In The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol Adams highlights important intersections between the treatment of women and the treatment of animals in contemporary western society. She argues that they (women and animals) are mutually oppressed and exploited through the pervasiveness of their body-only representation across various media platforms, for example in advertising. Such media portrayals are widespread, and leave both women and animals in positions where the ideas and ideals imagined of a ‘woman’ or ‘animal’ are typically ubiquitous with sexualisation and fetishization, conjured for (and therefore also by) a hetero-male gaze.
The objectification of women and animals has been validated by the pervasiveness of such mass media representations, and subsequently the iconographies of the animalised woman and the sexualised animal seep seamlessly into the mundane every day, becoming troublingly accepted as ‘the norm’. Moreover, such representations are often presented in such a way as to pre-emptively evade critique through the employment of post-feminist rhetoric, drawing upon notions of irony and ‘banter’, as I will explore and expand upon through my analysis below.
Women and animals are generally presented so as to appeal to an imagined homogenous hetero-male audience in their objectification, and indeed to consume both women and animal bodies is also to consume the mythologies of meat. Meat, Adams argues, denotes male power, ascribing its consumer with characteristics such as virility and strength (Adams, 2010:57). Here, I extend meat to encompass not only those bodies which are ideologically reframed as food, but also those bodies made consumable through sexualised representation, exploring and articulating how these ideas overlap. Moreover, I examine how the consumption of the bodies of women and the bodies of animals are tied to the empowerment of their consumer. Consumption here refers to both the visual and gastronomic, and I explore how consumption is also a form of violence. Women’s and animals’ bodies are devoured not only by the eyes and stomachs of voyeuristic onlookers, enraptured by the particularising representations of womanliness or animality; they are also consumed by the mythologies ascribed to women and animals as imagined sex and food objects.
Importantly, such mythological representations of women and animals often overlap, as women are also made consumable, and animal flesh is made sexually appealing. These intersections are highlighted in Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat, and are still painfully relevant today. The violence done to both women and animal bodies remains pervasive, as I examine through my discussion of the recent music video by Maroon 5 for their song ‘Animals’, and reinforce my arguments through drawing attention to other popular culture references to the sexual politics of meat.
Maroon 5 are an American band who formed in 1994, their song ‘Animals’ was released on the 22nd August 2014. The song, and the accompanying video, glamorize what has been dubbed a ‘stalker’s fantasy’, causing much vitriol amongst women’s groups and anti-sexual assault groups. The song and video provocatively equate stalking and sexual violence with romance, adopting predatory language to articulate the male pursuit of a woman. The key danger here, inevitably, is that ‘Animals’ may promote the normalisation of such violence against women, and indeed exposure enabled by the fame of the band and the infamy of their lead singer may even transform that which is deeply disturbing into something which has been recast as desirable. In a world where violence against women remains a poignant and prominent problem, and where masochistic characters like the elusive Christian Grey are dubbed sexy and desirable, the song and its accompanying video are distasteful and callous, and dangerously promote the idea that such violence is an unproblematic, even romantic, fact of life.
The song and the video combined are multiply layered, with a wide selection of themes and ideas to discuss and critique through careful analysis. I have chosen to focus on a select series of ideas and themes alongside my narration of the content of the music video.
The beginning of the music video shows Behati Prinsloo, Victoria Secret model and partner of Adam Levine, entering through the slatted curtains of a Butcher’s shop. The camera angle switches to a bloodied meat cleaver, handled by Levine, and back to Prinsloo, immediately suggesting ominous relationships between both Levine and Prinsloo, and Prinsloo and the animal carcass which Levine is carving up in the background.
The continual click, click, click of a camera shutter adds to the sinister presentation of Levine’s character, as he looks slyly over his shoulder at Prinsloo, who appears unaware of his presence. A disturbing series of scene snippets ensue: some of Prinsloo’s body being groped by an anonymous male hand (likely Levine’s), close up and intimate photographs of Prinsloo, camera film and piles of photographs, animal carcasses, and a dark room for developing photographs.
Through this, the video quickly establishes a sinister atmosphere in the forty-second precursor to the song, providing a snapshot of what to expect for the duration of the song and video, and immediately linking together the appeal of a woman’s body and meat. A disturbing though unoriginal link between the treatment of women’s bodies and animal bodies is recognised here, as both are seen to be fragmented. Both Prinsloo’s body and the animal carcass are at the mercy of male eyes and hands, with the camera being wielded by Levine to dismember elements of Prinsloo’s body from the whole, and the cleaver literally chopping away at the animal carcass on the table.
In both instances, the sentience of each individual- animal and woman- is denied as they become the object of male appetitive desires. Their object status is established quite clearly through Levine’s possessive handling of both (see above images), demonstrating the sex appeal of meat, and the fleshy appeal of Prinsloo. The compilation of these images in quick succession of one another reinforces Adams’ arguments, as the lines are blurred between human female bodies and meat animal bodies, placing women and animals as below men in western social hierarchies.
The ‘Animals’ video can be seen to use the animal carcasses as symbolisers of two contrasting things: the live animal and dead meat. With regards to the latter, Levine displays his control and power over the animal carcasses through physical violence by punching them, and also through wielding a meat hook in several scenes, as above. These scenes coincide with moments in the video where he seems particularly sexually frustrated with Prinsloo, suggesting he is a violent threat to her. These examples show the carcasses to be viewed as pieces of meat, and the connection of violence between them and Prinsloo at the hands of Levine means she is also depicted ‘as meat’, which is to say that she is totally dehumanised, and viewed only as a series of fragmented parts.
