Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat: when does advocacy become violence?

By Emily Smith

Assistant Opinion Editor

If someone were to ask me to describe myself, I would use words such as caring, too empathetic for my own good, passionate to a fault, and queer as queer can be. However, to many groups of people, I’m sure I come off as a type of person to which they would roll their eyes: liberal, hippie, lesbian, feminist with too much anger and too little respect. And hey, they wouldn’t be wrong (besides the lesbian part; just because I like girls doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian, friends). The point that I’m trying to make is that I’m about as open-minded as they come, for living the reality of a white, educated, middle-class American. Because of this, one would expect to me relish in Carol J. Adams’ presentation on her novel, The Sexual Politics of Meat. However, the experience that I had at her event on Wednesday night was lacking for me in many areas.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should explain Adams’ arguments in The Sexual Politics of Meat and her presentation of the same name. At the most basic level, Adams argued that women and animals have been treated the same way throughout history. She used mainly advertisements to back up her claim that women and animals are  portrayed to be consumed: women, by visual means, and animals, by literal means. She showed visual after visual of women in animalistic poses, and animals in humanized, sexualized, female experiences, both ready to be consumed sexually, visually, or literally. Her words were concise and compelling, having given this presentation time and time again, and her explanations were rock-solid. Nobody who attended her event could argue that she didn’t have a point: women and animals are commonly portrayed for consumption, losing their (our) identity and subjectivity, and are transformed into something, instead of someone.

Now, you could be asking, is she arguing for the liberation of women or for the liberation of animals? The answer, of course, is both! She even made the claim that we can’t have one without the other; for women to be truly free, we have to treat all of creation with common decency. This generally means cutting meat and animal by-products out of our diet and becoming vegan. I personally have little problem with this, considering that fact that I’m currently vegetarian and will probably transition to veganism soon. However, I know this claim is radical for the majority of people. What is radical for me, however, is that women and animals are inherently connected through our apparently joint oppression.

More than anything, I am a small, empathetic, over-emotional child. It’s way too easy for me to understand and feel the pain of those around me, insomuch that it affects me personally. For many years, this meant that I was a cold person, trying to save myself from emotional over-load, but now that I know how to control it, it just means that I cry a lot. So, of course I want animals to be treated decently because I understand through scientific studies that many animals that we kill and eat for meat (chickens, cows, pigs, etc.) feel pain and form close connections in a similar way that humans do. When we kill these animals, when we abuse them, when we leave them in pens for years at a time to stand in their own filth, we are damaging them. To be decent, ecologically- and environmentally-conscious individuals, we must understand these basic truths.

That being said, Adams’ claim that animals’ rights and the rights of women are inherently connected seems a little far-fetched to me. I don’t think I have ever gone to a feminist speaker and been opposed to a large part of their theories, so this experience has definitely been jarring for me. I can’t deny Adams’ argument that women and animals have been portrayed in the same way in media, but to say that our individual liberations are actually connected? It seems a little to me like Adams is using a feminist audience to gain traction for a completely separate idea. By merging feminist and animal rights activism into a category where they are virtually indistinguishable from one another takes power and individuality from both movements. Of course, oppression of one group works more easily when other forms of oppression are involved, but I’m not sure if it works for activism as well.

Furthermore, the way that she presented her examples was extensive to the point of bordering violence. As someone who identifies as female, sitting through an hour and a half of continuous pictures of women being turned into animals for consumption was not only tiring, but was also painful. The first half hour was informative and eye-opening, the second half hour was tiring, and the last half hour, I found myself looking away because I just couldn’t process any more information about my historical abuse. It’s not that I didn’t want to be informed, and it’s not that I wanted to close my eyes to the injustices; it’s just that one can only handle so much violence towards them, even if it’s indirect violence.

Perhaps this argument comes solely from the fact that I’m too sensitive, but after going to Carol J. Adams’ presentation on The Sexual Politics of Meat, I found myself shaken in a more violent way than I think was necessary. Of course, maybe that’s the point. Whether it was intentional or unintentional, Adams’ connection of the liberation of women and the liberation of animals was solidly argued, if not fully applicable in daily life.



  1. I just got done reading her book. It’s very intersectional, which is why I like it. I tend to think that the issue of animal rights are the issue of any oppressed group (not just women), which makes it easier for me to make the connection that feminism and speciesism overlap. When Jewish people were compared to rats during WWII and black people to monkeys, the lines of animal/human blur. They are “Othered” and considered less than. It makes them easier to kill and abuse. I think the argument is that it would not be so easy to “Other” them if animals has the same rights as humans–if we see everything as intersectional.

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