In 2001, a 16-year-old girl with a learning disability was beaten and raped by five boys, ages 13 to 17. She reported to the police that she was ‘treated like a piece of meat’.
These examples show why some women say, "meat is a feminist issue".
Pieces of Meat
Like the animals that are killed for their meat, women are disproportionally valued by society for their bodies. Sexual imagery in popular media teaches men to consume women’s bodies. Animal industries often represent women’s bodies as animals, transforming women into ‘pieces of meat’ (think of Hooters or Skinny Cow advertisements). This process makes the woman’s body consumable, both figuratively and literally. Body chopping ensures that food animals and women are never shown as whole individuals: animals are generally portrayed as pieces of meat (animal flesh) and women’s bodies are often represented in parts (legs, breasts, lips, etc.). These images keep the flesh separate from the person. For both women and animals, the person becomes something to be dominated and controlled, rather than someone.1 By portraying women as animals (as inferior beings), men maintain their control and dominance over women.2
Women's bodies are likened to the flesh we eat through words like “chick”, “fresh meat” or “beaver”. Considered closer to animals on an evolutionary scale, women are viewed as more emotional, more passive, and less intelligent than men. Animal names like ‘bitch’, ‘vixen’, and ‘sex kitten’ all reinforce the notion that women are sexually available, more vulnerable, and inferior to men. Renaming the woman removes the individual from the body, allowing her to become consumable. This process also occurs with animals: a cow becomes beef, a calf becomes veal, and the skin of a snake becomes leather. Through re-labeling, the animal is removed from the product; the ownership disappears, justifying the exploitation of the indvidiual.1
Advertisements from the meat industry also reinforce the sexual submission of women to men. Recent advertisements, such as those from Burger King (shown right) or Carls Jr. (see here), presume women's heterosexuality and support the notion that women live only to have meat 'put inside' of them. These advertisements reduce female sexuality to a sexual service that pleases men. The 'meat eating is sexy' message portrayed in these advertisements links meat-eating to destructive notions of masculinity and male sexual dominance.
Advertisers have also used the notion of animal as 'wild' to reduce women's sexuality to a 'carnal instinct' that cannot be tamed or controlled (see this Axe ad for an example). These advertisements play on the false dichotomy of emotional/rational behaviour, and suggest that woman, like animals, cannot control their animalistic sexual instincts through (male) rational thought.
A particularly striking example of animalizing imagery, the recent Wild African Cream marketing campaign combines racism, sexism, and speciesim into one advertising campaign. First, the advertisement shows woman as 'animal' (unleashing her 'carnal sexuality'?), marking woman as inferior and sexually subordinate to man. Second, it associates 'Africa' with wild beasts, "as if black Africans are meant to represent white humans’ own more primitive past"3. Finally, the advertisement uses speciest notions of nonhuman animals as 'wild' and 'other', suggesting that our 'animal instinct' needs to be tamed by human rational thought and subjectivity. This advertisement shows how the oppressive concept of animal as inferior and other is used to reinforce the oppression of both women and people of colour.
Domestic Violence & Animal Abuse
Domestic violence is used by men to maintain control and dominate the women, children, and nonhuman animals in the household. Abusers often use companion (pet) animals to demonstrate their power, to teach submission, and to degrade and coerce the victim.2 Women’s shelters state that domestic violence and animal abuse often coexist in the same household, noting that men often threaten companion animals with violence if the woman does not do what he demands.4 Women often stay in violent households because they are afraid their companion animal will be harmed if they leave. Men bring fear and shame to women by forcing them to engage in sex with companion animals for the abuser’s pleasure and the abuse of companion animals is often used to punish women who try to leave violent relationships.2 As a consequence, these acts of animal abuse should be considered a form of battering.
Throughout history, men have tried to control women’s reproductive capabilities as a means of dominance and power. In an effort to make larger profits, the animal industry has stolen reproductive control from the animals it exploits.5 Female cows are artificially inseminated and forced to give milk until their bodies are exhausted. Cows suffer physically from ailments such as mastitis and emotionally from the stress of confinement and the loss of their children.5 Breeding sows are forced to live in solitary confinement in a gestation crate, with room only for one step forward and one step back. They exhibit compulsive, repetitive actions (bar biting, purposeless digging, etc.) for up to 70% of their waking hours, and display reduced bonding with their piglets, whom are stolen from them at 10-15 days of age to increase piglet ‘production’.6 Egg-laying hens are imprisoned for life in battery cages, denying hens the opportunity to spread their wings or engage in natural behaviours. Overcrowding in the cages leads to feather pecking, cannibalism, and physical ailments, and genetic selection for higher egg production has incidentally selected for birds that exhibit nervous personalities, cannibalistic behaviour, and aggression.7
To control the supply of their ‘products’, the milk, egg, and meat industries force female animals to live in the most oppressive conditions imaginable. The manipulation and control of the reproductive system in both human and nonhuman animals comes from the same set of core values of patriarchy and male domination. That is why the liberation of women will not be reached without the liberation of animals.
1Adams, C. J. (2004). The pornography of meat. New York: Continuum.
2Adams, C. J. (1994). Neither man nor beast: Feminism and the defense of animals. New York: Continuum.
4Ascione, F. R., Weber, C. V., & Wood, D. S. (1997). The abuse of animals and domestic violence. Society & Animals, 5, 205-218.
5jones, p. (2004). Mothers with monkeywrenches: Feminist imperatives and the ALF. In S. Best & A. J. Nocella II (Eds.), Terrorists or freedom fighters? Reflections on the liberation of animals. New York: Lantern Books.
6Beauchamp, T. L., Orlans, F. B., Dresser, R., Morton, D. B., & Gluck, J. P. (2008). The human use of animals: Case studies in ethical choice, Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
7Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (2005). Battery cages and the welfare of hens in Canada: A summary of scientific literature. Retrieved May 18, 2009 from CCAF: Scientific Reports Web site: http://www.humanefood.ca/pdf links/BatteryReport.pdf
This website is meant to be an introduction, rather than a comprehensive analysis, of these issues. Please contact us with any comments or suggestions on how to improve the site. To get active check out The Canadian Animal Liberation Movement - CALMaction.org