Feminism & The Meat Industry

Last night, I drove a whopping twelve miles to the valley so I could see an indie movie that’s only playing in a small number of theaters. It’s not often that I go out of my way to see any movie, and it’s really unusual for me to write anything about one, but this was special, I could tell immediately, and it really made me feel something that I knew I had to share.

I’m not a movie reviewer, but I’m a believer in well-written female characters. In a culture filled with mediocre stories about women who need men to save them, where such obviously chauvinistic content is created, from shows like Sex and the City and movies like He’s Just Not That Into You or  honestly, almost ANY Disney movie (where their entire life goal is to get a man and they immediately question their self worth if the first man they see isn’t interested) to shows like The Real Housewives of wherever or movies like Transformers (where all the female characters are marginalized stereotypes that are either hyper-sexualized or are otherwise not real or relatable), this film is a breath of fresh air. You don’t have to be a woman to appreciate how deeply true and honest this is. I actually went to see it with my boyfriend and he loved it as much as I did. Our culture needs stories that advocate for something meaningful and important, and I think that we all need to make time to see the world from someone else’s perspective once in a while.

Enter Obvious Child.

Image via kickstarter.com

Image via kickstarter

Obvious Child is the story of a comedian who falls into a series of bad situations and ends up pregnant, unemployed and dumped all in the same week. She makes the difficult decision to have an abortion and she navigates herself through this tumultuous time in her life with courage and grace. The movie itself is also ruthlessly honest, authentic and heartbreaking. Hilarious and haunting, I left wishing it was longer and with an aching desire to go see my closest lady friends and celebrate what I love most about them.

Brave, honest and unapologetic, Obvious Child made a statement by not making any statement at all. Above all else, the message that rang loudest was that every woman has the right to dictate her life and what happens to her body. Which I think is a pretty rad thing to say in a movie, to write in a book, or to scream from the mountaintops.

Image via reeltalkonline.org

Image via reeltalkonline.org

I’ve always insisted that a cruelty free life style must involve some feminist ideals whether it be more symbolic (like the language we use) or something that comes as a result of a direct action against women. In the dairy industry, over 9 million female cows are forcibly impregnated every year in order to keep their milk flowing. Their calves are taken away immediately before they can drink any of their milk that will now be sold for human use. Cows have the same gestation length that we do, nine months, yet they are forced to give birth once a year until their bodies are so weak, they can no longer stand. Then they are slaughtered to be used for meat. The lives of female cows in our world have changed so drastically in the last hundred years, where they once roamed free, cared for their young and lived to their natural old age of twenty-five, now they are expected to live only to give birth and to be milked by a large machine (which often leads to them developing Mastitis, an inflamed, puss-filled infection of the utter), until they are taken to slaughter at age five, which makes them still technically children when they reach the slaughterhouse. They live their lives day in and day out in a tiny crate where they can never see their babies because they’re being sold to make veal.

Safran the calf was torn from his mother before he was a few days old. He was deprived of nursing and kept in a pen so small he couldn’t lay down. Safran was rescued from the veal industry and brought to Farm Sanctuary.

Sometimes being a woman in a majorly patriarchal society can feel a little like a less intense version of this. The feeling of being trapped by expectations and limitations is all too common. As disappointing as it is, there are people out there who will tell you (or show you) that they feel you are only good for your body or appearance. That your independence and your thoughts aren’t important. That you don’t have a say in what situations are forced upon you. Your well-meaning parents, teachers and friends may think they know what’s best for you and use that as a reason to tell you how to live your life. These people are WRONG. Plain and simple. You always have a choice in your life, you can live purposefully and consciously, with a desire to align your actions with your beliefs and live in a way that promotes positivity towards everyone around you. Animal and human alike.

I started feeling more connected with the power of the female spirit when I stopped consuming dairy. No longer supporting an industry that capitalizes on the abuse and exploitation of women in such an enormous way really made me feel like a weight was lifted. Living in harmony with your ideals rids you of guilt that you never even knew you were carrying around. I’m not a mother, and I don’t know if I ever will be, but I know that the connection that mother cows have with their children can’t be very different than the connections that human mothers have with theirs.

Macey and Sophie were rescued from a factory farm and brought to Farm Sanctuary.

