Nourished By Hope- Activism

When I was in 8th grade I was in a musical about the Greek Gods and Pandora’s box. The part I secured was that of the character “Hope”. I had only one scene at the very end. I (Hope) came out of Pandora’s box. I sang a song, and I can still remember the words. At 14 years old I remember it being difficult for me to get through it without getting emotional. These are some of the words:

“Hope is forever, trust is forever.

And then you can never go wrong.

Hope is the one bright thin ray of sunshine, the lifeline that keeps you warm.”

“The lifeline that keeps you warm….”

A common theme throughout the ecofeminist essays, journals, and other resources I have reviewed regarding activism is the idea that “where there is hope – there are possibilities.” (That is also my Twitter profile quote and has been since I can remember.)  I think hope means different things to different people, but in essence what most people agree upon is that hope is an idea. It is the possibility that an idea can bring something: usually change.

There are many connections that can be made between the shared oppression that women and nature share. Within certain circumstances, it is an almost circular or reciprocal relationship. When we look at communities where trees are felled, such as in Africa and India, it depletes the communities of so much.  The kindling needed to heat their homes and cook their food, the shade provided, the natural protection that the trees secure is all stripped from them. The degradation of their natural surroundings is not only an assault to the tree itself, but to the ecosystem in which people inhabit. Both are continually victims of patriarchy.

Neither the trees nor women are given the consideration as a priority over economic profit. Those that prosper will continue to at the expense of so many women and nonhumans beings. So much life is cut short, hurt, sickened, and disqualified. As the forests are stripped of its trees, the communities are stripped of kindling to heat their homes and cook their food. The women see the devastation first because they live it. They do much of the farming so they are the first to see changes or threats to their harvest. They are the ones that fetch the water, so they are aware of how far they must go and how tainted the water is. They breast feed their babies and understand the danger that comes with passing chemicals and other contaminants from their own bodies to that of their children.

Women are the voices of the trees and the water because they know and respect the fact that they cannot live without either. None of us can. So they fight and become the voices of the trees like Wangari Maathai who founded the Green Belt Movement on Earth Day in 1977 (Maathai, 1). She was fighting this fight over fifty years ago in Africa. She was a woman who took action over and over again. She was both revered and denounced by her own government. In one moment, they praised her work distributing seedlings which culminated in the planting of millions of trees, only to be punished later for protesting a skyscraper that the President wanted to erect in a public park. Much like the trees that were hacked, the soil that was eroded, the resources that were depleted, Wangari was beaten and harassed and threatened not just as an activist but as a woman.

Wangari’s connectedness to nature was in part, through their shared oppression. Her for being a woman and the environment because its place (much like women) will always be second to that of the wants and needs of patriarchal society. She returned to nature its original offerings by organizing a movement to plant trees. It was a very full circle movement.

The Chipko movement is a very similar story but goes back to the 18th century when over 80 communities gathered forces to protest the King who permitted the felling of trees. Fast forward to the 1970’s and the Chipko movement was again ignited into action against the government that had planned to grant a section of forest  to a  sporting goods company. Women hugged the trees and would not leave and as a result, prevented thousands of trees from being destroyed.

These movements happened because women took a stand. They fought back against the situation that they found themselves in. Wangari would say that if you’re on the wrong bus – you need to take action and get out. Women recognize that while they may not have been given the proper information, training, education, resources, etc. it is up to them to inform themselves (Maathai, 3). There is a deep connection here that many women feel. A connectedness to that which provides for them, protects them, and nourishes them. Women recognize that to stay in the situation as it is means that nothing will change. Things will only get worse. Rather than blame the powers that be and rest on helplessness, they “speak truth to power” and in doing so empower themselves to create the change.

Women and nature share an oppression based on a lack of value. “Values have to do with the respect of each person – woman and man, each group, each culture, each ecosystem” (Gebara, 98). Gebara asks the question in terms of one’s religious theology, “What value is present in this or that theological tradition? How can it help us towards more justice and solidarity?” (Gebara, 98). I ask this question – What value is present in this or that societal ideology? What value is present in this or that governmental structures, procedures, and policies? What value is present in this or that corporate capitalist nomenclature? What do THEY value? How does one find value in a world that doesn’t value them?

