What is Intersectionality?


Mainstream theories of social inequality frequently compartmentalize experiences, but inequality rarely works that way in real life. Instead, individuals are comprised of many different identities at once, and these identities will interact with one another in unique ways.

Furthermore, multiple systems and institutions are simultaneously at work in a given society. So, for instance, simply focusing on race as an identity and white supremacy as an institution ignores the fact that race will be experienced differently by people with different genders, ages, sexualities, abilities, and nationalities.

This schema is known as intersectionality, and it is a concept that emerges out of Black feminist thought.

In animal studies, vegan feminists employ this framework to argue that one’s life chances will be shaped, not just by one’s race, class, or gender, but also by their species. Vegan feminists also recognize the influence of an additional system….human supremacy.

For animals, we want to be thinking about how historical constructions of race, class, gender, and other identities shape how animals are thought about and how they are treated. Female-bodied animals, for example, are more likely to be exploited in the food industry given their ability to produce breastmilk, eggs, and babies. In another example, some animals that are associated with communities of color, like pit bulls, are more susceptible to punitive and often lethal breed restriction policies.

Meanwhile, for human justice theorists, it will be important to recognize how human oppression is always shaped by processes of species inequality. For instance, women and people of color have historically been animalized, and this animalization is inseparable from the oppression they face today.

Given that species, class, race, gender, and other identity categories are all historically constructed using similar mechanisms (such as animalization, objectification, sexualization, depersonalization, denaming, and so on), it is important to apply an intersectional perspective to achieve a more accurate understanding of oppression for nonhuman animals and humans alike.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

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How to Hate Fur Without Hating Women

Words and illustration by Vita Sleigh
Content warning for discussion of misogynistic actions and behaviors in the activist community.

At my first few Animal Save Vigils, I couldn’t help but feel an extra lurch of sickness (to add to the pungent smell of death and terrified screaming from inside) to see that the on-site vet for that slaughterhouse was female. How can she be supporting this? How is this sisterhood? I thought. I somehow expected better of her. My feelings of shock to see women involved in slaughter were matched (and raised) by other activists – gendered insults were leveled at female workers including the “bitch” who worked at reception.

This reaction to women’s exploitation of animals is common, and it is something I have been unpacking. It clicked and made sense when I read Brutal by Brian Luke. “Feminine gender roles typically include an expectation of responsiveness to the needs of others, while masculine gender roles often include an expectation of a willingness to override or disregard [their] sympathies for others”. In other words, we accept, or expect, cruelty from men, while holding women to much higher moral standards. From women we expect nurture, sensitivity and (motherly) care. Seeing a woman driving a truck of chickens to their deaths challenges something fundamental to our constructions of femininity and what it is to be a woman.

In his section about the masculine-dominated world of vivisection, that animal activists respond to female vivisectors with “an extra measure of repugnance, as if a male vivisector’s callousness is unfortunate but expected, whereas a female’s is both lamentable and deviant.”

We also see this attitude in campaigns against “fur” (the hair of other animals). While “fur” is, of course, disgustingly unnecessary and cruel, I have long since found the disproportionate focus of campaigns of organisations and individuals on this issue confusing (without even broaching the murky world of PETA’s sexist ads about the issue). Are the procedures of keeping animals for “fur” – squalid conditions, violently taking their lives and turning their carcasses into products – really so different from the similarly squalid conditions and murder to which we subject farmed animals for “meat” and their skins worn as “leather”? I would argue not.  (And, while we’re here – I do not subscribe to the argument that “fur” is more futile or wasteful than “leather” because “at least farmed animals are killed and eaten”. To argue this point is to suggest that the individuals’ death is somehow better if their mutilated body is eventually consumed or used. It is also to accept the view that animal bodies are products, and not violated, murdered corpses.)

I worry that the attitude to “fur” in the animal rights world is in a similar vein to the way the Yulin Dogmeat Festival and the consumption of dogmeat is, with racist overtones, disproportionately criticised by those in the West. Not to mention the even more overt racism and speciesism exhibited by those who pay for the same or similar to happen to pigs, chickens and cows. We are not being careful enough to prevent other prejudices, be they sexism or racism or any other -ism, from seeping in to animal liberation.

