Caging MotherhoodPosted by Carol J. Adams, Guest Blogger on June 9, 2014
How is slavery normalized and naturalized? It may seem counterintuitive, but one way is to exhibit it. In the past, this involved selling enslaved African-Americans at public auctions or encouraging artistic depictions of “odalisques” (female slaves in the Ottoman Empire). Now, sows are transported to the California State Fair and kept on display in farrowing crates with their babies. That’s why, last summer, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the Cal Expo and the U.C. Board of Regents for illegally transporting and displaying pregnant and nursing pigs at the Livestock Nursery Exhibit. Today, ALDF filed an appeal in that case.
This form of reproductive slavery begins with synchronizing sows’ pregnancies and delivery (including inducing labor). After giving birth, the sows are placed in farrowing crates. Farrowing crates were ostensibly created to keep the sow from rolling over and crushing her offspring. One wonders how pigs avoided extinction for all the centuries that they birthed prior to the creation of these body-gripping cages.
The farrowing crate frames female re-productivity: the ostensibly revered maternal body is controlled, dominated, displayed, and objectified. In fact, this captive reproduction deprives sows of expressing their maternal instinct which is to nurse and care for the piglets away from people.
The sow is burdened by sexist cultural representations that show her as wanting to be dominated, pregnant, and consumed. Consider “Lisa”:
Lisa was part of an exhibit at the annual convention of “pork producers.” Of course, the sow is—against her will—the real “pork producer.” For “Lisa,” production and reproduction are the same act, and her body is the raw material of production. I constantly hear from meat eaters, “it’s because of me that the animal I am eating was even born.” In fact, it’s because of the sow that “pork” and “bacon” exist; her status is so low she can be exhibited in her painful, cramped cage of motherhood. Exhibiting her is the act of reassurance that such treatment is okay. We can consult our own bodies (say on a cross country flight), and know that being confined and having restricted movement is not comfortable. Upon landing, besides reaching for their luggage stowed above them, people rise from the seats and stretch.
Any exhibit of sows in farrowing crates wants us to gawk, and in gawking be reassured. Discomfort? Anguish? “Lisa” and her sisters never get to stretch.
While the image of “Lisa” commits discursive violence, it exists to support a material form of violence. The sows at the California State Fair are not representations; they are actual beings, as is this sow:
From a sexualized female who “wants” to give you another baby through reproductive captivity to “fat selfish bitch,” the arc of the narrative being told about the child-bearing sow enforces on their lives and perpetuates some of the painful regressive stereotypes applied to women. Fat selfish bitch? Maybe she wanted to stretch.
Carol J. Adams is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat. EcoFeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals & the Earth co-edited with Lori Gruen is forthcoming.