On mares, wet nurses and shared exploitations.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Photo via ImaginaryGirl

A few weeks ago, Jennie at That Vegan Girl wrote about a little-known practice of the horse racing industry in which genetically “undesirable” mares are made into “nurses” for the offspring of “thoroughbred” mares and stallions. When “prize” mares are prevented from nursing their foals themselves, they’re of more use to breeders, as they can be impregnated sooner. More babies = more product = more money. And it’s always about maximum profit, right?

In addition to severing the mother-child bond between the “prize” mare and her foal, this practice has even graver consequences for the “nurse” mare and her child. Remember – in order to produce milk, females must first produce a baby. So what happens to the “nurse” mare’s foal, the one for whom the “nurse” mare’s milk is actually intended?

Jennie explains:

The Jockey Club, which is the official governing body of Thoroughbred racing (the kind you see in the Kentucky Derby) does not allow embryo transfer or artificial insemination of horses. In order to have a baby every year, a mare must be re-bred directly after foaling, which means that she must be shipped to the stallion for breeding directly after having her own baby. It’s a process that usually takes three to four weeks in whole, and the foal is too delicate (and valuable!) to travel with his mother. Plus, if she nurses her own foal, she’s not going to come back into heat and thus cannot conceive. Since her whole purpose is to give the breeder potentially valuable offspring, she must be rebred, and since she cannot nurse her own foal and fulfill her “purpose”, a “nurse mare” is brought in.

In order to give milk, female animals generally need to be pregnant and have given birth (the oxytocin secreted during birth allows lactation to begin). In the “nurse mare” industry, like the dairy industry, the newborn foals become the byproducts of milk production. The nurse mares are generally horses of “lower quality” who are otherwise healthy and good milk producers. They are bred to inexpensive stallions for the sole purpose of being able to provide milk to the potential racehorse foals. But wait, you ask… what about their own foals? If you’re unfamiliar with horses, you might think she, like a human wetnurse, gets to nurse both her baby and the other mare’s baby. That doesn’t seem so bad, you might think. Not bad enough to provoke yet another horse “sport” related rant at least. However, if you are familiar with horses, you know that mares rarely produce enough milk to support two foals (one reason why twins are such a problem) and that you’d have to give the mare a substantial amount more feed and that the whole process would require extra attention, extra money. Since the point is to make the “valuable” foal grow up strong and healthy, and the extra foal has no “value”, there’s no chance that the mare’s real baby will get a share of her milk anyway, so what then?

Traditionally, these foals are killed.

That’s right. Like dairy calves, these sentient “byproducts” are killed because they’re not worth keeping alive. It’s not that you couldn’t. You could (and rescues do) keep them alive on formula. However, on large farms, there tend to be a large number and these farms are concerned not with life, but with their bottom line. It is time consuming and not cheap, per say, to do. So they kill them. Why? On the off chance that the foal that their mother nurses will fetch money at auction or win on the track or become a superstar stud (25% chance he will, 75% chance he’ll go to slaughter too). Because their mothers’ are more valuable pregnant than being able to properly bond with their children.

(By the by, this is but a small part of Jennie’s post; you should go read the entire piece, because it’s excellent. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back!)

(More below the fold…)

Lettuce be thankful!

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Updated, 5/26/10: Upon further reflection, I think I have to agree with commentators who noted that PETA’s failure to sexualize and objectify Ms. Leachman is, rather than a step in the right direction, simply further evidence of their rigid beauty standards. As in, PETA didn’t refrain from stripping Leachman down to her skivvies as a sign of respect, but because of ageism: Who wants to see an old lady nekkid? Yuck!

Who knows, perhaps I’m being too harsh on PETA. Be your own decider person.

FWIW, I meant to post this update ages ago, forgot (naturally!), and was only reminded when this post saw a huge uptick in views this past month. My skepticism (cynicism?; tomato, tomahtoe) re: everything PETA isn’t a recent phenomenon, is what I’m sayin’.

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Last week, Stephanie at animalrights.change.org gave a tip of her (faux suede) hat to PETA, for their latest ad featuring Cloris Leachman:

I’m a strong believer in acknowledging–and encouraging–the good while criticizing and discouraging the bad, especially if our plan is to effect change, both in people and in organizations. And although it’s rather unusual for me to talk about PETA two days in a row on this blog, and even more unusual for me to write about PETA in praise of one of its ad campaigns, I’m going to do both. Their latest ad has just been revealed today, and my initial reaction was “Oh my god, it’s stunning, and I love it.”

I couldn’t agree more – it’s important not just to criticize those campaigns that we find objectionable (whether from a human or animal rights perspective), but to offer solutions and praise organizations when they get it right.

PETA (Cloris Leachman)

The Cloris Leachman ad is classy, eye-catching and gorgeous – all of which is accomplished without objectifying Ms. Leachman. It’s also nice to see an older woman featured for a change. More often than not, PETA’s print models are young, thin, white, conventionally attractive, heterosexual (or amenable to lesbianism for the male gaze), and sexually available. PETA bucks several of these trends with Ms. Leachman’s advertisement.

I’ve always liked the “vegetables, fruit and assorted plant-based matter as clothing” concept; PETA’s execution of it (read: skimpy lettuce bikinis), not so much. Ms. Leachman’s red cabbage and lettuce ball gown demonstrates how yummy vegetarianism can be, thus promoting animal rights without engaging in misogyny. (Though a pro-veganism message would have been even better.)

Not to mention, when the campaign slogan is “Let Vegetarianism Grow On You,” more clothes are better, no?

After the jump are several more PETA ads that I like – none of which you’re likely to see on certain feminist blogs (*cough*cough*).

