reflections

Guest Post by Anatha Hurwitz: Chicks – On the Devaluing of Young Women and Baby Chickens

Anatha Pearle Hurwitz, an organizer for Portland Animal Liberation and a contributor to Sister Species Solidarity, asks us this question: How did “chicks” become embedded in our language as an oppressive term to objectify women? And how does this oppression connect to violence against nonhuman animals? 

Many women feel it is sexist to be called a “chick.” Immediately this word conjures images of yellow baby chickens.

Baby chickens in Western culture are represented as alliterative symbols of sweet springtime renewal, while they are tortured and murdered as consumable bodies by the food industry. Similarly, women are often culturally represented as embodying a sweet, childlike innocence, while they are brutalized as consumable bodies within a system of male supremacy.

“Chick” has long been American slang referring to a young woman and even has roots in patriarchy. The first recorded example of women referred to as “chicks” occurs in the 1926 American satirical novel Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis: “He didn’t want to marry this brainless little fluffy chick.” From this first usage in popular culture, we see baby chickens and young women both associated with stupidity. Bird-brained. Prior to this the term referred to children, as far back as the 17th century, and several modern dictionaries retain this definition. Referring to women as children implies they require supervision and control, an idea that is central to male domination.

Propagating the chicken/woman analogy enables a culture to devalue womanhood, particularly feminine womanhood. It’s everywhere: in pornography, television, movies. Because of this, the analogy is widely used by young men. The comedy video website Funny Or Die features an article titled “7 differences between women and chicks.” In it the male author contrasts what he sees as respectable women with “chicks,” or poor, promiscuous, air-headed, naive, petty, gossipy individuals with ridiculous aspirations, who “will probably fuck you,” who are not even women.

The sexist and fatphoic slogan “No Fat Chicks” has been used on countless bumper stickers and dating sites. Last year French car hire service Uber was forced to cancel its promotion offering men a free 20-minute ride with an “incredibly hot chick.” This year an Iowa politician was forced to apologize after calling his female opponent a “chick.” On the English as a second language website Antimoon, one woman writes, “How dare guys call us ladies ‘chicks!’ How can women ever be compared to chicks which are stupid little birds?”

Then there are “chick flicks.” These movies denote romantic comedies of little to no artistic value, which film production companies market primarily to young women. Even book publishers which focus on love stories have been labeled “chick lit.” Films thought of as chick flicks usually have poor acting and predictable story lines. Our cultural designation of women- and girl-centric films as chick flicks is an outgrowth of how patriarchy sees women as ridiculously emotional and lightheartedly frivolous; it reflects a deep-seated hatred of women.

The first films considered chick flicks were 1950s melodramas which were universally shunned by film critics, and this continued with teenage girl movies. Within a male-dominated society, chick flicks stand in contrast with what are deemed the great cinematic works of film history. Nevertheless film studios have made fortunes from these films, which in turn reproduce the associations between young women and inanity. Perhaps nowhere else in the analogy do we see “chick” more often used to describe a lack of substance. For example, the website My Pick Flick allows users to rate whether a film is a ‘man movie’ or a ‘chick flick.’

So who benefits from baby chickens being used to describe stupidity and worthlessness? With an estimated yearly revenue of $29bn, Bloomberg Business says 2014 was the most profitable year ever for the U.S. poultry industry.

From McDonald’s to Subway to Chick-fil-A to Chipotle: the capitalists who run these profitable food enterprises rely, in fact depend upon, an ideological justification for the murders of 9 billion chickens and for the use of 400 million hens for their eggs. Male chicks whose reproductive systems cannot be exploited by the egg industry are thrown in trash bags (or ground up alive) and female chicks’ beaks are seared off with a hot blade.  More chickens are slaughtered for their flesh than all other land animals together. Their enslavement is indispensable to business.

These industries need an ideology to spread, in order to support such outstanding violence.

If this culture viewed chickens as the bright, complex, powerful beings that they are, capable of dreams and empathy, the food industry as it stands could collapse. And if this culture viewed women as beings worthy of social values which respect us, patriarchy would collapse.

