Category Archives: Feminism

Strump it!

in the neighbourhoodA couple of blocks from our house someone has put a sign out the front of their unit saying ‘Pick up your dog shit you selfish pigs’. It used to also say ‘Smile! You’re on camera’ but this has been removed, possibly because it is against the law to film people without their consent. Someone has gone to some effort to make this sign permanent: it is stuck in the ground with two metal poles and the words are composed of those block letter stickers, which are stuck onto a plastic board that is held to the poles with black plastic bracelets. It’s an affront to read the sign every time we walk past but quite amusing when our dog does a poo right in front of it. The ‘shit’ is not so offensive as the ‘pigs’ and I wonder at why they’ve chosen the word ‘selfish’ to preface it, aside from the fact that ‘selfish pigs’ are two words that are often put together. This persistent linking of a negative human trait to a particular non-human animal makes me wonder: 1) are pigs really selfish? 2) why do we invoke pigs when we are really describing humans? 3) has anyone even seen a pig in the suburbs? 4) why is it so offensive to be called a pig?

At some point during the US election campaign Hillary Clinton described Trump as a pig. This was after the recording came out of him talking about how he can’t stop himself around beautiful women. We all had to reach deep into the recesses of our vocabularies to come up with an insult that could capture just how repugnant it was. ‘Pig’ was the word we all reached for, even Hillary, who otherwise was able to refrain from direct insults most of the time, though no doubt the temptation was ever present. ‘Pig’ seemed to capture the full misogyny of the man (remember when men used to be called ‘chauvinist pigs’?). It also seemed to convey how deeply unattractive Trump is – which is not to say that pigs are not attractive – and how dare such an ugly man think he can ‘just start kissing’ women he finds beautiful? (He also said something about when you’re famous and rich women find you irresistible – bleurgh.)

A few posters on the Women’s March took up the theme: Humans vs. Trump; Trump is an offense to human dignity; Dog whistle politics don’t speak to me; and the reminder that ‘Women are people’, as if Trump has relegated us to the status of non-people or, perhaps, non-humans. The intention behind the posters I think was to say it is not only women that oppose Trump’s sexism and racism, but the effect is to say that Trump is not human, that there is some kind of animality that envelops him which is repellent to the rest of humanity and which we dissociate ourselves from. But we are all animals (the human and the non-human). Here we are using the metaphor of the animal to say that humans are a special kind of animal, a superior type of animal, and if you don’t live up to the rest of humanity’s expectation you are dropped down into the cesspit that is animality.

But Trump is human, all too human. He is one of us and, as much as we try with our imaginative slurs to disown him from the human species, we cannot get away from the fact that everything he does and says are things that humans do and say. Do we really think male pigs go around saying, ‘I’m going to move on that sow like a bitch’? Trump himself uses animal metaphors to describe his disgusting behaviour, as if the part of himself that does and says those racist and sexist things isn’t actually him but an alter-animal self that he cannot keep at bay.

Last year during the days of activism highlighting violence against women, respected Australian anti-DV campaigner Rosie Batty was quoted as saying something to the effect of ‘men are not always animals’. The focus of her campaigning is that violent men need help to change their behaviour, that it is not something inherent in their characters, or that it is ‘natural’, to be violent. This is an incredibly important point. Yet, when we use animal terms to describe the worst of men’s behaviour, we are buying into the same misogynist ideology we are trying to call out. By calling men ‘animals’, we disown violence as something that humans are capable of and we say that only animals are capable of violence. This is because animals are supposedly driven by instinct and have no ‘culture’ or respect for their fellow animal beings. Whatever they do is ‘natural’. When we say a man is animal, we are saying that he has lost his ‘human’ culture and etiquette; he has devolved into his natural state. But this gives a rationale for the behaviour: I cannot help my nature. Tackling violence against women is all about changing violent behaviour. How can we hope to change behaviour when we call men animals and perpetuate the idea that violence is somehow natural?

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The milkshake that brings all the boys

Traditionally picked up by tradies needing a convenient beverage to go with their meat pie, flavoured milk is now being marketed to all ‘blokes’ of decidedly blokeish affectation. Of all the flavoured milks, iced coffee is the most mannish, with the energy kick from the caffeine apparently enough to overcome the more likely sluggishness from downing 600ml of lactose.

