Event: Melbourne Writers Festival — You Animals.

Symposiums about the ethical treatment of animals are some of my favourite kinds of public debate. Earlier in the year I attended an Intelligence2 debate about the ethics of eating meat, and while the arguments put forth didn’t change my mind (or palate), I think we can all agree that to treat animals humanely is something most normal people would endeavour to do.

But after researching her Quarterly Essay, “Us & Them”, Anna Krien closed the session with the assumption that humans just aren’t that great. You only have to look at our treatment of asylum seekers to realise our view of treating “others” differently extends to them, too. In fact, that’s why Krien named the essay “Us & Them”: not only to signify that animals are the “them”, but after the Four Corners meat exportation exposé last year, so are the Indonesians.

The other three intellectuals and authors on the panel were equally as intriguing, if not all as equally pro-animal. Charlotte Wood, author of the novel Animal People, about people who don’t like animals—or don’t understand our adoration and obsession with them—echoes the sentiments of her characters in the book, saying that she doesn’t get how we dress our toy dogs up in clothes and put them in bags and coo over them like they were babies, but that we should ultimately respect animals and not treat them as objects, like we are so wont to do.

Tim Flannery, environment expert, needed no introduction, and he talked about how our modern culture doesn’t allow for the inclusion of animals as equals. Interestingly, he also added that 10% of our bodies aren’t even us: it’s animal matter, like mites that grow in our eyebrows. Eww! But that demonstrates how highly evolved and diverse animals are, much more than humans, I would say.

Speaking of evolution, Flannery also mentioned that animals from the parts of the world where people have been living the longest have a hatred of humans more deeply ingrained. Like water buffalo in Africa who will circle back around on humans who are hunting them and try to beat them at their own game. Whereas in America, their water buffaloes are relatively tame by comparison. And in Australia, we can coax native birds and wildlife to eat apples out of the palms of our hands, like my dad and grandfather used to do when I was a kid. But most animals are still so terrified of us because we destroyed their habitats, just as we are scared of exotic, archaic and extremely dangerous animals, like the cassowary or a crocodile.

It was obvious that author Sonya Hartnett likes animals a whole hell of a lot more than humans, which is also evident in her books, most of which are about or draw inspiration from animals. She said she’s happy to be the slave for her cats and dogs if they will “show me their secrets”. She made the observation that a bunch of crows she passed scavenging over a rubbish bin looked at her with such disdain that she had no doubt they not only fear us, but hate us, too.

I guess this is part of Aussie culture: domesticated animals are cute, wildlife is cool to look at in zoos, but none of this must come between us and them our meat. As Wood wrote in The Age last year:

“We force a dichotomy in which animals are either so like us that we cannot separate their needs from our own, or so unlike us as to be aliens, undeserving of any rights at all. The more we sentimentalise, the more we also brutalise.”

But animals have culture, too, as Flannery asserts. They use tools, forage for food, talk to each other, love, mate, and engage in group dynamics, just like us. (This culture was evident when a friend and I took our dogs away on a holiday last week and saw the dynamics occurring between them: my friend Deb’s dog, Minnie, is older and definitely in charge, whereas my dog, Mia, is happy to go along with that. Minnie even had the audacity to jump up onto my lap and sit there proudly while Mia was napping beside me in a nook between the couch and a blanket.) After all, who do you think we evolved from…?

Speaking of foraging for food, being a vegan doesn’t allow you immunity from contributing to the devastation of the animal kingdom. For example, wheat for bread—a staple in many vegetarian and vegan diets—is grown on land that has been cleared of its natural, animal-dwelling terrain and unless the proper practices are used, the soil may be rendered obsolete and more wheat won’t be able to be grown there. It’s a catch-22 between being a vege- or ecotarian and throwing up your hands because nothing we do will ever be good enough.

