A bird at my table (2008)
An excerpt from Joan Dunayer’s essay: Sexist Words, Speciesist Roots from the book ‘Animals and Women’:
Comparisons to chickens, linguist Alleen Pace Nilsen observes, spans a woman’s life: A young girl is a ‘chick.’ When she gets old enough she marries and soon begins feeling ‘cooped up’ she relieves her boredom by ‘cackling’ with her friends, eventually she has a ‘brood’ begins to ‘henpeck’ at her husband and finally turns into an ‘old biddy’. These examples however only address sexist metaphors; if we go beyond this and look at the origins of the hen’s exploitation we learn more. Comparing women to hens communicates scorn because hens are exploited as mere bodies-for their egg laying capacity or flesh. In viewing the actual chick, the egg or ‘poultry’ producer anticipates her exploitation as a hen. Analogously, the sexist male desires to exploit the human ‘chick’ as a female body, for sexual pleasure. The hen’s exploiter values only her physical service, dismissing her experiential world as unimportant or nonexistent. The old hen or ‘biddy’ who no longer offers desirable flesh or who is unprofitable because she no longer produces eggs is regarded as ‘spent’ and is discarded. No longer sexually active or able to reproduce, the human ‘old biddy’ too has outlived her usefulness. If hens were not held captive and treated as nothing more than bodies, their lives would not supply the symbols for the lives of stifled and physically exploited women.