Essay Reading – Single-Issue Campaigns are the White Feminism of Animal Rights

Vegan Feminist Radio

White feminism prioritizes the interests of relatively privileged women with the expectation that their gains, more easily won, will trickle down to more marginalized women. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement demonstrates this problematic tactic as well, frequently to the exclusion of vegan outreach and to the detriment of the most marginalized of species.

Reading by Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn; music by Lucas Hayes.

This is an installment of Vegan Feminist Network’s podcast series, making popular essays more accessible through audio recording. You can access the original essay by clicking here.

Archives of this podcast can be found here.

How Vegans can be Better Pro-Intersectional Activists

vegan-unity

Content Warning: Ableism, trans antagonism, racism

By Aris Austin

A couple of weeks ago, I published an article on why vegans need to be better pro-intersectional activists. If you haven’t already read that article, I encourage you to read it before moving on to this one. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary: Being a pro-intersectional activist (1) is the right thing to do and (2) will make our movement stronger.

So, how can we go about actually being pro-intersectional activists? I am by no means an expert on the issue, but I do try my best. I hope to outline a few first steps we can all take below.

1. Listen

Listen, listen, listen. This is number one on my list for a reason. Leadership starts with listening. Unless you are a single mother struggling to feed her family, you won’t know what her life is like unless you listen to her. And if you try to advocate for her before listening, you’re talking over her instead of using your voice to amplify hers. That isn’t good advocacy.

Listening doesn’t necessarily mean needing to seek out that single mother, or sitting on your hands until you happen to hear her speaking. You can educate yourself. It’s easier now than ever to listen to the stories, experiences, and needs of people. A simple Google search will yield countless articles, blog posts, and videos from single mothers talking about their experiences. So do some research. Listen to the voices of oppressed individuals. Learn, and then use your own voice to amplify theirs.

2. Never stop listening

If you haven’t seen Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” I encourage you to watch it. As she explains, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

We cannot allow ourselves to think that because we know a single story, we know every story. Listening to that mother’s story is an important step, but it does not make us an expert on the lives of everyone struggling to feed their children. How can we claim to know the story of a disabled mother of two in Chicago simply because we’ve already listened to the story of an able-bodied mother of three in São Paulo? Their experiences may be completely different. If we ever make the mistake of thinking that we’re done learning, we limit our ability to do good things and increase our potential to cause damage.

3. Own your mistakes

This one can be hard to do, but it’s also incredibly important. And hey, we all mess up sometimes. Every single one of us has made some kind of mistake in the past, and as we learn, it’s reasonable to expect ourselves to make more. However, the way we handle ourselves after making a mistake can mean the difference between a good and a bad conversation. Because of this, it’s important to handle ourselves well.

In my article on why vegans need to be better pro-intersectional activists, I used an example where you unintentionally hurt a friend by using the term “moral schizophrenia” to describe the treatment of animals. Let’s explore that example again, first looking at what might happen owning your impact.

You: “The way people cuddle their dogs at night and have no problem slaughtering pigs…They don’t even feel bad about eating bacon, but recoil at the thought of eating dogs. It’s total moral schizophrenia!”

Your friend: “Whoa, hold on. I get what you’re trying to say, but it really bothers me that you call it “schizophrenia.” That makes it sound like people with schizophrenia are violent, or don’t know how to make moral decisions. I have schizophrenia, remember? I would never hurt anyone.”

You: “I see what you mean, but that’s not my intention. I’m just saying that people treat animals in unpredictable and sometimes violent ways. I’m not trying to offend anyone.”

Your friend: “But when you use it like that, it’s ableist. You’re adding to the stigma that makes people see me as violent, unsafe to be around, and unfit to live in society. Will you please stop using that term?”