When we evaluate situations such as Standing Rock where indigenous people fight against the mining/drilling of their land that brings upon them not only displacement but violence, we are reminded of that system of hierarchy once again. Who and what is valued more than something else? In a video about gendered impact and violence against the land, Gloria Chicaiza said “we speak for the birds, animals, fish , and other life forms”, it is a part of who they are. When they are stripped of these things, or when they witness the degradation of nature, they “feel it in their mind, bodies, and souls” because they are connected to it. They are one.

Beyond the scope of the material deficits, cultural losses, ecological destruction, is something vital. The loss of purpose and acknowledgement. The feeling of desperation, despair, isolation, nothingness, and neglect. In such circumstances people have cards stacked against them that they didn’t even play. The choice was never theirs. If it was, do you think that women would choose to allow their children to swim in garbage pools in Brazil to look for cans as a source of income? That is not a choice. That is desperation. The child may know nothing more, however that is only because they were never afforded possibilities. This type of degradation and disempowerment is an assault to a person’s sense of being and creates feelings of shame. Scholar, writer, and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson said, “I am not murdered, I am not missing, but parts of me have been disappeared and I remain a target, because I was a Native woman” (Simpson, 92). In that moment we can see the clear correlation between a woman who has had parts of her depleted or remain hidden as a result of oppression, much like a forest hast lost its trees. As people get worn down, they can lose part of who they are. They can separate from parts of their identity.

This is where hope comes in. Ivone Gebara said, “Without hope there is not life” and she was right (Gebara 101). It starts with an idea. In Africa it started with a seedling. That seedling was not just a seedling. It was far more than that. It represented an idea that could lead to change. It was a possibility. From there women took charge planting millions of trees. Initially they did not think such things were possible without education and technology, but they persevered. They were saving the forest and in turn the forest was saving them.

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace & hope.”

~Wangari Maathai ~

Check out this website called “The New Humanitarian” and read about Sheila Watt-Cloutier and her activism in Canada and about the John family and how the Yup’ik have been evicted from their land as a result of climate change.

 It is worth the read!



The Whole Is A Sum Of Its Parts – Intersectionality & Connectivity

When I look at this patchwork quilt I see unique patterns and images. Each one is completely separate from the other and yet they are connected. If you remove one, the blanket will bear a significant hole and the other pieces would be impacted as they fray and ultimately unravel and separate. This could create a domino effect. Each piece is one of a kind and yet they are all linked as they make up the sum of its parts. Our identities and the diversity within them are much like this quilt.

A.E. Kings uses this metaphor (from Karen Warren) in “Intersectionality and the Changing Face of Ecofeminism” in order to illustrate the dynamic amidst the diversity that distinguishes who we are from one another and at the same time how our shared identities connect us to one another (A.E. Kings, 82). While we are often initially connected by gender in terms of the oppression we share, there are layers and layers of who we are as women that differentiate us from one another. It is vital, as you will see, that we acknowledge and examine both our similarities and our diversity in our application of ecofeminist theory. Our identities (gender, race, class, caste sexuality, age, abilities, etc.) make up a multitude of ways in which we are unique. Our varying perspectives are born out of the differing experiences we encounter as a result of our identities.

If we look at what has been coined the ecofeminist interconnected “web”, our mind goes to the image of a spider web which is another fantastic visual metaphor used to describe theory. What is this interconnected web? It is the idea that as a result of our various identities, we have areas where certain aspects of our identities intersect to create a layered effect. It is at that point that we see where one person’s experience can be drastically different from another’s. It is here where we see that not everyone is experiencing oppression in the same way. From that we can easily extrapolate that a one size fits all solution for a problem simply does not work if we base that solution solely on one factor.

A good example of this is when Proctor and Gamble donated millions of dollars’ worth of Western sanitary products to women in areas of global south in order to assist with the issues associated with menstrual hygiene. (A.E. Kings, 78-80). You might ask what is wrong with that? They are women in need of these items. The issue is that they have no way of safely or properly disposing of these items. As a result they are burning the used products which pollute the air they breathe; dumping them in streams which contaminate the water; and burying them in the ground which permeates the soil. It doesn’t solve the problem that there is no clean water for them to wash, no private toilets for them to safely and cleanly attend to themselves. A western solution to this issue doesn’t work because they didn’t take into account many other factors such as class structure, sexuality, caste system, etc.

