I recently finished reading The Sexual Politics of Meat. The author, Carol Adams, makes a strong case regarding the intertwining ideologies of meat consumption and masculinity/virility in patriarchal cultures like ours. This made me begin to notice how dairy cows and hens in particular tend to be portrayed as “sexy” in advertising…What are your views as a feminist on the extreme exploitation of the reproductive capacities of female animals, which is essentially what drives the entire meat industry?
For Total Female Liberation
When I looked into the advertising you described, I noticed the advertisements for Real California Milk both sexualized and gendered the dairy animals. The human personification of the female cows morphed them into a hybrid of both human woman and cow. They mooed about marriage and prettiness with demure voices, fluttering eyelashes and dashing smiles. In the advertisements, there are cows that are personified as men too, who look down hills admiring “their” women-cow “babes,” but also commenting on how exercise can improve their figures.
A string of questions follows this overlap of gendering, hypersexualization and exploitation. Does the female gendering of animals automatically mean that they are hypersexualized? Is the gendering of animals destructive to feminism, and anything else? In terms of the “exploitation of the reproductive capacities of female animals,” as a mechanism which fuels the meat industry, the underlying question is if, and how, dairy animals consent. Can animals consent to their reproductive exploitation under the patriarchal fist of the dairy industry? After witnessing how animals are treated on dairy farms, should feminists assume that they should advocate on behalf of diary animals’ liberation, and speak where animals cannot?
Feminists have long wrestled with a divide between those who advocate vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, versus feminists who think that the vegan discussion sidesteps other feminist debates. Feminists employ the vegan debate to protect animals who cannot advocate for themselves. Western feminists and Black feminists hold bodily integrity and reproductive freedoms at their theoretical and activism centers. Ecofeminists use a similar understanding to identify the relationship between bodily integrity, self-determination, pain, and lives of animals who are held captive by humans, and lack self-determination.
Where I see the intersection is between how women’s bodies are sexualized in a way that allows their bodies to be compromised—or, in the case of animals who are personified as humans, and gendered as female—and how the gendering of animals leads to a gendering of the land. Just as gendering animals condones its overuse, gendering the land is a gateway for its overuse. The farm waste from dairy farming is a product of dual dairy animal and land overuse.
When something, or someone’s body (or, a body of land) is gendered female, it is institutionally sexualized and read as unworthy or under-worthy, which grants unconditional permission for industry to enter and conquer. The meat and dairy industry sexualize animals and land in order to weigh profit over environmental destruction from farm waste; if the cows are women they can be mistreated (which means they are sexualized, as we see that women and sexualization are mutually exclusive in the dairy farm case), and if the cows stand on Mother Earth, she too is allowed to be damaged by farm waste.
Dairy companies are also sexualizing human women for their own gain. I highlight the California Dairy Princess Program. The annual pageant, started by the American Dairy Associate in 1958, and currently run by the California Milk Advisory Board, functions to “promote the state’s dairy industry.” The contest is open to “young women” who are not above 21 of age, who compete to become “ambassadors for the dairy industry.” The applicants are judged on their “personal appearance,” and “social graces and maturity,” among other superficial, topical considerations. There is a specific dress code for the competitors—ankle length gown and dress shoes, business clothing and a mandate to wear a sash and tiara at every appearance—and there is a formal reminder that winners are “…the Dairy Princess for the entire year – whether on an official appearance or in your private capacity. You will be expected to act accordingly.” The Dairy Princess Court is pictured on the dairy company’s Real California Milk website. The sparkly, sweetly crowned women pose on a green pasture, flashing dashing smiles.
So is there exploitation of animals and women, who are the primary producers in the dairy industry? YES.
Peace & luv,