Forgive me, because this is probably better left to Cyborgology, but something amazing is happening here. In the video below, nesting swallows become trapped in a building when they add doors. The birds soon learn, though, that they can get the doors to automatically open by triggering the motion sensors. This is a story, obviously, of how smart birds are, but here’s what struck me: we often think about human technology as for humans. In this case, however, birds adapted the technology for their own very similar needs (to get in and out).
If the workers had installed an older human technology — plain old doors — the birds would have been out of luck because they don’t have thumbs and the strength to manipulate an environment built for humans. But motion activated doors make both thumbs and strength irrelevant, so now birds are our functional equals.
This is fascinating, yeah? Our technology has advanced to the point where we’re potentially undermining our own evolutionary advantages. I’m not putting a moral judgment on it. I think morality is firmly on the side of non-fitness based decisions (eh em, social Darwinism). If one wants to theorize the relationship between animals, technology, and what it means to be human, however, this looks like gold to me.
While it hasn’t always been the case, most well-funded zoos today feature pleasant-enough looking habitats for their animals. They are typically species-appropriate, roomy enough to look less-than-totally miserable, and include trees and shrubs and other such natural features that make them attractive.
How, though, a friend of mine recently asked “does that landscaping stay nice? Why don’t [the animals] eat it, lie down on it, rip it to shreds for fun, or poop all over it?”
Because, she told me, some of it is hot-wired to give them a shock if they touch it. These images are taken from the website Total Habitat, a source of electrified grasses and vines.
Laurel Braitman writes about these products in her book, Animal Madness. When she goes to zoos, she says, she doesn’t “marvel at the gorilla… but instead at the mastery of the exhibit itself.” She writes:
The more naturalistic the cages, the more depressing they can be because they are that much more deceptive. To the mandrill on the other side of the glass, the realistic foliage that frames his favorite perch doesn’t help him one bit if it has been hot-wired so that he doesn’t destroy it… Some of the new natural looking exhibits may be even worse for their inhabitants than the old cement ones, as the new plants and other features can shrink the animals’ usable space.
The take-home message is that these attractive, naturalistic environments are more for us than they are for the animal. They teach us what the animal’s natural habitat might look like and they soothe us emotionally, reassuring us that the animal must be living a nice life.
I don’t know the extent to which zoos use electrified grasses and vines, but next time you visit one you might be inspired to look a little more closely.
Don’t you want to pinch it and squeeze it and bite its little face off!?
You’re not alone.
Rebecca Dyer and Oriana Aragon, graduate students in psychology, brought subjects into a lab, handed them a fresh sheet of bubble wrap, and exposed them to cute, funny, and neutral pictures of animals. Those who saw the cute ones popped significantly more bubbles than the others.
Cute things make us aggressive! It’s why we say things like: “I just wanna eat you up!” and why we have to restrain ourselves from giving our pets an uncomfortably tight hug.
Which one do you want to hurt the most!?
An aggressive response to cuteness, it appears, it “completely normal.”
The authors suggest that humans non-consciously balance extreme emotions with one from the other side of the spectrum to try to maintain some control and balance. This, Aragon explains at her website, may be why we cry when we’re really happy and laugh at funerals.
In the meantime, if this makes you want to inflict some serious squishing, know that you’re in good company.
Activist Carol Adams has famously argued that the common phenomenon of sexualizing meat productsis designed to make us feel better about eating animals. One of the ways it does this is by making it funny. She explains:
Uneasiness becomes sexual energy… and everybody knows what to do about sexual energy. You can laugh at it, you can talk about it, it reduces whoever is presented to an object. And so it makes it okay again.
Sexualizing meat also turns the object of consumption, the animal, into a willing participant. Sex takes two and, even when one partner is objectified, there is a desire. If not “want,” it’s a “want to be wanted.”
If the meat wants you to want it, then you don’t have to feel bad about eating it. As I’ve written before, “this works best alongside feminization, as it is women who are typically presented as objects of a lustful male gaze.”
This ad, in which roosters flock to Carl’s Jr to ogle and lust over chicken “breasts,” is a disturbing example.
Carol Adams has written extensively on the sexual politics of meat, arguing that women and other animals are both sexualized and commodified to facilitate their consumption (both figuratively and literally) by those in power. One result has been the feminization of veganism and vegetarianism. This has the effect of delegitimizing, devaluing, and defanging veganism as a social movement.
