On Sunday, Sept. 29, Carol J. Adams, author of acclaimed book The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, came to Vassar. On her visit, she delivered a talk titled, the “Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show.” Her presentation dealt with the ways that images of women and animals in contemporary popular culture connect to oppressive attitudes toward both groups. The Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC), Vassar College Democrats, and the Vassar Geography and Earth Science Departments sponsored the presentation.
The slide show emphasized how meat is valued in American culture as masculine and the ways in which assumptions about meat eating reinforce a gender binary.
Adams addressed the issue of unhealthy meat consumption in the United States and focused on the marketing tactics and stereotypes surrounding meat that reinforce these eating habits. The author asserted that there is a widely accepted notion in the United States that Americans need meat, and that men in particular need meat.
Adams showed various advertisements for meat, including several Burger King television ads that show people of ethnic minorities trying a burger for the very first time. The presenter also showed images highlighting the ways in which women were used in meat advertisements through objectification, consumption, and fragmentation, or the process of isolating specific body parts without clarification as to the larger body.
According to Alessandra Seiter ’16, co-president of VARC, “VARC was interested in sponsoring Carol Adams because she is a pioneer in the feminist and animal rights movements, and knows about the intersections between both movements better than anyone of whom we know.” (Full disclosure: Alessandra Seiter is Online Editor at the Miscellany News.)
Members of VARC met Adams at a conference last year where she expressed her interest in visiting Vassar for a talk. Seiter said, “VARC decided that it would very beneficial to get Adams to speak this year after the Spring/Summer issue of the Vassar Alumna/e Quarterly came out, which expressed much sexist, speciesist, and anti-vegetarian messaging.”
She continued, “We hoped that Adams would bring an effective counter to the magazine, which we found quite problematic. Adams actually messaged me on Facebook after the Quarterly incident and suggested that it might be time for her to come to Vassar and I followed up with her.”
Seiter applauded the presentation. “Adams’ presentation addressed the intersectionalities between veganism and feminism—how our meat-eating culture perpetuates patriarchy. I personally loved when Carol addressed the myths behind ‘humane’ meat and dairy in her presentation. For example, she compared photos of a caged egg-laying facility and a cage-free egg laying facility—both looked largely the same, with chickens crammed shoulder to shoulder in a dark warehouse with little to no access to the outdoors,” she said.
She continued,“I think it’s important that the Vassar community, which is so wonderfully concerned with a multiplicity of important social movements, come to realize veganism and animal rights as another legitimate issue.”
According to Vassar Democrats president Evan Seltzer ’14, “Vassar Democrats always loves to work with other student organizations, so we realized this would be a great way to kick off our active year. We also felt like Adams presented an opportunity for the Dems to expand our horizons and branch out into areas that are not typical within our scope of interest.” Furthermore, he asserted that “Women’s rights issues are obviously at the forefront of the mainstream political discourse, with this nation (hopefully) on the verge of electing its first female president. While Adams did not discuss topical political issues such as freedom of choice and equal pay, the theme of her presentation still pertained to the spirit of gender equality.”
One student who attended, Ava Sadeghi ’15 said that the lecture interested her. “I was surprised by a lot of the advertisements and found them offensive, but I also think they gave a lot of insight into why people think the way that they do about meat and especially about body image in the United States. I also was surprised by some of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advertisements because I think a lot of people respect and acknowledge them as a legitimate organization, but Adams revealed that a lot of the advertisements they have used in the past were derogatory toward women. I thought the lecture was all around informative and useful and I think it shed light on important concepts that are already being discussed in the Vassar community,” she said.