Can Choice Feminism Advance Vegan Politics?

C. Lou Hamilton, Veganism Sex and Politics: Tales of Danger and Pleasure. HammerOn Press, 2019.

Hamilton’s Veganism, Sex and Politics offers an approachable feminist spin on modern veganism in the West while tackling the difficult conundrums and compromises sometimes associated with vegan-living in a non-vegan world. The book is aimed at non-vegans who may be sceptical of the white bourgeoisie veganism which is stereotypically depicted in the media, but it also speaks to seasoned vegans who may lack familiarity with critical feminist perspectives as they relate to relationships with food, consumption, and nonhuman animals. To that end, environmental debates, the limits of organic and “humane” production, white-centrism in vegan activism, and the reluctant reliance on speciesism in disabled and queer communities are analysed in Hamilton’s blend of autobiographical musings and theoretical explorations.

At times, however, this critique pays only lip service to leading theory without substantially engaging it. For instance, while Hamilton rehashes the discourse on “dreaded comparisons,” repeating the arguments already well-articulated by Kim Socha (2013), Breeze Harper (2010), and Lee Hall (2010) with regard to resisting the highly problematic tradition in the vegan movement of comparing the institutionalized violence against animals to that which is also imposed on Africans under slavery and Jews under Nazi persecution, Hamilton stops short of extending this critique to the systematic exploitation of women. Hamilton only briefly refers to the work of Carol Adams (2000) with an unsubstantiated suggestion that her “anti-pornography feminism” obscures women’s agency and satisfaction with sex work.

Thus “choice feminism” (the reduction of collective struggle into a buffet of consumer and lifestyle options from which each individual may pick and choose) is introduced to reframe widespread violence against women as either a) blown out of proportion by Adams and her ilk or b) inaccurate given that women “choose” to work in prostitution and pornography. Adams’ theory, furthermore, is described as a disrespectful and clumsy attempt at intersectionality given that women supposedly participate freely in and benefit from Western sexual politics unlike Nonhuman Animals in their respective spaces of oppression. Such a provocative claim would require greater engagement with Adams’ work as well as some scientific evidence, as, firstly, the majority of women (and girls) enter sex work out of economic duress or active pimping and, secondly, sex slavery remains a leading form of bondage globally (Jeffreys 2009). Sex work and sex slavery, for that matter, are the most dangerous fields of “employment” with exceedingly high levels of threat, injury, and death.

Celebrating the agency of a small percentage of persons who enter and remain in the sex industry of their own free will obscures culturally normative misogyny (as well as heterosexism and cis-sexism as LGBT minorities are disproportionately represented in this industry). With regard to vegan politics, choice feminism’s campaign to legalize and normalize prostitution makes for an awkward analogy for other animals. How Hamilton can suggest that institutionalised speciesism should not (or could not) be regulated and reformed to liberate nonhumans while also failing to extend that same logic to women and girls is puzzling and unconvincing. Both sexism and speciesism rely on the pleasurable consumption of feminized and oppressed bodies by the patriarchal dominant class.

Hamilton’s pro-prostitution position likely stems from their commitment to queer politics which, while arguably problematic when used to protect and legitimize male entitlement to feminized bodies, do hold relevance in challenging hetero-patriarchal society’s stigmatization of feminine and queer sexuality and its desire to control bodies deemed “other.” To that end, Hamilton provides and interesting analysis of “fur” and “leather” in the LGBT community. Both products are shaped by class, gender, and colonial relations, making their disruption difficult, but Hamilton suggests a re-envisioning through vegan alternatives which pay homage to nonhuman identities and difference.