FACT SHEET: Menstrual health and hygiene management still out of reach for many

Looking further at this example we can look at the connection between women and the environment in terms of their degradation and oppression.  Women are not being given proper access to necessary products, clean water, and toilets. As a result, both the women and the environment suffer. It is rather circular. Women suffer from lack of access to resources, then the environment suffers as a result of the lack of proper disposal of the products, which in turn creates further issues for the women who are impacted by the environmental degradation! The women are the ones in many communities who gather water and as a result they are exposed to the contamination (disease, bacteria, etc.) disproportionately to the men.  If we stop and think about this example, we can see how women would have a greater need or desire for clean water and a system with which to dispose of the products. Much like the environment, women suffer as a result of a shared system of oppression.

If we only search amidst our similarities when coming together to address issues, we will continually miss opportunities to find better solutions. “In the absence of dissonance, this dimension of identity escapes conscious attention” (Tatum,2).  If our axis point is only “common ground” or the areas in-between the webs, we will fail to recognize all of the points on which those areas intersect, and critical pieces of information will be missed. “Intersectionality allows for the cross-examination of issues from different theoretical backgrounds using a wide range of methodological approaches….” (A.E. King, 66). The pieces missing will be those that are not our own. They are comprised of differing social categories that collide to create something that is often far greater and more complex.

The other day I was thinking about how I am short. I am 5’2”. I stood on a small step stool I have in the kitchen in order to reach something. It is about a foot in height. When I stand on this, I am at about the same height as my husband who is 6’ 3”. I stopped and looked around. I am always shocked at the view from up there. (I am also usually very upset at all of the dust I can see that I normally don’t. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.) Then I started to think about intersectionality. I thought about what my husband  is able to see and has access to versus what I see and have (or don’t have) access to. In this moment, not only do we not share the same gender identity, but we do not share the same perspective in the kitchen. I may think our kitchen is spotless, however he may not. He has the ability and access to see things that I cannot (without the help of my stepstool) so our daily line of vision and perspective will always be different. Get where I am going with this? I can utilize his ability to see things that are higher and use that information to my advantage. I can ask him to access that information for me and likewise he in turn can help me obtain that information and also share in the cleaning. (You can surely bet he will help.) If we fail to acknowledge the ways in which we are different and use them to our advantage to help one another, we will have an increasingly dirty home.

This kind of “failure to acknowledge”, is catastrophic in areas such as race, class, sexuality, etc. “Refusal to acknowledge these differences or believing them to be insurmountable; prevents discrimination from being successfully challenged” (A.E. Kings, 68). We must look to our differences if we ever hope to successfully affect productive change. We cannot focus on one thing over another. We need to look at all of the pieces of the quilt. It may be race, class, gender, sexuality, caste, ability, religion, etc. but we must consider all of it. This does make for cumbersome analyzation due to broad factors and as a result, has made this particular theory vulnerable to valid criticism. Many criticize intersectionality as being too vague, lacking specific criteria and definition as a way of applying it. What is important to understand is that it is a discipline that is evolving, growing, and changing.

I believe an intra-categorical approach is the most comprehensive and most effective. It is a way of looking at the categories of social groups by “quantifying the relationships and inequalities between the social categories…which allows for an acknowledgement of the role of social categories in society and an ability to focus on neglected groups…”A.E. Kings, 67). If we can highlight the inequalities, it is there that we can search for a better understanding and by way of that, look to create better solutions and resolutions.

We need to apply this approach when we look at our relationship to the environment. Ecofeminism has taken this approach long before the astute and revolutionary term intersectionality was coined (Kimberly Crenshaw) as it was a concept in application when discussing the shared oppression of nature and women for years prior. There is no shared gender, yet other areas of degradation and oppression that are both mutually exclusive to one another and tied by and between one another, are part of the shared experience.

As I explained in my previous example of menstruating women in the global south, both the environment and women experience varying forms of discrimination based upon complex hierarchies ranked according to interlocking identities shared by varying groups. When I use the phrase interlocking identities shared by varying groups, that implicitly refers to nature and all of its life forms. Intersectional ecofeminists “work together to advocate for the protection of both people and the planet” because they understand that they are interconnected and interdependent (Thomas, 3).