(More below the fold…)

"A cow is so much like a woman"

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

McDonald's - Austrian Teet

In which I take the metaphor a little too seriously.

A few months ago, I wrote about how the female members of non-human animal species suffer from especially egregious and prolonged abuse at the hands of their exploiters.

With brutal precision, farmers routinely turn the reproductive systems of female animals against them, finding newer and more callous ways in which to exploit them as science and technology allow. This isn’t to suggest that males don’t suffer as well – they do. But their suffering isn’t as prolonged or extensive as that of their female counterparts; veal calves, for example, are tortured for sixteen weeks and then, “mercifully,” (relatively speaking) slaughtered. Their sisters, meanwhile, are exploited as baby and milk machines for three to four years, after which they become ground beef. First, their babies and their babies’ food is stolen from them; and, finally, their lives are snatched away as well.

By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially brutal and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction.

Using excerpts from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals for illustration, I explained how this process unfolds in “pork” production. Under the headline “Horizontal Women” (a play on one nickname for pigs, “horizontal humans,” so earned because they are so much like us), I emphasized how female pigs’ reproductive organs are turned against them, and the mother-child bond, severed and exploited, all so that Humans can continue to enjoy cheap “bacon”:

Breed, gestate, deliver, nurse, grieve, repeat: this is a sow’s lot. The whole damn “pork” subdivision of the megatheocorporatocracy rests on the female pig’s sexual organs – in her ability to give birth to the next generation of porcine “property.”

The process is much the same with cows: in a dairy operation, mother cows (“dairy” cows) undergo a continuous cycle of forced pregnancy and birth, followed by the theft of their children and milk. Breed, gestate, deliver, nurse, grieve, repeat.

Photo via Yamanize

A “dairy” cow’s children are taken from her shortly after birth, “ideally” within 24 hours; daughters may become “dairy” cows, like their mothers, or perhaps “beef,” while sons are destined to become either “veal” or “beef.” An estimated one million “veal” calves and 35 million “beef” cattle are killed annually, in the United States alone. About 9 million cows are confined in U.S. “dairy” operations in any given year. A cow’s natural lifespan can be 25 years or more, however, “dairy” cows are milked to excess within 3 to 4 years, after which they’re “retired” into ground beef.

As with pigs, mother cows and their children suffer immensely in factory farms. Their suffering is oftentimes tied to their status as females and youngsters – a quality which transcends species boundaries.

(More below the fold…)

Hunting "Tail" on Dollhouse

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

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Caution: Major spoiler warning below the jump!

I’ve been a Joss Whedon fan since his Firefly days, so when I heard that he was working on a new project, Dollhouse, I immediately got all giddy like a schoolgirl. That is, until I hear that Eliza Dushku would be starring. Ugh.

Even before the hunting flap, I disliked Dushku. Perhaps it’s because she came off like an entitled snot in a very early episode of Punk’d; even before she was faux “arrested” for “shoplifting” in a local retail boutique, she copped a huge ‘tude over all the free swag she was obviously owed for being a celebrity. That, and Tru Calling looked absolutely dreadful. Well, and I’m also weird like that; Dushku isn’t the only celebrity I have an irrational, knee-jerk dislike for. Take Ben Affleck, for example: clearly, he’s a funny, charming, altruistic guy, but there’s just something about him that I want to hate. He’s smarmy, but not. Did I also mention that I have a crazy aversion to feet? So maybe it’s just me, after all.

Anyway, the aforementioned hunting flap gave me a reason to dislike her – a good one, actually. In an August appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Show, Dushku discussed her love of hunting – you know, that sadistic leisure activity which involves murdering innocent animals for “fun”:

Here’s the gist of the interview (via ecorazzi), in case you don’t want to sit through the whole video:

A couple night ago on Jimmy Kimmel Live Dushku revealed that she loves to hunt elk and deer. Not only did she brag about it, but she also showed off her bow and arrow skills and boasted about killing a deer in Oklahoma last Christmas. WTF, Eliza? Why are you such a jerk?

Even the studio audience turned on Dushku forcing her to joke, “My mother called me herself and said, ‘You’re a liberal from New England, what the ‘f’ are you doing in Oklahoma shooting things.” Backpeddling later she said, “When you’re in a relationship with somebody you have to, like, experience things that they do. A lot of people eat meat… and I eat what I kill.”

Dushku’s hunting isn’t so much the point, though, as it is a set-up for the rest of this post. Despite my ambivalence, I started watching Dollhouse on my DVR last week. It’s alright, certainly no Firefly, but also not the complete stinker I was afraid it’d be. The second episode, “The Target,” is of particular interest from an animal rights standpoint.

(More below the fold…)

Horizontal Women

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Last week, I started reading Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals. Well, not so much “reading” as “listening to the audiobook.” (Hey, how else am I supposed to occupy myself while I clean the house?) I read Masson’s When Elephants Weep a long time ago – back when I was a newbie vegetarian – and enjoyed it immensely. I figured I’d like The Pig Who Sang to the Moon as well, and so far, so good.

Masson structured the book so that each chapter covers a different species of farmed animals: pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, cows and ducks, in that order. He juxtaposes information about the animals’ emotional lives – thoughts, feelings, sentience, capacity for joy and sorrow, etc. – with the brutal reality for the vast majority of these “owned” animals. Treated like milk and meat machines, dehumanized and objectified, their individuality obscured and their needs ignored, farmed animals suffer the worst of humanity’s whims and wants.