Although Hamilton seeks life-affirming species-inclusive alternatives in these cases, their presentation of disability politics is decidedly human-first. In the feminist tradition of challenging androcentric scientific authority, Hamilton encourages those living with disability and illness to become their own experts and engage in speciesism at their own level of comfort. True, the science as an institution has been a source of considerable oppression for marginalized groups and agency over one’s own body and well-being is critical, but Hamilton’s prescription risks fanning scientific distrust to the point of recklessness (particularly in light of the success of the anti-vaccination movement). Further, by encouraging individuals to become their own medical expert and self-experiment with the consumption of other animals, veganism seems to dissipate into a postmodern soup of individual subjectivity and increasing uselessness as a form of political resistance. Given the normative attitudes of cynicism and apathy in the Western vegan movement toward science, Hamilton’s position, while geared toward affirming the individual experience with disability, may be a precarious one.

Hamilton evidently adopts the myth promulgated by professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights organizations that vegans somehow ascribe to an unrealistic level of purity. This strawperson argument, however, lacks validity. In the age of competitive nonprofitization in the social movement arena, the pure vegan stereotype is engaged to legitimize the compromised approaches to animal advocacy (namely, reforming speciesist industries or promoting reducitarianism). These soft tactics are effective for fundraising but run counter to veganism’s political aims of total liberation, thus necessitating some semantical negotiations and vegan stigmatization (Wrenn 2019a). Few, if any, vegans expect faultlessness, and, indeed, The Vegan Society has always, from its founding, emphasized practicality over perfection (Wrenn 2019b). In the case of disability and illness, no one would reasonably expect patients to become martyrs and forgo treatments developed through vivisection or medications containing trace amounts of animal products.

As such, Hamilton’s repeated beleaguering of veganism has the cumulative effect of decentering Nonhuman Animals, particularly in their effort to validate each person’s individual desire, comfort, choice, and ultimately human privilege of determining what counts as “practical.” To this point, it would be useful if Hamilton had extended their analysis beyond feminist theory and applied social movement theory to introduce much-needed evidence-based social science on movement identity politics and effective mobilization. At the very least, more clearly acknowledging how their own take on veganism is far from the widely-embraced or authoritative position would have brought greater credibility and consistency to Veganism, Sex and Politics. Vegan feminism is more of a matter of personal opinion, individual spin, and choice. The celebration of difference, agency, and pleasure-seeking must be matched with a commitment to solidarity, collective struggle, and some degree of sacrifice. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s anthropocentric narrative hesitates on how to effectively negotiate human diversity politics with the interests of other animals.

References

Adams, C. (2000). The sexual politics of meat. New York: Continuum.

Hall, L. (2010). On their own terms: bringing animal-rights philosophy down to earth. Darien: Nectar Bat Press.

Harper, B. (2010). Sistah vegan. Brooklyn: Lantern.

Jeffreys, S. (2009). The industrial vagina: the political economy of the global sex trade. New York: Routledge.

Socha, K. (2013). The ‘dreaded comparisons’ and speciesism: leveling the hierarchy of suffering. In K. Socha and S. Blum (Eds.), Confronting animal exploitation (223-240). Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Wrenn, C. (2016). A rational approach to animal rights. London: Palgrave.

Wrenn, C. (2019a). Piecemeal protest: Animal rights in the age of nonprofits. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Wrenn, C. (2019b). From seed to fruition: a political history of The Vegan Society. Food and foodways 27(3), 190-210.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Mariage et Patriarcat

Translation by Hypathie: Feminist and Anti-Speciesist Blog. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

Anita Magsaysay-Ho "Women Feeding Chickens"

By Marv Wheale

Le mariage est une institution ancienne, en même temps que contemporaine. Son aspect culturel réside dans sa capacité à appeler des aspirations telles que l’amour, le bonheur et l’identité. Le cérémonial du mariage lie ensemble des individus à la poursuite d’un avenir satisfaisant et comblé.

Vous ne pouvez pas reprocher à des couples de vouloir une vie merveilleuse, mais le mariage pose pourtant de nombreux problèmes. Je vais en examiner deux :

– Il occulte les inégales conditions sociales des hommes et des femmes ;
– Il dévalorise les autres relations intimes non sexualisées : amicales, fraternelles (entre frères et sœurs) et entre humains et autres animaux, en les renvoyant à un statut inférieur.

