United Under Patriarchy: Feminism and Vegetarianism April 17, 2012
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According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Meat is described as the essence or principle part of something, however over time its meaning has been shifted a great deal. What used to be considered as a principle part of any of our food, has come to be known as only the animal protein we consume. Similarly the word man has undergone great lexicographical narrowing to exclude women as part of “mankind” (Adams, 46). And while these subtle shifts in language may appear to be unimportant on paper what they symbolize in the reality of this nation and of this planet is a shift in thinking , a shift in the oppression of both women and animals so that they are one in the same. . This phenomenon of unrighteous actions, of sexist thinking and violence against women has all been the result of the dual oppression of women and animals. For it is through the increasing push for what has been deemed “masculine” food (animal protein) that women have lost their identity, that both animals and women have been denounced as important and have instead become the systemized “others,” it is through this push that patriarchal society has found it easier impose violence upon these parties and made it so that women and animals are consumed both literally and visually by the “masculine” majority.
Women and Animals as the Systemized “Other”
Women as the systemized “other”
In her acclaimed book “The Second Sex” Simone de Beauvoir uncovers the truth about women in the current society stating that they are in fact one of the largest minorities worldwide, one which includes mothers, daughters and wives who are all considered, “the other.”
This vague sentiment for 50.6 % of the United States Population (Women’s History Month: March 2011.) represents the idea that women have hold no history of their own and are not seen as the norm in their societies. In the United States this can be exemplified in many ways, the most obvious being the way Americans speak and the second being the distribution of animal protein among its citizens.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill states, “English speakers and writers have traditionally been taught to use masculine nouns and pronouns in situations where the gender of their subject(s) is unclear or variable, or when a group to which they are referring contains members of both sexes.” This is a defining feature in the way women have not only been treated in the past but in the way their treatment has manifested overtime because it essentially ignores their existence. In defining the unknown gender as a man the speaker has already subconsciously favored one over the other and as such given more meaning and importance to the man than to the woman. In a similar manner, the assumed reality that all events happen to men and that for an event to have happened to a woman one must specify her femaleness just furthers the idea that women are not the assumed normal within the patriarchal society. And as the English language continues to use masculine nouns as a method of describing the world, the inequality of gender is only further reinforced through the demonstration of men in the flesh being privileged over women. (Kleinman, 6-7).
Yet, men have been considerably more privileged than women throughout history especially in the context of food distribution. During times of starvation women have been the ones willingly sacrificing for both their husbands and children. In fact, according to the World Food Programme, while women make up a little less than half the population worldwide, they make up 60% of worlds hungry. Similarly, during times of war and rationing the best food or the meat has always been given to the men while women, known to be less virile (Adams, 36) are left to sustain themselves off of plant protein which has been considered less desirable. “Where poverty forced conscious distribution of meat, men received it,” (Adams, 39). This demonstrates how men are seen as not only needing a better quality protein but that they need a better quality protein because their duties are more important than that of their female counter-parts. And while the reality is that women who are nursing or pregnant actually have considerably higher protein requirements than men, the implications of having control over a certain “better” quality protein has once again created a hierarchy in which women are inferior to men.
Animals as the systemized “other”
The transformation of the meaning of the word “meat” from being an essential particulate to simply being animal protein has already been discussed in this paper. However, the ideological changes this has brought to civilization have not.
In making meat the sole word for all food based from a source of animal protein, there’s been a kind of self-created hierarchy among humanity’s food and while meat is at the top of this hierarchy, the flip-side is that animals used for this meat are off society’s radar and out of their minds. In discussing this topic and the “otherness” of animals, there are two parts, the food hierarchy and the way meat reflects on its living equivalents.
First, let’s further discuss this food hierarchy which has been created. During the prehistoric beginnings of Homo Sapiens, it was found that the males’ hunting, while nutritiously less beneficial, held more value in society than the women’s gathering of root vegetables and nuts. This was because men found a way of using meat as a kind of social currency which is still demonstrated in both apes and humans today. Craig B. Stanford, author of The Hunting Apes: Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior found that “In many traditional human societies, men hunt but women procure most of the protein and calories for their social groups through their gathering of roots, fruits, and small animals… [But] the fact that meat is so highly valued even when it composes a small part of the diet is powerful testimony to its value as social currency. Men are able to use meat to enhance status, show beneﬁcence, and even to obtain more sex by having caught meat.” By controlling the distribution of meat and thus, the major currency, the males not only hold the power of the food but also the power over women and society in general.
What this demonstrates in terms of the animals being consumed is that they are also oppressed by men. After the domestication of first animals to more easily procure their flesh, men continuously reinforced not only the idea, but the reality that they were not only the unimportant “nonhuman” animals but that men owned their flesh and the right to their lives. Their otherness and unimportance is only furthered by the use of fragmenting words causing us to forget about the animal’s being and rather pushing their lives into a dimension far away. Words like “drumstick” or “brisket” are examples of fragmented words which help to blind humanity from the harsh realities of the animal’s death. Instead of ever seeing the animal as a live being we chop away at all of its differences beginning with its lack of humanity by calling them “nonhuman” and using words like “it”. We then further tear away at the creature’s differences by naming its sectioned limbs in such ways that it’s hard to tell it was ever anything but a slab of flesh; the “otherness” of animals runs deep.
The imposition of violence on women and animals
In almost any situation crimes of violence are crimes of power. In the case of rape and even in the case of domestic abuse the point is for the dominant party to reinforce their dominance. Scholar and feminist author bell hooks theorizes that that domestic violence, which she renamed patriarchal violence, is just the flesh of sexism and sexist thinking.