Though I’m only about a third of the way in, a theme which keeps resurfacing is the extra-special abuses (the collective) we mete out to the female members of the species. With brutal precision, farmers routinely turn the reproductive systems of female animals against them, finding newer and more callous ways in which to exploit them as science and technology allow. This isn’t to suggest that males don’t suffer as well – they do. But their suffering isn’t as prolonged or extensive as that of their female counterparts; veal calves, for example, are tortured for sixteen weeks and then, “mercifully,” (relatively speaking) slaughtered. Their sisters, meanwhile, are exploited as baby and milk machines for three to four years, after which they become ground beef. First, their babies and their babies’ food is stolen from them; and, finally, their lives are snatched away as well.

By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially brutal and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction.

Certainly, we recognize that the theft of a mother’s child is an atrocity when the victims are human mothers and children. At the same time, we argue that non-human animals deserve no rights because they are mere brutes, “lesser” beings, ruled by instinct and instinct alone. Yet, what is the drive to reproduce and parent if not an evolutionary instinct? And if we follow the popular line of reasoning – i.e., animals are creatures of instinct – does it not stand to reason that the maternal instinct is especially powerful in non-human animals?

100 million pigs are birthed, raised and slaughtered for “pork” annually – just in the United States. 100 million piglets are stolen from their mothers. Mothers who, without a doubt, grieve for their disappeared babies. These poor mothers are forced to relive the trauma over and over, as each new litter is stolen from them. This is what I mean when I say that a female’s – a mother’s – suffering must surely be the most painful to bear.

(More below the fold…)

Truth in Advertising: HUMANS ARE AMONG US!

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

This series of retro ’50s monster movie poster adverts for the SciFi Channel has little to do with animal advocacy – but why let a lil’ thing like that stop me from putting an animal-friendly spin on ’em?

Each “poster” depicts an iconic movie monster recoiling in horror as a human invades his space:

Sci Fi Channel - The Thing

(More below the fold…)

In which I toss Valentines Day to the dogs.

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

2003-02-12 - RalphieKellyBed03

Valentines Day? Meh. I’ve never been very big on the holiday. Through most of high school, I was boyfriend-less, and thus predictably unimpressed with February 14th. The husband and I have celebrated it on and off over the years, but mostly in a half-assed kind of way: vegan chocolates here, a dinner in there. One problem I’ve always had with V-Day is the idea of forced, scheduled romanticism. Why should the Mr. and I only go on dates or surprise one another with gifts on February 14th, eh? And why do so on a day in which the prices are all jacked up and the theaters and restaurants, obscenely crowded?

Additionally, in the few years since my budding feminism has blossomed into a thorny, black, man-hating rose, I’ve actively resisted engaging in a commercialized, wasteful and largely heteronormative holiday. Diamonds? Roses? Tacky Bandit Bears? Bargained sex? IBTP.

So, in keeping with my previous re- evaluation and -imagining of the wintry holidays, I’ve been thinking about celebrating Valentines Day in a different way. While I try to pamper my furkids – i.e., my dogs – on a daily basis, I thought it might be fun to celebrate them this Saturday. After all, there is no doggeh equivalent of “Mother’s Day” or “Grandparent’s Day” – so why not transform a lackluster holiday into it?

There are many ways you can toss Valentines Day to the dogs (or cats, rats, gerbils, pigs…whatever species your kiddos belong to). Dogs Deserve Better, for example, holds an annual Valentines Day card drive for chained dogs. During “Have a Heart for Chained Dogs Week,” Valentines – complete with informational brochures, coupons for dog food, etc. – are delivered to the “owners” of chained dogs, with the ultimate goal of freeing these animals and bringing them back into the home. You can donate money to fund the effort, or volunteer by submitting the addresses of homes that have chained dogs, creating or delivering Valentines, and gathering donations of coupons and such. If your heart belongs to a species other than canine, you can donate your time or money to help a local or species-specific organization on or around the 14th.

As for your own furkids, here are four ways you can pamper them this Saturday. Since I’ve got five dogs, these are all canine-specific, but you can adjust accordingly.

Sunday Afternoon (original)

1. Take your dog for a walk or hike. Set some time aside for a leisurely stroll, walk, run or hike – or some combination thereof – and let your dog lead the way. Allow her to walk you, wherever she chooses to go (within reason, of course). If she wants to spend five minutes sniffing and marking that tree at the corner of the street, let her. It’s her day, remember? Just enjoy her company, the beautiful weather, the sights and sounds.

(More below the fold…)

On "fur hags" and "fucking bitches."

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

PETA - PETA2 (Fur Hag Tear Sheet)

Of all PETA’s campaigns, I think I find the “fur hag” meme most offensive. While feminists can (and do) disagree on whether nudity and porn can ever be empowering for women, “fur hag” is a rather obvious gender-based slur, and draws upon a number of age-old stereotypes about women – which PETA further elucidates with their “fur hag” artwork.

To be fair, I have no idea whether PETA actually invented the term “fur hag” – but they’ve certainly been quite influential in launching “fur hag” into the mainstream. Wherever fur-wearing celebs are trashed – on gossip blogs, in fashion show protests, or even on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, “fur hag” is inevitably bandied about as an insult. Oftentimes by other women, who apparently see nothing sexist about denigrating women they dislike with misogynist slurs.

Let’s start by looking at the word “hag.”

Dictionary.com defines “hag” as:

1. an ugly old woman, esp. a vicious or malicious one.
2. a witch or sorceress.
3. a hagfish.

The first definition is obviously problematic: a hag is “an ugly old woman, esp. a vicious or malicious one.” While I have no qualms about calling people (women and men) who wear fur “vicious” or “malicious,” the term “hag” also attacks the fur wearer’s physical appearance and gender – a “hag” is “an ugly old woman.” In fact, the primary aspect of this definition involves appearance and gender – a “hag” is “an ugly old woman,” especially [but not necessarily] “a vicious or malicious one.” “Vicious” and “malicious” are somewhat extraneous to this definition; a “hag,” then, is chiefly “an ugly old woman.”

