Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Pornography, Women and Meat

It was with much anticipation that I began Carol J Adams' book The Pornography of Meat. I had read her book Sexual Politics of Meat several years ago and was much impressed. It was the first book I had read that connected politics, feminism and meat eating and was a real eye opener even though I had been vegan for many years. However, The Pornography of Meat and I did not get along. I was expecting a book about the kind of meat you eat and instead got a book about pornography and women and meat. Not what I expected but I chose to hang in there anyway. The book asks

...how does someone become something? How does someone come to be viewed as an object, a product, as consumable? How does her use to another as this product, this consumable object, become more important than her own inherent value, her own complete and unique self?
Adams doesn't clearly explain how women are turned into objects--meat, though they are. She does, however make an interesting and clear connection to the pornography of edible meat. In advertisement after advertisement, meat and the animals they come from are feminized either anthropomorphically or through comparison to parts of women (ie legs, thighs, breasts). And by turning meat into pornography animals are turned into objects that "ask" to be eaten and get what they ask for and what they deserve. Turning meat into pornography also then reinforces cultural views of women as objects, as a "piece of meat." Among the ads and cultural effluvia, Adams examines language as well. One thing she looks at is the terms we use in English for female animals "whose reproductive labor serves human interests." Words like biddy, sow, bitch, hen, cow. None of these words are positive and all of these "terms are as much critical of the femaleness of the animal as of the species they represent and are reproducing." And all of these terms are applied to human women. Adams argues
In a culture that assigns different status to men and women and to mind and body, it is difficult for those with privilege to comprehend the meaning of the violation of bodies. We will call it, after Catherine MacKinnon, a neo-Cartesian mind game--named for the philosopher who believed non-human animals were "machines," so that their cries when being tortured were never interpreted as evidence that in fact they were truly being tortured. The idea that they were automatons carried more weight than the bodily sensations that demonstrated that they were not.
Adams goes on to say that this mind game is a function of human male privilege and enables everything to be abstracted. This in turn allows pornography to become an idea and an argument of free speech rather than the act that it is. Finally, Adams concludes that "The feminist challenge to pornography isn't about obscenity or morals, but about politics. So, too, is the challenge to using animals as food" Whether or not you support meat eating or pornography, Adams does make some interesting and relevant connections and observations. Some of her ideas certainly made me pause and think for a moment. In the end, however, the book was poorly written and argued. The writing was sloppy and at times felt like a student research paper. Some pages were painful to read, not because of the subject matter but because of the poor writing. And although Adams liberally uses pictures of advertisements throughout the book to illustrate her point, she sometimes does not get around to making any conclusions or makes general statements. The book will never convince meat eaters or those who find no harm in pornography to change their minds. This is a book that will only ever preach to the choir.