Notwithstanding the fact that traditionally men have purchased fur for women to wear as a symbol of the man’s wealth and status (and even today, in this postfeminist age, men continue to be the primary consumer purchasers of fur), fur is seen as a woman’s product…Fur and cosmetics have both been used to help implement a particular construction of gender roles, one in which women are held to be naturally and ceaselessly engaged in decorating and adorning their bodies to attract the attention of men

– Brian Luke, Brutal

This is a culture that insists women’s only talent is to be endlessly beautiful and glamorous in order to attract the attention of the (cis, straight) male gaze; and then berates them in the same breath as being vain and shallow.

It is true that, by grace of meat eaters’ own hypocrisy, it is easier for many people to feel angry at the issue of “fur;” unlike animal agriculture, they are far enough away from financially supporting the industry to be feel able to criticise it. However, that it has more of a public backing may also have to do with gender. “We have not seen men in leather jackets being accosted, verbally haranged and physically assaulted…Killing animals for sport, for science, for a steak dinner, or a leather jacket – that is not excessive violence, that is men’s violence. This society is certainly willing to intervene against women becoming manly through an overly direct connection to animal abuse, but it will not stop men from being men”.

Let me be clear. Women who buy “fur” should by no means be excused from bearing the heavy moral burden that someone had to die for their clothes choice. Female workers in slaughterhouses are far from forgiven, but to an equal extent that their male co-workers are not forgiven. It is about holding both genders to the same standards, and being aware of the context of our sexist society can help us to unpick the reactions we have to femininity and exploitation. It can help us to understand why red paint is thrown at women in “fur” coats, and not at men wearing leather or eating a hamburger.

 


Vita is an illustrator and writer. Her deep interest in gender politics pervades her work, as well as a firm belief in the transformative power of care and compassion.

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Nonhuman Consent: On Touching Other Animals


Words and illustration by Vita Sleigh

Understanding other animals as individuals includes respecting their bodily autonomy and rights. Recently, to better understand the experience of the animals I interact with, I have been trying to imagine what it’s like to do what they do, and how they experience it. For example, I watched dogs in a busy street being stroked by passers by – what are they experiencing? Pleasure? Shock and surprise? Irritation? Violation, even? Certainly, this will be different for each individual and probably at different times, too.

It can be useful to frame their rights to what happens to animals’ bodies in terms of (human) consent. This is most often talked about in terms of asking for consent before a sexual act, but it can also be prudent to ask before any physical interaction like hugging, touching the face, or otherwise entering someone else’s personal space. This grants them ultimate control over what happens to them and their body, which not only shows basic respect but is also critically important when taking into account peoples’ histories and the possibility that they have experienced trauma which might make physical contact troubling or difficult.

Although it may not be possible to verbally ask for consent before touching other animals, we are able to read them and the messages they are giving us; in this way, once we begin to look, they are indeed communicating to us what they want to happen. We can offer our hand to smell – for many animals this is the way they greet and assess others. We also recognise for example that a dog coming towards us wagging their tail and looking up at us is a sign of them choosing to interact with us. Their choosing to stay nearby, along with visible signs of pleasure (wagging tail, relaxing) while we stroke them – if they are not on a lead – is presumably a sign that they are enjoying it. So by taking clues from them, we can grant animals more freedom and choice about their bodies. Without this, we risk a one-sided interaction which is only of benefit to the human and possibly distressing for the animal.

A context in which this idea is useful could be at Animal Saves. There is a question amongst activists who attend Slaughterhouse Vigils over touching the animals. For some people, the aim of vigils is to show love to the animals in their final moments; to say sorry for what humans have done to them, and to say goodbye. Whilst this is powerful – it is true that my own attendance at vigils are rarely without deep emotion and pain – it strikes me that the goal of showing the animals love by stroking or touching them is an approach which still centres the human experience. The sight of the traumatised beings inside the trucks backing away from activists as they stick their hands inside the slats to touch them is distressing and seems counter-productive to me. The humans seek a connection with those they fighting to protect the lives of, but forget perhaps that the pigs, cows or other poor soul inside has probably only ever known violation and cruelty at the hands of humans. Though we may know that we are kind and gentle vegans, they do not know this. It does not mean necessarily that they will want to interact with us, and nor should they be obliged to. I have been reflecting on something a fellow activist succinctly pointed out – that when activists touch or stroke the animals in the trucks, they take away the only thing left to them: their personal space.