Flannery believes that as higher intelligence beings, we are the arbiters of the future of the planet and its animal (and human, for that matter) inhabitants, and to fully understand this and to be fully human we have to realise that “we’re animals, too”. After all, the four-legged, fury, feathery and fishy animals “are so much more than we’ve ever allowed them to be”. Maybe it’s time we loosened that chain a little bit.

Related: Should Meat be Off the Menu?

Top 11 TV Moments of 2011.

Elsewhere: [Charlotte Wood] This Dog is Not a Human Being… Right?

Image via The Vine.

Event: Should Meat Be Off the Menu?

That was the topic of Intelligence2’s debate, in conjunction with the Wheeler Centre, last Tuesday night.

Going in, I voted that meat should be on the menu, as although I think vegetarianism and veganism is great and I fully support those movements, I personally love the taste of (some, mainly chicken, fish and beef) meat and don’t think I could give it up. I still believe this, although I have recently made the switch from dairy to almond milk in a bid to become more ecotarian, which you can read a bit more about in this link I posted last week.

But I based my final vote for the night, which is a staple of Intelligence2 debates, on which team presented better arguments. That team was the affirmative, claiming that animals should be off the menu.

That team consisted of the author of Animal Liberation, Peter Singer, jet-setting former banker turned staunch animal rights activist Philip Wollen, and Veronica Ridge, food writer, whose argument about the myriad of non-meat-based dishes was the weakest, and was challenged by those in the audience who claimed that while the meals she listed may have been meat-free, they still used a lot of animal by-products like dairy.

However, she did make some good points about hypocrisy and the ways we treat certain animals. For example, why do we butcher pigs and cows but lavish affection on our domestic cats and dogs? The special needs dog-in-training in attendance hammered this point home.

Opening for the affirmative team was Singer, who started off rather weakly but listed the three main topics his team would take on: our health, the impact meat production has on the planet (Wollen followed this up with the fact that it takes 50,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. The irony that I’d had two beef-based meals the day before and the day of the debate was not lost on me.), and the ethical treatment of animals.

But if I thought Singer presented poorly right out of the gate, he had nothing on the dismal points of Fiona Chambers of the opposing team, who raises organic pigs on her Daylesford farm. It could probably be attributed to nerves, but most of what Chambers had to say seemed to get lost in translation. All I got was that human consumption of animal meat keeps their species alive and away from extinction, and that animals cannot be raised humanely for human consumption. Either she misread her notes, or her argument completely flies in the face of the work she does on her farm. Puzzling.

The second speaker for the opposing team wasn’t much better. Animal scientist Bruce McGregor talked about “natural loss” and the ecological impact not eating animals would have. There’s nothing “natural” about factory farming, and to answer McGregor’s question about what to do with all the surplus stock, that’s easy: stop using female cattle and poultry as baby-making machines and we wouldn’t have two billion animals killed per week, as Wollen told us.

Wollen went on to say that 10,000 species go into extinction every year because of humans, and we are facing the sixth mass extinction right now. (2012, anyone?) Wollen concluded his ominous but standing ovation-receiving speech with this:

“The axis of evil runs through our dining tables… [and] our weapons of mass destruction are our knives and forks.”

I don’t necessarily agree that this is always true, but I do think Wollen’s segment was responsible for the affirmative’s win on the night.

Almost retaining my vote for the opposing team, Good Chef, Bad Chef star Adrian Richardson said that meat consumption is all about choice: you can make the personal choice not to eat meat, or to eat meat that’s ethically produced. In his Melbourne restaurant, La Luna, he only serves organic meat, which is promising, but we all know that what it says on the packet isn’t always the case. For example, unless your “free range” eggs have a stamp of approval from a recognised animal welfare authority, “free range” could mean the hen gets 20cms to exist in as opposed to 20cms for it and four other hens in which to live. If people still buy cage eggs and factory farmed meat, there’ll always be a demand for it, making it harder for the regular supermarket shopper to discern and easier to justify the cheap cost of cage eggs versus the steeper cost of free range.  