You: “You don’t get it. That’s not what I mean at all. I mean, obviously I feel safe around you, so you know that isn’t what I mean. I get that the term might offend you, but it’s a pretty common term in the animal rights movement. Sometimes we have to use shocking language to explain shocking things. Anyway, if most people knew that pigs weren’t all that different from dogs…”

You have completely lost your friend at this point. By defending yourself instead of listening, you’re causing hurt and perpetuating stereotypes that potentially limit her options in life. You’ve probably caused some damage to your relationship, and you’re certainly not getting anywhere with your vegan message. Worse, you may have given her the impression that veganism is an inherently ableist movement, and you’ve left yourself open to making the same mistake in the future.

Now let’s look at an example where you own your impact and address your mistake:

You: “The way people cuddle their dogs at night and have no problem slaughtering pigs…They don’t even feel sorry about eating bacon, but recoil at the thought of eating dogs. It’s total moral schizophrenia!”

Your friend: “Whoa, hold on. I get what you’re trying to say, but it really bothers me that you call it “schizophrenia.” That makes it sound like people with schizophrenia are violent, or don’t know how to make moral decisions. I have schizophrenia, remember? I would never hurt anyone.”

You: “Wow…I guess I never thought of it that way. I don’t know what to say, except that I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m going to make an effort to stop using that term, and to be more aware of casual ableism in my language. Thank you for telling me.”

Sure, it sounds a little corny, and apologizing and owning your impact probably didn’t fix everything. Your friend may still be hurt. But by simply apologizing and not arguing, you’ve minimized the damage you’ve done and taken a big step toward doing better in the future. Rather than alienating your friend, you’ve shown her respect, and you’ve taken a step toward deconstructing oppressive systems.

It can be hard to take being called out well. Our first reaction is to become defensive, because we feel like we’re being attacked. It might be helpful to keep in mind that your friend probably only spoke up because she trusts you. She knows that you’re a good, thoughtful person, so she expects you to be willing to correct your mistake. In a way, her calling you out may be a sign that she thinks highly of you and is willing to push you to do better.

4. Speak up

This step combines all of the previous steps and helps you create positive change. You can’t (and shouldn’t) rely on your friend to educate every vegan on why saying “moral schizophrenia” is wrong. Let’s say that after your conversation, you went home and did some extra reading on why saying “moral schizophrenia” is problematic (educating yourself is great!). Now, let’s say that a few weeks later, you hear another vegan drop the term. This is your chance to speak up.

It’s probably more constructive to engage this other vegan in a conversation rather than outright attacking them. Since you also used to use the term, you can start by finding common ground with them, and then explaining why you’ve changed your mind. Let’s look at an example:

You: “Hey, I just wanted to point out something you might not be aware of. I noticed your use of the term “moral schizophrenia,” which is something I used to say too. But a friend recently pointed out that it implies those with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous. That’s already a major stereotype that can limit their employment, housing opportunities, and even safety. When we use it to describe violent systems, it only worsens the societal stigmas they have to live with every day. I know you probably didn’t mean any harm, but do you think we could talk about using different language that isn’t so harmful?”

They may change their behavior based on that simple conversation. Even if they reject your invitation, at least you did the right thing. You’re acting in support of your friend, and you’re working to remove harmful behavior from the vegan community. In doing so, you’re doing the right thing, and you’re making the vegan movement stronger by making it more inclusive and accessible.

It is important to note here that we should use our voices to amplify the voices of oppressed individuals rather than “talking over” them. What I mean by this is that we should be mindful of the space we’re taking up, especially if we’re speaking from a place of privilege. Like many things, this is dependent on the situation. If a man in a group of men hears a misogynistic remark from his friend, that is absolutely the time and place for him to speak up. However, if that same man finds himself in a room where several women are already discussing their own experiences of harassment from men, this is probably a good time for him to listen and learn rather than launching into a speech of his own. Women in our society are already so often “spoken for” by men, so it’s best for him not to take over the conversation, especially because he’s probably the least experienced person in the room on that particular subject.

5. Act in solidarity with others

I’m not saying we all need to drop animal rights as our first priority. But there’s little that bothers me more than people who purposely ignore every other form of oppression simply because of animals. To avoid speaking out against racism or xenophobia simply because you think the group of people being attacked is especially bad for the animals is (and yeah, I’ve seen stuff like that coming from some fairly prominent vegans). To condone slurs about Chinese people “because they eat dogs” ignores the fact that (1) people in many other countries eat pigs, who aren’t so different from dogs, (2) there are many wonderful activists in China working to end the dog meat trade and (3) racism is never justified, no matter what stereotypes you decide to believe.

