flesh.

2.  See our recommended reading section to learn more about Adams’ theory.

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 is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, 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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