Conversely, Levine also presents himself as an animal, hanging alongside the carcasses. This is a more complex image to analyse, as the carcasses around him are most likely female, as most animals in the meat industry are female. I interpret this image as Levine attempting to support the lyrics of the song, with his portrayal as a predator being sinisterly reinforced as he lies in wait of his prey, but also suggesting that he possesses animal instincts which he is apparently powerless to control (more on this later).
Furthering a discussion of the predator/prey duality created between Prinsloo and Levine, various cut away shots show Levine stalking Prinsloo, taking pictures of her that she is unaware of. The collection of these images evokes a sinister overtone at the beginning of the video, which is continued throughout the video, and is highly evocative of violence. This is further highlighted in the first few lines of the song lyrics: ‘Baby I’m preying on you tonight, hunt you down, eat you alive’. The animalistic and predatory nature of these lyrics makes it simultaneously clear that Levine is both a violent threat to Prinsloo, and also that Levine’s actions are depicted as instinctive and animalistic.
Word choices such as ‘prey’, ‘hunt’ and ‘eat’ suggest that Levine is acting upon ‘natural’ instincts and desires, thereby suggesting that his behaviour is uncontrollable and perhaps even inevitable. These ideas are further exemplified through the repetition of the words ‘you can’t deny the beast inside’, suggesting Levine, and by proxy all hetero-males, that they have an innate and irrevocable need to satiate their sexual appetites, regardless of the will of the women they target. This is not a particularly flattering depiction of male sexuality, nor is it hopeful for women, as it implies men are helpless to resist sexual urges, thereby condoning sexual violence through the use of outmoded representations of male sexuality.
The predator/prey relationship conjured by the lyrics of the song further suggests an unequal relationship between Levine and Prinsloo, as only one (the male) has the power to pursue, the other (female) is vulnerable to being pursued, or hunted. The predator is equipped with the ability to hunt and kill prey, while prey animals must evade and escape from their predators in order to survive. This metaphor for Levine and Prinsloo as predator and prey respectively reflects not only a primitive understanding of human behaviour and male sexuality as something uncontrollable and innate, but also that men are inherently threatening to women. This therefore suggests a hierarchy of males above females, as only males are assigned sexual agency. Women may be pursued, enabling the male to take on an active role and the female to be passive by proxy, and more than this, they are subject to male desires regardless of their own thoughts and feelings.
This is reinforced by Levine’s pursuit of Prinsloo throughout the duration of the video, aggressively stalking his ‘prey’. Scenes capturing Levine stalking Prinsloo down the street suggest she is frightened of him, as she continually looks over her shoulder, while later scenes in a night club show her rejecting his advances as he touches her repeatedly on the shoulder, and she turns away from him. Accompanying this rejection of his attention come lyrics which demonstrate how Prinsloo’s agency is denied: “Girl don’t lie, lie lie lie, you can’t deny-ny-ny-ny the beast inside-side-side-side”. These words worryingly reflect rhetoric commonly used to shame and blame victims of rape- that Prinsloo in fact wanted Levine’s attention, and that her seeming rejection was in fact not a truthful one, she is lying and denying her true feelings, and also the “beast inside”, which could be her position as a passive prey animal, perhaps suggesting that she wants to be preyed upon because it is in the nature of women to be passive, dangerously portraying women as creatures who are choosing to offer themselves as subordinates to a dominant male authority.
These connotations of animalistic and/or primitive behaviour continue, as Levine draws upon his senses, tracking Prinsloo through use of his predatory instincts: ‘I can smell your scent for miles’. Here, his pursuit of Prinsloo is likened to a hunt, making Prinsloo’s position of vulnerability clear, and Levine’s violent intentions equally apparent. This latter idea is particularly dangerous, as Prinsloo’s fear of Levine is intimated: ‘maybe you think that you can hide’, which further indicates Prinsloo’s unwillingness to be captured by Levine whilst also intimating the futility of her struggle. This is again dangerously close to intimations of rape, as Levine sings “you can’t stay away from me/I can still hear you making that sound/Taking me down, rolling on the ground./You can pretend that it was me, but no”.
Prinsloo’s thoughts and desires are rendered irrelevant as Levine’s lust for possession and gratification are foregrounded throughout the song. The repeated use of the words ‘inside you’ are both overtly sexual and troubling, suggesting the female body is a vessel as opposed to being part of a thinking and feeling sentient person. This notion of being ‘inside’ is further evocative of complete control and possession, again rendering Prinsloo entirely devoid of agency and/or autonomy. This is not unlike the life of the animal butchered by Levine, or the carcasses which hang bloodily around him as he creepily assures Prinsloo he isn’t going away.
Towards the end of the video, scenes of Levine and Prinsloo having sex are compiled with Levine creeping around Prinsloo’s room while she sleeps, and Levine wiping animal blood across his already bloodied bare chest as he sings (see below images). The video culminates in a bloody sex scene between Levine and Prinsloo, as buckets of blood are poured over them.
Overall, the video is a prime example of what Adams discusses in The Sexual Politics of Meat, so much so that one may presume the video is meant to parody and mock dominant western values, though I suspect that it is more about affirming Levine’s hetero-masculine identity than it is about highlighting the intricacies of speciesism and sexism. Levine’s persona in the video as a creepy and sinister Butcher/stalker is an eroticisation of male power, and is something which should be critiqued, not celebrated.
Amy is an MA Graduate of Lancaster University, where she spent four years researching into intersections between feminism and speciesism.