Annoyingly, though, Richardson appealed to the Aussie bogan (of which I don’t think there were many in attendance. Meat is the dietary staple of the bogan, didn’t you know?), opening by saying that not eating meat is un-Australian and that when we do, we’re closer to our savage ancestors. Or an AFL player (his words [paraphrased], not mine).

When the debate went to the floor, there was a (keeping with the animal theme) menagerie of viewpoints and arguments, but a few really resonated with me, whether I agree with them or not. A couple of people said those in the West have the luxury of eliminating meat from their diets and supplementing it with other forms of protein, while those in developing countries don’t. Following on, either someone from the affirmative team, someone from the audience, or both, said the 1.2 billion people who populate India don’t have a problem with a meat-free diet, so it shouldn’t be that hard for Australian population to adopt.

Richardson mentioned that he’s killed animals with his bare hands before. While hunting’s not for me, personally, I don’t have a problem with it in general, so long as the animal is killed swiftly and all of its viable by-products are consumed. Someone in the audience concluded that this is just another example of how we assert our dominance over animals because they can’t defend themselves or tell us how they feel. Interestingly, a boy no older than 13 in a private school uniform took to the mic and said choosing the kind of meat we feel comfortable consuming is all well and good, but animals don’t have a choice.  (The women behind me promptly dismissed the boy’s opinion because of his private school duds. Now, I’m not a fan of private school myself, but there are a few good eggs amongst the entitled and bratty ones. I support the kid.) As far as we know, they’re sentient beings who have feelings, self-interest and self-preservation instincts. Who are we to assert our superiority over them because we don’t understand them and we like the way they taste?

Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” Issue, August 16th 2010 Review.

Apocalypse Now: 2012 Come Early?  

“Who the Bloody Hell Are We?” The Sentimental Bloke at The Wheeler Centre.

Elsewhere: [Wheeler Centre] If You Missed Our Recent Debate…

[Wheeler Centre] From Chicken to Egg: A Journey From Vegan to Ecotarian.

[MamaMia] The Truth About the Eggs You Eat.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

In response to the cavalier and glorifying New York Times profile on rapey photographer du jour, Terry Richardson, a model he allegedly sexually harassed, Jamie Peck, writes on the fashion industry turning a blind eye to her allegations because Richardson gives good images. [New York Times, Jezebel]

The multifaceted nature of identity. [Feminaust]

Jessica Simpson naked and pregnant on the cover of Elle is all well and good, but what does it say about non-white, -straight and -abled women who also happen to be pregnant?  [Womanist Musings]

A journey from vegetarianism to veganism to ecotarianism. This is something I’m struggling with myself at the moment, as I love the taste of (some) meat and don’t think I could ever be vegetarian or vegan, but I care about the way my animal products and byproducts are obtained. I went to a debate at the Wheeler Centre on Tuesday night on this topic, so I’ll have more to come on this for you next week. [Wheeler Centre]

You can be a feminist and still wear high heels and lipstick. [Gala Darling]

Germaine Greer and Julia Gillard’s arse. [MamaMia]

An open letter to Rihanna about Chris Brown. [Billboard]

In defence of the Spice Girls as feminists:

“We were wrong about the Spice Girls. We were wrong about whether they ‘killed feminism’ by not representing our favorite kind. We were wrong about their not having a message. We were wrong about their not being unique. We were scared that the Spice Girls would make feminism too mainstream and commercial. Well, good news: feminism is totally unpopular now, hurray!” [Rookie Mag]

Image via The Gloss.

Book Review: Mia Culpa—Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman.

Mia Freedman really is a brand unto herself. We all know she revolutionised the magazine world at age 25 as editor of Cosmopolitan. Her blog, MamaMia, really came into its own during last year’s federal election, offering a different take on politics for modern women. And she’s now a three-time published author with her own television show on SkyNews!

Of course she credits her husband, Jason, her kids, friends, family and MamaMia team with supporting her and helping run her media juggernaut, all of whom she writes about—sometimes anonymously, but oftentimes not—in her latest memoir-cum-“long, wonderful dinner-party conversation”, Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life.

