I found the phrase ‘I felt like a piece of meat’ (at a meeting),’ in the article of Washington Post (September 20) titled ‘In early Obama White House, female staffers felt frozen out.’ The article quotes the following episodes contained in the newly released book written by journalist, Ron Suskin:

"Christina Romer (former chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers) is quoted by Suskind saying, after being excluded by Summers at a meeting, “I felt like a piece of meat.”

On Friday, Romer offered a softer denial than Dunn, saying, “I can’t imagine that I ever said this.” “I was told before I went to Washington that there has always been a lot of testosterone in the West Wing,” Romer said Friday

I understand “a piece of meat” implies here “almost nonexistent, like petty object.” But as I searched for the exact definition of “a piece of meat” in Google, I came across the different meaning of usage in AspireNow Blog;

“This is not to be confused with being treated like a piece of property, not to be confused with being treated with ... Consistent committed positive action is a definition of love. ... Again, that makes her feel like a sex object or piece of meat -What do women want?”

I’m curious to know how popular the phrase, “I feel like a piece of meat” is. Isn’t it liable to be misunderstood, particularly when a woman uses, or even politically incorrect to use before a woman?

5 Answers 5


Oishi-san: This is a fairly standard expression used to indicate that someone feels useful only for physical characteristics: what the body can supply to other people. Hence the "meat".

Women are more likely to use this expression than men, I believe. At least I more often hear it from women, who complain that society leads them to being treated like a piece of meat. Men who say it are usually pulling "the old switcheroo," playing against gender stereotype, and therefore it is often said sarcastically for humorous effect by men.

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    +1 I would add that they would use this expression when they have been embarrassed already, and not normally in a public forum.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 1:10
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    @Robusto-san. Ohisashiburi-desu! Thank you for your input. We don’t have “a piece of meat” allusion for almost insignificant presence / existence in Japanese. Ours is inorganic. Pahaps you may know that we call a lowkey or unimportant person “石ころ- ishikro” a stone on the roadside as “I was treated like ‘an ishikoro’ by my boss.” Commented Sep 24, 2011 at 0:05

The expression "felt [or feel or be treated] like a piece of meat" is fairly common today in the approximate sense of "felt dehumanized and objectified, particularly as an object of sexual interest" (my definition).

I was somewhat surprised to discover that the expression is not terribly old. I had expected to find that it had emerged in print from tough-guy noir fiction of the 1930s and 1940s. But the earliest relevant matches for "like a piece of meat" that an Elephind search returns are from the 1970s. From Lynne Margolis, "Dorm Life Evolves into Zoo Story," in the [University Park, Pennsylvania] Daily Collegian (September 16, 1976):

Let's face it, the average dorm resident is not 21, and therefore cannot get into bars to find any action. One has the alternative of walking ll the way to a frat house and hoping to get in (for less than the promise of his first-born son). Then, depending on sex, one is treated like a nobody in a room full of strangers, or like a piece of meat.

From Stacy Smith, "TV Q and A," in the San Bernardino [California] Sun (May 29, 1978):

Q. Anson William once commented on a TV talk show he hates going to Hollywood parties. Why? — F.B., Pensacola, Fla.

A: "It's mostly the parties set up by studios and public relations people that I hate going to," Anson clarifies. "I feel like a piece of meat in those situations. I feel cheapened and I feel mad because I'm thought of as a commodity. Maybe it's the truth, but I don't want to be reminded of it."

And from Kurt Cobb, "Harris Condemns Power Draft Gives Gov't," in the Stanford [California] Daily (March 9, 1979):

He [David Harris] also said that plans which call for the option of service outside of the military cannot be classified as "service" at all. "Service is an act done by willing people of their own free will. ... Coercion has nothing to do with service," he said. "You're going to be a piece of meat to them and they're going to treat you like a piece of meat."

An interesting (but not entirely on-point) example of the simile applied to a person's experience appears in "Eichmann Examination No Over," in the Canberra [Australia] Times (July 21, 1961):

JERUSALEM, Thursday (A.A.P.).—The Israeli Attorney General, Mr. Hausner, ended his cross-examination of Adolf Eichmann after a 10-day battle of question and answer.

The cross-examination lasted 50 hours.