La politique sexuelle autour du mariage

Le mariage en tant que dispositif établi par la société dissimule les divisions de pouvoir entre hommes et femmes face à l’intimité qu’ils partagent. Plus simplement, les femmes n’ont pas un statut égal à celui des hommes même quand l’affection qu’ils partagent est profonde : l’assignation aux rôles sexuels / travail reproductif non payé / salaires inégaux sur le marché du travail / participation des hommes disproportionnée aux gouvernements / manque de représentation des femmes à la tête des grandes compagnies, dans la police, les cours de justice et l’Armée / le harcèlement sexuel, le viol, les violences conjugales et le meurtre / l’objettisation sexuelle dans la pornographie, les autres médias et la prostitution. Tous ces facteurs se mêlent à d’autres et sont aggravés par l’ethnie, la classe économique, le handicap, la taille, et l’âge.

Parce que le mariage obscurcit ces inégalités et désavantages, il rend plus difficile l’organisation contre le pouvoir mâle. La mobilisation d’énergie est divertie vers les “intérêts du mariage” qui engloutissent des tonnes de ressources matérielles et émotionnelles en quelque chose qui ne peut satisfaire nos désirs les plus profonds. Il est essentiellement contre-productif d’investir autant dans un but incapable de tenir ses promesses aux hommes et aux femmes en tant que groupes sociaux. De toutes les identités qui affirment la subordination des femmes au patriarcat, le mariage est une des plus influentes.

Les mariages LGBTQ+ en sont une réforme, mais ils ne peuvent pas préserver des sanctions d’une institution fabriquée par la société patriarcale. Toute amélioration du système finit par le légitimer. Pensez aux proclamations du capitalisme végane, aux mesures de bien-être animal, à la pornographie féministe, au travail du sexe…, tous hérauts de la libération. Ces mouvements contradictoires ne peuvent apporter de résultats en vue d’une émancipation. Ils sont tous des illusions libérales.

Les outsiders

Pour mieux appréhender les implications du mariage, vous devez reconnaître la situation où il place celles/ceux hors de ses frontières. Les non mariés sont relégués dans une position sociale subordonnée au motif qu’illes n’atteignent pas le modèle marital. Vivre à l’intérieur de différentes autres unions vous donne un statut inférieur. C’est évident non seulement au niveau de la non reconnaissance culturelle, mais également dans les lois des états. Les relations contractuelles des sexes dans le mariage, reconnues par l’état permettent toutes sortes d’avantages : des réductions d’impôts, des prêts bancaires, l’accès à l’adoption d’enfants, l’accès aux avantages sociaux du partenaire, des privilèges d’assurances santé, des droits de visite à l’hôpital, des directives pré-décès, des droits du survivant, des droits à l’héritage, des droits à l’immigration, et tous les avantages des proches-parents.

Les contre-arguments aux critiques du mariage

Des gens vous diront que c’est une simplification que de voir le mariage comme irrémédiablement sexiste, surpassant toute autre relation platonique. Après tout, des quantités de femmes sont heureuses dans le mariage. De ce point de vue, plus de sensibilité et de crédit devraient être donnés aux exemples particuliers de mariages où les deux époux s’alignent sur les objectifs féministes, et qui respectent le pluralisme des relations des non mariés ; ils proposent que tous les avantages légaux et économiques du mariage soient étendus aux relations alternatives.

De plus, de nombreux couples issus des classes moins privilégiées pensent que le mariage est un refuge : contre la suprématie blanche, l’adversité économique, le capacitisme dominant, et la primauté hétérosexuelle. Ils proclament que bien que le mariage a des inconvénients pour les femmes, il est moins pénalisant que les pesants problèmes imposés par le racisme, le classisme, le capacitisme ou l’hétérosexisme. Ce qui est important pour elles/eux, c’est de centrer le mariage sur la réciprocité et la résistance aux injustices sociales. Dans ces cas, le mariage est estimé fortifier la classe laborieuse, les combats contre le racisme, ceux des handicapés et des LGBTQ+ : en retour, le mariage s’en retrouve fortifié.

