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‘Pies for Guys’: Is meat a gendered issue?

28 Nov
It was like a scripted miracle. Perusing the shelves, I said to my boyfriend, “wouldn’t it be crazy if I could find a feminist vegan text in Waterstones? It would be as good as that time I found a Milton text with an introduction by Philip Pullman.” (For reference, that was a moment of almost transcendental joy).
And there it was: The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams. As soon as I had found it, however, I wondered how on earth one might pull off a text linking feminism and veganism; I expected some tenuous connections and perhaps even some dangerous stereotypes (women are better vegans because they care more!)
Honestly, it’s not a bad attempt. There was one statistic that stood out to me: 80% of animal rights activists were women at the time of writing (1999). Adams puts this down to a spurious affinity between animals and women – one oppressed group liberating another oppressed group – which is interesting but ultimately unprovable.
Instead, it prompted me to think about vegetarianism and veganism; specifically male vegetarians and vegans (I’ll just use the word ‘vegan’ to include both terms). There is no doubt in my mind that meat-eating is invariably linked to masculinity in our culture; male vegans I know or whose experiences I have read about seem to encounter the accusation of effeminancy or over-sensitivity regularly. Meat-eating is a man thing.
Today is fathers’ day. Browsing the BBC website this morning, I came across their ‘Fathers’ Day Recipes’ feature called ‘Pies for Guys.’ Clicking on the link confronts you with a huge picture of a meaty pie (the picture slide offers a huge meat steak next, and finally a nice picture of some fairy cakes). Suggestions for the main course for daddy? Lamb burgers, pizza, shepherd’s pie, steak pie, or rump steak and chips.

Mothers’ day? By a strange twist of fate, the huge image on this recipe page is of the lovely fairy cakes which were relegated to last place on the Fathers’ Day page. Mummy likes baking (so why not bake for her?) Also on offer: some champagne, salmon and a tiny breakfast egg on a muffin. Also, when mummy eats meat, she doesn’t want shepherd’s pie, or rump and chips. She wants ‘Pork tenderloin with rosemary, prosciutto and apple cider sauce’, or ‘Lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and sticky port sauce.’ A simple steak pie just doesn’t scream ‘mummy’ quite as much.

I anticipate accusations of over-analysis. However, fathers’ day and mothers’ day provide an interesting study for anyone interested in gender. And for someone interested in gender and meat, there is a wealth of opportunity for garnering some evidence for our society’s mental link between meat and masculinity. It worries me that a man might be considered somehow deficient if he chooses not to eat meat, as does the fact that some defend their meat-eating by saying ‘but I’m a man!’ (I’ve heard it done, folks.)

So, there you are. Just a little thought for those of you perusing any fathers’ day menus today.

Abortion, veganism and the death penalty: Why Santorum’s ‘all life is sacred’ stance is contradictory

28 Nov
Recently, Rick Santorum said in an interview with Piers Morgan that if his daughter were raped, he would forbid her from having an abortion. His fervent anti-choice stance deems any abortion an act of murder, no matter how a foetus is conceived, and instead pregnancy must be accepted as a gift from God to be cherished. There are many anti-choicers who would deem abortion excusable on the grounds of rape and incest, but one thing I will say for Santorum – he is at least consistent.
Or is he? In the same interview, Santorum was confronted with the contradiction in his beliefs that all life is sacred (therefore abortion is murder), but the state can choose to kill someone who has committed a crime. He answered, “I would say when there is certainty – and there are occasions when there is certainty – that’s the case when capital punishment can be used.” Life is sacred…unless you’ve definitely committed a crime, in which case, an eye for an eye.
It seems that rather than following an absolute belief – the sanctity of life – Santorum is simply offering up Republican™ views in order to appeal to voters, or because he doesn’t believe in the sanctity of life and hates women instead, which I tend to believe.
I am pro-choice, and oppose the death penalty, and am vegan. I have been accused of being as dogmatic in my views as Santorum – I am a Feminist™ therefore pro-choice, a Bleeding Heart Liberal™ therefore vegan – without considering that a vegan lifestyle which involves the avoidance of killing and suffering directly contradicts my acceptance of abortion. How can I wax indignant about people killing animals and supporting capital punishment when I would be quite happy to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy?
The answer is that I do not believe, as Santorum purports to, that all life is sacred. This is not the view underpinning my vegan lifestyle, or opposition to capital punishment. What underpins the former is the belief that killing for nothing other than greed or pleasure is morally wrong; what underpins the latter that killing in a system that defines murder as legally and morally wrong is contradictory, barbaric and shows a level of violence out of step with the values of our society.
So, can I apply these statements to abortion, and come out of it unscathed? People do not have abortions in order to feel pleasure or out of greed, in the way they kill animals in order to tantalise their tastebuds, and for no other reason. In fact, people have very good reasons for having abortions, such as mental health, financial constraints, emotional un-readiness for parenthood, health issues, or the desire to have bodily autonomy.
We punish those who murder because they cause a huge amount of suffering. A murder victim leaves behind distraught family and friends, because the person they killed has, in their life, established bonds and connections, engendered emotions, created art, made people laugh or simply improved someone else’s life just by existing. The same is true for victims of capital punishment.
An unwanted foetus, by contrast, has not made the same impact on others’ lives. It is not, in the fullest sense of the word, alive, or conscious. We ensure this by restricting abortions beyond the 24-week mark, where the line becomes very blurred. Ultimately, the life and well-being (bodily or emotional) of the fully-conscious and developed person whose body is being transformed to house a collection of cells which may, one day, become a baby, is the priority.
This is not to shy away from the facts. Although in the early stages of pregnancy a foetus is, as I have said, not truly a person with rights and hopes and dreams, an abortion cuts off a potential life, and many argue that the only way to look at this scenario is, if not murder, then killing. That’s fine. Because killing the foetus growing in my uterus, with no suffering on its part and minimal on mine (because abortion is proven to be much safer than childbirth), is preferable to being forced to give birth to a baby I don’t want (if you want proof of that, then here it is).
Therefore, relying on the maxim ‘all life is sacred’ provides a dangerous license to actually inflict suffering on people. Instead, why not try the maxim, ‘I’ll try to avoid killing and suffering when it is not necessary.’ This is, if anything, the belief underpinning my world view. Abortion is necessary, for a vast number of reasons. A plate of steak, for many of us, is not; nor is state-sanctioned murder. Nor is a country rules by Rick Santorum, for that matter.
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