In other words it’s the “hunters” of the community which not only hold the meat but also the power and the ability to implement violence on the “others” as they see fit. The irony is that as the “others”, whether they be women or animal, accept their punishment- the lines between women and animal are only further blurred. The result is women using animalistic terms to describe their abuse, terms like “piece of meat”. By being coupled with animals women of abuse have actually become their counterparts not only to themselves but also in the eyes of patriarchy. According to Adams, “if you are a piece of meat, you are subject to a knife, to implemental violence.” Women have not only reached a new low but they’ve also reached a new level of submissiveness in the patriarchal community, by being seen as pieces of meat through implemented violence and brutality women are also made consumable.
In a similar manner, animals which are seen as defenseless have already been made consumable under patriarchy and thus, violence to them is not only seen as acceptable but as a natural way to keep them in line for further consumption.
Comparisons of the Literal and Visual Consumption of Women to the Literal and Visual Consumption of Animals
The Literal and Visual Consumption of Women
After the implemental violence has reduced women to “pieces of meat” they are able to be consumed either literally, visually or both.
The best example of this is through human trafficking in which women, children and even some men are abused and forced into sexual slavery where they are made to please their clients and their pimps through their physical beauty as well as their willingness to be consumed. For the purpose of this discussion we will focus primarily on the women who are trafficked.
Whether they be young or old women make up 78% of the sex trafficking or potential sex trafficking population (National Human Trafficking Resource Center Annual Report- 2010) making them the prime victims of sexual trafficking and also the prime victims of consumption.
Lisa Thompson, liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking at Salvation Army’s National Headquarters puts this consumption into perspective stating, “These sexploitators, … when [they] are hungry for sex, they buy it. They devour it. The thing devoured disappears. They are energized by it, until once again the urge for sex returns. Thus other human beings are just morsels they consume to satiate one of their physical urges.” And while the sexual consumption of women as a way to break their spirits and bind them in the ties of patriarchal power are by far some of the most severe, the visual consumption of women as nothing more than sexual beings or “pieces of meat” is far more common. Whether it be through the advertisements for Hooters in which scantily clad women are ogled and serve up the ideal masculine meal to a primarily masculine crowd or women in PETA posters sectioned off like the diagram of an animal at a butcher’s shop; women are consumed by the masculine population much like they consume their animal protein- first with their eyes and then with their body.
The Visual and Literal Consumption of Animals
Animals, already considered as insignificant “others” within patriarchal domain are consumed more literally than visually and yet, their visual consumption is a reflection on not only women but also on who holds the dominance within the culture.
Animals, such as cattle are shown to judges as a recreational activity and are judged based on what is essentially their pageantry. In an adult cow she is judged almost solely on her appearance where 40% of her Dairy Cow Unified Scorecard is based off of her Udder at the time of pregnancy. This section includes certain particulars such as the cylindrical placing of her teats, the size of her teats and the depth and texture of her udder (Jenny, Bruce). These are all factors which the cow herself can’t control and yet, her beauty and fitness are judged solely on criteria just like this one. Similarly, women in beauty pageants are judged based on criterion such as the evening gown which consist of measuring “beauty, carriage and grace,” (Judging Criteria).
Yet, by showing the cow or even the woman in a ring they are thus, rated on not only how productive they may be later in life but also on how consumable they may be when their (re)productive life has ended.
In the case of animals, the end of their reproductive life entails the literal slaughter of their bodies and the consumption by the patriarchal or dominant power. In being fragmented and being pushed further into the “otherness” of society as a way to make their consumption appropriate.
In conclusion one can easily see that the connection between women and animals goes far beyond being breathing, sentient creatures. Rather both women and animals must suffer from the injustices of a patriarchal society which continuously puts them down by first taking away their rights through systemized “otherness”. In women this is done by stripping women of their history and a language which recognizes them as anything other than the second sex. Contrastingly, animals are considered “others” through their lack of humanity and are further pushed into this “otherness” through the fragmentation of their bodies beyond a recognizable state.
The second way the patriarchal society takes away the power of both women and animals is by implemental violence towards them both. By deeming both parties as “others” this community has made them less important and thus, made violence against both parties not only acceptable but appropriate. In both cases the implemental violence is only meant to procure the third and final state of patriarchal domination which is consumption.
Through the implemental violence which makes women feel like animals and the fragmentation of animals humanity has made it possible to visually and literally consume both parties. In women the most common forms of consumption are the somewhat literal human trafficking and the visual consumption through advertisements, typically involving some sort of animal product. In animals the consumption can also be visual through judging or productive life and future delectability to the consumer or more commonly, the animal is consumed literally after the fragmentation of their bodies.
Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat. 10th anniversaryth ed. New York: Continuum, 2000. 36-65. Print.
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Jenny, Bruce. "Dairy Cattle Judging." Dairy Science. Baton Rouge. 2011. Lecture.
"Judging Criteria." Miss Westchester and Miss Hudson Valley Pageants. New York Crown Productions LLC., 2011. Google. Web. 15 Apr. 2012
Kleinman, Sherryl. (September, 2000). Why sexist language matters. The Center Line, a newsletter of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, pp. 6-7.
"National Human Trafficking Resource Center Annual Report- 2010." Polaris Project. Salesforce, 2011. Google. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.
Stanford, Craig B. The Hunting Apes: Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior. N.p.: Princeton University Press, n.d. 201-02. Princeton University Press. Web. 15 Apr. 2012
Thompson, Lisa L. "’Cannibalism’ of the world’s women and children through sexual trafficking and prostitution." The Salvation Army. N.p., 2011. Google. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.
"Women’s History Month: March 2011." United States Census Bureau. N.p., 26 Jan. 2011. Google. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.
World Food Programme. N.p., n.d. Google. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.