Monday, June 17, 2013

Meat Misogyny: The Sexual Politics of Menugate

TRIGGER WARNING: Discusses state-supported sexism and extreme sexual harassment.
Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard
Many of us in the United States were introduced to Prime Minister Julia Gillard when her sharp counter-attack on Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott's rampant sexism went viral.  Last month the Australian candidate for the Liberal Party, Mal Brough, came under fire for some unbelievably sexist "jokes" in a fundraising menu.  The menu refers to Gillard as a "Kentucky Fried Quail," inviting attendees to consume her "small breasts, huge thighs" and "big red box."
Photo of menu with the comments on Gillard highlighted
The sexist comments against Gillard are not all that I see here.  The overwhelming presence of Nonhuman Animal flesh, particularly the ostentatious meats like "100% Acorn-Fed Jamón Ibérico" speaks the language of masculine power.  The Australian Liberal Party is roughly the equivalent of the Republican Party in the United States: it's a conservative party, one that benefits men, often at the expense of women and other vulnerable groups. It's a party that protects the wealth and power of the privileged.  A menu rife with subjugated animals of the "highest class" (premier caviar, foie gras, grass-fed tenderloin, etc.) smells of patriarchal oppression.
Notice also the stab at the Green Party:  "Please ensure you eat up all your greens, before they take over completely."
The "joke" here is simply a demonstration of patriarchy: eat, consume, dominate, and control women, nature, and animals.  By insulting her body while simultaneously offering it up as food, the message to Gillard and other women is that women's worth is tied to their sexual desirability, but desirable or not, they are still a resource.  Certainly, men are given the privilege to decide what is desirable and what is not, something which inevitably rests on a woman's ability to adhere to strictly defined gender roles.  Gillard is a powerful leader who is unapologetic about the oppression she and others experience.  She is a challenge to patriarchy, and patriarchy responds by fragmenting her into breasts, thighs, and genitalia and tossing her on the dinner menu.
KFC poster that reads:  "Julia Gillard Snack Pack:  2 Small Breasts, 2 Extra Large Thighs, 1 Red Box"
The Liberal Party has put Gillard on the menu as a object to be eaten, degraded, and disempowered.  Vegan feminist Carol J. Adams has also written on this story and comments:
In The Sexual Politics of Meat, I say “if meat eating is a sign of male dominance, then the presence of meat announces the disempowerment of women.” And one way to try to disempower a powerful political woman is to imply that she is nothing but meat.

Attacks on Gillard's gender from other influentials is relatively common.  A colleague in Australia sent me this meme listing comments from others which demonstrates the true level of misogyny:
Meme of Julia Gillard with various misogynistic attacks listed along with the person who said them
Calling a woman a witch is a gendered slur, but speciesist slurs are used as well (bitch, shark food, and a cow).  The overlap of misogyny and speciesism demonstrates how women are not even viewed as human, but rather as objects of consumption and resource.  It has been suggested she be drowned, shot, assaulted with bats, kicked to death, and have her throat slit.  In a world where violence against women is at epidemic levels (about 1 in 3 women will experience rape or assault at least once in their lifetime), the violence menancingly and even "jokingly" aimed at PM Gillard is horrific.  When we see threats of violence that draw on imagery of violence against animals (suggesting she be minced like cow flesh and grilled), this underscores how devalued she is simply for being a woman . . . and how Nonhuman Animals are the most devalued of all.
According to Australian independent media, David Farley, CEO of Australian Agriculture Company, called the Prime Minister “an unproductive old cow” while discussing new techniques for animal slaughter.  In challenging patriarchy, Gillard is not conforming to her role as a resource to the  powerful.  Patriarchy insists on repairing this breach, suggesting she must be killed and minced to serve their benefit in another way . . . as meat.
When women are compared to Nonhuman Animals, the intention is to dehumanize them and reduce them to resources for the powerful.  The flip side of this, as evidenced in the menu, Nonhuman Animals who are exploited and killed for food are often sexualized, drawing on the subjugation of women to legitimate their consumption.  The oppression of women and other animals entangle and reinforce one another.  In the understandable commotion over the misogynistic attacks on Gillard, we lose sight of the Nonhuman Animals who are being physically tortured, killed, and literally eaten.    Just as the patriarchal attacks on Gillard fragment her and strip her of her personhood, so does the patriarchal institution of meat-eating strip Nonhumans of theirs.  Behind the "jokes" and the elegant words (brioche, saffron butter poached crayfish tail, porcini cream sauce) are living beings who suffered and died for the benefit of the privileged.

For more information on the sexual politics of meat, be sure to check out the work of vegan feminist Carol J. Adams.  Thanks to Jane Daly for this story.