In Brian Luke’s Brutal, he discusses the erotics value hunters find in stroking the fur and touching the antlers of the deer they have killed. Luke suggests that this thrill comes from touching a wild animal who would never allow someone close enough to touch them when alive. For them, the thrill is in the violation: not only have they succeeded in killing the animal, but now they may do something against what had been their will when alive. The hunter has gained what they sought: complete control. The parallels between forced touching of (dead) wild animals, and the patriarchal culture of violent and dominating sex are evident: both are the (erotic) enjoyment of control and violation.

To a lesser extent than those who hunt animals, nonetheless there is in all of us a socialised, patriarchal desire to be in control of other animals: children like to chase pigeons, dogs are kept on leads as a sign of a well-controlled animal and a skillful animal “owner” who keeps their animals under control is respected. We all live in a culture which maintains that animals are here for us to use and control. In all interactions with other animals, we must bear in mind that our relationships with other animals exist in this context, and as a result we have to be vigilant in ensuring that our interactions with them are mutually desired, and don’t centre us as the only participant. For example, instead of thinking “I want to stroke this cat – I love animals” we could observe them, taking enjoyment instead from being around them. I value the cats I have met who enjoy being in the same room as me, seeing what I’m up to and occasionally coming closer for attention – sharing a space with other animals is an intimacy and a connection in itself. By respecting their distance, we may interact with them on their terms – the relationship formed will based on mutual trust and will no doubt be far more rewarding.


Vita is an illustrator and writer. Her deep interest in gender politics pervades her work, as well as a firm belief in the transformative power of care and compassion.

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The Sexual Exploitation of Dogs

By Julia Jagodka

Who doesn’t love puppies? They’re adorable, playful and free-spirited, yet most of these cute pups that people adopt (or buy) are products of a cruel chain of events. According to the ASPCA, female dogs are expected to be ready to mate when they are about 6 months old and are forced to mate for the profit of the owners. Too many loving puppies will be the result of forced and abusive mating. Think about it; this very closely resembles child prostitution in a nonhuman sense.

There are “farms” called puppy mills that are notorious for profiting from “breeding” dogs. These puppy mills are often overcrowded and unsanitary; all unhealthy for puppies confined in small areas and forced to breed. The ASPCA explains that puppies who are bought from puppy mills are more likely to have heart complications, as they are traumatized by the treatment they received at those puppy “farms.”

In addition to heart disease, puppy mill puppies are prone to other congenital and hereditary conditions including blood and respiratory disorders. Puppy mill puppies often arrive in “pet stores” and in their new homes with diseases or infirmities ranging from parasites to pneumonia. Because puppies are removed from their siblings and mothers at a young age, they also often suffer from fear, anxiety and behavioral problems.

The female canines are forced to breed over and over again to fuel society’s demand for purebred puppies, meaning that capitalism is running on the female dogs. Yet this isn’t only happening with dogs, but also with chickens forced to produce eggs, cows forced to produce milk, and pregnant horses forced to produce estrogen; all female bodies are exploited for the profit of our capitalist society.

Moreover, a female dog is actually called a bitch. This is more than a technical term for a female dog; it has larger social meaning. Such language is often used as an insult to demean their status. Its pejorative usage intersects with sexism and heterosexism, because it is also levied as an insult towards a woman or even non-conforming men. A man’s first instinctive response towards a woman who deceives or insults him is to call her a ‘bitch’ (Wrenn 2017). Why do people feel the need to impose these ‘societal norms’ onto dogs and other inhuman animals?

Female dogs are not the only animals who are sexually exploited. Male dogs are also used for “breeding,” of course. It is not uncommon for people to post advertisements of their “studs” online to secure them a mate to produce more purebred pups. Not unlike human men, studs are supposed to be muscular and sexually virile. If these “breeders” can’t get them to naturally reciprocate, then it gets even creepier. There are actual machines, called ‘mating stands’ that enforce this process of breeding if the canines are being uncooperative, or the female is too big for the male (Bailing Out Benji 2017).

There is also something classist and racist about the fetishization of purebreds. Dogs that are not purebred, dubbed ‘mutts’, are often tossed aside, unwanted, and put into shelters. Scruffy mutts, who deserve just as much love as any other dog, are ignored. With this in mind, intersectionality theory is also relevant to canines because of the devaluing of disability. Puppy mills can produce physical deformities and mental disabilities since there is inbreeding occurring. Some dogs are killed instantly after birth because of perceived defects (Fackler 2006). If a dog has a physical disability that reduces their chances of being ‘purchased’ or adopted, they are likely to be put into a shelter or “euthanized.”

