Animal Writes
10 October 2001 Issue

by Carol J. Adams - [email protected]
from The Animals' Agenda - Volume 21 * No. 4

Here's a "hot" topic: Why is meat sexy? Is it just because sex sells products, that to any meat eater, meat is a product, and so sex is used to sell meat? Some would argue that it is as simple as this: Sex sells, so meat producers use it
When sex sells, say, cigarettes or alcohol, an implication exists. For heterosexual men, the implication is "If I use this product, I will have women." But with meat eating, a more complex relationship to sex is going on. I explored it in The Sexual Politics of Meat, but it is time to revisit the issue. Back in 1989, when I finished writing The Sexual Politics of Meat, I thought I was done with this subject. Much to my surprise, I was not. Readers started sending me examples of the sexual politics of meat that they found in advertisements, on billboards, T-shirts, matchbook covers, etc. And I realized it was getting worse, not better. In the tenth anniversary edition of the book I describe this realization. Traveling around and showing the slide show that I created based on these images, I have become more pessimistic about the problem.

While sexist institutions topple around us, meat eating is one of the bastions of sexism that seems to be growing in strength Sexist acts such as harassment and discrimination can be legally challenged, but meat eating is a safe arena for the expression of sexism; contempt for women is one of the messages that accompanies these ads.

It is not just that meat eating is positioned to appeal to the idea that men (not women) eat meat. Of course it does that. It is not just that species of animals that become "meat" are depicted in pornographic poses. We have to understand that pornography, like meat eating, is repetitive behavior; it is a highly structured product, cued to arousal. Sometimes when meat is sexualized, animals whose species are consumed -- cows, pigs, chickens -- are depicted in pornographic poses that would not be publishable if a woman were being shown. My friend Annie Hamlin has suggested the word "anthropornography" for this.

The pornographic cues announce that sexual objectification is happening, but no one is held accountable because women are not being looked at -- animals are. With most sexist ads, an implication exists. With the sexualization of meat, an unspoken equation exists. Women are to men as animals are to humans -- consumable beings. This is a dangerous equation. We know that meat eating's strength is related in large part to the objectification of animals, the denial of their own individuality. People do not have to deal consciously with the fact that they are eating an animal; they are eating a "piece of meat." A similar objectification occurs often before women are attacked, raped, or battered. They, too, are seen as pieces of meat. The sexualization of meat exploits this equation. (To the question "What about men? Aren't men cast as 'meat' too?" I would say, men are usually the possessors of their meat, whereas women are depicted as meat.)

Something else is going on as well. Meat eating will cause people an attack of conscience. At some point they might think, "Gee, I am eating a dead animal. Should I continue?" They might feel uneasy. But feeling uneasy is an uncomfortable feeling. Most of us don't like feeling uncomfortable. Most of us want uncomfortable feelings to go away. In our culture, men are still less likely to know what to do with uncomfortable feelings. Where can feelings of uneasiness about meat eating go? They can go outward, in anger towards a vegetarian. Or they can be sexualized. When meat is sexualized there is somewhere for that energy to go -- it gets transformed into a sexual feeling. Now that is something our culture says is OK.

We animal activists proclaim, "Look, we are animals, too! Animals are like us in so many ways. They have feelings. They have social relationships. They have consciousness. Anthropornography undercuts these claims. It takes the sensibility that animals are like us, a sensibility that is disturbing if you benefit from animal exploitation, and lodges it safely within a sexual economy. These uncomfortable feelings find a release. The cues have their desired effect and nothing changes.

Carol J. Adams is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, the series The Inner Art of Vegetarianism: Spiritual practices for Body and Soul, and Living Among Meat Eaters, which will be released on November 6.

"Reprinted with permission from The Animals' Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224, (410) 675-4566, ."
Email: [email protected] 

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