We can do better by avoiding this mistake, but we can also do better by acting in solidarity with others. There are so many other movements that deserve our support, and we can give it to them by making very few or even no sacrifices to our work for the animals. Consider North Carolina-based group Vegans for Peace. Members of their group have joined other LGBT rights activists for several protests against North Carolina’s discriminatory House Bill 2. I imagine that many of these activists are animal rights activists first and foremost, but they understand the injustice happening in their state, and they’re taking the time and effort to protest it.

Acts of solidarity like this not only help combat injustice, but also make the vegan movement more inclusive. A group of vegans protesting HB2 tells the government that trans discrimination is wrong. But it also tells trans people that they’re safe around that group of vegans. And if we help people feel safe and welcomed around us (rather than making them feel unsafe or excluded, like some vegans seem intent on doing,) it greatly increases our movement’s potential for growth and positive change.

This is part two of four in a series on veganism and social justice.


meAris Austin is an author, student, and activist who writes fiction and nonfiction that aims to dismantle oppression. Their fiction has previously been awarded with honors at Colorado State University, where they attend school and serve as president for the university’s animal rights group. Aris can be found on Facebook page and more of their writing is available on their website.

Podcast #3 – Vegan Feminist Travel

vegan-travel

In this podcast, Corey and Brian rant about vegan travel, picky eaters, encounters with forest-dwelling Tofurky bandits, and the sexual politics of vegan food apps.

This episode is not safe for work (contains cursing).

Episode recorded on September 3, 2016.

Is Veganism Ableist? A Disabled Vegan Perspective

Photo of myself in my motorized wheelchair, Betty. It am outdoors on a sunny day at the piers in New York City. I am dressed colorfully with colorful striped socks, black combat boots and capris and a red t-shirt that reads “The Revolution Is Wheelchair Accessible.”

Disability is just another way for a mind and/or body to be. We are not broken.

Author’s Note: While I am still vegan, it’s been over a year that my primary focus (for many reasons) as an activist is no longer animal rights/liberation. As a disabled person, I remain intersectional in my support, but my focus is now disability rights. Since this change, I have heard of many instances of disabled people who experienced ableism from the AR community. While this was certainly not news to me, as I too have experienced this, I want to address the following question from the disabled vegan perspective: is veganism ableist?

By Michele Kaplan

Every time I delve deeper into the disabled twitter-sphere, without fail I come across tweets from the disability community talking about how ableist vegans are. Vegans calling a disabled person a liar when they state that they can not be vegan due to their disability. Vegans telling disabled folk that if they just ate a healthy whole food vegan diet, they would be “cured”. As if said vegans were actual doctors that specialized in that specific disability, and thus were properly educated regarding any possible treatment options (including medications). As if one size fits all and the vegan diet was a solution for every medical situation. As if by default, disability made a person “broken” and in need of fixing / being cured.

And as a disabled vegan, I often find myself between these two worlds. I cringe and facepalm when I read these tweets, as I try to do damage control: ‘Hey. I’m a disabled vegan and I just wanted to say that I am really sorry you experienced ableism from the vegan community. That is not cool’, in hopes of creating some sense of healing.

So, is ableism a problem within the vegan community? Absolutely. There are intersectional animal rights activists who have solidarity and who get it, but there are also activists who identify as intersectional, but miss the mark on ableism. There are also single issue animal rights activists who don’t even know the word ableism or who do, but don’t care because (to them) the only cause that matters is animal rights, which is just as problematic as it sounds.

Anyone who is involved in activism knows that single issue and faux intersectional activism, by default is indisputably problematic. However, it is only fair to note that Ableism is certainly not just an “animal rights thing”, since Ableism occurs in any cause where the activism is based on an able bodied model and/or the cause fails to acknowledge the existence of disability.