A lot of the material that makes up Mia Culpa I’ve read before, I will admit, in Freedman’s Sunday Life column, her blog, and various other publications she makes appearances in. But I’ve been known to revisit favourite blog posts and articles before, so it was very enjoyable to read Freedman’s musings on everything from sex to SNAGS (p. 64–67) to showering (p. 290) to breastfeeding (p. 175–179) to interior design (p. 129) to social stamina (read: non-existent when you have a young family, p. 131–136) to Christmas (p. 148–152) to how many children you want/have (p. 71–75) to the hypocrisy of being a certain-meat eater (“I’ve never eaten things like duck or rabbit or deer because I relate to those animals in a way I don’t relate to chickens—perhaps because many of them were storybook characters. Bambi, anyone?” [p. 145]. Guilty as charged) to Disney princesses (p. 180) to The Secret (p. 301).

Some of my favourite parts existed in the first chapter and were a nice way to begin the book. In it, Freedman writes about grooming standards in long-term relationships (p. 4–12), choosing between your ass or your face as you grow older (p. 13–16), skinny-shaming VS. fat-shaming (p. 16–23) and the pre-requisite rant on unrealistic portrayal of women VS. men in the media (p. 23–32). But when she puts it like this, it’s hard not to see Freedman’s point:

“Pretend the world was full of pictures of naked men. On billboards and the sides of buses, in magazines and ads for beer, cars and deodorant. Imagine there were penises everywhere you turned and you couldn’t escape seeing them every day.

“And all the images of nude men were fake. Every male model and celebrity had had penile enlargement surgery, and afterwards, his penis had been extensively photoshopped to make it look even bigger. So now, all the penises you saw in the media every day were knee-length and as thick as an arm.

“One day, next to a magazine article about a celebrity with a foot-long penis, you read the headline: ‘This is what a 43-year-old penis looks like’. The caption underneath read: ‘Asked for the secret to his long schlong, former male model Markus Schenkenberg insists he was just born that way. “I wear cotton boxer shorts and I exfoliate in the shower,” he shrugs. “That’s all I do.”’

“After reading a hundred stories like that and being bombarded by 10,000 images of men with surgically altered and digitally enhanced penises, do you think you might look down at your natural, un-photoshopped trouser snake and feel a little… deflated? Inadequate? Insecure? Angry?”

There’s also some of Freedman’s fascinating thoughts on being a “try-sexual” as per Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” (p. 241–244), which has been written about extensively on sites like MamaMia and Rachel Hills, and tattoos (more on that to come later today).

You don’t have to be a Freedman fan-girl to enjoy this book; I would recommend it to anyone who happens to be of the female gender, and even those who don’t happen to be but are just looking for some enlightenment on the species.

[MamaMia] MamaMia Gets a TV Show.

[MamaMia] Cindy Crawford is Naked in Allure Magazine. And 43.

[MamaMia] I Kissed a Girl. Because I Had Something to Sell.

[MamaMia] Kissing a Woman Does Not a Lesbian Make.

[Rachel Hills] The Rise of the Guy-On-Guy Kiss.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] MamaMia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood by Mia Freedman Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] UPDATED: Skinny-Shaming VS. Fat-Shaming.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] “Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

Image via Australian Women Online.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

“A Guide to Eating Food Off the Floor.”

Feminist Themes’ regular “Wait… What?” column features The View co-host, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and her take on the pro-choice versus pro-life debate.

In The Atlantic’s thought provoking piece on “The End of White America?”, Hua Hsu “discuss[es] Obama, football, hip-hop, and the elusive notion of a ‘post-racial’ society.”

