Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Men & Meat

Upon finishing Carol Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat, which facilitates a multi-layered connection between feminism and vegetarianism while drawing parallels between the oppression of women and animals, I began to think about how such discourses about meat eating have infiltrated today's realm of pop culture. In her discussion of how language reinforces the abused position of both women and animals in our largely patriarchal and capitalist society, Adams describes how the use of language relating to violence against animals, such as referring to women as pieces of meat, makes it easier for men to equate women with animals, whose meat they are accustomed to eating; they consume meat physically and women sexually. The fostering of such a connection between women and animals as entities equally available to be exploited and consumed prompts men to view women as consumable objects over which they have control, just like they have control over the meat on their plates. Thus the use of language pertaining to the equation of women with animals, or rather with meat once the animal is slaughtered, provides men with power both in the dining room and in the bedroom. The manipulation of language to equate women with pieces of meat places men in the positions of power, but what about men referring to their own body parts as a sort of meat? If men manipulate sexual language that connects their own genitals to slaughtered animals, how does this relate to the type of meat connected to females? (*Please note that this post contains some suggestive language relating to male/female dynamics in a sexual context as it relates to meat consumption).

Meat is everywhere. Women are like meat when they are being sexually exploited or dominated by powerful men who also slaughter and exploit animals for their meat, and men are like meat in their attempts to convey their socially expected high level of masculinity. Most people have heard of the expression "meat head," commonly referring to a young man, often in high school-based films, who cares more about muscles, ego and aesthetics than academics. Such a use of meat to assert one's masculinity confirms Adams' argument that men need to eat meat in order to achieve the desired level of manliness as a means of reinforcing social status and patriarchal power. But what happens when men define themselves in terms of meat in relation to women as meat to be sexually consumed?

In recent years, there have been countless films targeting a humorous teenage and young adult population in which a man's description of his own genitals has focused around meat. In the 2010 film Easy A, high school teacher Mr. Griffith tries to seduce his guidance counselor wife by suggestively saying that he will be eating "meat" and "balls" alone for dinner while she attends a parent-teacher conference, only to appear sexually frustrated when his advances don't solicit a positive response. In the classic and repeated segment of an Austin Powers film, a penis-shaped rocket prompts random individuals to shout out different names for the sex organ, which include "weiner," accompanied by cooking hot dogs on a grill. Even Deborah Cameron, in her article entitled "Naming of Parts," confirms the overlapping nature of male-given penis names, as suggested in the Austin Powers example, that are related to both food and weaponry, such as "meat spear". The use of meat terms as identifying penis descriptors also ranges from the academic, like the research described in Cameron's article, to the crude. On UrbanDictionary.com, a popular R-rated website that provides definitions for what seems like every slang word ever uttered, a search for "meat penis" yields a whopping 1,000 results for slang terms, amassing 143 pages. These examples, along with other terms like "sausage"or the British "meat and two veg," are evidence of a common American phenomenon involving male-created language that compares the penis with different cuts of meat.

But if meat is what women are thought to be in a sexual relationship in which the male dominates, as suggested by Adams, why would men purposefully equate their genitals with meat? In taking Adams' theory to a new level, I propose that there are multiple layers of connection between sexual politics and meat occurring in such a sexual context. For example, in the case of a woman performing oral sex on a male partner, the woman is consuming 'meat' while also being visually consumed by the man, who is ultimately in the position of power, as if she were a helpless piece of meat begging to be consumed. The reason that men would want to be equated with meat just like their female sexual partners is because meat is representative of two different meanings dependent on gender. Women are equated with the helpless animals in slaughterhouses, whose consumers will not establish a connection between the dead carcasses on their plates and the idealized animals that children visit during school trips to the farm. Men, however, connect themselves to meat because meat demands and signifies power. Meat in this context is associated with muscle, strength, and the opposite of fat; the basic principle of meat craving meat, as in the lifestyles of carnivorous predators, is at work here. 'Male meat' is not the oppressed but rather the oppressor.

Ultimately, I propose that meat as a sexual entity has the ability to function beyond Carol Adam's comparison between oppressed animals and sexually dominated women. Men often actively choose to identify themselves with meat because of their ability to manipulate its definition in our patriarchal society into one characterized by power, not victimhood. Perhaps we should take PETA's advice and challenge men's use of meat-based terms to name their genitals by replacing them with vegetables, as a jumping off point towards Adams' goal of reduced oppression of women and animals. What, then, would happen if the penis went vegetarian?

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