So, is veganism ableist? This is why I say no. Veganism at it’s root is a philosophy, an idea that the animals don’t exist for us. Just as a disabled person, I don’t exist to be someone’s inspiration nor target of pity, animals do not exist to be our meals and clothing. They have their own lives and exist for themselves. This may not be the mainstream way of thinking, but as with all forms of oppression, just because someone decided that a particular demographic is inferior, doesn’t make it true nor does it justify the oppression.

photo of Esther, The Wonder Pig who is napping with a highly content grin on her face.

It’s complicated because often vegans will come across people who say “Oh, I could never go vegan. I love cheese (bacon etc.) too much and I could never give that up.” This of course, is not a factual statement, as it is not oxygen in which their life depends on. So technically they could give it up. They just choose not to, which is different from the disabled person who due to their disability / chronic illness, may not have the choice. There are some vegans who fail to make note of the difference, who are unaware that the difference even exists. It’s as if they hear both answers and their bullshit meter immediately goes off, not realizing that the latter is actually valid.

Some vegans might argue: but what if the disabled person in question, is just using their disability as an excuse to not go vegan? This is incredibly harmful and triggering and so as a disabled vegan, I say: believe them every single damn time. I would rather let that one hypothetical person, that 1 out of 10,000 (assuming they even exist) “off the hook”, then give the remaining 9,999 people yet more crap to deal with. Disabled people often experience social and systemic ableism on a daily basis. The last thing the community needs is further discrimination.

It’s also complicated because there is this idea in the animal rights community, that there is no such thing as a half or partial vegan. You either do it 100% hardcore or you can not claim the label. And if you can’t call yourself vegan, then you are deemed as an unethical and a lousy human being. This in itself is ableist because if a person is legitimately not able to go the 100%, then they shouldn’t be shamed for that.

a model is hugging a variety of vegetables and holding them close to her chest. she is grinning and looking to the right

It’s also complicated because in truth, no one is 100% vegan. When I go to the market to get vegan food, I go to a market that has a whole section dedicated to meat, eggs and dairy. Therefore, I am essentially, though indirectly, financially supporting a business that profits from the animal agriculture industry. When I use a grocery delivery service (as due to my disability, I can not always make it to the store), they bag the groceries in plastic bags which (and I kid you not) contain additives that are derived from animals. My point being, that the system in it’s current state, makes it impossible to do zero harm and thus there is no such thing as the perfect vegan.

Veganism is thus about doing the least harm and the most good. And so if one can not go fully vegan due to their health and/or disability, it becomes a matter of doing what they can. Consider eating less meat. Not an option? Considering drinking a non-dairy “milk” (soy, rice, almond, oats, coconut etc.) instead of buying dairy milk. Or if changing ones diet is not an option, then consider purchasing products for your home and body that are not tested on animals, if not totally vegan. One can choose to buy clothing made from synthetic material instead of animal skins such as leather, fur and suede. If you already own a leather coat, as an example, and can not afford to buy a new synthetic one, then wear the coat but do less harm in other ways. My point being, it’s about doing what you can. It doesn’t matter if this doesn’t “qualify” you to accurately identify as vegan. It’s better to do some good and less harm than nothing at all.

photo is of the earth, a view from space.

And do keep in mind that this goes beyond the animals. There are mainstream scientific studies that show that the animal agriculture industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change. This is big, considering since climate change is an issue that directly impacts us all, but particularly people who are poor and/or the disabled population. After all, who is often left stranded during and after a major storm (such as a hurricane)?

Or even just the impact of climate change on every day weather. Climate change is being linked to the increase in heat advisories which prevent people (like myself) who are medically sensitive to the heat, from leaving their home. I am vegan for many reasons, but one of them being is that I do not do well with being stuck in my apartment for a week. When I do my best to not support the animal agriculture industry, I lessen climate change, and thus I lessen the physical isolation that I experience, which impacts my well being.

That being said, the intention of this article, is not trying to tell people what to do nor demand change. I just wanted to address the question of “is veganism ableist?” as a disabled vegan and present you with the information from that perspective. Because in the end, it is never … ever okay when a vegan (or anyone) is ableist (or any other form of discrimination), but that doesn’t make veganism (or a variation of), a bad idea.

