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I thought at this point that we had established that comparing women to pieces of meat was something people didn’t do, unless they were PETA, which likes to specialize in doing incredibly offensive things and calling them provocative. But, you know what they say about assumptions, and an xoJane reader just tipped us off to proof that apparently not everyone has gotten this particular memo.
Foodie favorite “Bon Appetit” recently posted a poll asking which was sexier: Beyonce or a pork chop.
It’s OK, I’ll wait.
I think their marketing department was trying to do something cutesy, pitting two magazine covers against each other and asking which interested readers more: Beyonce on the cover of “GQ,” or a sizzling pork chop on the cover of “Bon Appetit.” A little friendly competition between magazine covers is nothing new, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.
What they apparently did not think through at all was that they were effectively asking readers to compare a woman, a woman of color, no less, to a piece of meat, and that’s a very politically charged thing to do.
Predictably, some commenters were infuriated, while others pooh-poohed those who found the cover offensive with sharp, insightful responses like “take a chill pill people,” “lighten up, people. Even as a female1, I find this hilarious,” and “there’s too many sensitive sallys commenting on this.” I also loved the ones that said the magazine had complimented Beyonce (with a series of objectifying comments), so they didn’t see what the big problem was.
Oh, “Bon Appetit” readers, you slay me!
#PROTIP: DON'T COMPARE WOMEN TO MEAT. EVER.
For those just tuning in, yes, it is offensive to compare a woman to a piece of meat, or to meat in general. It’s objectifying and gross, and while you might not be a fan of everything in “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” which examines meat, violence against women, and more in a detailed social study, the underlying point still stands. Comparing women to meat is gross, and it comes with heavy sexist overtones.
There’s a long history of comparing women to animals, positioning them as lesser, and talking about them in terms of an index of body parts rather than whole people. Breasts, thighs, and buttocks, you know. And this same history goes hand-in-hand with the objectification of women, and with acts of horrific violence focused specifically against women in expressions of misogyny, assertions of power, and reminders that women are little more than meat to some people.
Especially when we are talking about a woman of color, this history becomes even more charged.
I realize that the United States tends to have a short memory, but it is not that long ago that women were literally bought and sold like pieces of meat in this country. And they were inspected and evaluated exactly like the USDA grades steaks. Check out some historical slave advertisements to see how actual human beings were described in this country by people buying and selling them, as well as those placing runaway ads which read at times like “lost cat” posters.
To compare a Black woman in particular to a piece of meat comes with really charged elements; this is a country where Black women were the sexual playthings of their masters, and where violence against Black women and children continues to occur at a terrifyingly high rate. The racial disparities when it comes to violence against Black women and the poor followthrough when it comes to prosecuting it are absolutely a legacy of slavery, and enduring social attitudes about bodies and ownership.
When PETA runs an ad featuring, say, the body of a nude woman with cuts of meat marked on her, or a naked woman wrapped in plastic on a giant styrofoam tray, lying in a pool of blood, the organization is doing it for shock value. It’s tapping into complex cultural legacies because it knows that comparing women to meat, and specifically that suggesting meat is “slavery,” touches very sensitive cultural buttons and will spark controversy. The organization wants the attention and it knows exactly how to manipulate audiences to get what it wants.
Did the magazine learn from this experience? Not really. A followup post on the topic proved to be rather lighthearted, and reader comments on the issue were very selectively chosen to highlight either those which decried the people who dared to express offense, or those who thought the concept was funny and made jokes about it, like “depends on if you're horny or hungry.”
I don’t expect my food magazines to be models of social perfection -- that is not, after all, why I am reading them -- but I do expect at least a little bit of social awareness. Not comparing women to pieces of meat is pretty 101 stuff, people.
1. Do any women refer to themselves as “females”? I’m genuinely curious. Return