Pandagon responds to Susan Faludi’s piece on third-wave feminism (which I haven’t read yet, but expect it to be included in an upcoming On the [Rest of the] Net), in which “she puts out evidence that younger feminists are sometimes unfair and ungrateful to older feminists, and that older feminists are sometimes so afraid of younger women that they go out of their way to exclude them… complaining that younger women don’t care.” Furthermore:

“… she reinforces a jumble of often conflicting stereotypes on younger feminists to discredit us: that we’re obsessed with navel-gazing over activism, that our obsession with technology comes at the expense of actual work, that we don’t know our history and don’t care about systemic issues, that we’re materialist[ic] and unwilling to challenge sexual exploitation for fear of pissing off men, that we’re so busy cultivating our graduate degrees writing about Lady Gaga… that we can’t be bothered to worry about real world issues.”

I do agree with some of this summary of Faludi’s piece, but Lady Gaga’s meat dress drew attention to vegetarianism, animal welfare and gay rights. They’re, like, real world issues, aren’t they?

Liz Greene delivers some particularly poignant points on parental relationships and “the family triangle” in “The Eternal Triangle”.

Buffy is “The Third Wave’s Final Girl”.

Jezebel reasons “Why Glee Still Needs to Work on Diversity”, while Brittany and Santana are “Queer Idols”:

“It wasn’t even until halfway through Glee’s first season that the first hint of queerness was even mentioned… Maybe you’d call it bisexual, maybe you’d call it heteroflexible, maybe you’d call it bicurious: whatever they are, it’s definitely a bit queer… Brittany is, if you will, an equal opportunity slut: one who’s willing to make out with whatever hotness crosses her path, regardless of gender… And among fellow fans of the show, my designation of Brittany and Santana as queer icons has met with some derision: their relationship is played for laughs, I’ve been told. They’re just straight girls making out for male attention… [But]… with the exception of their joint date with Finn, Brittany and Santana have hardly been shown using their relationship to win over boys… For me, Brittany and Santana represent a new mode of queer figure… : fluidly sexual, comfortable with same sex contacts, and more interested in finding happiness than finding the right label. They may not fit into the rigid structures of traditional sexual identities, but they’re comfortable enough with themselves not to care.”

More Jezebel: They’ve really been getting on the “slut-shaming bandwagon”, especially with their endorsement of Easy A. Now, they give their take on the “Ancient Slut-Shaming” of Cleopatra, as well as the “sexual double standards” on Jersey Shore. About the latter, they say:

“… The slut-shaming of Angelina… revealed their thoughts on sexual double standards. (The ‘thoughts’ being that sexual double standards exist, and that’s just the way it is.)… Pauly said about Angelina: ‘She brought all these random people home. She’s a girl. You don’t do that. That’s a guy thing. Guy’s do that, no girls.’… Shouldn’t Pauly and The Situation be grateful for sluts? If there were no sluts then they would never be able to have sex. Do they think for one minute that they would even want to live in a world in which all girls acted the way they’re ‘supposed’ to?”

“Who Stole Feminism?”, asks The Nation. Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell and all those right-wing extremists, that’s who!

“Sarah Palin opposes abortion and comprehensive sex education. While mayor of Wasilla she made sexual assault victims pay for their own rape kits. She also calls herself a feminist. Delaware GOP Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell has said that allowing women to attend military academies ‘cripples the readiness of our defence’ and that wives should ‘graciously submit’ to their husbandsbut her website touts her ‘commitment to the women’s movement. Pundits who once mocked women’s rights activists as ugly bra burners are abuzz over the ‘new conservative feminism’, and the Tea Party is lauding itself as a women’s movement.

The right once disparaged feminism as man-hating and baby-killing, but now ‘feminist’ is the must-have label for women on the right.”

“Geeks Versus Hipsters” is the equivalent of the passionate versus the apathetic, respectively, according to Gizmodo. And from the hipsters I’ve come into contact with, I’m inclined to agree.

Can Newsanchor Barbie be both hot and a feminist?

Jessica Rudd (yes, Kevin’s daughter) discusses the differences between chick-lit and (the nonexistent) dick-lit in a guest post on MamaMia.

Beneath the “campy sensationalism” of True Blood lies “the weird, seemingly reactionary politics” of “the right’s worst nightmare about post-gay-liberation America come to life.”