(More below the fold…)

Another twist in the Obama family doggy drama.

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Update, 1/22/09:

Now that this post is making the rounds (which is to say, a few bloggers have mentioned it – lolz on me!), I want to make the following clarifications:

1) As I said at Change.org, I don’t think Obama is a misogynist. In calling his “girly dog” remark sexist, I’m not grouping him with hardcore misogynists like Ann Coulter, Joe Francis, Rick Warren and the like. Rather, I think that Obama occasionally engages in the sort of casual, softcore sexism that’s all too common among men (and women!) who have been raised in a culture steeped in misogyny. An occasional slip is understandable and excusable – after all, we’re all socialized with certain prejudices, which we have to unlearn – but only if you’re willing to recognize, apologize and learn from it.

Here, Mrs. Obama offered her husband several opportunities to reconsider his comments – and he didn’t. To me, his failure to recognize how this gendered stereotype might offend his wife and daughters is worse than the comments themselves.

2) Upon re-reading the post, I see that I conflated “small dogs” with “girly dogs” – my bad! While I think there’s a strong correlation between a dog’s size and his/her perceived “girly”-ness, there are exceptions. The standard poodle, for example, is a larger breed, but might be considered “girly,” inasmuch as it’s “high maintenance” (i.e., is rather well groomed). “Girly doesn’t necessarily equal “small,” but the two are somewhat related.

Nor do I have a problem with Obama preferring a large dog; indeed, as some have pointed out, large dogs are overrepresented in shelters, at least in some areas of the country, and thus it might do more good for Obama to adopt a large breed. That’s fine by me – but he can do so without denigrating “girly” dogs (and, by extension, actual girls and women).

3) Enumerating the consequences of gender-based stereotypes and insults on human men and women is well beyond the scope of this blog.

However, if you:

a) Don’t understand why the term “girly” might be perceived as an insult, and a gender-based one at that;

b) Don’t see the links between misogyny and homophobia; and/or

c) Don’t recognize the practical, real-world effects of gender stereotypes and gendered slurs on men and women (and girls and boys), or understand how men and women (and girls and boys) receive different, gendered socialization, then

I highly recommend adding some feminist blogs to your reading list. For a primer, start with Finally, a feminism 101 blog. As far as non-AR feminist blogs go, I also like Shakespeare’s Sister and Feministe, both of which are relatively light on speciesism.

If you think I need to “lighten up” or “get over myself,” you really need to do some feminist homework!

4) Finally, I’d like to add that the term “girly dog” also invokes class and race stereotypes. When you think of the quintessential “girly dog” and her “owner,” probably you think of a small, white, yappy, puffy little dog with bows in her perfectly groomed hair. The dog – being a lap dog, as Obama also said – is most likely pictured lounging on the lap of an equally perfectly groomed woman, who is either prissy and “diva”-ish, like Paris Hilton (another blogger’s term and example), or older and regally respectable, like Ms. Walters. Either way, she’s white and upper-class. At least, that’s my take on the term.

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Oy. After months of equivocating on the dog issue, the Obama family has announced that they’ve narrowed their choice down to two breeds: the Labradoodle and the Portuguese Water Dog. Unfortunately, as Adopt-a-Pet.com reports, while these are not the only two “hypoallergenic” breeds available, they are harder to find on animal adoption websites:

You recently signed Adopt-a-Pet.com’s petition on www.Presidential-Pooch-Pardon.com asking Barack Obama to adopt a shelter dog. He is interested in adopting, but has narrowed his search to uncommon breeds that are difficult to find in a shelter. Now, on the President-Elect’s website, there’s a section where people can vote for their favorite ideas, and the top vote-getting ideas will be directly seen by Obama. One of the animal shelter workers who posts pets for adoption on Adopt-a-Pet.com has posted an idea urging the president to consider finding a mixed breed dog with the right individual traits that meets his family’s needs.

You can make a huge difference by voting one more time here. If this is your first time on the site, you’ll be asked to create an account, which is super simple. After you create your account, click the link above again to locate the suggestion.

Thank you for being part of this non-partisan effort to promote homeless pet adoption please spread the word to your friends!

Indeed, a search of Petfinder for “Labradoodle” currently turns up zero results, while “Portuguese Water Dog” uncovers seven purebred dogs.

Additionally, in selecting a purebred dog, the Obamas are practically inviting greedy breeders to cash in on their (hopefully) compassionate choice by sexually exploiting and selling the “Obama dog.” (Doubly so if they adopt a breed that’s hard to find through adoption routes.) A mixed breed or mutt – particularly one of unknown heritage, which can’t easily be reproduced – would help minimize this risk.

Also on the Obama dog front, Adopt-a-Pet.com has some crazy cute graphics you can download, encouraging the Obamas to adopt a mutt.

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They’re available at muttslikeme.adoptapet.com, which is a riff on Obama’s observation that “A lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.”

(More below the fold…)

Echoes of Bobby

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

I founded and moderate a local freecycle group; for practical reasons, we don’t allow live animal listings, although “meat” is acceptable (conflicted emotions, I has them). Recently, a member requested unwanted meat, as well as…unwanted livestock and sick or dying animals. I deleted the post and removed her from the list, as this was her second strike.

Naturally, she took issue with the strike. This is a direct quote from the email she sent in reply:

The other issue you have with me I don’t understand because any meat is any meat whether it is in frozen form or live form.