I have mentioned many times in my blogs, the ocean is my safe haven. It is my “home” and where I find myself. When I think about the ocean I think about its depth, its varying temperatures and colors, its plethora of species, and the symphony of sounds. I think of how and why I feel connected to it. My dependency on it is both vast and small. Sometimes it is as simple as feeling the water as it rushes over my feet and other times it is observing the whales in the distance and staring in awe and amazement at their beauty.

In Rachel Carson’s “Undersea” she tells a poetic story of life in the sea. It is a story of diverse life forms that live together in what is ultimately a glorious symphony of life and death, struggle and glory, respect and understanding. The depth to which she goes to describe in detail the authentic and unique characteristics of these ocean creatures is done with intention in order to illuminate the individuality of each life. There are those that are microscopic to those that are among the largest living beings to have ever shared space on the earth. All of them living in one enormous ecosystem, sharing their habitat with one another. They are all connected with one another and dependent upon one another. “The abyssal creatures are ultimately dependent upon the slow rain of dead plants and animals from above. Every living thing of the ocean, plant, and animal alike, returns to the water at the end of its own life span the materials that had been temporarily assembled to form its body” (Carson, 66). Their lives (and ours) are recycled and become a nourishment to others in need of the resources to sustain their own being.

Carson makes it abundantly clear that this is a world in which there is no hierarchy – one exists simply as one is. She shines a light upon the incredible diversity that exists, and that it is within these varying characteristics that purpose and value is an opportunity for others to also flourish. It is a system in which beings working together as “kindred spirits” to inform one another, simply by being who they are. One of my favorite lines in her essay is, “Against this cosmic background the life span of a particular plant or animal appears, not as a drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change” (Carson, 67).  There is no delineation of one life form holding more importance over another. All are here but briefly and play an integral part in the same cycle.

We have a lot that we can learn from Carson’s work in both contemplating the ways in which we are connected to the environment and the need for an intersectional lens so that we might better understand the struggles and oppression of other life forms. Women have understood this concept for a long time and because of their connection to the environment, have been at the forefront of environmental issues.


The Cycle of Advocacy – Women and Environmental Politics

Change. According to the dictionary, the word change when used as a verb means “to replace (something) with something else, especially something of the same kind that is newer or better; substitute one thing for (another).” I think we can all agree that change is necessary in order for us to evolve, improve, move forward, and to make better. The “how” part is where things get murky.

One of the most important things we must do when we have a concern and a desire to change something, is to look to our allies for support and attract the audience that would be best suited to help us achieve our goals and that align with our ideology. In this particular blog we are going to look at gender equality and how it plays into public policy, specifically environmental policy. Does gender have an impact on who is listening, who will advocate, and who will be more effective in translating ideas, concerns, and problems?

There has been a push over the past 25-30 years to evaluate, implement, and incorporate gender equality in politics in order to create a more level playing field. The need to have more women involved has become evident.

It is no secret that there are issues that impact certain groups of people more than others or that impact them differently. One of these groups is women.  When analyzing environmental issues, it is evident that women are affected more than men. As a result, women tend to take environmental matters more seriously and it is of greater importance to them. Women are also connected to the environment in other ways including a shared system of oppression. “In an unequal society, the impact of environmental degradation fall disproportionately on the least powerful” (Norgaard and York, 507) which is to say that the abuses and trauma that the environment suffers is then displaced upon women as collateral damage. Both are victims of those in power which has been referred to as the “logic of domination” (Norgaard and York, 509).

It would not be a stretch or leap to then assume that women, because of their vulnerability to the health issues that ensue as a result of environmental damage, would have a greater stake in, and be better advocates for, environmental policy? But is that actually the case? Likewise, could it be said that a lack of women in rooms (a lack of gender equality) in matters where decisions regarding environmental policy are made is resulting in the escalation of environmental problems and the expedience of environmental degradation?

The number of women in environmental organizations and grassroots movements far exceeds that of men which is evidence of their understanding of its importance and their concern for the future. Women are more cognizant of the risks that are present and invested in taking action to mitigate what they know the future will hold.