It provoked angry outbursts both from Eichmann, who said at one stage he was being grilled like a piece of meat, and from the prosecutor himself.

Eichmann's assertion. of course, was expressed in German and presumably involves no awareness of the sense of "like a piece of meat"—or of the double meaning of "grilling"—in idiomatic English.

Another widely reported instance of the expression appeared in remarks by Rodney King, in "Rodney King Gets Award of $3.8 Million," in the Los Angeles [California] Times (April 20, 1994):

During the trial, King had graphically described the pain and humiliation he felt on the night he was beaten by Los Angeles police officers in the San Fernando Valley, telling jurors: "I felt like I had been raped. ... I felt like a cow that was waiting to be slaughtered, just like a piece of meat.

Here the first image is of sexual violence and then of an animal being readied for slaughter.

The central emotion expressed in these examples is not shame but anger, repulsion, or revulsion—and recognizing the key elements of the reaction, I think, is crucial to correctly understanding the sense of the expression itself. A person who feels treated like a piece of meat may feel a degree of shame at having been subjected to dehumanizing treatment—paradoxical though that feeling may be—but the person is likely to have an even stronger emotional reaction of anger and disgust at the aggressors' predatory and disrespectful behavior, along with a lucid sense that the treatment to which the person was subjected was unjust. This at any rate is the complex of feelings that I think many people in the United States would associate with the expression "I feel like a piece of meat."

Update (December 21, 2023): I just realized that the most likely reason that I had expected "feel like a piece of meat" to be older (in published material) than it turned out to be was because James Thurber included a cartoon in his book The Thurber Carnival (1945) in which an extremely overfamiliar doctor is leaning over a startled woman to whom he is paying a house call, with the caption:

"You're Not My Patient, You're My Meat, Mrs Quist!"

I loved reading The Thurber Carnival cartoons as a child in the early 1960s, and I probably assumed that "feel like a piece of meat" was connected in some way to Dr. Dobbs and Mrs. Quist.


I would assume that it originates from the 1970s description (which may predate that, of course) of e.g. nightclubs as "cattle markets" where the women danced and the man stood around the perimeter deciding which they would choose.

The phrase also crops up in "The Thoughts of Jefferson Galt" at www.jeffersongalt.com where he says

"I'd rather view a woman as a work of art, Than as a piece of meat"


There are at least two factors, here, and I think one of them is more cultural than strictly linguistic.

One, the implication of a human being "meat" meaning a sex object is not universal outside of context. There are many contexts in which "piece of meat" does carry a sexual connotation, but I think that is generally when the contrasting value is as an emotional being, in other words, sex versus love. In situations where there are other relevant values, such as the intellectual understanding of a complex political situation -- it's just valueless vs. valued.

The second point is to the embarrassment of the situation. To my eye, in American culture, her situation was denigrating in the moment, but not necessarily embarrassing after the fact. Not being valued when one should be valued is not one's own failing, but the failure of the judge. In this case, by speaking out about it, I think she is saying that she feels she should not be embarrassed by this (whether or not she is). In fact, by calling attention to it, I think she's indicating more that she's angry; as such, the admission of having been in that situation is doesn't really add to the embarrassment. I'm not an expert on Japanese culture, by any stretch, but my impression is that this would not all be true there. (In particular, I think admitting later to having been in a situation that was embarrassing in the moment but was no fault of one's own is less embarrassing in American culture than in Japanese culture.)

To sum up -- people are compared to and compare themselves to pieces of meat fairly often. It doesn't always have sexual connotations, but it is not a nice thing to say of someone. Someone saying they felt unvalued is generally considered to be an implicit assertion of a failure on the part of others to value them, rather than on themselves to be valuable; as such, the claim is not generally embarrassing even if the initial situation was.


For a woman to be treated like a piece of meat means that she feels like she has been examined and judged purely for her body, with about the same the same level of respect you'd extend to a piece of meat for sale at a butcher's shop. The meat is something that is simply judged and maybe taken or left, it has no feelings or opinions on the matter that you need concern yourself with.

It's understood that this phrase implies a negative and insulting experience. Possibly a woman might be embarrassed to reveal that she was treated in way, but I doubt she would be embarrassed at the phrase itself.

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