I’ve been asked why I bother reading “these horrible things that [I] already know,” but believe me, it’s a good day when I actually have time to sit down and reflect on them. It’s an even better day when I get to digest some else’s perspective about said “horrible things.” So today, prompted by a Carol J. Adams tweet I noted while recently traveling for work, I sat down to read The Butchering of Women and the Rape of Animals by Kevin McNamara on What Weekly.
First off, how reassuring is it to see another article that connects these dots? Then, how cool is it to see it on a platform that declares itself as being about “a collective of artists, entrepreneurs, educators and writers that work together to produce media dedicated to telling stories about what inspires them” and not specifically an animal rights or feminist platform? Another inspiring indicator of connectionist success, if I do say so myself.
Celebrating the simple existence of the article aside, I highly suggest you read the contents. Carol J. Adams’ book, The Sexual Politics of Meat, and an accompanying lecture inspired McNamara to write it. And, in my opinion, the author did a mighty fine job of succinctly summarizing the main points of Carol’s theory, including practical implications for our lives and well-being.
…the consumption of meat is a corrupt capitalist venture that reinforces gender relations and results in the violation of animal, women’s and human rights.
McNamara reviews how both women and animals have been relegated to commodity status, sharing statistics, giving examples, and making connections:
Although consuming in this case does not involve the literal ingestion of women’s bodies, both animals’ and women’s bodies are objectified and made into a commodity, something that can be bought and sold. Our culture objectifies these groups, denying them of their existence as conscience beings, fragments their bodies (in the same sense that you can get chicken legs, wings or breasts, people divide women into pieces of meat, and may describe themselves as an “ass-man” “leg-man” or “boob-man”) and they are subsequently consumed.
He also does a great job explaining Adams’ concept of the absent referent, a concept that I found myself, strangely for the first time in the many, many years I’ve been using it, wondering why we don’t use in feminist or human rights-exclusive (i.e. those not connecting the dots to human and environmental well-being/exploitation) circles. Why hasn’t it made its way there? Certainly, it applies both in and beyond the sexual politics of meat:
Absent referents do not only oppress animals, but also women and minorities. They keep something from being seen as someone in order to distance the subordinate from the dominant – the consumed from the consumer.
Adams demonstrates how in our patriarchal society women are linked to animals through absent referents; terms relating to parts of women’s bodies and slabs of meat are used interchangeably. Also, many derogatory slang pertaining to women come from terms for animals (e.g. bitch, cow, bitty). If animals are the absent referent in the phrase, “the butchering of women,” then women are the absent referent in the phrase, “the rape of animals.” Advertisements use this in an overt manner, as Adams points out in her Sexual Politics of Meat slideshow.
He links meat consumption to dominant notions of masculinity, noting how Adams’ work highlights these concepts by analyzing advertisements:
The meat industry relies on this objectification to sell their product, and these types of images reinforce male dominance, encouraging sexual violence and the commoditization of animal’s and women’s bodies.
The act of eating meat itself has become a symbol of male dominance.
Not to mention the production of animal products for human consumption, a process McNamara labels “sexual slavery”:
These gentle creatures are not regarded as living, breathing beings, but instead are utilized like a machine, another unit of production providing capital for the meat industrial complex.
Leading the reader to the inevitable conclusion that this link impacts us all:
The negative effects that stem from these issues are not limited to women and animals – they can be extended to the world at large.
And furthers the very conditions that many of us, social justice advocates ourselves, work to eliminate and prevent:
The way we consume meat desensitizes us and conditions us for violence and exploitation.
So what’s to be done? Informed by Adams, McNamara suggests we “push back against the powers that be,” a concept I’ve found social justice folks to largely ignore in the context of what we, literally, consume – that which has been considered “normal,” that which avoiding so often leads to ridicule, is at its core a result of and a tool to perpetuate the very power we seek to displace. So, McNamara suggests, we can:
- Eat less meat
The protein that we get from meat preexists the animal, Adams explains, because it all comes from plants, rendering the mass slaughter and consumption of animals unnecessary as far as Adams is concerned.
- Embrace grief
Ignorance may lead to personal bliss, but in this case ignorance also results in the perpetuation of an interconnected system of violence, objectification, exploitation and discrimination. Adams insists that, as humans, “we have the potential to care.” She says that we must be willing to engage in what is happening to others, which she connects to the feminist ethics of care.
- Think when you eat
Don’t take for granted that what you are about to eat comes from an animal. An animal that was forced to surrender its life or its freedom.
We have the power to construct our own realities and make a lasting impact on our culture. We can’t stop objectification if we don’t stop eating our four-legged friends and using sexual exploitation to market death.
This is the norms change we seek. This is how we can change culture to promote a peaceful and just world for all:
As long as we continue to consume meat products en masse, the butchering of women and the rape of animals will never stop. It is our duty to be conscience consumers and show that we will not stand for a culture of male dominance and violence. You are free to take your business to the Wonderful World of Meat, or you can join Adams working towards a, “world of peace and equality.”
Oh, and P.S…
Yes, I have in fact pondered why an article written by a man (I am making an assumption here) had such an impact on me when it is, after all, about a woman’s original work. Thoughts? The comment section below is open and ready!