by Anatha Pearle Hurwitz

How did “chicks” become embedded in our language as an oppressive term to objectify women? And how does this oppression connect to violence against nonhuman animals?

Many women feel it is sexist to be called “chicks”. Immediately this word conjures images of yellow baby chickens. Baby chickens in Western culture are represented as alliterative symbols of sweet springtime renewal, while also being tortured and murdered as consumable bodies by the food industry. Similarly, women are often culturally represented as embodying a sweet childlike innocence, while also being brutalized as consumable bodies within a system of male supremacy.

“Chick” has long been American slang referring to a young woman and even has roots in patriarchy. The first recorded example of women referred to as “chicks” occurs in the 1926 American satirical novel ‘Elmer Gantry’ by Sinclair Lewis: “He didn’t want to marry this brainless little fluffy chick.” From this first usage in popular culture, we see baby chickens and young women both associated with stupidity. Bird brained. Prior to this the term referred to children, as far back as the 17th century, and several modern dictionaries retain this definition. Referring to women as children implies they require supervision and control, an idea that is central to male domination.

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Propagation of the chicken/woman analogy enables a culture devaluing of womanhood, particularly feminine womanhood. And it’s everywhere: pornography, television, movies. And because of this it is widely used by young men. The comedy video website Funny Or Die features an article titled “7 differences between women and chicks.” In it the male author contrasts what he sees as respectable women with women who are “chicks” — poor, promiscuous, air headed, naive, petty, gossipy, have ridiculous aspirations, who “will probably fuck you”, are not even women.

The sexist and fatphoic slogan “No Fat Chicks” has been used on countless bumper stickers and dating sites. Last year French car hire service Uber was forced to cancel its promotion offering men a free 20-minute ride with an “incredibly hot chick.” This year an Iowa politician was forced to apologize after calling his female opponent a “chick.” On the English as a second language website Antimoon, one woman writes, “How dare guys call us ladies chicks! How can women ever be compared to chicks which are stupid little birds?”

And then there are “chick flicks.” These movies denote romantic comedies of little to no artistic value, which film production companies market to appeal primarily to young women. Even book publishers which focus on love stories have been labeled “chick lit”. Films thought of as chick flicks usually have poor acting and predictable story lines. Our cultural designation of women- and girl-centric films as chick flicks is an outgrowth of how patriarchy sees women as ridiculously emotional and lightheartedly frivolous; it reflects a deep seated hatred of women.

The first films considered chick flicks were 1950s melodramas which were universally shunned by film critics, and this continued with teenage girl movies. Within a male dominated society, chick flicks stand in contrast with what are deemed the great cinematic works of film history. Nevertheless film studios have made fortunes from these films, which in turn reproduce the associations between young women and inanity. Perhaps nowhere else in the analogy do we see “chick” more often used to describe a lack of substance. For example, the website My Pick Flick allows users to rate whether a film is a ‘man movie’ or a ‘chick flick’.

So who benefits from baby chickens being used to describe stupidity and worthlessness? With an estimated yearly revenue of $29bn, Bloomberg Business says 2014 was the most profitable year ever for the U.S. poultry industry.

From McDonald’s to Subway to Chick-fil-A to Chipotle: the capitalists who run these profitable food enterprises rely, in fact depend upon, an ideological justification for the murders of 9 billion chickens and for the use of 400 million hens for their eggs. Male chicks whose reproductive systems cannot be exploited by the egg industry are thrown in trash bags (or ground up alive) and female chicks’ beaks are cut off with a hot blade.  More chickens are slaughtered for their flesh than all other land animals together. Their enslavement is indispensable to business.

These industries need an ideology to spread, in order to support such outstanding violence.

If this culture viewed chickens as the bright, complex, powerful beings that they are, capable of dreams and empathy, speciesism could collapse.  And if this culture viewed women as beings worthy of social values which respect us, patriarchy would collapse.

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