Saint Mary’s professor explores ‘sexual politics of meat’
Kathryn Marshall | Sunday, October 5, 2014
On Friday, Saint Mary’s assistant professor of philosophy Megan Zwart spoke on “Consuming Female Bodies: An Investigation of the Sexual Politics of Meat” as part of the Justice Education Department’s weekly Justice Friday series. Becoming vegan four years ago opened Zwart’s eyes to the intersectionality of animal and human injustices, Zwart said.
“As I made choices about what I ate … I wasn’t ignoring other forms of human oppression. In fact, I was becoming more aware of them and more in tune to them,” Zwart said. “For me, being vegan acted as a ‘gateway drug’ to compassion.”
The connection between the objectification of women and objectification of animals caught her attention, Zwart said. Reading literature such as Carol J. Adams’s book “The Sexual Politics of Meat” encouraged her to explore the mentalities lying behind both injustices more deeply.
“[Our] culture marginalizes and oppresses animals for our own interests … and those are similar kinds of mentalities that are lurking behind lots of oppressions that affect humans too,” Zwart said.
The concept was reflected in a fake “Fifty Shades of Chicken” trailer Zwart shared, where a man is preparing a chicken to cook for dinner. The chicken takes the place of a woman, resulting in a slightly uncomfortable sexual subtext that highlights culture’s objectification of woman, she said.
However, along with the woman, there is another individual absent from the trailer, Zwart said. The live chicken itself is absent, and while that subtext is not as obvious as the woman subtext, it is also important because it reflects the danger of allowing our views of animals and humans to be reducible, she said.
“The reason that’s dangerous, whether we’re talking about the absent woman or the absent chicken, is because we become blinded to the interests of individuals when we buy into what culture tells us how we should see them,” Zwart said.
Just as women may be used for the wrong interests, humans feel they have a right to use animals for their own interests. After all, the products of animals are often reproductive products such as milk and eggs, Zwart said.
“We’re taught to see black and white when we know a lot of these things aren’t black and white,” Zwart said. “The capabilities humans have and nonhumans have aren’t as binary as we’re taught.”
As more societal oppressions are brought to light, Zwart challenges people to ask why we assume we have the right to use animals however we’d like to. However, Zwart stressed that becoming vegan is not necessarily a blanket moral prescription.
Whether the injustice is connected to humans or animals, the mental approach should be the same, Zwart said.
“You have to look at the interests of the other, you can’t just automatically assume that you’re dominant, which gives you the right to … ignore the interests of the marginalized,” she said.
Taking a step back to look at all the social injustices of our world and the complex web of intersections can be overwhelming, but Zwart said she believes everyone has their own way of working through this web, and for her, veganism is helpful because diet is something she can control.
Sophomore Elise deSomer said she felt Zwart did an excellent job getting her point across during the presentation, and she was particularly struck by the various pieces of media Zwart shared, she said..
“It’s just so shocking there are so many parallels between the oppression of animals and the oppression of women. … It happens every day,” deSomer said. “I think whenever I hear something eye-opening like this, it makes me want to take my actions to the next level.”
The next Justice Friday lecture will take place Oct. 10 at 12 p.m.