Everyone knows women can be bitches sometimes, right? Unless they’re cougars, that is, on the prowl — or if they’re a bit younger, they’re more like vixens, kinda foxy. They henpeck when married and go wet and wild when single. They can take out their claws out or put them away. (Who doesn’t love a good catfight?)
Less dangerous are the girls and the young women, softer and fuzzier, who are more like bunnies, or, as the English say, like birds. Either way, diminutive and harmless. Girls like these are more like pets. Chicks or kittens.
Everyone does it, using language that renders women as animals;the list is endless. This culturally ingrained misogyny, as reflected in acceptable language that dehumanizes half the world’s population, is not limited to any one country or religion, or followers of one or another ideology.
But in U.S. politics, a particular trend has emerged among a certain set of conservatives: that of equating a woman with a farm animal. When, last week, Safeway Senior Vice President General Counsel Bob Gordon stood before a shareholders’ meeting telling a quot;jokequot; that portrayed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as being worth less than a pair of hogs,he clearly had no reservations about publicly making this joke and obviously thought it was funny. After all, he was only elaborating on a meme that’s been evolving among right-wing Republican politicians in state legislatures.
Let’s see. There’s state Rep. Terry England, the infamous Georgia legislator comparing pregnant hogs and cows to women while debating a proposal that became known as the “women as livestock bill,” which would hold pregnant women to the animal husbandry standard of carrying a dead fetus to term.
Then there’s Missouri House Majority Leader Tim Jones, explaining that he was well-prepared to propose restrictions on women’s health options because his “father’s a veterinarian.”
Montana Rep. Keith Regier recently explained the higher value of “preg-tested” cows, forcing his opposition to point out that “We do not place price tags on women in the same way that we do on cattle.”
State Rep. Mary Franson of Minnesota created a video to explain, as a context for discussing food stamps, that “animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.” That was similar to South Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Andre Bauer’s explanation of welfare mothers as “stray animals” who will “breed”because they don’t “know any better.”
Last but not least, there’s the sexualized bitch category to which Georgetown student Sandra Fluke was dragged, in a sort of gender-bending mode, when Republican state representative Krayton Kerns, an actual “cow doctor,” compared herto a rutting bulldog paid stud fees for sex at Kern’s veterinary school.
These right-wing politicians and legislators obviously favor pigs, cows and livestock in their “women are not quite human” metaphors and analogies. What does this tell us about how conservatives like their womenfolk? What do these animals share?
1) They’re domesticated: docile and tame.
2) They’re often used for controlled breeding and reproductive purposes.
3) They’re generally considered dumb and unthinking, and there is the implication that they are immature and dependent.
4) They’re often thought of as unclean.
5) They’re not dangerous or threatening (i.e. sexual and powerful).
6) They’re a consumable resource.
Farm animals don’t act independently. They have sex for breeding, not for pleasure, and the choice of partners and conditions of the sex they have are controlled by their masters. They certainly don’t try to disturb the natural order of things, namely male dominion.
When women are not domesticated — i.e., operating beyond the control of white men — whether they’re white or women of color, if they demand the right to free agency or a social safety net that spares their children from starvation, they’re depicted as sexualized and base, making them dogs or wild animals.
Regardless of race or ethnicity, all women are by implication of this language and imagery closer to animals. However, comparisons like these are more extreme in this country for women of color, who have to live with a level of racialized sexual aggression that white women don’t, enduring the double-whammy of both gendered and racialized animalistic insults.
An enduring racial trope paints American blacks of both sexes as “savage and untamable.” African-American women have long been described as “wild” and “exotic,” and are often portrayed as actual African animals. (Consider this on the “innocent” side of the spectrum: until Disney released The Princess and the Frog in 2009, the only vaguely black prince and princess characters in a Disney film were wild animals on the African savannah (The Lion King). Even in the The Princess and the Frog, Tiana, Disney’s first African-American princess, spent at least half of the movie as a green amphibian.)
To be sure, there are instances of men referred to as asses or pigs, but just Google images for “women as animals” and then “men as animals” and see what happens. When men are compared to animals, it is usually because they do something disgusting. It is an undesirable behavior, not an undesirable essence. The salient aspect of the animal names that girls and women are called is not their behavior, it is their gender. (Virtually all of the worst words one can call a woman, like the word “slut,” are gender-specific.) Girls forge their identities through this dense fog of linguistic subjugation while boys tacitly infer their own superiority. Girls and women suffer direct harm because of it — and boys and men, the indirect harm of living in a disordered and unjust society.
In the worldview of many right-wing legislators, it seems that a woman can only be one of two things: dangerously wild, incapable of reason and therefore decision-making on her own behalf, or a docile, breedable resource, entirely dependent and subject to compulsory pregnancy determined by others.In either case, these are dangerous grounds for justifying legislation that subordinates a woman’s rights to her reproductive capacity.
Soraya L. Chemaly writes about feminism, gender and culture. She writes for The Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Fem2.0 among others. Follow at © 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.