Let me repeat:

The other issue you have with me I don’t understand because any meat is any meat whether it is in frozen form or live form.

“Meat is meat” whether it’s already dead, slaughtered, prepared and packaged…or is walking around, nibbling on grass, playing with other “meat,” and just generally living life.

“Life” is simply a transitional state on the road to consumption.

Wow. Just…wow.

I wonder if she has visions of drumsticks while conversing with other humans?

Echoes of (the ghost of) Bobby, anyone?

Sometimes I’ve just got to laugh, otherwise I’d never stop crying.

(Crossposted.)

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Tagged:

Dear Ms. Newkirk,

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

A “real” feminist wouldn’t employ such a silly argument in defense of PETA’s campaigns, whether sexist or not:

MJ: One question I did have. I really do appreciate the work PETA has done but it has gotten a lot of criticism for using women in some of its ads. A lot of times in bikinis, or scantily clad, I think there was a striptease campaign that came online recently. What do you say to people who criticize PETA and say that it’s not women-friendly, that it denigrates women?

IN: Well, it’s rubbish because the organization is run by a woman, who is me. I marched in the earliest of rallies, I am an adamant feminist, but I’m not a prude and I think you can go to the beach and see people who are in less than you can in a PETA ad.

Let me guess: you also have a Black Friend ™, such that none of PETA’s campaigns could possibly be racist, either?

Seriously, this is such a ridiculous argument that I need only two words to refute it: Ann Coulter. Women are not immune from misogyny, you see. Sometimes, they’re even more vicious in their hatred of other women than are their male peers; because of the common (mis)perception that “women cannot be sexist,” women are oftentimes granted license to act in an even more misogynistic manner than their male counterparts. It’s not often that you hear a man argue that women’s suffrage was a mistake – yet Ann Coulter has posited as much, and she still manages to get speaking gigs.

You go on to say:

Our people are all volunteers, no one has asked a woman to take off her clothes. I’ve done it myself, we’ve all marched naked if we want to, and I think that it’s very restrictive and in fact wrong. I would expect someone in, say, Iran to tell us that we should cover up, but I don’t expect women or men in this country to criticize women who wish to use their bodies in a form of political statement, to tell them, you need to cover yourself up. There’s this idea of ‘naughty bits’ and I just think it’s funny more than anything else. It’s not sexist, it may be sexual, but no. No woman has ever been paid to strip. She has decided to use her body as a political instrument. That’s her prerogative and I think it is anti-feminist to dare to tell her that she needs to put her clothes back on.

Certainly, I agree that it’s “anti-feminist to dare to tell [a woman] that she needs to put her clothes back on”; however, there’s a difference between allowing your supporters to use their naked bodies as “political instrument[s]” and taking advantage of your [female] supporters’ willingness to get naked for the animals by playing into cultural stereotypes regarding gender roles, beauty, sex, class, race, etc. As I noted in my defense of your “Breast is Best” campaign, PETA does have a despicable habit of pornifying women in their photo/print campaigns while simultaneously portraying men as full human beings, complete with agency and personalities.

In PETA’s world, women are more likely to pose in the nude than men; and, if you were to objectively compare the PETA print campaigns which feature nude men and women, you’d see that the portrayals are drastically different. Strip away PETA’s logo and slogans, and the women’s photos look like they were pulled straight out of a recent edition of Playboy. Young, white, thin, feminine, (conventionally) attractive women are displayed on all fours, backs arched, gazes vacant, faces and torsos turned away from the camera, submissive in posture, ready for a good fuckin’. In contrast, the men’s shots are fun, funny, inspiring, humorous, and full of personality.

Yes, you can be sexual without being sexist; just look at these campaigns featuring naked men as proof:

PETA (Steve O 1)

(More below the fold…)

The Handmaid’s Tale(s): On the BBC Radio Dramatization (2000)

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

This is part nine in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post.

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

The Handmaid’s Tale, The Dramatization (BBC Radio 4, 2000)

The Handmaid's Tale (BBC Radio 4, 2000, 2)

The dramatization of The Handmaid’s Tale produced and aired by BBC Radio 4 in 2000 is more than a direct reading of the novel. Rather, it’s a full-cast performance, complete with sound effects, that puts the film version to shame.

In direct contrast to Volker Schlöndorff’s 1990 film effort, the producers of the 2000 BBC 4 radio dramatization of The Handmaid’s Tale succeed in creating a moving reenactment of the novel – without sacrificing any of Margaret Atwood’s vision. Granted, the BBC audio recording is a bit lengthier than the film; it spans three CDs, totaling no more than 4.5 hours (the film clocks in at 109 minutes), allowing extra time for Kate’s narration to unfold. Still, even the producers of the BBC dramatization had to cut several prominent sequences in order to condense the story. Unlike Schlöndorff and company, they chose wisely, and also reworked other aspects of the dramatization to compensate for the lost pieces of the novel.

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Pork & Tits

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Update, 10/17/07: OK, I lied. What can I say, I don’t enjoy being misrepresented.

By way of an FYI to Feministing readers, I don’t plan on following the comment thread over there, not because I’m a rude asshole, but because I don’t need the grief.

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Update, 10/16/08: First, greetings and salutations to everyone coming here from Feministing. I hope you’ll have a look around and perhaps visit again.

Secondly, I want to briefly address the way in which Ann linked to this post on her recent piece on Ingrid Newkirk. At first I intended on posting this in the comments at Ann’s post, but they require a MoveableType account, and I just don’t have the energy – to register *or* follow comments on a website I’ve longed stopped reading due (some of) the bloggers’ blatant speciesism.

