A woman is lain out in a butcher's case along slabs of steak and pork cutlets, her body marked with broad black lines to indicate where to carve out the flank, rib, breast, and beyond. To many, this might sound like the start of a horror movie, but to one Down Under butcher, it sounded like a marketing opportunity.
This image, of a woman tucked behind glass and curled up nude next to piles of raw meat, sparked both admiration and admonition this week when a photo taken in the shop of Darren Gerrand, a butcher in the rural Australian town of Lancelin, made the rounds online.
The shot, which was captured by photographer Kym Illman, was a collaborative vision between the two men, who brought in a "fine art nude model" to turn their idea into reality. "We spent an hour setting up the shot, doing a clothed shot first, then the nude one," Illman tells MUNCHIES in an email. However, the photographer says the paint strokes to indicate cuts of meat were "the model's idea… after she spotted a poster in the store with beef cuts marked on the cow."
The resulting photo, which Illman calls "a great social experiment to see how people would react" first garnered attention when it was posted on the small town's Facebook page. While some (primarily female) commenters were quick to criticize both the image and the page for sharing it, there were a hefty portion of of cringingly lascivious remarks from male commenters to the tune of "Now that's my sort of meat," "I'll take the breasts and thighs please," and "Didn't know they sold fish as well."
Carol J. Adams, feminist theorist and author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, says degrading direct comparisons between women and meat are nothing new. "We live in a world in which women are animalized and animals are sexualized and feminized, so when a butcher does this, he's not creating something new; he is just participating in an oppressive framework that's been around for quite awhile," she tells MUNCHIES.
READ MORE: Why Men Are Afraid of Going Vegan
Adams, who has been exploring the link between male dominance and the oppression of animals and women for decades, says that while the current political climate has served to increase and aggravate the creation of these hyper-masculine images, the attitudes behind them have never really gone away.
The author points out that similar imagery—of women cut up or displayed as meat—have been used at steakhouses everywhere from Israel to Italy, adding that the butcher's marketing campaign "isn't an extreme example—this is normative." Adams also notes that while this variety of attempted humor isn't new, "it's always someone whose body isn't meat who would see something like this as fun."
As a means of seizing upon and criticizing this all-too-common imagery, illustrator Claudia Chanhoi employs her own variety of of humor and sarcasm in an artistic project called Sexual Objectification of Women, in which she depicts female body parts served up on banquet platters and as canned, "ready to eat" breast meat. Chanhoi's art acts as a feminist antithesis to the prevailing thought behind every scantily clad cheeseburger TV ad or outright depiction of a woman as something to be consumed, both figuratively and literally.
"In the sexual politics of meat, it comes down to three things: objectification, fragmentation, and consumption," Adams says. "Animals are literally consumed and women are visually consumed, and this butcher thing could be exhibit number one for that claim."
Maybe someday, the term "meat market" will just be about meat.