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community

On the Radio: An LGBTQ Intergenerational Mixtape

2in_cmyk_KGNU_PCI was recently a guest on KGNU’s Outsources, a weekly show focusing on LGBTQ issues and people in Denver and Boulder. My friend Sean Kenney hosted, and invited the three of us to each share a song that related to our queer identity, and to discuss sexual and gender identity and coming of age in different decades. The show was styled after the live intergenerational mixtapes assembled for the Warm Cookies of the Revolution, a “civic health club” in Denver. (As a side note, Warm Cookies manages to make topics as dry as taxes and housing policy engaging, and is definitely worth checking out.) I’m quite pleased with how the Outsources show turned out and hope you have a listen; it’s about half an hour long. Additionally, if you live in the Denver/Boulder area and think of an idea that would be great for a queer radio show, let me know and I’d be happy to get you in touch with the producers. I love reading, watching, and listening to queer-made media and like to do whatever I can to elevate queer and trans* voices and support us telling our own stories.

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reflections

Not a Pretty Picture: Pinup Slaughter

I love pinup, and I love when women celebrate one another’s beauty by dressing up in vintage styles for creative photoshoots.

I do not love animal slaughter, not even a little bit. I do not love that the real-life Portland area “humane” chicken slaughtering operation Marion Acres invites women in pinup over once a year for their “Ladies’ Chicken Harvest” as if the brutality of slaughter could be masked by the presence of a few attractive women in dresses and red lipstick. “Harvest” meant something along the lines of “gathering crops,” not ending the lives of sentient ambulatory beings, last time I checked.

Picture pilfered from the Modern Farmer article.

Some of the women talked about knowing where their food comes from as if that knowledge is mutually incompatible with learning, harvesting and eating vegetables. I would like to remind them kind treatment of chickens during life (and how kindly were they treated, anyway?) does not justify raising them for food at all, or make their deaths any kinder.

My veganism is deeply, deeply, connected to my feminism, and my feminism is grounded in the belief that all beings, human or nonhuman, should be able to live lives free from violence and full of joy shared with their loved ones. How could I call for my liberation, as a queer person, a female-assigned nonbinary person and a person of color, while simultaneously sanctioning the imprisonment and eventual slaughter of other critters? How could I defend my choice not to reproduce but manipulate other beings’ reproduction in order to feed myself? I find it disappointing that these women would uncritically and proudly adopt violent practices in an attempt to gain some of the power of masculinity. I wonder what it would look like for women/feminine people/queers to reject the most problematic aspects of patriarchy and violent masculinity to form a resilient, independent way of providing for ourselves and our families? I would love to see us providing for one another in a way that didn’t harm anyone, and to see partners to equitably share responsibilities of nourishing and caring for families and one another.

P.S. One thing that I am still grappling with, by the way, is how my unwavering support of spay-neuter programs fits in with a reproductive justice, anti-speciesist and anti-oppression framework. I think that it has to do with the fact that spay-neuter is a key part of a no-kill advocacy framework, which I believe fits in very well with a vegan ethic. No-cost and low-cost spay/neuter programs reduce the number of animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives. In the human realm, I believe that affordable and accessible and voluntary birth control and abortion are critical to ensuring reproductive justice for all: “when all people have the social, political and economic power and resources to make healthy decisions about our gender, bodies, sexuality, and families.” Of course, there is a long and ugly history of compulsory sterilization in marginalized communities, particularly with transgender people and people of color, but the obvious difference between human and non-human animals is that humans can consent to or refuse procedures, so they should always be given that choice. I’m still thinking about this, though!

P.P.S. (ETA) Originally I had use the world “femme” to describe the feminine women who participated in this slaughter and the associated photoshoot. I write this from a queer femme perspective, but the women who came to the so-called harvest were heterosexual cisgender women and so using femme (a term specific to LGBTQ community) to describe them was inaccurate and appropriative, so apologies about that. For more about how femininity and women are used to sell meat, check out The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams. 

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