Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lady Gaga revisits the sexual politics of meat

Right now, she's nominated for 13 MTV Video Music Awards, but the buzz earlier this week was Lady Gaga posing in a raw-meat bikini on the cover of Japanese Vogue.

Of course People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) rang in on the matter saying, "Meat is something you want to avoid putting on or in your body ... no matter how beautifully it is presented, flesh from a tortured animal is flesh from a tortured animal."

And while PETA's right - those of us looking through feminists' eyes return to the sexual politics of meat.

The consumption of meat is a political issue, a feminist issue, and a humane issue.

The choices we make -- what we buy, what we eat -- make a political statement whether we know it or not.

This image is indeed political.

Remember, there is a link between objectification of animals and the objectification of women.

In her book, "The Sexual Politics of Meat," Carol J. Adams writes about how both women and animals become what's known as absent referents through physical and metaphorical processes.

Through the violent act of butchering, the animal is made absent when its dead body is transformed into food.

On top of that, we rename it. Baby cow becomes "veal" and baby sheep becomes "lamb."

However, "One does not eat meat without the death of an animal," says Adams, "live animals are thus the 'absent referent' in the concept of meat (consumption.)"

Similarly, women are sometimes referred to as a "piece of meat" or their treatment is referred to as "like a piece of meat."

In descriptions of cultural violence, women are often the absent referent.

Adams gives the example of "rape."

This image is so graphic that "the term is transferred from the literal experience of women and applied metaphorically to other instances of violent devastation ... such as 'rape' of the earth ..."

And yet, women are absent from the act of rape and become the "absent referent."

The absent referent takes the focus off the real issues -- out of sight, out of mind.

I don't know a lot about Lady Gaga's politics or her dietary habits.

But, knowingly or not, she has made a political, humane, and feminist statement with this image.

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