Les mariages entre véganes aussi sont vus comme un moyen d’exprimer publiquement un attachement émotionnel, des valeurs communes pour la cause de la libération animale. Ce raisonnement et ces sentiments sont similaires aux autres mariages axés sur la justice sociale.

Dernières remarques

Non, tous les mariages ne sont pas égaux, mais la querelle contre le mariage est politique, car il est une entité politique.

L’idée du mariage, bon ou mauvais, faisant consensus, dépendant du respect mutuel, de l’affection et de la solidarité, masque la réalité des classes de sexe et la privatisation des femmes dans l’institution. Il dévalue celles/ceux qui ne veulent pas en être culturellement et légalement, refusant d’être ébranlés par l’optimisme progressiste des gens mariés à l’esprit aussi ouvert soit-il.

Certainement que l’intimité et l’activisme politique sont accessibles hors liens maritaux.La violence des hommes contre les femmes est un système de pouvoir qui s’exprime majoritairement dans les liens du mariage. Pourquoi promouvoir un système oppressif qui masque l’occupation structurelle des hommes de la vie des femmes ?

Ne pourrions nous pas rendre l’intersectionnalité plus inclusive vis à vis des femmes battues en critiquant le mariage comme une fabrication sociale ? Nous savons que le genre, la race, le capacitisme, la classe, sont des constructions sociales, pourquoi ne pourrions-nous pas dire que le mariage en est une aussi ? Tendons-nous à nous accrocher socialement à des habitudes apprises qui nous empêchent de questionner en profondeur nos visions du monde ?

Je ne demande pas aux gens mariés de se séparer ou de divorcer. Ce serait arrogant, inconséquent et absurde. Ce n’est pas la faute des individus s’ils ont été socialisés par des normes et des valeurs. Mon invitation est de mettre de côté nos résistances aux questionnements et de soumettre nos institutions sociales à l’épreuve de la pensée, du ressenti et du vivre.


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.

Why I’m Giving Beyoncé’s Vegan Campaign a Chance

Beyoncé and Jay-Z shocked mainstream news and vegan activists alike when they announced that fans who pledge to go plant-based have a chance to win free tickets to their concerts for life.

Some vegans have not been so enthusiastic about the campaign, citing that veganism “for the health” is not the same as veganism “for the animals,” and that veganism is not something that can be “forced” on others.

Whose Veganism is It Anyway?

To this I would counter that, although some (myself included) may understand veganism to be a matter of anti-speciesism, vegans should hesitate to insist that the Eurocentric interpretation of veganism is the only valid approach.

As a practical matter, a “master frame” of veganism is not especially useful in the context of a diverse audience. Personally, I critique the hegemonic vegan frame which is highly bureaucratized and prioritizes capitalist interests over the interests of effective social change (which I argue inevitably undermines veganism). To be able to criticize hegemonic veganism from this angle, however, is a reflection of my white privilege.

As a white person, I have to concede that other ethnicities will have other priorities. These include the deadly consequences of food deserts and food insecurity as well as the role that “animality” as a social construct has played in the oppression of people of color. These are priorities which have been beautifully outlined by activist scholars such as Dr. Breeze Harper and Aph & Syl Ko.

I concede that “my” veganism will not be the veganism that other folk feel compelled to adopt.

The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

Beyoncé definitely does not count as a “vegan” according to this definition. She claims to eat animals’ flesh occasionally since it’s “all about moderation.” I assume her stage outfits make use of real birds’ feathers and cows’ skin as well. Her makeup is probably produced from slaughterhouse renderings and tested on other animals. She could exclude these things quite “possibly” and “practicably.”

But is The Vegan Society’s definition the only definition that matters? More specifically, is it the only definition which should apply to everyone? What about people of color living in a racialized society?