Macey and Sophie were rescued from a factory farm and brought to Farm Sanctuary.

Pig mothers are also systematically abused and expected to act as a living womb. Over 5.9 million sows were used for breeding in the US in 2011. Most of them were confined to a gestation crate; a small crate just large enough for the sow to fit in, and as they get bigger throughout their pregnancy, it becomes nearly impossible to turn around or lay down. Breeding sows are impregnated at the tender age of seven months and live confined in a cycle of pregnancy, birth, and nursing. (The mothers never get to actually touch their children, the piglets nurse from the other side of the bars.) The crates are lined up in rows in a large shed- they have slatted floors for the manure to fall through, but this inevitably means they will be living their entire lives trapped over their own waste. The animals are not allowed fresh air and are exposed to so much ammonia, they often develop respiratory diseases.

A lot of people tell me they know confinement is wrong, but knowing that it happened doesn’t make them want to change their behavior to stop supporting it. Well, what if you could experience it yourself? Compassion Over Killing has recently developed an interactive gestation crate so you can get a chance to see the world through the eyes of a breeding sow. I’m warning you now, this is very disturbing and hard to experience. But I think it’s important to see, since it’s very real, it’s something a lot of people still pay for, and it happens to thousands of pregnant pigs everyday.

The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J Adams, holds a mirror up to the meat industry and reveals the relationship between an exploitative food system, and the often exploitative nature of living in a patriarchal society. Through language, subsidized cultural manipulation and media influence, our world has managed to keep countless human and nonhuman animals silenced and oppressed.
The following is an excerpt from The Sexual Politics of Meat:

“To think comfortably about meat we are told in effect to “Forget the pig [or cow, chicken, etc] is an animal.” Instead, call her and view her as “a machine in a factory.” She becomes a food-producing unit, a protein harvester, an object, product, computerized unit in a factory environment, egg-producing machine, converting machine,  a bio-machine, a crop. A recent example of erasure of animals can be found in the United States Department of Agriculture’s description of cows, pigs and chickens, as “grain-consuming animal units.

…Just as feminists proclaimed that “rape is violence, not sex,” [vegans] wish to name the violence of meat eating. Both groups challenge commonly used terms. Mary Daly calls the phrase “forcible rape” a reversal by redundancy because it implies that all rapes are not forcible. This example highlights the of language in masking violence…the adjective confers a certain benignity on the word “rape,” Similarly, the phrase “humane slaughter” confers a certain benignity on the term “slaughter.” …The use of adjectives in the phrases “humane slaughter” and “forcible rape” promotes a conceptual misfocusing that relativizes these acts of violence….Just as all rapes are forcible, all slaughter of animals for food is inhumane regardless of what it is called.”

I don’t think gender equality is a different concept than animal rights. All human rights issues are connected on some level- the need for everyone to experience equality no matter their race, gender, religion, class, age or species. A victory for one equal rights cause is a victory for all of them. Similarly, a step backwards for one cause is a step backwards for them all.

There are simple ways to act in harmony with your beliefs, and ditching dairy and pork are some of them. You can also support a film like Obvious Child, one that bravely and intelligently works to destroy the stigma behind an important issue. When you absorb media content, ask yourself, “What does this book/movie/show have to say about my gender?” and if you agree with the message you find, then it’s probably something worth supporting. You can explore books that promote female empowerment. The best thing to do for yourself at any given point in your life is to evaluate your beliefs and determine if your actions and words are aligned with what YOU consider to be important.

Here are a few more rad books about female empowerment and positive body image that I love-

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence  ♥ Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain ♥ Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women ♥ Women Who Run With the Wolves ♥ The Feminine Mystique ♥ The Beauty Myth ♥ Minor Characters ♥ Missing Men ♥ The Women of the Beat Generation : The Writers, Artists & Muses at the Heart of a Revolution ♥ The Sexual Politics of Meat ♥ Bossypants ♥ The Kind Life ♥

xo

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4 comments

  1. Awesome post – thank you! Have you read Defiant Daughters? I think you might like it based off of your book suggestions.

    1. I haven’t read it, but now I must! Thanks! Always looking for great new books.

      1. Let me know what you think when you’re done! It’s a compilation of 21 vegetarian/vegan female authors and their take on Sexual Politics of Meat.

      2. Wow I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before!

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