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).