Two companies, with various brands, are involved in this milk war. Parmalat’s Oak brand is sold with the tagline, ‘kill hungrythirsty dead’. Male thirst is presented as some uncontainable urge which must be killed dead, not merely quenched. The thirst is so powerful as to be emasculating: ‘Oak knows the answer even if you’re too weak to know the question’.

Lion’s Dare is marketed by an aggressive ‘voice in the head’ of its consumers, so perturbed as to be almost psychotic, again presenting itself as the answer for men when they are not feeling their usual, hypermasculine selves. ‘When your place is all over the head, a Dare fix’ll fix it’. Lion also owns the Farmers Union Ice Coffee brand in South Australia, which has been promoted with the tagline ‘Harden the FUIC up’. Big M in Victoria is known as ‘Fuel for blokes’. And the connection is not confined to Australia: in an ironic nod to the simplified masculinisation of the sector, Wing-Co in the UK is marketed as ‘The manly chocolate milk for men with added man’. The tagline on the mustachioed plastic bottle echoes the Oak brand with ‘Shoots down hunger, fast’.

Men have always been encouraged to eat the flesh of animals, ideally while flicking through a soft porn mag. In The Sexual Politics of Meat, published in the 1970s, Carol Adams in the USA documented advertising which showed ‘meat’ as sexualised, merging the consumption of animal flesh with the naked flesh of a human woman. Adams theorised the ‘absent referent’: the naked body of a woman standing in for the dead body of the animal so as to hide the death. In both the advertising itself and our horror at women being labelled as meat, the violent subjugation of the animal and its death are absent.

In today’s advertising of flavoured milk there are no subjugated bodies depicted. As one commenter on The Gruen Transfer’s message board says, it is ‘victimless’. Though it may not feature naked women, the marketing extends the concept of the absent referent, only instead of animal death it is the exploitation of the reproductive capacity of the female dairy cow that is being concealed. Is it surprising then, that such advertising is aimed solely at men?

Now Lion’s WA brand Masters is getting in on the action, though focusing on a more amiable ‘laddishness’ rather than the aggressiveness of its other brands. The new campaign featuring people cavorting on the beaches down south dressed in cow costumes is all about ‘fun’ and a ‘good-natured irreverence’. Advertising company Gatecrasher explicitly named the values of ‘laddish humour and mateship’ at the launch of the campaign. The female reproductive capacity which produces all this milk for laddish consumption has been swiftly obfuscated in a techni-coloured friesian onesie. The Masters cows are ‘just a bunch of guys doing what guys do together’. Consuming the output of the female reproductive system – is that what guys do together? It doesn’t quite fall in the self-cannibalising category of Suicide Food because this cast is male. Has anybody asked themselves where the milk actually comes from?

Cows are, as we should have learnt in primary school, necessarily female. In order to keep a cow lactating, she must give birth to a calf every year, which is then removed from her within 12 hours while the milk produced for her calf is instead diverted for human consumption. A recent report from Voiceless into Australia’s dairy industry reveals more. The endless cycle of impregnation, birth and lactation has more than halved the dairy cow’s lifespan to seven or eight years, during which she will repeat this process about five times. Overworked and stressed, she has been selectively bred to produce twice the amount of milk she did 50 years ago. This massive volume of milk production does not come without a personal cost: as most nutrients go into her milk, the cow herself is left undernourished and susceptible to disease. Lameness and mastitis are rife.

The dairy industry, unlike most animal exploitative industries, is perceived to be somehow benign, involving no harm but simply taking advantage of the ‘natural’ functions of the cow’s body. But her body is manipulated to violent extremes in order to create a product that was never intended for human consumption. This violence is masked by dairy advertising. Even trade terms are deceiving. Soy milk is accurately described as a plant milk, while cow’s milk is commonly known as ‘white milk’ in the industry, a convenient forgetting of its origins.

Processors and distributors such as Lion and Parmalat, alongside supermarket giants Wesfarmers and Woolworths, have collectively driven down the price of milk, putting further pressure on farmers who in turn place more pressure on their cows. According to Lion, ‘Flavoured milk is one of the most attractive segments in the dairy market’, and bound to be even more so with multi-million dollar exports to China earmarked with the recent free trade agreement.