I suggest that the vegan identity is multifaceted and that the terms of engagement must be contextualized.

Cultural Force

In any case, I think it is a stretch to claim that Bey (who is not even a vegan herself) is “forcing” veganism on others. Fans who claim to go vegan (how can their veganism even be verified?) only have a chance to win free tickets, they are not guaranteed free tickets. Attending expensive music concerts is not a requirement, it is only recreational. Nor do Bey or Jay-Z require a complete transition since they also promote reducetarianism or “meatless Mondays.”

As I have uncovered in my research on flexitarian campaigns of this kind, many people already identify as someone who does not eat “that much” meat or dairy, since reducing animal product consumption is seen as a social good (unlike veganism which is interpreted as “extreme”). Importantly, the flexitarian identity does not often correlate with actual behavior change. In some cases, those who identify as flexitarian actually consume more animal products than their non-flexitarian-identifying counterparts.

That said, Bey is using her cultural clout to promote a social good. This is no different from the efforts of white celebrities like Moby, Morrissey, and, if you stretch it, Miley Cyrus. Morrissey reportedly bans all sale of animal flesh at his concerts–is he forcing his fans to be vegetarian?

True, celebrities are rarely trained in social justice activism, and their politics are not always perfect. I also find it uncomfortable that society should rely on celebrities to promote social goods since celebrities, given their extreme wealth, are the very embodiment of social inequality. Yet, Bey is putting her money where her mouth is–she is using her celebrity and privilege to make the world a better place through the channels available to her.

As this essay goes to print, Senator Cory Booker (also a person of color) has just announced his bid for presidency. He is a fierce social justice advocate and a longtime vegan. But he, too, promotes veganism for a wide variety of reasons which do not always center other animals. Would the movement be so quick (and foolhardy) to write off Cory Booker if he were to become our first vegan president? Need the vegan movement even have to wait for a vegan president? Beyoncé is practically American royalty, after all. Her clout arguably exceeds that of Booker’s.

Whether white activists like it or not, celebrity influencers shape the cultural landscape. The vegan identity (unlike the flexitarian identity) is a highly stigmatized one, and social movements will need to normalize its goals before they can be widely adopted. If Queen Bey makes vegan cool, it might not be “for the right reasons” (that is, it might not seek to advance the interests of Nonhuman Animals), but it can have a significant impact on the community she serves.

The Master Frame

Social movement scholars acknowledge that collectives strategically design frames which are hoped to resonate with their audiences. Multiple frames can be at work, but it is sometimes the case that a “master frame” will come to dominate in the movement’s repertoire. The utility of a master frame is its ability to present a strong, united front to the public and policy-makers. The downside is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be unrealistic given that audiences (and activists themselves) are not necessarily homogenous. Persuasion is a complicated matter and it sometimes takes many approaches to push a social justice agenda.

The Vegan Society, which formed in 1944 Britain and officially launched the political concept of “veganism” in the West following a protracted debate with The Vegetarian Society, may have prioritized veganism as a matter of anti-speciesism, but, from its very conception, it drew on a diverse framework relating to human health, poverty and famine, war, and individual autonomy. Indeed, The Vegan Society, today, continues a multipronged approach.

As the society moved into the 21st century, it continued to promote veganism, not necessarily as an endeavor to liberate other animals, but as something “normal” and achievable. Its vegan labeling scheme, for instance, was a major campaign in this effort. I have my issues with such an approach given its pro-capitalist leanings and its watering down of the anti-speciesist radical politic, but it is the case nonetheless that the expansion of commercially available vegan products has made veganism easier to perform.

Beyoncé has been dragged before for not meeting the expectations of white activist frames. White feminists, for instance, have criticized her brand of feminism as sexually objectifying and complicit with patriarchy, if not ignored it altogether. Black feminists have responded by reminding the community that there is no one “Feminism” (capital F) but rather many feminisms, and the failure to embrace Black women’s activism reflects white supremacy in the public space.

