Caging Motherhood

Posted 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”:


A sexualized being who wants to bear children just for you.

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:


Notice the words “Fat/Selfish bitch” in the upper left hand corner. Photo courtesy of Mercy of Animals Investigator, Iowa Select Farms.

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 MeatEcoFeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals & the Earth co-edited with Lori Gruen is forthcoming.

22 thoughts on “Caging Motherhood

  1. Patrick says:

    Wow! Stunning prose and very emotional.

  2. Robin Snackers says:

    Stop This

  3. Klara Larsen says:

    I started to cry when I saw Fat/selfish bitch.This is domestic violence against this wonderful animal mom.

  4. Pamela Geier says:

    THIS IS VIOLENCE. Plain and simple. This horrific abuse NEEDS TO STOP NOW! I cannot believe that in this day and age, we even have to stand up for animals in this way. It is ridiculous. THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. EVER.

  5. bibi bergkotte says:

    Stop this please

  6. Sheena Ramsell says:

    Why is this acceptable? Are u GOD? What right have you to do this? In the name of humanity STOP THIS NOW

  7. Patricia Brooks says:

    Factory farming robs animals of the blessing of life, and robs humans of their humanity.

  8. Adilia Anduray says:

    It is wrong to force pregnant mothers to be in the same position for months on end. Pregnancy is the most uncomfortable experience! You need to toss and turn to stay comfortable.

    It’s horrible that these intelligent creatures are used, abused, and have their piglets taken away so fast. They feel pain, discomfort, fear, hunger, and thirst just as we do. Let’s stop this cruelty! Let’s support them by eating healthier — we can take better care of our health by going vegan. Let’s help save lives. They deserve better. STOP ANIMAL CRUELTY NOW!!

  9. Adilia Anduray says:

    Stop the VIOLANCE AGAINST INNOCENT ANIMALS…let them live in community free to run, play and see their young grow. I support animals by going vegan. Healthier and I am helping save lives. Pregnancy is one of the most uncomfortable and painful stages in life. Just to find a bit a comfort one must toss n turn. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to be forced the entire pregnancy to one position. CRUEL ABUSE. THIS MUST BE STOPPED RIGHT NOW!!

  10. linda peacock says:

    sick and demonic industry …stop eating animals

  11. Irma says:

    Stop the VIOLANCE AGAINST INNOCENT ANIMALS…let them live in community free to run, play and see their young grow. I support animals by going vegan. Healthier and I am helping save lives. Pregnancy is one of the most uncomfortable and painful stages in life. Just to find a bit a comfort one must toss n turn. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to be forced the entire pregnancy to one position. CRUEL ABUSE. THIS MUST BE STOPPED RIGHT NOW!!

  12. Marsha says:

    This tears my heart right out of my chest. This is extreme cruelty executed by demonic psychotic murdering capitalist with absolutely no soul conscience. These people need to be institutionalized. …Abusive Sexism spilling onto animal species. …Pure perversion. This planet belongs to animals as much as humans. Stop this madness.

  13. Kim says:

    It never ceases to amaze that in spite of the fact that so many of us are publicly opposed to any form of animal cruelty and torture, that money, politics and corruption continue to take precedence. Stop the insanity – keep fighting for what is right – we need to impose (and enforce) severe consequences for abusers everywhere!

  14. Hi Carol –
    I was wondering if I could use the photo of the “sexy pig” to write a post about the evils of marketing (my website is an offshoot of my book) and to point out how sexuality is being perversely used to influence factory-farm practices. Let me know, and thanks! I am willing to write it for your approval before posting.

  15. Jaimie Clarke says:

    This is Disgusting!!!!!! Stop doing these demonic, hideous things to the poor sows!!!! Stop it now!!

  16. marv says:

    As usual it is men animals who own and operate the animal oppression industries. Society refuses to address the patriarchal sources of all inequality.

  17. Virginia Khan R.N. says:

    We need an animal Bill of Rights. Animals need to be emancipated from all the cruelties they are suffering, and will continue to suffer until and unless all animal use is abolished. And I mean keeping pets, too. Small, incremental changes are not working.
    I just read in my local paper here in the Bay Area in California, from journalist Jessica Yadegaran who visited a local restaurant, and blithely oblivious, or cruelly uncaring, said, ” cross cut veal shanks braised with white wine and vegetables have brought me to tears ..” One is left to wonder why the screams of the baby (veal) calf ripped from his mother right after birth and kept motionless in a cruel crate for months, and the cries and distress of his mother, the cow, who carried her beautiful baby inside her for nine months, only to have her baby stolen from her, did not bring her to tears.
    Leave the animals alone, and respect them for who they are, not what they can do for us. A chicken needs to be the wonderful, beautiful jungle fowl that she was, the pregnant pig needs to be able to build her peaceful “nest” to give birth, and the other animals all deserve not to be harassed and bothered by this terrible human animal that we are.

  18. Eric Mills, ACTION FOR ANIMALS says:

    I spent five days at a recent California State Fair (Sacramento), collecting 1,500 signatures from the public protesting the abusive farrowing crates in the Fair’s animal nursery. At my table, I had blow-up photos of the crates. When I asked passers-by their first impression, most of the African-Americans responded: “Slavery.”

    And a third-year UC Davis vet student in the animal nursery told me they were trying “to breed the mothering instinct out of the sows.” The mind boggles.

  19. Kim Brashear says:

    These people need to get a taste for metal and circuits. Let them make robot animals and devour them. Remember you all will have to answer to God, as they are his creatures. Shame on you all.

  20. Jahki Brown says:

    So where is God? Animal abuse in ever escalating forms has been going on for centuries now and, apart from deterioration of the planet and human health, God seems very absent on behalf of these, also his children.

  21. Crissy Miller says:


  22. J Crawford says:

    Who invents this stuff? How is it allowed in 2014? It’s WRONG on every level. The earths creatures were never meant to be factory farmed. The factories should all be abolished or contained. Maybe that would be justice, to allow the factories a limit on how many animals they are allowed to have at any time. Confining the “farmers” which they are not, farmers don’t disrespect their animals.

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