Marketing of flavoured milks creates an absurd confusion of thirst with a crisis of masculinity. The solution to this emasculation is to inflict violence on female bodies. We’ve been brought up to believe that cow’s milk is the most innocuous of beverages. As adults, we can do better to remember where this milk actually comes from.

Take a look at a previous post, Big Mac strikes again, for more about the (dis)appearance of the absent referent.

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Animal lovers

With Dr Sin’s entreaties to ‘not become any more veganish’ resounding in her ears, Mrs Lomez headed to Utrecht for Minding Animals 2012. This three-day conference, opened by JM Coetzee with the latest instalment in the life of Elizabeth Costello, brought together philosophers, activists, scientists, researchers, political and cultural theorists, policymakers and lobbyists to discuss animals. Thirteen-hour days and more than 400 presentations led to a kind of euphoric exhaustion at being so completely immersed in animalia.

At Thursday evening’s panel discussion on the future of animal politics, an audience member posed the question ‘how do you feel animal right now?’ The two responses offered (out of a group of seven, including from the one woman on the panel) aligned animals with emotion (and women with emotion, an old binary that delights and horrifies in equal measure) and got all philosophical about how a human cannot know what it is to feel like an animal, another dualism that amused some but also horrified many. It was a revealing question: here was a group of supposedly empathic humans discussing policy who showed themselves to be somewhat dismissive of animals and wanting to dissociate their animal selves.

The following day’s feminism study circle got round to discussing the question of the night before and the inadequacy of the responses, which had both shied away from the bodily kinship we share with animals. Embodiment was agreed as the thing, or a thing, we share with animals, something that makes us animal.

Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez share their home with a domesticated cat. Sometimes we want him to be near us when he would prefer to be on his own, and he expresses this preference very clearly by jumping out of our arms. He communicates. When we listen, he can convey to us when he wants to be outside, when he wants to eat, to drink, to play, to sleep, when he wants our company. Often when we are sitting at the kitchen table or lying in bed, this cat will bring himself close to us and interact. Julia Driver’s keynote on Hume ended with, ‘animals let us know when they are disappointed in us’, when we have not fulfilled their expectations. We know that we have let down this cat when we arrive home late in the evening and he has been several hours hungry. When we left him overnight, he expressed his disappointment in us on our return the next day.

Mrs Lomez tries to imagine the embodiment of this cat. Often he sits at the open window, ears on the alert and nose sniffing the air, eyes on the undergrowth for signs of movement. He jumps and takes fright at noises that he cannot find the source of. When the lawn outside is being mown, he crawls under the duvet cover and lays there, eventually falling asleep. He seems to be comforted by the feeling of being enclosed – he sits under our clothes rack, surrounding himself with washing. When one of us is away, he sleeps next to the other at night, knowing that his presence is reassuring. This cat is attentive to the world in ways that we do not even know, in ways that we are trying to learn. This cat also knows fear, as we have known it too.

The most inspiring talk of the conference, Mrs Lomez thinks, was Will Kymlicka’s proposal to include domesticated animals in the polis, to grant them citizenship (see his co-authored book with Sue Donaldson, Zoopolis). Abolitionism was not workable (which Robert Garner agreed) and the movement’s approach so far of granting rights on the basis of sentience had not worked.  ‘Animals have a right to life because their lives are precious to them,’ Will said and at this the auditorium applauded. This was the clearest statement of the conference in support of animals. We had brought animals into our society, therefore our responsibility was to make them citizens. But how do we bring this idea into the broader public consciousness?

Feminist practices, in addition to discourses, could be a start. The second wave of feminism (after Mary Wollstonecraft) employed group discussions to apply feminist theory to the daily personal and public lives of women, where women would talk about their experiences and the group would then critically reflect. A similar approach could be useful in changing our relationship with animals. And political parties have already been formed (in the Netherlands and the UK) in order to represent the interests of animals in parliament; we can build on this.

On her return, Mrs Lomez felt she could not say she was more veganish, but perhaps feeling a little more animal.

 

Reading list:

Wild dogs, Helen Humphreys

Dog boy, Eva Hornung

Zoopolis,  Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka

Animal suffering: philosophy and culture, Elisa Aaltola

Animals, equality and democracy, Siobhan O’Sullivan

An introduction to animals and political theory, Alisdair Cochrane

My dog Tulip, JR Ackerley

Hypatia, forthcoming issue on The Animal Other

Sans l’orang-outan, Eric Chevillard

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