I’m just back from a great talk at Harvard (hosted by Vegitas, the Harvard College Vegetarian Society) with Carol J. Adams, author of the cultic book The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory. The Harvard Crimson also covered the event (for which I was interviewed).
I have a new signed copy of the book and am on my way home to start reading it, but I wanted to post a few things quickly now, and will write in more detail about what I thought of her presentation later.
When I got to the event, the Consolidated song based on Adams’ book (youtube video below) was playing in the auditorium. Adams’ is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the books publication, and showed a slide show of ads and various images that were very striking. I have to admit, I had come accross this book in my research a few times and unfortunatley too hastily dismissed it before. In conjunction with the images however, her thesis is stark, provocative, and extremely powerful. You can view just a few of the images on her website.
The overall premise of Adams’ talk was that animals in our society have been feminized, and likewise, women have been animalized. She argues first that meat-eating in our society is primarily associated with men and male-related natures (ie. virility, and masculinity). Furthermore, she suggests, or rather powerfully demonstrates through her slides that animals are the absent referents in the consumption of meat. That is, the fact that meat comes from an animal (or more precisely, a dead animal) has been erased from view, and hence we fail to reflect morally on the production and consumption.
Adams is a former minister, has an MDiv from YDS, and is very widely published on the topic of vegetarianism primarily. Her feminist-vegan philosophy, she claimed, arises from a moral mission to do the least harm possible in the world. In her talk, and in her book, it is clear she can be traced through the lineage of Mary Daly and the radical lesbian-feminist movement of the 70’s and 80’s which is obvious in her presentation, philosophy and politics. She did take classes with Mary Daly in the 70’s, out of which The Sexual Politics of Meat was spawned.
After the publication of the book, Adams had an outpouring of responses, many negative, but many very positive. Rush Limbaugh counts among her fiercest detractors. However, from her fans over the years, Adams received numerous photos, advertisements, commercial and film clips from the world over, and these bits and images comprise the slideshow she presented to us. Some come from women’s magazines (of the “feed your man what he wants” genre), and some are obviously directly marketed towards men (“Vegetarians are pussies” genre, and “real men eat meat”).
As I mentioned, the presentation was hosted by Vegitas and a few other Harvard organizations and a large portion of the crowd were obviously already converted to the vegetarian message, but it became obvious during the question and answer period, that while that might be, some had a hard time swallowing the “feminism” portion of the “feminist-vegan critical theory”. In fact, I have never in my time at Harvard seen a guest be treated so inappropriately. Some who posed questions seemed particularly hostile, but Adams handled herself quite well but answered their rebukes with equal fire. (The Crimson article alludes to this a bit.)
I look forward to commenting further on this as I make my way through the book.
You can follow Adams on twitter (_caroljadams), on facebook, or on her website, http://www.caroljadams.com