 

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on September 6, 2016.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

whyveganism.com

We Need More Pro-Intersectional Activism in the Animal Rights Movement

Aris Austin

Content Warning: Rape mention, ableism, racism, misogyny

People tend not to respond well when individuals outside of a group criticize said group. So I’m here, a dedicated member of the animal rights community, to say this: we need to do better on inclusivity. Way better.

I’m not saying this to argue, and I’m not saying this to accuse anyone. I’m saying it because it’s absolutely necessary if we want to think of ourselves as good, compassionate people. I’m saying this because it’s the right thing to do. It can make us—and our movement—better.

Many of the animal rights activists I know do an excellent job of supporting other social justice movements and recognizing oppression. But some of us are so awful at it that it makes me cringe. I don’t believe that the vegan movement as a whole is intentionally racist, or sexist or ableist. But when so many of us say or do hurtful things and then don’t own it when called out, I can see why those outside of our movement say that. When we uphold activists with racist messages, or organizations that use (intentional selection of the word use) women’s bodies for media attention, I understand why so many people see our movement as uninterested in helping humans.

I remember a time when I was part of an online group dedicated to mentoring new vegans. One of the other mentors—a person of color—took issue with the fact that so many other mentors were alright with spreading the message of a very well-known activist who is particularly racist and sexist. I agreed, and thought it would be pretty straightforward for the rest of the mentors to listen. After all, this person took the time to explain why they, as a person of color, often felt marginalized within their own movement because of people’s willingness to support this activist. I was shocked by the response.

People immediately leaped to defend this activist, claiming that he “had done so much for the animals” and therefore was a good person. Others said that this was “about the animals, so those kinds of issues aren’t important here.” One person even told us to “take our intersectional veganism somewhere else.”

Newsflash: being vegan doesn’t give you a free pass to be an awful person. Fighting one form of oppression while actively supporting other forms of oppression makes absolutely no sense.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment. Imagine you’re at dinner with your family, and you are the only vegan at the table. Your uncle eyes your plate and decides to ask why you don’t focus on something more important, like human rights. You stare at him for a moment, stunned. How can he not understand this? You explain the many intersections between animal rights and human rights—connections between meat and environmental racism, farm worker abuse, the language used to make both animals and people seem like objects—the list goes on. You explain that animals also have lives that matter to them, and that regardless of whatever else we advocate for, being vegan minimalizes violence and is the right thing to do. He calmly apologizes and explains that he meant no offense, but that human rights are more important, so the animals will have to wait. And then he goes back to eating his steak.

Angry? I’d be angry.

Let’s imagine a second scene now. You’re at a coffee shop, explaining the moral inconsistency in loving dogs but eating chickens. Your friends are surprisingly interested, and you throw out an ableist term than many vegans still use: “moral schizophrenia.” One of your friends seems taken aback. She explains that she understands the point you’re trying to make. However, she also asks you not to use that term, because it implies that individuals with schizophrenia are inherently violent and immoral. She reminds you that she herself has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and like many with schizophrenia, she has never acted violently. She is, frankly, hurt.

So you “apologize” to your friend, but you don’t actually own up to the hurt you caused. Instead, you explain what the term is meant to imply, that you mean no harm in using it, and that sometimes we need offensive language to explain such an important issue. Then you continue the conversation, using the term “moral schizophrenia” again. You probably even expect your friend to listen to your message and be totally okay with it.

Oops. You just became the uncle who made you so angry a minute ago.