Humans are sexualizing and objectifying these animals. Why do humans feel the need to control dogs in such ways? People like the feeling of superiority. People (particularly men) begin to believe they are superior to them, which gives them a justification to exploit them for their profit (Luke 2007, p. 6). Breeding contributes to the homelessness of future puppies. Present day shelters have now been turned into ‘landfills’, with canines often kept in lonely cages, and, for the majority who enter shelters, these dogs will likely be killed. People are treating these canines like puppets and controlling their lives and destinies.

Although humans and dogs are very different biologically, we are more similar than we think. Human females endure sexual objectification at work by male co-workers, or even in restaurants by strangers. Female dogs, meanwhile, are sexually objectified by their “breeders.” This sexual objectification extends to males as well. In “breeding facilities,” males are consistently judged based on masculine gender norms relating to sexual performance. Both male and female dogs are extorted for the “breeders’” profit.

All species should be able to live in unison, and humans should not take advantage of nonhuman animals. The exploitation of canines should be socially rejected. If people continue to protest these puppy mills, hopefully they will go out of business and cease operation. Without puppy mills in play, more potential dog purchasers will resort to adoption. Rather than purchasing dogs like objects, adopting a best friend should be the first action. Puppy mills should be completely disbanded considering that the industry inherently exploits female dogs through forced “breeding” and objectifies these animals by making them commodities.

 

Works Cited

Fackler, Martin. 2006. “Japan, Home of the Cute and Inbred Dog.” The New York Times, 27 Dec. 2006.

Luke, Brian. 2007. Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals. University of Illinois Press.

ASPCA. N.d. Puppy Mills.

Bailing Out Benji. 2017. “The Sexual Perversion Behind Breeding.” Bailing Out Benji, April 20.

Wrenn, Corey. 2017. Module 11: Intersections with Other Animals.


Julia Jagodka is currently a first year student at Monmouth University that is majoring in Biology. After college, she hopes to pursue a career in dentistry. She grew up in Avenel, NJ. Jagodka loves animals, and even helps in nursing feral kittens and finding them new, loving homes. In her free time, she loves to draw and paint. Jagodka is the oldest of her two siblings and that is why she hopes to be a good role model for them while they grow up. Julia speaks fluent Polish, as both of her parents immigrated from Poland about 19 years ago. She had also attended Polish School every Saturday for the last 10 years in order to perfect her Polish. Overall, she is a very enjoyable an engaging person to be around.

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Pourquoi cette Végane ne Regarde-t-elle plus de Programmes Animaliers

Translated by Hypathie

J’adorais regarder des programmes animalierEVis quand j’étais enfant. J’ai toujours été une amie des animaux. Cependant, plus je vieillis, moins j’ai de patience envers ces programmes. En fait, je les boycotte pratiquement tout le temps à cause de leurs inévitables scènes de mort et de souffrance (scènes que les documentaristes passent des mois à capturer afin de donner du peps à leurs documentaires), que je trouve traumatisantes.

Aujourd’hui, je me souviens encore de ces scènes graphiques et horrifiantes. Une bête sauvage éventrée par des lions alors qu’elle se débat et pleure pour sa vie ; des hyènes attaquant une lionne, la laissant mourir lentement, la mâchoire brisée, assoiffée, dans la chaleur africaine ; un groupe d’épaulards noyant un bébé baleine à bosse pour le plaisir pendant que la mère se bat pendant des heures pour le protéger, etc.

Même la Marche de l’empereur, classé G, donc présumé pour enfants, était, pour moi, un film profondément dérangeant car il mettait en scène des familles séparées par la prédation et la cruelle mort lente par hypothermie et famine, sentences de mort prononcées pour des poussins et des partenaires dépendants.

Quand j’étais jeune, je devais m’endurcir et me forcer à regarder. Après tout « c’est la réalité » disait le slogan. Mais maintenant, je le vois pour ce que c’est : une glorification de la violence et une tentative forcenée de formater la nature (un espace généralement pacifique caractérisé par la coexistence et la symbiose) en un univers brutal et sans pitié. Ces programmes deviennent une justification idéologique à la société violente que les humains ont construite.

