Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The sexual politics of meat and powerful political women

A menu designed for an Australian Liberal National Party fundraising dinner to benefit candidate Mal Brough expressed misogynist attitudes toward Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Here it is:

Many news media have covered this story, and Gillard herself has responded and called it "sexist." Yes, implying any woman should be reduced to body parts and likened to being dead pieces of meat is misogynistic. Patriarchal politics likes consumable women. They are women whose power is limited and constrained, or in the case of powerful political women, fantasized as limited and constrained. But, that is not all that is going on. 

The imagined fragmentation of women--powerful political women or not--is part of the sexual politics of meat. Meat is sexualized, women are seen as meat. Meat, after all, has no power. It is the opposite of power; it is what happens to someone who has no power: they are treated like pieces of meat (as happens to 9 billion land animals in the US each year alone).

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.

But why are people so surprised? This is business as usual; the sexual politics of meat needs constantly to be reiterated, reimagined. Apparently you have to keep doing it, you have to keep participating in the construction of maleness through the sexual politics of meat.

Such references are nothing new. In fact, in the early 1990s, a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Fort Worth advertised a "Hillary Clinton Special" along these same lines.
What is surprising is the surprise that has greeted this most recent example of the sexual politics of meat. After all, it is all around us. Representations of dead animals as women, and associating women with dead parts of animals is just business as usual for many advertisers, some fraternities, some male comics. My collection of examples is now well over 1000 images and references.

Indeed, this ad just appeared in Israel:

This isn’t the first time the misogyny against Julia Gillard has been expressed through speciesism. Last year, David Farley, CEO of Australian Agricultural Company, Australia's largest beef cattle company, announced its plans to build a slaughterhouse that specializes in killing older cows, when they are no longer “productive.” Farley said, “So, it’s designed for non-productive old cows—Julia Gillard’s got to watch out.”

The fate of domesticated animals becomes a potent symbol of negation. Out of the day-to-day suffering inflicted on female animals, arises a contempt that those who suffer for us are beneath our notice; the result is that names associated with the female reproductive system become insults: Cow, pig, sow, hen, old biddy, bitch. All  have negative connotations…terms for women derived from females who have absolutely no control over their reproductive choices.

I took this photograph on my way to a Hillary Clinton rally in a very wealthy area of Dallas during the 2008 primaries:

That powerful women evoke these kinds of reactions is a reminder that this is not a post-feminist world. It is a sexual politics of meat world.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Veganism is a State of Mind

Last week I gave a talk at the inaugural Cleveland VegFest. My talk was entitled "Veganism is a State of Mind."

I said that the nonvegan mind approaches veganism often with anxiety and a fear of scarcity.  In their reactions, nonvegans tell us that they judge a plate by the presence  (or absence) of animal products. (In The Sexual Politics of Meat I propose that the presence of animal products symbolizes the patriarchal world.)  Remove animal products and nonvegans fear facing an empty plate.

The nonvegan scarcity model can be heard when people say, “Where do you get your protein? Where do you get your calcium? I couldn’t live without meat.”

The reasons for these anxieties are cultural and personal, influenced by what nonvegans think vegans eat: unseasoned, uncooked tofu and iceberg lettuce salads.

Often nonvegans see us in situations where vegan food is scarce. In fact, they may have been the ones that created those circumstances. They take us to restaurants where the only thing we can get is a baked potato or an iceberg lettuce salad. They assume they will be miserable as vegans so they want to see us being miserable to confirm them in their failure to act on their ethical intuition.

But when we can control the environment we live with an abundance of choices. (And there’s nothing wrong with baked potatoes or salads either!) That’s because we haven’t emptied our plates. We have rearranged our plates. In fact, most vegans find that their food choices have greatly expanded.

In Living Among Meat Eaters, I coined the Adams maxim: People are perfectly happy eating vegan meals as long as they don’t know that’s what they are doing. As long as they don’t realize we have rearranged their plate, they can approach a vegan meal without suspicion or anxiety.

In Cleveland last week, I observed that we don’t even know what vegan cooking is capable of because it is so new. Certainly, the past ten years have seen the emergence of incredible dishes from talented chefs. This week I received in the mail yet another proof of how incredibly inventive vegan cooking is: a new book, Vegan Secret Supper by Mérida Anderson. Wow.  

Many of us are fascinated by the new vegan cheeses being developed. Among the cheeses Anderson has created are “baked hazelnut cheese,” “coconut cashew cheese,” and “pine nut parmesan.” Many of Anderson’s seem do-able by the average cook! 

Watch out, those who eat in my home, your plates may soon be bursting with “hazelnut-crusted portobellos with carmelized fennel parsnip mash, radicchio marmalade and balsamic port reduction,” “pine nut Caesar with lavender balsamic croutons and crispy oyster mushrooms” or “coconut fettucine alfredo with seared brussel sprouts and cherry tomatoes.” Come on over and fill your plate! 

Veganism is this state of mind.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Holy Paws

After the death of Snowball, the rabbit, I needed a spiritual practice that accessed my grief and helped me with it. I decided to write a prayer a day. Eventually, my publisher brought them out as "Prayers for Animals." My friend Pamela Nelson had the wonderful idea to do "An Animal Prayer Rug" which was reproduced on the back cover. She had not read this prayer when she created this painting; but she intuitively included paw prints.

Today, I just heard from someone who had been sent this prayer. It's thoughts were perfectly timed for me this morning.

Are your angels really hovering in the sky? 
Because I think I just saw one walking by 
Leaving paw prints in the snow 
Cloven tracks in the mud 
A slug trail on the sidewalk 
Hoofprints . . . 
How near they are. How holy they are. 

 —Carol Adams