This is exactly what happens when people blow off human rights violations with the excuse that the animals are worse off, or use controversial language like “slavery,” or “rape” to describe the abuse endured by farm animals. We can argue all day about what does and what does not constitute rape, but the important thing so many people miss is this: it has been explained over and over that using this term in animal rights issues is offensive and even hurtful to many rape survivors. Several rape survivors have asked for the use of the term rape to be left out of these conversations. And since we can use other language to describe the reproductive manipulation and forced impregnation of farmed animals (I just did it twice) this hurt is unnecessary. That alone should be enough of a reason to stop using the word rape in those conversations. In fact, we ought to be willing to turn animal rights communities into safe spaces and fight all forms of oppression, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Doing the right thing alone should be enough motivation. Our movement—a movement built on love and justice—ought to be concerned with all forms of oppression, not just the forms we know the most about. If you truly need another reason to be kind and inclusive though, here it is: making our spaces safe for people of all marginalized groups is one of the best possible things we can do for our movement. Not only is it right to stand in solidarity with people fighting their oppression, but our acts of solidarity will also help them feel welcome in our spaces and more open to our message.

For example, Collectively Free, a pro-intersectional animal rights group, counts New York Pride among their followers on Instagram. Now, I don’t know the exact reasons NYC Pride has for following CF, but I might speculate that this has something to do with CF’s continuous support of the LGBT community. In the words of Raffaella Ciavatta, one of CF’s co-founders:

“When you have groups like Pride NY follow you on Instagram, you must be doing something right. Unless of course, you simply don’t want to make the AR movement accessible to minorities…”

Building a pro-intersectional AR movement is the right thing to do, and it makes us better. Imagine what would happen if every vegan fought for LGBT rights? Not with any kind of ulterior motive, but simply to support our fellow human beings. We would add millions of voices to their cause. And what if the LGBT communities in turn supported us and joined our movement, simply to support the animals? They would add millions of voices to our cause. And when we join with even more groups, then what happens? What happens when animal rights and racial equality and feminism and LGBT rights and disability rights groups all join forces? Ideally, we could throw off our oppressions together. It suddenly becomes something more than fighting the issues facing each of us. It becomes an issue of liberation for everyone.

We’re stronger together. So let’s stand together.

 

This is part one of a series of posts on animal rights and social justice. Part two will outline some tips for being a better pro-intersectional advocate.


meAris Austin is an author, student, and activist who writes fiction and nonfiction that aims to dismantle oppression. Their fiction has previously been awarded with honors at Colorado State University, where they attend school and serve as president for the university’s animal rights group. Aris can be found on Facebook page and more of their writing is available on their website.

Single-Issue Campaigns are the White Feminism of Animal Rights

White vegan feminism

Single-issue campaigns are sustained protests that focus only on one particular form of speciesism such as banning horse carriages or resisting badger “culls,” and they are the darling of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In a deeply speciesist society where violence against other animals appears unceasing in its cruelty, activists understandably feel overwhelmed and may rationalize that snipping at the low hanging branches of speciesism is the most realistic approach. They may even suppose that the marginal reforms sometimes achieved may make life in hell a trifle less miserable for vulnerable animals. However, there are a number of problems with single-issue campaigns.

As explored in an article I have published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Food, Culture & Society and  Chapter 3 of my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, single-issue campaigns are inherently speciesist. They rely on a human-created hierarchy of worth that privileges some species over others in presuming that a focus on those animals who are already specially favored is the best bet to eliminate some forms of speciesism altogether (such as dog fighting or exploiting elephants in circuses). Sometimes they seek to bring attention to less favored species, such as chickens and cows, but, in these cases, the campaigns focus only on reforming the industries with the presumption being that the public would never care enough about chickens or cows to support their full liberation. Thus, activists tend to advocate for the abolition of speciesist industries that impact very favored animals and the modification of speciesist industries that impact less favored animals, but generally ignore altogether the most marginalized of species (such as fishes and “pest” animals).

There is limited evidence to the effectiveness of single-issue campaigns, but the majority of the movement’s resources are funneled into them, starving foundational vegan education of much needed support. Elephants in some circuses have been banned, only to be moved to “breeding” facilities and replaced by camels. Orcas may be on the way out of sea parks, but dolphins, seals, and other prisoners quickly fill this vacancy. More chickens may be raised in “cage-free” facilities, but the demand for their eggs and flesh remains unchanged by a public whose conscience is assuaged by slick industry advertisements keen to promote this “healthful” and “humane” added-value to their products. Picking and choosing oppressions leaves many in the lurch. Veganism creates a much needed anti-speciesism framework to encapsulate the needs of all species, but the movement stigmatizes vegan education in favor of more glamorous, high-impact, and advertisable single-issues.