This is the paragraph in which I was quoted:

Well, duh. The lowest-common-denominator advertising tactic is to put a big ol’ pair of disembodied boobs front and center. We get that. (Of course, this argument has been made in defense of PETA’s tactics before.) But to make it sound like, “well, it’s either boobs or a slaughterhouse video, and which do you think traffics better?” is so simplistic. There are a million ways to draw attention to a cause that are neither in-your-face political nor objectifying women. This is not either/or.

I don’t know if Ann misinterpreted my post, or if I’m reading too much into the way in which I was referenced, but I want to clarify that I *don’t* believe that it’s ok for PETA to objectify women just so long as it helps their traffic. And that’s not at all what I said: in the post below, I argue that the “Breast is Best” campaign is not sexist, not because the ends justify the means – but because the means, in this case, simply are not misogynistic. My main intention in pointing out the Google search results is to scold those feminists (like, ahem, the ladies at Feministing) who only give a flying fuck about animal welfare issues when it’s to rip into PETA for their sexism (or other “ism”), whether real or perceived. (That discrepancy in search results? Feministing & co. is partially to blame.)

If you keep reading, you’ll see that I DO have a problem with PETA’s celebrity print campaigns, in which women’s naked bodies are pornified, while those of men are not. No doubt, all those pseudo-porn shots do wonders for PETA’s publicity, but because I believe that PETA has a responsibility to fight oppression in all its forms (if not actively, then at the very least by refusing to engage in it themselves), I don’t really give a shit how many people PETA manages to convert to veg*nism by displaying Jenna Jameson like a porno prop – it’s wrong, and it’s sexist. And I say as much in the post below.

So for Ann to suggest that I defended the “lowest-common-denominator advertising tactic…to put a big ol’ pair of disembodied boobs front and center,” is really quite unfair. The “Breast is Best” campaign – at least to the best of my knowledge – never actually displayed anyone’s boobs. If PETA has since sent out scantily clad models to greet Wal-Mart customers with a nice fresh glass of breast milk and copious amounts of cleavage, then that’s where I’d stop defending this particular campaign.

I know it’s shocking, but I can repudiate some of PETA’s campaigns while admiring others. I’m nuanced like that, yo.

Update, 10/16/08, later in the PM: I’d also like to point out that you can “use sex” to sell your message in a way that isn’t sexist. Sometimes doing so can even prove both sexy and subversive:

Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre

Question: Do you think Ms. Hanna is objectifying herself, selling out other women by selling her own body, by appearing in a bikini top with the word “SLUT” scrawled across her stomach?

Would you think the same if she’d written “GO VEG” on her bare belly instead?

If so, you need to check your speciesism at the door.

And, you know, this is why I rarely write about PETA; it’s just too emotionally draining. I self-identify as a vegan feminist atheist. Sure, I’m many other things; but these are the three descriptors that I’ll always turn to first. So it really pains me when either of the two feel at odds with one another, such as when feminists all but ignore animal issues until PETA releases their newest campaign, which may or may not be “ist.” That was really the impetus for the post below – not defending PETA per se, but defending animal rights as a feminist issue.

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Update, 10/16/08: Ann @ Feministing linked to this piece, but over at Smite Me!, where it was originally posted. In response, I clarified my position a bit, particularly the whole “sex sells” angle, which I believed she misinterpreted. Go check it out.

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Update, 9/27/08: Mary Martin @ Animal Person discusses Ben & Jerry’s obtuse response to the campaign, as well as The Today Show’s take on the kerfluffle. Hint: you may want to write them about their weak attempts at “journalism.” Because, like it or not, many Americans’ sole provider of mainstream media news may very well consist of inane newstainment programs such as The Today Show.

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Hey! Feminists! You want to know why PETA continues to engage in (possibly) sexist, racist, classist, sizeist and otherwise “offensive” and “controversial” campaigns?

I’ll give you a hint:

Google Search - PETA + Breast Milk

Google Search - PETA + Hormel + Pigs

In the top screenshot, a Google search for the terms PETA + “breast milk,” which returned 51,900 hits.

In the bottom screenshot, a Google search for the terms PETA + Hormel + pigs, which returned 11,500 hits.

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The Handmaid’s Tale(s): On the 1990 Film Adaptation by Volker Schlöndorff

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is part eight in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post.

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

The Handmaid’s Tale, The Film (Volker Schlöndorff, 1990)

The Handmaid's Tale (Movie - 1990)

If you’ve never read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the 1990 film adaptation by Volker Schlöndorff might seem an interesting enough movie. Set in a future in which Christian fundamentalists have overthrown the government, the film paints a terrifying picture of an American theocracy. Women, homosexuals, religious minorities, people of color, political dissidents – all suffer under the oppressive thumb of The Republic of Gilead.

Those familiar with the 1985 novel will see that much of the basic story remains the same in Schlöndorff’s on-screen adaptation. The former United States is in the midst of a Civil War; The Republic of Gilead holds much of the East Coast, while dissenting religious and secular groups wage war to the South and West. Within the Republic’s borders, a strict social structure is enforced. Men are ranked according to prestige and merit (Commanders, Eyes, Angels, Guardians, and businessmen and professionals), while women are grouped according to social function, which is primarily determined by their reproductive health and racial makeup (Aunts, Wives and Daughters, Econowives, Handmaids, Marthas, and Unwomen). While no Gileadean citizen is truly free, it is the females who bear the brunt of Gilead’s religious tyranny.