This process works within the vegan movement as well, with an open embracing of veganism as inherently feminized and sexualized. This works to undermine a movement (that is comprised mostly of women) and repackage it for a patriarchal society. Instead of strong, political collective of women, we have yet another demographic of sexually available individual women who exist for male consumption.
Take a browse through vegan cookbooks on Amazon, for instance, and the theme of “sexy veganism” that emerges is unmistakable:
Oftentimes, veganism is presented as a means of achieving idealized body types. These books are mostly geared to a female audience, as society values women primarily as sexual resources for men and women have internalized these gender norms. Many of these books bank on the power of thin privilege, sizism, and stereotypes about female competition for male attention to shame women into purchasing.
To reach a male audience, authors have to draw on a notion of “authentic masculinity” to make a highly feminized concept palatable to a patriarchal society where all that is feminine is scorned. Some have referred to this trend as “heganism.” The idea is to protect male superiority by unnecessarily gendering veganism into veganism for girls and veganism for boys. For the boys, we have to appeal to “real” manhood.
Then there is the popular tactic of turning women into consumable objects in the exact same way that meat industries do. Animal rights groups recruit “lettuce ladies” or “cabbage chicks” dressed as vegetables to interact with the public. PETA routinely has nude women pose in and among vegetables to convey the idea that women are sexy food. Vegan pinup sites and strip joints also feed into this notion. Essentially, it is the co-optation and erosion of a women’s movement. Instead of empowering women on behalf of animals, these approaches disempower women on behalf of men.
In sum, vegan feminism argues that women and non-human animals are commodified and sexualized objects offered up for the pleasurable consumption of those in power. In this way, both women and other animals are oppressed under capitalist patriarchy. When the vegan movement sexualizes and feminizes vegan food, or replicates the woman-as-food trope, it fails to acknowledge this important connection and ultimately serves to repackage potentially threatening feminist collective action in a way that is palatable to patriarchy.
This is a picture of a statue in Lexington, KY, in honor of Civil War general John H. Morgan. It depicts him on his favorite horse, Black Bess. The inscription is “Gen. John H. Morgan and His Bess.”
Here’s what’s interesting about this: Bess, as you might guess, was a mare — a female horse. The statue, however, has testicles. You can see them in the picture below. The sculptor gave Bess testicles because he considered a mare an unworthy mount for a general — despite the fact that Morgan himself seemed to think she was just fine.
I found out about this in Lies Across America: What Our Historical Sites Get Wrong by James W. Loewen. Images borrowed from here and here. This post originally appeared in 2007.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Devoted SocImages readers know that I will make any excuse to put up a video involving animals. I’m going to do it right now.
The video is a dolphin petting a cat. In the first part of the video, you’ll see the dolphin come out of the water and try to put his chin on the top of the cat’s head. In the second part of the video, you’ll see how the dolphin learned to do that. The cat very clearly wants to rub the top of his head, specifically, on the dolphin and the dolphin is paying attention and learning.
This isn’t just adorable interspecies communication, it’s proto-culture. It’s the transmission of an idea. I don’t know if all the dolphins in this video pet the cat this way, or if it’s just one dolphin, but I can certainly imagine one dolphin teaching the next, just as the cat taught the first dolphin.
Or, to put it more simply, humans aren’t special because we’re humans, were special because we’re animals.
It’s been a while since we treated our audience to a post featuring a collection of pointlessly gendered products. Time to correct our lapse in diligence! Here are some favorite examples we’ve added to our Pinterest board lately.
THE FOOD CATEGORY.
Pointlessly gendered endives:
Pointlessly gendered bread:
Pointlessly gendered eggs:
Pointlessly gendered sausages:
Thanks @appledaughter, Lars F., @mamatastic, @day_jess, @jongudmundand, and @blessedharlot!
Pointlessly gendered tooth fairies:
Pointlessly gendered alphabets:
Pointlessly gendered child harnesses:
Thanks Sarah M., @day_jess, and @qaoileann!
Pointlessly gendered socks:
Pointlessly gendered wrist support:
Pointlessly gendered job ads:
Bonus! Pointlessly gendered pet shampoo:
Thanks Jen T., Lisa S., @nayohmei, and @doubleemmartin!
That’s all for now! Check out the entire collection on Pinterest.