L’incantation « c’est réellement comme ça » encourage la société à étouffer la compassion, la paix et la non-violence. Un autre exemple : la même intention préside aux films de guerre. Le public est supposé assister à des scènes horrifiantes de garçons et d’hommes tuant d’autres garçons et d’autres hommes parce que « c’est comme ça, que c’est la réalité ». D’implacables images de violence envers les femmes qui paraissent désormais obligatoires dans les scénarios actuels, convoquent la même chose. De la même manière, on attend des activistes qu’ils s’endurcissent et absorbent l’imagerie de violence contre les animaux non-humains commise par des humains à travers d’incessants messages sur les medias sociaux véganes, de nouveau, « parce que c’est la réalité ».

Le piège réside dans le fait que la violence n’apparaît pas tout le temps, ni même la plupart du temps. Les médias sont une construction sociale. Ce qui y est présenté est consciencieusement fabriqué par des auteurs, des metteurs en scène, des patrons d’associations, et d’autres, dans le but d’accroître leurs audiences et leur volumes de donations. Cela sert aussi le pouvoir en confortant la société dans l’idée que l’inégalité est un fait incontestable. C’est donc une narration de violence, de hiérarchie et de domination patriarcale qui est une perspective parmi d’autres, mais qui devient l’idéologie dominante, noyant toute alternative.

En m’affirmant féministe, je me suis finalement endurcie, mais pas de la façon dont les médias s’y attendaient. J’ai acquis la confiance de dire non et de rejeter cette narration. Je change de programme ou j’éteins. Je réalise maintenant que je n’ai pas à me punir en adhérant aux normes patriarcales qui m’enjoignent de supprimer mon empathie et d’être honteuse de trouver la violence abominable. Pour moi, ce n’est pas du divertissement, c’est de l’endoctrinement, et ça va mieux en le disant.

 

A version of this essay was first published on The Academic Activist Blogger on December 19, 2015.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

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Why This Vegan Doesn’t Watch Nature Programs

I used to love nature programs as a kid. I was always a lover of animals. Yet, the older I get, the less patience I have for them. In fact, I boycott them now almost entirely because of those inevitable scenes of death and suffering (scenes which film-makers actually spend months hoping to capture to give some “excitement” to their documentary) are just too traumatizing for me. 

Some of the most graphic and unsettling scenes I witnessed as a child I can still recount today. A wildebeest disemboweled by lions as they kick and scream for life; hyenas attacking a lioness, leaving her to die slowly from a broken jaw and thirst in the African heat; a pod of orcas drowning a baby humpback whale for fun after their mother struggles for hours to protect them, etc.

Even March of the Penguins, rated G and presumably kid-friendly, was, to me, a deeply upsetting film that spotlighted families separated by predation and the cruel slow deaths from exposure and starvation that were sentenced to dependent partners and chicks.

 

When I was younger, I felt the need to toughen up and force myself to watch. After all, “that’s how it really is,” or so the mantra goes. But now I see it for what it is: the glorification of violence and a forced attempt to frame nature (a generally peaceful space predominantly characterized by coexistence and symbiosis) as a brutish, merciless world. These programs become an ideological justification for the violent society that humans have constructed.

The incantation of “That’s how it really is” encourages society to stifle compassion, peace, and non-violence. By way of another example, the same intention is associated with war movies. Audiences are expected to sit through graphic scenes of boys and men killing other boys and men because “that’s how it really is.” Relentless images of violence against women, which appear to be mandated in modern script-writing, demand the same. Likewise, activists are expected to toughen up and absorb imagery of violence against Nonhuman Animals committed by humans through endless posts on vegan social media spaces, again, because “that’s how it really is.”

The catch is that violence is not really how it is all of the time, or even most of the time. Media is a social construction. What is being presented is consciously fabricated by authors, directors, nonprofit leaders, and others who have an agenda to increase ratings or donations. There is also an agenda to protect the powers that be by ensuring society that inequality is a fact of life. This is a narrative of violence, hierarchy, and patriarchal dominance that is only one perspective, but it becomes a dominant ideology, drowning out alternatives.

As I found my feminist groundings, I finally “toughened up,” but not in the way that Big Media expected me to. I grew the confidence to say no and reject this narrative. I change the channel; I tune out. I realize now that don’t have to punish myself to adhere to patriarchal norms that expect me to suppress my empathy and be ashamed of finding violence abhorrent. To me this isn’t entertainment, it’s indoctrination, and there’s got to be something better on.

 

A version of this essay was first published on The Academic Activist Blogger on December 19, 2015.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com