It is in this context that we meet Kate (Offred), a Handmaid who has been assigned to Commander Fred (“Of Fred”) and his Wife, Serena Joy. The Handmaid’s Tale is Kate’s tale, told in her very own voice, through a disjointed series of flashbacks and present-day narrations. Through Kate’s eyes, we reflect upon “the days before”; we learn how the Sons of Jacob were able to destabilize and eventually topple the American government and institute their own patriarchal theocracy; and we get a glimpse of what daily life in the Republic is like.

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The Handmaid’s Tale(s): Dear Dystopian Deniers

Monday, September 8th, 2008

This is part seven in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post.

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

Dear Dystopian Deniers

The Handmaid's Tale (Book - 1985)

Perhaps the most widespread criticism I’ve seen of The Handmaid’s Tale is that it is improbable, unrealistic, a stretch of the imagination.

To wit:

Not Realistic Enough to be Scary; [A]lthough there were a great deal of things about this book that touched me and made me think, I found it simply unbelievable that anyone, male or female, would have tolerated this social system for very long.

Handmaid Tale…; Atwood made this society where it is supposed to be the future, yet women are still being repressed by male dominated society. Theocracy should have been eliminated by this point in time.

Trite and unrealistic.; This book in no way convinced me that American society would end up in the bizarre ‘1984’-like ripoff presented here. To even suggest this as the logical future is completely shortsighted and ignores all advances women have made towards equality in the past hundred years or so.

…and my personal favorite, from “a female conservative”:

Intriguing, but Unlikely; Several of the other reviewers argue that Atwood’s vision is not at all farfetched because of the state of women in Islamic countries. Exactly! I had the same thought in the back of my head the whole time I was reading this book. It is so-called Islamic countries in the Middle East and not Western nations where women are limited to lives as wives and mothers and where the sanctity of the individual is not respected. Had Atwood set her novel in present-day Iran or Iraq, it would ring true in a way that setting it in near-future-day America does not. We have a centuries-old tradition of respecting individual rights in America.

Shorter female conservative: It’s the darkies who are bigots, silly!

Or: What slavery?

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The Handmaid’s Tale(s): Hypocrites, Egotists & Apologists

Friday, August 29th, 2008

This is part six in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post.

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

Hypocrites, Egotists & Apologists: Who’s Sorry Now?

The Handmaid's Tale (Book 07)

This blamer was just a wee little babycake when Margaret Atwood was penning The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet twenty-plus years later, the characters and political climate still ring true. Has our society progressed so little?

Serena Joy, who receives relatively little attention in The Handmaid’s Tale, is perhaps the most engrossing character aside from Kate. She bears an uncanny resemblance to Beverly LaHaye, Ann Coulter, Phyllis Schlafly (she of “it is legally, morally, and technically impossible for husbands to rape their wives, because women have consented to a lifetime of sex-on-demand through marriage” fame) and the like. In “the days before”, Serena Joy was an evangelical preacher on the teevee. The type of woman who made a living by scolding other women for working outside the home. In other words, a hypocrite:

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The Handmaid’s Tale(s): A Theocracy is Harmful to Believers and Infidels Alike

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

This is part five in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post. (An especially timely post, considering last night’s religious interrogation of “church chat” between Barack Obama, John McCain and Rick Warren.)

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

A Theocracy is Harmful to Believers and Infidels Alike

The Handmaid's Tale (Book 04)

Just as the patriarchy hurts men as well as women, so too does a theocracy hurt believers and non-believers alike.

Although Atwood never identifies Gilead’s sect, we do know that it’s a Christian theocracy. We can eliminate Catholics, Quakers and Baptists, for Gilead forces young Catholic nuns to either renounce their religion and become Handmaids, or else face exile to The Colonies; fights against the Quakers, many of which are helping Gilead’s women escape via the Underground Femaleroad; and is engaged in open warfare with the Baptists. Given the state of current American religion and politics, Southern Baptist seems the best bet, however, all we can say about Gilead’s religion is that it is a fundamentalist Christian sect that is vehemently opposed by most of the other American religious sects – Christian or otherwise.

In fact, Gilead considers every religious sect other than its own the enemy, and demands that their adherents submit and convert – or die. The only believers which were spared during the Civil War were practicing Jews, who could either convert or immigrate to Israel. (Not as lucky a fate as it sounds; according to our future scientists, Gilead “privatiz[ed ] the Jewish repatriation scheme, with the result that more than one boatload of Jews was simply dumped into the Atlantic.” KBR, anyone?)

Gilead’s fundamentalist reading of the Bible, coupled with their brute force and religious zealotry, proved harmful to believers and non-believers alike, who were forced to submit to Gilead’s dogma or die. Nor did being “Christian enough” placate the Sons of Jacob – all citizens must follow Gilead’s religiously derived laws, to the letter, or face draconian punishments. A woman caught reading, for example, might lose a hand. No matter whether that woman agrees with Gilead and views “reading while female” a Biblical sin; she must abide by her government’s reading of holy doctrine either way.

In a theocracy, there’s no guarantee that the government will share your interpretation of the Bible. Better still to enshrine strong civil liberties protections in the Constitution, along with a healthy respect for the separation of church and state – that way, no one can force their religious beliefs on others, or have their own religious beliefs taken from them.

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Personas para el Tratamiento Ético de los Animales?

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Via Noemi @ Vegans of Color, PETA’s latest publicity stunt: pro-vegan ads on, of all places, the US-Mexico border fence:

While many view the contentious border fence as a government fiasco, an animal rights group sees a rare opportunity.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals plans today to announce an unusual marketing pitch to the U.S. government: Rent us space on the fence for billboards warning illegal border crossers there is more to fear than the Border Patrol.

The billboards, in English and Spanish, would offer the caution: “If the Border Patrol Doesn’t Get You, the Chicken and Burgers Will — Go Vegan.”

