Saturday, April 13, 2013

A. A. Gill's masculine anxiety. The Sexual Politics of Meat in Vanity Fair

Speaking on college campuses each semester and showing The Sexual Politics of Meat slide show means that I am constantly updating the slide show.  Sadly, this updating isn't hard in our culture. However, it seems as though every few years a writer discovers for some national magazine or newspaper that men like meat, that this is natural, that evolution explains it, and gee whiz, isn't this just so fascinating? I am always amazed that a magazine has paid for this tired idea.

I first discussed the relationship between masculinity and meat eating in the mid-1970s. When The Sexual Politics of Meat came out in 1990, my first chapter examined the myth that men need meat. That this myth helps to perpetuate false gender distinctions goes without saying. But since 1990, regressive reassertions of the idea that men need to eat meat keep making their appearance, reminding us that the news cycle is limited and that cannibalizing earlier ideas is always a part of "news-making."

It is also a reminder that one way our culture responds to feminist successes is by celebrating meat eating as manly behavior.

Why this need to keep lifting up men's masculine ways? Is masculinity so unstable that it requires daily consumption of dead bodies to reassert itself? Apparently, yes, at least according to A. A. Gill in the May Vanity Fair. He writes, "What does steak say to us and about us? Well, it’s manly. If food came with gender appellations, steak would definitely be at the top of the bloke column."

He continues in this vein, "A steak feels, looks, and tastes like winning—a direct connection to our bipedal ancestors. The original reward of victors." Actually, our earliest bipedal ancestors were probably scavengers--eating insects and the remains of dead animals left by carnivores. But that doesn't sound as glorious to someone into killing. Such ridiculous rewriting of anthropology is a reminder of the 1960s pop anthropologists who celebrated "man the hunter." 

At first, reading a quote from his column in "The Dish" I thought I was reading a joke, someone taking the ideas that mythologize meat eating and manliness, lampooning them to show how ridiculous they are. But no, that is not the case. A. A. Gill, who reported shooting a baboon "to see what it would be like to kill someone," apparently has a real need to be bloodied by his food and his actions. Menstrual-envy? Understandably, some might think that. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Sexual Politics of Meat: Barbecues

A World Barbecue Contest that is part of Memphis in May has been criticized by the Memphis Area Women's Council for its sexist imagery.  Here's the poster:

Nothing like a barbecue competition to bring out the sexual politics of meat. Barbecues generally do this in multiple ways: inscribing masculinity in the role of the barbecuer, and inscribing femininity upon the victim of the barbecue. 

In The Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show I examine several examples of this kind, in which the reference is to the consumption of a woman's body. Often a very full-bodied dead female is evoked--someone who in the posing communicates she wants to be consumed. The depictions often encourage the discussion of female body parts. 

I think we should start calling this what it really is: hate speech. The fact that this image is "retro" in its reference to poster art from decades ago only proves that the intent was to reproduce a woman's body:

This is something I also see again and again. "Hamtastic" is posed in a position I refer to in The Pornography of Meat as the "rear-entry pose" in pornography.

"Ursula Hamdress" who I show in the second chapter of The Sexual Politics of Meat is posed like a Playboy  center fold.

This constant recapitulation of the visually consumable woman layered upon the literally consumable dead pig is a feminist issue. And so is the fetishism of the consumption of (and competition over preparing) a dead body whose defeat is inscribed throughout the event.  The comments in response to a letter to the editor in Saturday's Memphis Commercial Appeal raising the issue of the image are sad proof of The Sexual Politics of Meat.