One might ask, why aren’t men more concerned? Why are they not as worried? Why are men not making more of an effort to advocate? This goes back to some of my previous blogs where we discuss sexism and how it overlaps and interplays with the degradation of animals and the environment. “Sexism and environmental degradation reinforce one another” in the same the way that other patriarchal ideology reinforces itself in its intersectional appropriation (Norgaard and York, 508). Women are an “Other” category, just as nonhuman animals are an “Other “category, just as the environment (nature) is an “Other” category. It is no coincidence that some of the top contributors to environmental problems are capitalist countries. Rich capitalist patriarchal countries.

Continuing on with this line of thinking we can see how having fewer women involved in politics makes it easier for the men to continue to reinforce these types of oppressive ideologies. So, what has happened when women are more involved? There is data that provides substantial evidence that having more women involved in politics, “contributes to the development of state environmentalism” (Norgaard and York, 513) however, I think it is important to reiterate that this is within countries where women’s voices are valued. For example, there are countries where women may sit in positions of perceived power, however they have little say or opportunity to contribute in any way that will actually culminate in policy change. An example of this is a country such as Singapore where women hold only 4.3 percent of legislative positions and have an extremely low record of ratifying environmental treaties (Norgaard and York, 515). Norway on the other hand is a great example of a country in which female leadership has had an enormous role within its government and as a result, gender equality and environmental movements soared resulting in legislation that ratified ideology supporting gender equality and environmental action.

The difference between those countries (and others) is clear – women express a greater urgency to advocate for the environment because they are hyper aware of its impact. What is equally important to note is that where there is a lack of gender equality within government, there tends to be a ripple effect within those states that disperses that inequality into other aspects of society.

As I started digging into the topic of women (gender equality) in politics and the environment, one thing became abundantly clear, it is a system of many. It is a cycle of advocacy so to speak. Women in politics or women in power are never alone. They typically have an army of women behind them. They are often supported by grassroots groups, women’s organizations, and constituents in their local communities. One of the first groups that caught my eye is called “Women Deliver”. They are a group (of women) that organized in order to address gender equality and focus on a myriad of issues affecting women, one of which is climate change. They believe in an intersectional approach when examining issues pertaining to climate change. This group works in conjunction with 60 other groups and was the founder of a coalition called the SRHR and Climate Justice Coalition. They understand the idea that there is strength in numbers.

Organizations such as this are vital to policy change. While they may not be comprised of politicians, they can educate and help financially support those women that hold political power so that they can have a better chance at creating change. Women Deliver invests in policy change by developing partnerships, creating coalitions, publishing articles, giving a voice to underrepresented and marginalized groups, and raising awareness.

Another organization that I thought I should reference is Women Political Leaders referred to as WPL. It is an organziation of female political leaders advancing society. It is important to note that they are pushing for gender equality within all areas of government and their focus is primarily on health and immunization, but they do have a focus on sustainability.

“WPL strives in all its activities to demonstrate the impact of more women in political leadership, for the global better. To accelerate, women need three things: communication, connection, community.”

A very interesting article I read from Columbia University titled “Women and Gender In Climate Diplomacy” was of significant interest to me for the purpose of this blog because it examined women’s role in terms of climate diplomacy. They found that when women were involved in negotiations, that agreements were more likely to be reached. It also referenced that women were more successful in areas of environmental diplomacy because they were more active in organizing, and more in touch with their local communities. As a result, women are better able to access and harness public opinion and gain their support. Women exhibit a more personal and intent approach with their communities and constituents because they are closely affected by environmental issues.

Another important aspect that this article addresses, and was also prevalent in several of the websites I perused, was the emphasis placed on education and the need for the  distribution of information both up and down the ladder. Education is integral to the success of women at all levels; a lack of it proving to further oppress. “Gender-focused work in Bangladesh shows higher rates of mortality during natural disasters for women, who, in certain locales, are not allowed to participate in public meetings and therefor are less apt to receive disaster and emergency preparedness information or receive medical and food assistance in the aftermath of such an event” (Jaffe and Nathanson, 3). This is an excellent example of how women are disproportionately affected as a result of the lack of gender equality permitted in their local meetings. It also demonstrates how these women would have a greater stake in their interest in environmental events. If provided with education/information and if given the opportunity to participate, these women could effectively help save lives. If we look further up the ladder, we see many of the women’s organizations and grassroots groups, offer support and training for those women wanting to be delegates. They provide the skills women need in order to be effective when they are granted a seat at the table to negotiate.