By singling out particular species as especially worthy of movement resources and public compassion, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement reinforces speciesism. It supports the notion that some species are more important and deserving than others. A movement that loads attention and resources on already privileged species is one that engages inequality to combat inequality. In this way, it is remarkably similar to the feminist movement’s infamous problem with white privilege (also known as “white feminism“). Rather than fight for women as a whole, in all their diversity, the movement funnels its efforts into already privileged middle-class white women. Historically, white women have been feminism’s equivalent to the “low hanging branch” that orcas, elephants, dogs, and cats occupy in the anti-speciesist imagination.

Vegan White Feminism

I support a veganism that is inclusive of all species just as I support a feminism that is inclusive of all women. I back up this attitude in promoting only holistic, education-based vegan approaches to anti-speciesism. Veganism is a political position that opposes the institutional oppression of other animals. All animals. Veganism is adulterated when it is skewed toward the interest of whales, shelter animals, and other cute and cuddlies. Yes, these species matter, too, but prioritizing them is a cruel injustice when the most oppressed and ignored species are counting on humans to be their allies and break down those exploitative institutions that bind them.

“White feminist” single-issue campaigning isn’t coherent, and it won’t be effective. Feminism can only go so far when it focuses on the interests and needs of white women, because it ignores the root causes of oppression and the ways in which difference manifests among those who are oppressed. Feminists may find themselves in trouble when they advocate for white women under the guise that their more easily won gains will trickle down to women of color, as it is completely illogical. Securing rights for well-to-do white women will in no way ensure that other women will be liberated from their racially-defined sexism. Closing the pay gap for “women” (as measured by white women’s status) ignores how race intersects to restrict pay and opportunities for Latina and Black women, for instance. White women, Latina women, and Black women are all women, of course, but how they experience womanhood and sexism differ considerably. Because of white privilege, what works to advance white women’s interests will not necessarily work to advance that of women of color. The “trickle-down” tactic undermines the very essence of feminism and only further marginalizes those who could benefit the most from feminist advocacy. When the Nonhuman Animal rights movement insists on prioritizing relatively privileged Nonhuman Animal species, it commits this same injustice to unpopular species.

A mouse does not go through a human-privileging society as a cat or dog would. Like white feminists, vegan activists would benefit from acknowledging this difference in experience across a wide diversity of species by committing to inclusive vegan-centric activism. Vegans demonstrate a clear intersectional failure when they presume all species will benefit from the promotion of those species already relatively privileged in human society. #OrcaVeganism

Taylor Swift White Feminism

Single-issue campaigns are promoted by the movement (large, professionalized non-profits and their elite leaders in particular) because of their fundraising capacity, not their liberatory potential. Unfortunately, movement elites are able to frame their capitalist agenda (corporate growth) as congruent with a very anti-capitalist one (the liberation of the oppressed). Activists, who look to these elites as experts, take their single-issue rationales at face value. Non-profits benefit from endless campaigning and relatively insignificant tweaks to a speciesist system because they fail to offend the industries and state that support them. Single-issue campaigns keep the cash flowing while still presenting a semblance of meaningful action for other animals.

Single-issue campaigns support the very hierarchy of worth that vegans (and feminists) claim to reject. So why are activists still defending them? Perhaps it is no accident that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s ranks are dominated by white women. As women, they certainly understand what it is like to be disadvantaged in a patriarchal society, but as white women, they are much less likely to consider how privilege manifests even among the oppressed. White feminism allows white women to focus on the most privileged of the unprivileged, and single-issue campaigns replicate this very problem. As with feminism, veganism must nurture a framework that acknowledges and respects differing oppressions. It must be cognizant of privilege. More importantly, it must not replicate inequality in its allocation of attention and resources.

 

Readers can learn more about the problems with single-issue campaigning in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, 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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