Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: The Sexual Politics of Meat

In my last post, I extended Carol Adams' argument pertaining to the meat-based language used to describe women in a sexual context to explore the use of meat-related language by men to describe their genitals. I have posted my overall review of The Sexual Politics of Meat below:

In her 1990 book The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol Adams explores the ways in which the feminist and vegetarian movements intersect by drawing parallels between the oppression of women and animals at the hands of men, who drive our capitalist society. Adams outlines a clear, comprehensive and impressively detailed theory comparing women and animals as victims of male violence in many facets of society, ranging from war to common language use. Her argument culminates in her characterization of women and animals as absent referents created during this process of abuse, meaning their natural life form is absent from the act of their consumption by men. While the presentation of her argument is consistent throughout, making it easy to grasp how each example connects her overall theory and allowing the reader to analyze contemporary, capitalist patriarchy through the perspectives of both women and animals, Adams’ writing leaves something to be desired. Despite the clear presentation of her beliefs, the argument is weakened by a lack of concrete data coupled with the detailed integration of obscure historical works, as well as an oversimplification of patriarchy in only a small portion of the world. Ultimately, it is Adams’ lack of consideration for how the ties between feminism and vegetarianism in our corner of the planet affect the consumption of both women and animals in the rest of the world that is my most striking critique of this text.
Because of the limitation of Adams’ argument to Western, male-dominated, capitalist societies, she neglects to address the numerous matrilineal and vegetarian societies for whom her theory would not necessarily hold true. In her description of our American patriarchy, Adams notes that men control meat and therefore our food supply, as the historical hunters, farmers and breadwinners of American families. The connection she facilitates between the oppression of women and animals, however, cannot automatically hold true for the numerous societies in which women represent the heads of households, such as those of the Navajo or the Indonesian Minangkabau, for it cannot be assumed that men hold the same positions of power that would allow for them to oppress women and animals to the same extent. The focus of my critique in considering Adams’ theory in light of the numerous societies across the globe that are not male-dominated is not that it is inapplicable to other areas of the world, but that Adams failed to address the limited scope of her argument.
A second component of the critique that Adams fails to discuss her theory on a global scale arises in the oversimplification of the inherent connection between the oppression of animals and women. While Adams provides the reader with a detailed description of the ways in which animals, namely female, are treated in the United States, she fails to acknowledge that one cannot assume that such treatment occurs outside this country. Furthermore, because of the inability to assume the universality of such a connection, one cannot assume that animals are oppressed in societies in which women are mistreated. In some areas of India, for example, women are entirely controlled by men and yet cows, the American symbol of oppression of consumable animals, are largely worshipped by Hindus. Though Adams’ theory is not applicable in all global societies, her argument is weakened by the fact that she does not address such geographical and cultural restrictions in the reach of her theory.
Despite my several critiques of this text, I find it crucial to illuminate the strong points Adams puts forth in her theory. The presentation of her argument is especially characterized by the consistent restatement of her thesis, which provides extra clarity for the reader. Although many may get lost in Adams’ inclusion of historical texts relating to feminism and vegetarianism if they are not familiar with these prominent authors, the fact that she integrates the work of so many crucial voices in both fields, especially in their overlapping territory, evidences the amount of research Adams conducted in order to place her argument in some historical context. Conclusively, Adams’ writing is clear, powerful and direct, making it accessible for a reader with less experience with either of the overlapping fields at the core of this book. Overall, I would argue that Carol Adams’ detailed work with the intersection of vegetarianism and feminism in our male-driven society has its merits, but is ultimately restricted by her failure to acknowledge the scope of her argument, which is limited to the small, capitalist corner of the world. If Adams were to discuss how the connected oppressions of women and animals are significant on a global scale, namely the food-insecure developing world, her argument would be more comprehensive and useful in terms of challenging the food injustice of our contemporary world.   

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