A common thread I saw in most of the material I read is that more gender analysis is required in areas of policy so that we can properly evaluate if there is a true and equal representation. Often times women are invited to the table, but they are not always permitted equal time to speak or be heard. It has also been noted that while registration to meetings might be comparable, the same cannot be said for the plenary meetings prior to the conferences or the amount of speaking time the women get as it is marginal in comparison to the      men (Jaffe and Nathanson, 6).

When delving into Norgaard and York’s thesis, the most apparent connection is that which exists between women and the environment in terms of the impact their involvement in government can culminate in, which is change. It is a cycle comprised of women placed strategically at various levels of government, global/national organizations, and even in our local communities. The picture above illustrates this idea. It is imperative that we look to gender equality and its consistent presence within our state systems and processes.

In the OECD’s working paper No. 193, “Women’s Leadership In Environmental Action” (The Organziation For Economic Cooperation and Development) authors Helene Bendig, Sara Ramos Magana, and Sigita Strumskyte examine why, “Women’s participation in environmental decision-making is important for advancing both gender equality and environmental action. The presence of women in political decision-making is linked to more ambitious climate goals and policies” (Bendigi, Magana, Strumskyte, 5).

This comprehensive document covers five specific categories of analysis, all with statistical backing and they are:

  • The Benefits of Environmental Leadership
  • Women’s Environmental Leadership In Public Governance
  • Women’s Leadership In Environmentally-Sensitive Industries
  • Women As Environmental Leader’s In Society
  • Policy Action to Promote and Measure Women’s Environmental Leadership

“The presence of women in political decision-making translates into more ambitious climate goals and policies (Mavisakalyan and Tarverdi, 2019[19]). For example, a study of European Parliament legislators over two legislative cycles found that while male and female legislators expressed similar concern for the environment, women were significantly more likely to support environmental legislation, even after controlling for political ideology and nationality (Ramstetter and Habersack, 2020[20]). A review of 1.2 million interventions in the UK House of Commons and 500 000 interventions in the US House of Representatives found that women of all political parties spent more time than their male counterparts addressing environment-related topics (OECD, 2021[2]) (D’souza, 2018[21]). A higher share of women in parliament has been linked to improvements on the SDG agenda (Mirziyoyeva and Salahodjaev, 2021[22]) and in environmental quality (DiRienzo and Das, 2019[23]). It has been estimated that countries with a critical mass of female legislators above 38% will experience increases in per capita forest cover (Salahodjaev and Jarilkapova, 2020[24])” (Bendigi, Magana, Strymskyle, 12).

This document is loaded with statistics that support the theories of Norgaard and York, providing data that gender equality (specifically the involvement of women) in government, has a direct effect on the priority of environmental concerns, and the extent to which legislation is presented and passed.

There is a clear and present link between women and the environment. Women continue to serve as affective allies to the environment because they understand and respect its beauty and resources, and they understand the devastation that its degradation and abuse can result in. The issue of gender equality must continue to be at the forefront of governments as they continue forward. Women acquiring equal space in rooms where negotiations happen, and decisions are made will help to ensure that all concerns are being represented.


When Art Imitates Life

Juicy breasts, plump thighs, a tight bulging buttocks … are we talking about a woman’s body or dinner at a steakhouse? It could be either. The language used to describe the body parts of women versus that of non-human animals are often separated by a slim differential in terms of the poetic license taken. Both are seen as something that can be consumable. One breast laden with turkey gravy and the other (often in pornography) laden with a thick human bodily fluid also referred to as “the gravy.” Am I being graphic here? Yes. Why? To make a point. When we refer to living creatures in such a way, we create a chasm between what is real, what is honest, what is life, versus what is a fantasy, what is entitlement, and what is one’s “right” to have/consume. Who is doing all of this having and consuming? Men – most often white men…. The patriarchy feasts once again!

Women are often objectified sexually. We see this objectification in advertisements, magazines, commercials, movies, social media, and in pornography. They are captured in a light designed for the male gaze.  After all, as Lisa Kemmerer stated in her evaluation of Carol Adam’s work, “When we want perfection, we know where to look: white male civilization, category A” (Kemmerer, 1). Category “A” refers to a list comprised of the characteristics society looks to which are considered “good and powerful” which includes “Man/Male, Culture, Human, White, Mind, Civilized, Production, Capitol, and Clothed” and those things in opposition (dualism) which would be Woman/Female, Nature, Nonhuman Animal, People of Color, Body, Primitive, Reproduction, Labor and Naked” (Kemmerer, 1). See a pattern here? Anything “other” than those characteristics/identities in column A are “other” and often those identities are affiliated with people classified in oppressed groups.

