Feminist veganism: Carol J. Adams

There was something of a feminist offensive at Harvard this past week, with campus actions defending LGBT in the military and raising the connection between vegetarianism and the environment. Carol J. Adams’s “sexual politics of meat” was a lecture April 28 to cap it all off.

Many of us MIMers have been vegetarians. Adams says “feminism is the theory and veganism is the practice.” Veganism is the lifestyle of not eating meat or using dairy products, and by coincidence I myself am a vegetarian who had had a nice vegan day before going to her lecture. In addition, Adams commented that gender is not biology, a point we share, as MIM stresses that feminism does not center on a binary division by genitalia.

Adams has updated the original argument for vegetarianism that producing meat contributes to world hunger. Now we learn that producing meat in addition to requiring more grain and arable land than living as vegetarians is also contributing to global warming directly and indirectly through the increased energy use that goes into the farming of additional grain necessary to feed warehoused animals.

Speech vs. action

Adams referred to the recent Supreme Court decision on a video of animal killing. The Supreme Court decided such videos could not be banned.

MIM also handles this question since the 1980s. Adams called it a “snuff film” by way of comparison to pornography questions previously handled by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon.

Followers of the news are now left with this question about the recent Supreme Court decision versus the 21 months that Michael Vick served in prison for dog-fighting. Apparently, it’s not so much the animal killing but the gambling money made in connection to it that landed Vick in trouble. Hence, the animal rights furor surrounding Michael Vick may have raised something that did not really hit the target. Either that or as is usual for our court system, the results were inconsistent and landed a Black man in prison.

The intersection of violence and free speech is a very troubled area of Amerikan thinking, the separating out of what is free speech and what is crime. If a mass murderer showed up in public and gave a speech, no one would think twice about arresting the man while he was giving a speech. Yet at the same time, while mass murder was going on in Central America some of us took some criticism for heckling Caspar Weinberger who headed the Pentagon. Meanwhile, it appears that some of us always have fewer rights to due process and privacy than convicted child molesters or attorneys for the mafia.

PETA and gender roles

Adams disagrees with the PETA use of nude models to attack fur wearing. Adams recognizes that PETA has an implicit theory that fur-wearing is some primordial male hunting related thing, a question of myths about gender roles. Nonetheless, she opposes use of nude models for the cause to attack and break down the gender role question.

I’d have to say I’m stumped by this question, because the production of U.$. gender roles is a very tricky question. I would say Adams goes too far with the idea that people are not objects. Lately MIM stresses in contrast with how the body is prostituted, how the mind gets bought out by salaries, whether by the CIA, Pentagon or just one of these stupid advertising agencies Adams targets. Capitalism does not discriminate between the body object and the mind object: both are corrupted. Exclusive focus on the female body leaves something out, another error of what Adams calls the absent referent. We should not speak as if we are heads free-floating in air in hologram glass boxes unattached to bodies and somehow still alive.

In further translation, we have stressed how spying is an excellent example of a parallel. What does not translate for men is how many would be delighted to be attractive enough to do a PETA ad. It would have to be a Michael Jordan doing such an ad, chosen not for his looks but his athletic accomplishments.

Through implicit gender roles, males are told that the fact that there is not demand for them as models is not a blow to self-esteem, but body questions are blows to the self-esteem for females. I would question that right there as gender role creation and I would translate that being heterosexual male being sought by female spies is not a “self-esteem” builder to put it into language for females. If females should take a blow for being fat, men should also take a blow for being fat, and in addition, as is more often the case, for losing their hair.

At the very least, we have the blow to self-esteem for men who are not athletic or the boost to self-esteem for being a champion athlete. For that matter, females and gay males are the majority of the population, so I don’t see any need on this front for defining the feminism and brain objectification questions in relation to male heterosexual norms. Thus, in context, I’d be less opposed to the PETA approach. Adams by contrast says PETA pushes society towards a position where only wimmin are oppressed in pornography, not animals.


In recent years, I developed the idea that pornography does not oppress white petty-bourgeois females, but in fact privileges them. Pornography creates a hierarchy of females.

The above is from http://www.fitceleb.com

The advertising campaign we really need to understand is the global Pepsi campaign with Britney Spears. It is not Britney Spears oppressed in that campaign. She and Pepsi raked in the bucks. It is the viewers, especially in the Third World being told what is trendy, namely Britney-looks. This is how in turn females gain a position in the sexual hierarchy, a point that should be obvious based on what Britney Spears can exchange for in that hierarchy.

It’s not that pornography ordinarily succeeds in conditioning society to attack females more than males. Quite the contrary, it is a means by which some females become gender dominators on par with adult males or higher than the average adult male, as in the case of someone like Britney Spears.

Rationalism and the question of a path

Adams stressed in questions and answers that she wanted to go straight into the question of the morality of killing animals for meat. There is thus an ideological question first according to Adams.

Toward that end Adams stumbled and answered a question about not wanting to go into statistics on sexism in advertising while then turning around to ask the audience “how many” have the experience of seeing sexism in advertising. Her presentation was about many stupidities in advertising, particularly in connection to selling meat and the connection to female bodies.

On a cause-and-effect level, the presentation was not very convincing, because advertising is generally so stupid. It begs the question of how many animals are presented as male and all the stupid things males do in ads as well.

For that matter, one could argue that if advertising is pervasively anti-feminist, then that anti-feminism is protective of females, because it is the males with shorter lifespans and disproportionately being sent into war. Adams mentioned that she opposed the Iraq War, but she did not draw the connection of how her depictions of violence against animals in slaughterhouses are NOT representative of attacks on females.

So the question of effectiveness or path was there, but it was also not, by conscious design. And the underlying reason is one that MIM has often stressed: Adams is a post-modernist quoting Derrida.

In actual fact, Adams also does make arguments about the path forward. She tells us for instance that one day of veganism is worth more to the environment than a whole week of buying food locally. The buy-food-locally idea is a big petty-bourgeois trend lately, that has been somewhat discredited by studies showing it does not accomplish what it sets out to do. So in other words, for Adams it would be better to eat veggies shipped from thousands of miles away than to eat locally produced food if that food includes meat. She thereby answers a question of path in the milieu of the petty-bourgeoisie resisting monopoly capital without a proletarian solution.

Adams also peppers us with the idea that hamburgers would cost $35 a piece if the costs to society for producing meat all had to occur without subsidies. Therefore, we can conclude that Adams has thought rationally about the concrete path forward, even as we question her facts.

In her presentation, Adams lambastes consumerism, but in the end she makes an argument at the individual consumer level. By making the choice of veganism, we can save the environment and cutback energy use according to Adams.

Adams is explicitly anti-rationalist, but she advocates a simple and clear practice of veganism. Her vegan lifestyle solution is simplistic but at least do-able. Anti-rationalism will spin off in negative directions on a philosophical level and I have not read her books, but I now fear for a presentation of vague discontents about pornography that veganism will not solve.

At MIM we see more to feminist practice than veganism. However, if veganism genuinely placates a certain anti-rational discontent out there, it is a good thing in preventing fascism. If veganism is just an entry point by which to introduce the politics of irrationality, then Adams’s veganism is a bad thing.



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