“We think that Mexicans and other immigrants should be warned if they cross into the U.S. they are putting their health at risk by leaving behind a healthier, staple diet of corn tortillas, beans, rice, fruits and vegetables,” said Lindsay Rajt, assistant manager of PETA’s vegan campaigns.

The Department of Homeland Security is working to meet a deadline to complete 670 miles of fencing and other barriers on the Southwest border by Dec. 31. The fencing operation has run into stiff opposition by landowners fighting government efforts to obtain their land through condemnation.

PETA says its billboards would picture “fit and trim” Mexicans in their own country, where their diet is more in line with the group’s mission. Another image on the sign would portray obese American children and adults “gorging on meaty, fat- and cholesterol-packed American food.”

PETA’S offer to the feds is expected to arrive in a letter to Border Patrol officials today.

But a government spokesman in Washington said the request will be rejected because it would limit visibility through the fence. And Border Patrol does not allow advertising on its property or installations, the officials added.

“The fencing being put in place is, in many cases, mesh fencing to allow our officers to see what’s happening on the other side and to better secure the border,” said Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

One property owner on the Texas-Mexico border laughed at PETA’s proposal.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Noel Benavides, who is contesting the construction of a fence dividing his family’s 145-acre ranch in Roma on the Rio Grande. “I can’t see the point of something like that.”

But Rajt said the rent money they’d pay would help offset the huge costs of the fencing — and the advertising message “might even be frightening enough to deter people from crossing into the U.S.”

PETA has often been criticized for its aggressive animal rights crusades. It’s used billboards to push many of its controversial positions such as “Buck Cruelty: Say NO to horse-drawn carriage rides” or “Feeding Kids Meat Is Child Abuse.”

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The Handmaid’s Tale(s): The Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too

Friday, August 8th, 2008

This is part four in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post.

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

The Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too (or, “But What About Teh Menz!!!1!?”)

The Handmaid's Tale (Book 03)

While the women of Gilead bear the greatest burden of living in a patriarchy built on a misogynistic religion – after all, they are property – most of Gileadean men don’t fare well, either. The patriarchy hurts men, too.

Like women, men are ranked according to Gilead’s rigid social structure: Commanders, Eyes, Angels, Guardians, common working men, and dissidents. Those who helped form Gilead, the original loyalists and its founding fathers, sit at the top of the social ladder. Next come the newly converted True Believers ™, and then down the line until you have the political dissidents, religious and ethnic minorities, and those who sinned in “the days before”. Some of the “troublemakers” are executed, while others may be sent to work in The Colonies alongside the Unwomen. Such an intractable hierarchy only benefits those few men lucky enough to sit atop the pyramid.

(Interestingly, Gilead does not have a corresponding term for men; there are no “Unmen”. Perhaps this can be attributed to Gilead’s cult of mother worship in a time of rampant infertility? Here, all women are expected to aspire to motherhood as their greatest, indeed their only goal. So the worst thing you can call a woman is not-a-woman, an Unwoman. What does this say about the value of men in Gilead?)

All men are expected to obey their superiors unquestioningly. Though they have greater access to knowledge than the women, their freedom is severely limited. The government controls the media: the television only broadcasts religious programming and propaganda-disguised-as-news. Printed material must also submit to government regulations. Subversive materials from “the days before” – books, magazines, CDs, VHS tapes, etc. – is banned by the government. Citizens were instructed to destroy these sinful possessions, and to ensure complicity, Gilead conducted house-to-house raids in which all “contraband” was confiscated and destroyed. Ditto for other insufficiently pious items such as unauthorized clothing, blasphemous knickknacks and any items with written words that the womenfolk might read on accident.

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The Handmaid’s Tale(s): Race, Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation: Gilead is a Society of Isms

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

This is part three in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post.

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

Race, Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation: Gilead is a Society of Isms

The Handmaid's Tale (Book 05)

In addition to being a misogynistic society, Gilead is also a racist and homophobic society. Unlike misogyny, however, The Handmaid’s Tale is notable for what it does not say about race and homosexuality.

In her narration, Kate very rarely mentions race. When describing people, skin color is almost never explicitly referenced. Through subtle clues, we can discern that many of the main characters in The Handmaid’s Tale are white: Kate describes her brown hair, the Commander’s silver hair, Serena Joy’s blond hair, Nick’s angular French facial features, Ofglen’s pink, plump face, Janine’s pink nose. Nameless Guardians have peach-colored mustaches and pale faces. Gilead is overwhelmingly white – except for its laborers. Rita and Cora, Commander Fred’s Marthas, are women of color. We know this of Rita because Kate describes her “brown arm”, but can only assume this of Cora.

Kate describes Marthas as women whose previous work in the domestic sphere has instilled in them a compliant, subservient nature. Wiki defines Marthas as “infertile women whose compliant nature and domestic skills recommend them to a life of domestic servitude.” (I’m paraphrasing Kate’s description, as I was unable to locate the exact quote.) While there’s some speculation as to whether Marthas are African Americans – thus conjuring America’s history of slavery – it’s unclear whether all the Marthas share the same race and ethnicity, or if any women of color who are appropriately subservient and compliant are given the option of working as Marthas as opposed to dying in The Colonies. It is my impression that Rita and Cora are Latinas, based on Rita’s “brown arms” and their first names. Additionally, while I was unable to locate the demographics of domestic workers in the U.S., Diana Vellos claims that “Latinas today constitute the largest category of women entering the domestic labor force in the United States. Many of these women are undocumented workers.”

Whatever their heritage, it seems as though Marthas are the only people of color living in Gilead. Most likely, any other non-white Americans were killed or sent to The Colonies as manual laborers.

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