Let’s move on to nonhuman animals and how they are portrayed in advertisements. As we can see from the images below, they are often sexualized in the same way that women are. They are there for someone’s consumption. They exist in order to satisfy someone else’s desires, fantasies, and appetite. Their rights, their role in society, their lives are not their own. As Carol Adam’s said, “Meat is like pornography: before it was someone’s fun, it was someone’s life” (Kemmerer, 2).  I think this is an accurate observation with the emphasis placed on the word “life”. The objectification of nonhuman animals makes killing and consumption more palatable. The “life” part of the equation literally and figuratively dies.

Following are a few advertisements that were utilized in Carol Adam’s “The Pornography of Meat”. Let’s analyze the ways in which these ads ratify the ideologies that society has fallen prey to in terms of what is perceived as normal when it comes to the treatment of women and nonhuman animals in advertisements pertaining to the consumption of meat and/or nonhuman animal products.  

I must admit, at first glance, I didn’t even notice the ice cream in this ad. My eye went immediately to the bright pink ring which framed the human buttocks …. Oh, wait it has a tail… the nonhuman buttocks … oh wait it has braids and a beret … it is a human…. no wait it has black markings like a cow… it’s a nonhuman, right? Wait what?!!!! Exactly! Who is even looking at the ice cream at this point? This is a sexualized cow made to look like a “sexy” woman. I must be honest, when I showed this ad to my husband his response was that “this is weird and rather disturbing”, whew – glad we agree on that! This cow is selling sex. The ice cream (aptly named Dairy Air) is secondary. This is a perfect example of what Carol Adams refers to as anthropornography. “Anthropornography means the animals (usually species of animals presumed to be literally consumable are presented as sexually consumable, in a way that upholds the sexual exploitation of women” (Potts, 14). This cow in this ad meets those criteria. This ad does three very specific things. First, it uses language to manipulate the message. The name Dairy Air is a play on words for the word derriere which is used to emphasize the buttocks of the cow.  Secondly, it fragments the cow, which is to say it is separating the cow from its true nonhuman animal identity. Lastly, it portrays the cow in such a way that it is seen as sexually consumable and that the product that it helps to create is also consumable. This ad is interesting to me because it blurs the line between the consumption of the product that the cow provides (milk into ice-cream) and the cow itself.

A lot of the same concepts from the first ad apply to this second one by sexualizing the turkey. They placed a woman’s bra and underpants on a cooked, decapitated carcass.  We cannot ignore that this is also implying that women are meat and therefore, consumable. Carol Adams said, “For women, through pornography, their degradation is always already sexy. The sexualization of animals and the sexual objectification of women thus overlap and reinforce one another” (Potts, 15). This ad is a perfect example of this type of overlapping.  This ad draws attention to the breasts with the largest percentage of meat eaters consuming it at an overwhelming 60%. (Are you a breast man or a thigh man?) This ad also takes things a step further by stating, “The darker the meat, the sweeter the taste” which I can only perceive as a racist and sexist comment angled at women of color. We also have the breakout of what kind of meat people prefer with white (meat) at 82%, dark (meat) at 15% and tofu (non-animal) at 3%. This hierarchy (based on the percentages of popularity) of meat by identity/class is the perfect example of intersectionality in an ad. The idea that by virtue of human vs non-human and then by color, you are somehow put into a category based on the choice of what meat people like the most versus the least, is classic patriarchal classism, sexism, racism, and speceisism.  Of course, white meat leads the pack, putting dark meat second but at least it didn’t lose because the big loser here is the tofu. The plant-based option of course loses.

I find this last ad to be the most disturbing one. I was immediately struck by its violence and was not going to use it for my blog. There is a Buddhist belief that goes something like this – we must examine and understand those things that cause in us such a reaction that is upsetting. We must look at those things for understanding for it is there that we will find understanding within ourselves. So, let’s do this. First, I see a bloodied woman. I see her hanging by a hook. Then I realized of course it is a cow’s dead carcass. I am drawn to the women’s sexy clothing adorning the meat. Then the slogan, “It’s Not Acceptable to Treat A Woman Like One” and below that in very fine print it says, “Most men agree, but few speak out. Please. Be Heard. A man’s voice is an effective way to change demeaning societal attitudes towards women.” In the corner there is a logo for The Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Lots to unpack with this one.

