How #MeToo is helping the animal rights movement
We are nearing the 30th anniversary of Carol J. Adam’s seminal work, The Sexual Politics of Meat. At the time of publishing, this was a provocative book that inspired and enraged readers across the political spectrum. Today, it remains relevant and will surely resonate with more people than ever.
I started thinking about this after observing the impact of #MeToo. It is not often that the virality of a social media hashtag creates a snowball effect of scandals around the world. Could this collective awakening, rooted in shared experiences and realizations, also help the millions of non-human animals suffering from sexual abuse every single day?
The Sexual Politics of Meat argues that male dominance and animals’ oppression are linked by the process of objectification, fragmentation, and consumption of the female body and animal products. In Western culture, we can indeed observe an overlap of images of sexual violence against women and the dismemberment of animals. Consumption is normalized, the violence is cloaked, and the consumed object is experienced without individuality. This structure creates entitlement to abuse. In the case of animals, it enables their oppression by rendering them being-less through language and cultural representation.
There is no better case study to understand the link than feminized protein, which is the protein produced from the abuse of the reproductive cycle of female animals, such as chickens and dairy cows. Unbeknownst to many, sexual slavery is at the core of the animal products industry. In 2009, 6.4 billion female chickens spent their short and painful 100-week life pumping out eggs for human consumption. They were slaughtered the second their egg productivity started declining. These chickens did not consent to this.
Dairy is another industry that is exploitative of reproductive systems. Dairy cows must be kept in a state of constant pregnancy to produce milk (note: human beings are the only species that drinks milk beyond infancy, and another species’ milk on top of that). Artificial insemination is achieved by raping the cows with metal rods, using a device called a “rape rack”. Once the baby calves are born, they are forcefully taken away and sent to the slaughterhouse to become veal. Having your child be taken away would be devastating for any mother, but research on female cows has shown their incredibly strong mother-child bond. The cows certainly did not consent to any of this.
Free-range, grass-fed, cage-free? These are still far away from being victimless foods. In the same way that sexual harassment and assault are not okay under any circumstance, “well-treated” sexual slaves are nonetheless deprived of their freedom.
I am not aiming to diminish the value nor shift the focus away from the #MeToo movement and all that it stands for. I believe the collective outcry around issues we might all have become desensitized to, situations which we might have normalized, is in essence positive. And I see hope in the connective tissue that can bring feminists and animal rights activists together in the fight against the objectification, fragmentation, and consumption of an animal’s body without its explicit consent.
Deconstruction is not enough; solutions should also follow. #MeToo is paving the way with this approach, and I hope similar attention/action can trickle down to compassion and action against sexual violence experienced by other species. Farm animals will not be the ones writing on Facebook. It is up to us to reach a point where we can face collective outrage and speak on their behalf.