What Not to Wear: Shaming and Shopping

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article was not formatted correctly. Below is the correct version with the author’s original format.

by Greta Minsky

“We’re helping women find themselves . . . . The women really undergo an emotional transformation.  They go from being really in a rut to wanting to go out and conquer the world.”

Is this speaker talking about self-defense classes, or assertiveness training, or maybe seventies-style consciousness-raising?  Not even close.  Clinton Kelly is talking here about a popular reality television makeover show, What Not to Wear.[1] Kelly, along with Stacy London, hosts the U.S. version of a series that started here in 2003 and is still going strong.  The original U. K. series ran on the BBC from 2001 to 2007 and aired in twenty-two countries around the world, including Poland, Peru, and the United Arab Emirates.

So what’s the worldwide appeal of the show?  It promises its subjects (mostly, but not exclusively, women) that happiness can be theirs, through professional and romantic fulfillment, if they just learn to change the way they dress.   Nothing wrong with happiness, is there?  What’s not to like, then, about What Not to Wear?  How about the fact that it co-opts feminist rhetoric to promote an anti-feminist agenda?  And why now?  What twenty-first century anxieties does the show play to?  Is it part of the cloudy and contradictory concept of “postfeminist” culture? Continue reading

Rep. Gwen Moore & Rep. Jackie Speier: Amazing Speeches on the House Floor

As House Republicans argued for extremist measures to cut assistance to women, children, and men who use Planned Parenthood’s services, Gwen Moore and Jackie Speier bravely shared their own personal experiences on the House floor.  Their words are a reminder of the dire necessity to have more women and people of color serving in legislative positions.

Feminism & Veganism

Below is an excerpt of an article originally posted at For the Birds Feminist Collective.

I’ve been a vegan for the last five years.  I have always intuitively connected not using animal derived products to my feminist politics, but only recently was asked to articulate this relationship for a symposium at at local college.  Once I dedicated time, thought, and research to the topic I found many different facets of the intersection, not only between speciesism and gender, but also race and class.

One approach to the topic examines notions of masculinity and femininity within our culture.  Men are often denied emotion, feelings, compassion. Instead rationalization, hierarchy, and conquering are embedded within our notions of masculinity.  Discussed in the works of Max Weber and Theodor Adorno, modernity has contained the thematic of dominating nature (or the feminine).  In reading the work of Carol Adams, I learned that historically men have been the ones to consume meat and determine women’s consumption of meat, despite women’s work caring for the animals and preparing the food.  So while manly men are associated with the active ‘beefing’ up, women are associated more with vegetables. Even in societies where food is more plentiful we can see these distinctions in cookbooks, popular culture, and socialization behaviors (i.e. the bar b que).

If a male does opt to be a vegetarian, there can be a stigma of not being manly and being a ‘fruit’.

At the same time in a recent study of ethical vegetarians in college, Ben Merriman found that family and friends were actually neutral or favorable to men’s transition to vegetarianism.  Women, on the other hand, were found to face hostility primarily from male family and friends.  Merriman concluded that this is because the men were seen as capable of governing their bodies, while the women were not.

Denial over control and exploitation of bodies is certainly not limited to human females.  Animals we culturally define as food have been shown to be sentient beings.  Jonathan Balcombe, a senior research scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has looked at animal’s experience of joy.  He determined that animals have behaviors that are carried out for pure enjoyment, such as oral sex being documented amongst goats, hyenas, various primates, bats, and sheep.  In “Let Them Eat Dog: A Modest Proposal for tossing Fido in the Oven” Jonathan Safran Foer makes the argument that while dogs and pigs are quite equivalent in their emotions and intelligence, we do not eat dogs even though it would simultaneously solve our problems of over population of dogs and hunger.  Even those animals we define as food we need to objectify and remove from their corporeal bodies.  We utilize absent referents, renaming the flesh foods as a way of hiding their origins; we eat pork, bacon, and sausage instead of pigs.

This becomes an explicitly feminist issue when examining the source of our flesh foods.  The ‘means of production’ in modern factory farming is the female animal body.  Impregnation is no longer something occurring between two animals but now involves a ‘rape rack,’ or a metal pipe used to deposit sperm.  Hens are caged in confined spaces, have their beaks cut to prevent killing those they are caged with when trying to move, and are made to lay egg after egg until they can no longer reproduce and are then slaughtered.  Sows are forcibly impregnated and kept in small spaces, making nursing of their young difficult.  Female cows are kept pregnant for their milk until they are ‘dried up’ and then slaughtered.  Their calves are taken away early, to which the mother cows have displayed emotional grief.  Male babies in all of the above are often considered byproducts.  Male calves are often placed in confined spaces and fed low iron diets so that they become desirable veal, while male chicks are simply thrown away.

As human women we are cougars, chicken heads, chicks, foxy, bird (brains), pigeons, bunnies, (ghetto) rats, pigs, cows, pussies, beavers, old bats, and of course bitches.  These comparative labels position women hierarchically below men, justifying our exploitation.  To say you feel like meat is not only to say you feel like an object, but one reduced to flesh.

–Megan, For the Birds

Read the rest of Megan’s article at For the Birds Feminist Collective.

The Scavenger: Addressing racism and classism in animal rights activism

via Racialicious.

We’ve heard a lot about sexism in the animal rights movement, particulary in regard to PETA advertisements.  Stephanie Lai wrote a great piece for The Scavenger which takes a closer look at racism and classism in animal rights activism.

Historically, in Western animal rights activism, it’s been considered a very white, middle-class movement. There’s an assumption of a certain level of education, and of physical ability.

People who don’t fall in to this image have felt unwelcome or alienated from animal rights because of this. A failure to take into account intersections can also be very disempowering for the marginalised group/s.

Traditionally it has been ‘How do we get X minority group to come to us?’ which ignores the reality that often these groups are already part of animal rights activsm, or doing their own thing, and the mainstream just hasn’t noticed them.

Or the approaches taken have ignored the reality of what’s going on, and so have squandered an opportunity to get a certain group on board.

A lot of intersectionality issues have been ignored or dismissed by western animal rights activists because “We don’t have time for that” or “It’s not about the animals.” The term I use for that is ‘single issue vegan,’ and it’s not a nice term.

Being single issue is giving preference to a political party based on their animal rights promises and ignoring their history of environmental and racial issues, never mind their history of breaking promises.

Being single issue is buying the cheap cotton jumper from some shop, without considering its environmental impact and their abuse of labour and sweatshop laws.

Being single issue is choosing something vegan with no consideration for whether it’s heavily processed and packaged, and what that means.

The reason why I talk about intersectionality in animal rights is because I have often felt alienated from it.

I am bisexual and ethnically Chinese, and I grew up economically not that well-off (though I am now a middle-class hipster).

I come to animal rights from environmentalism.

All of these things intersect for me, because what it means is that I deviate from the “norm” within animal rights. In animal rights, and also within veganism, terms that are frequently used, as they are in many movements, are things like ‘normal,’ and ‘exotic,’ and I’m usually positioned outside of these terms.

This has always been really alienating for me, because things that I think of as normal or everyday are actually considered odd, especially within vegan circles.

BI just wanted to flag this, because this is what intersectionality is about in animal rights: it’s about making sure that we’re not excluding, ignoring or dismissing people. And it can be about harnessing potential.

Read Stephanie Lai’s full post at TheScavenger.net.