First off, I understand the feelings that they are trying to evoke with this image. I understand it is supposed to be a violent one. Job well done, but at whose expense? Violent to and for whom? The ad is meant for men. It is meant to catch the attention of men as it is designed to deliver a message to men. Don’t treat a woman like a piece of meat…. like an animal…like property. If that is the message, what does that say about how we treat animals? So then treating an animal this way is ok but don’t treat a woman this way? I can’t help but hear Carol Adams here saying, “That appears superficially as substitution is actually the layering of one oppressive system on top of another” (Potts, 20). While trying to deliver a message about violence against women, we are making it clear that there is a hierarchical system here that values one species over another. It is placing women (humans) in opposition to nonhuman animals as a way of establishing value by and between animals.

Let us also address the way in which the carcass is clothed and sexualized. Is the sexualization of a cow necessary in advertisements about domestic violence? What is that about? Even here they saw the need to sexualize the woman/cow in this ad. It is hard to tell where the woman ends, and the cow begins here, once again echoing the earlier mention of overlapping. I feel the clothing choice takes the intended message and soils it, retracts from it, and honestly serves as an opposing force to the message by further ratifying how certain men see women. It is playing into the very things that domestic violence should oppose, the degrading way in which men see women and how they treat them.

When Carol Adams discusses the use of meat in art, she makes an astute observation that I believe applies here. She said, “A species-specific privilege creates the space in which art that uses the abject bodies of dead animals exists and can be protected. When something specific like killing has an ethic that stops at the species line, I want to know why…” (Potts, 22) and I think this applies to this ad. Some might say it is artistic. We can argue that the law protects it – but why? There were many other ways that the message in this ad could have been delivered.  The choice of image is deliberate as the audience for this message is men and men alone.

I would like to look at one last advertisement that I found. It caught my attention for several reasons. Take a look:

This advertisement is for a cooking site Le Cornichon. The recipe that they are advertising is “Goose Leg Confit With Parsley.” Once again, we have an animal comprised of part human (woman) and part animal. The two are enmeshed. The duck head is adorned with a hat cheekily topped with parsley. The goose legs are lovely long human legs with garter belts and lace thigh high stockings. The human/nonhuman figure is wearing a time period style undergarment. It invokes a rather regal French Victorian vibe with a side of sexism, racism, classism, and speciesism. It is quite the banquet of objectification. I almost felt like they were trying to “class it up” so to speak but it lands (for me) as extremely strange and a disturbing cacophony of “ick.” Are we so removed from the fact that this is advertising a dish for goose legs that we forget we are going to eat a goose leg? Objectify the nonhuman enough that we no longer see it as a living being and therefore, we can dine guiltlessly on its meat.  On the other hand, are we supposed to find it sexy and think about consuming both the woman and the goose? You get where I am going here. Both are consumable. The audience is very specific here. The appeal of this image is thin, white, European, affluent (royalty), type of indulgence. This image oozes feelings of privilege and the fruits of life that come from it. “Privilege protects itself” and the continual cycle of that is evident through the intentions of those relaying the messages and the lucky recipients of them (Potts, 19).

I want to share something with you all that popped into my head while writing this blog. Years ago, there was a cookbook that came out called “Fifty Shades of Chicken” which was a parody of the book/movie “Fifty Shades of Grey”. The entire cookbook objectifies chicken. If you go onto Amazon you can flip through some of the sections with titles such as “Extra-Virgin Breasts”, “Popped-Cherry Pullet”, “Pound Me Tender”, “Hot Rubbed Hen” – you get the idea. The cover of the cookbook bears the image of a cooked chicken tied up in bondage.  I think we could do an entire blog on this cookbook alone.

“Eating The Other”, bell hooks

“Certainly from the standpoint of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the hope is that desires for the “primitive” or fantasies about the Other can be continually exploited, and that such exploitations will occur in a manner that reinscribes and maintains the status quo” (hooks, 367).