The Sexual Politics of Meat: How Sexism and Animal Cruelty Coexist
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The fact that one absent referent is the same as another bolsters Adams's insistence that the feminist agenda must consider animal rights of fundamental importance; to ignore animals' right to exist as individuals is to engage in the same system that oppresses women. Thus, Lady Gaga, who has called herself a feminist, revealed a hole in her personal ideology when she wore a dress made of meat to accept her Video Music Award, and then again on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She said her intention was to point out that she's "not a piece of meat," and that if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have "as much rights as the meat on our bones." But her "statement" was just the other side of the coin represented by PETA's Pamela Anderson ad. Lady Gaga offered up butchered meat in place of a segmented woman's body, but the concept is the same: something, someone, was sacrificed and silenced to grab attention, to make a point, to gain a sort of power. Lady Gaga's naive exchange of meat for attention was not much better than KFC's trading in women's butts for easy cash.
Another prominent figure who has lately called herself a feminist, Sarah Palin, employed the absent referent concept metaphorically when she began calling herself and her conservative women followers Mama Grizzlies. Palin, outspoken killer of wolves and lover of meat ("If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?" she said in an interview last year has coopted the mythical personality traits of the grizzly bear for her own use with no regard for the individual animals whose name she has taken. In doing so she is removing from our view the plight of actual grizzlies, largely absent in North America due to the over development of their habitat. She is happy to use grizzly bears' name while advocating drilling in Alaska -- an activity that destroys grizzly homes along with the rest of the environment.
The Earth As Another Source of Profit
Taking Adams's analysis beyond women and animals, it is plain to see that we are surrounded by absent referents. Real trees become mere symbols when we use their leaves and branches as logos even as forests are being clearcut to make way for more subdivisions. As the rainforests turn to deserts and the glaciers melt into mud, subway ads show images of tanned, happy women in tropical paradises, beckoning us to visit islands that have been tailored to accommodate human desires. The absent referent here is a healthy earth, a whole ecosystem. Fly over the United States in a plane and the earth, too, is sectioned into parts. The ability for places themselves to have wildness and individuality has been eradicated, all due to a dominant culture that sees women, animals and our very landbase as potential sources of profit.
As Adams writes, "justice should not be so fragile a commodity that it cannot be extended beyond the species barrier of Homo sapiens." As long as women see animals and the natural world as objects placed on earth for thoughtless, insatiable consumption, we are feeding a dominant culture that processes our own bodies through the same system. As women enjoy the gains we have made in the path to our own equality, we must continue to assert our own presence and recognize our uniquely personal stake in fighting for those who are still being silenced.
Theresa Noll is a freelance book editor and writer in Brooklyn. She is currently editing Merle Hoffman's forthcoming memoir, "Intimate Wars."