Because inequality does not stop at the door of social justice movements, activists must consider how inequality can sometimes shape strategy. Who is the “master” in developing the “master frame”? What I am suggesting is that the “master frame” is too frequently racialized in its construction.

Likewise, the need to control the vegan discourse and the very definition of veganism itself is rooted in colonial politics. As European countries pushed their culture onto “inferior” and “ignorant” subjects, they expected full assimilation. There was little patience for adaptation or nuance; it was simply presumed that European cultural values were universal and should be adopted unquestioningly. This is the very definition of cultural domination.

In this vein, it must be remembered that, while non-Western countries have their own histories of plant-based resistance, “Veganism” (capital V) as it is understood and politicized today, is a deeply European concept. White activists must tread carefully when attempting to impose “their” veganism on “others.” Indeed, the vegan movement, dominated as it is by white activists, has been less than welcoming to the veganisms of other cultures. This is problematic if the goal is to expand veganism beyond middle-class white spaces.

Most people go vegan and stay vegan because of their concern for other animals. Bey’s health-centric, flexitarian approach does not alter this research-supported fact. But Bey also has a wider cultural influence and represents a nonwhite consumer base that has been traditionally overlooked by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. I am interested to see if her efforts will contribute to the larger discourse. I am also deeply supportive of women of color who have the “audacity” to be political in a white-dominated cultural landscape. Celebrity persuasion is far from perfect, but it can contribute to the destigmitization of veganism. This cultural normalcy was The Vegan Society’s aim all along.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Black Veganism and the Animality Politic

Why Animality Matters

In Ko & Ko’s 2017 publication Aphro-ism, the sisters critique popular applications of intersectionality theory, identifying that what has traditionally been defined as “human” has always been categorized as white, male, and European, while racial and ethnic minorities, women, and other marginalized groups have been dualistically constructed as “animal.” Thus, “animal” is not so much a catch-all category meant to refer to nonhuman species, but to all manner of disenfranchised groups, humans included.

Animality is, they insist, endemic to the colonialist project, providing justification for social control and suppression. The Kos argue that anti-racism activists, feminists, and vegans all have a stake in challenging the false divide between human and animal, and, more specifically, challenging the category of “animal” itself.

Without challenging this basic mechanism of oppression, activists are bound to fail in their efforts for liberation. In fact, they merely embrace the same oppressive logic by either ignoring (or rejecting) the relevance of animality or insisting that intersectionality praxis stop short of species solidarity. Doing so dangerously preserves hierarchies. As Aph warns: “What hasn’t occurred to many of us is that this model of compartmentalizing oppressions tracks the problematic Eurocentric compartmentalization of the world and its members in general” (71).

Why Race Matters

From the same reasoning, vegans who do not incorporate a critical racial lens are missing the entire point of speciesism: marking particular bodies as distinct from the dominant group based on perceived physical, cognitive, and cultural differences, and then employing this distinction to rationalize oppressive treatment. Racism and speciesism are inherently entangled. Explains Syl: “[ . . . ] the organizing principle for racial logic lies in the human-animal divide, wherein the human and the animal are understood to be moral opposites” (66).

The Kos are careful not to prescribe a “we are all animals” perspective to solve this boundary-maintenance, as this is poised to deprecate rather than accommodate difference. There is little need to push for sameness, and such a push usually maintains the dominant group as the standard to which others should aspire.

Read more of my review of Aprho-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters in Society & Animals here.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Marriage and Patriarchy

Anita Magsaysay-Ho "Women Feeding Chickens"

By Marv Wheale

Marriage is an ancient yet contemporary institution. Its cultural allure lies in its ability to appeal to aspirations for love, happiness and identity. Ceremonial bonding is a way of tying individuals together in pursuit of a fulfilling future.

You can’t fault couples for wanting a marvelous life but the troubles with marriage are many.  I will examine two:

– wallpapers over unequal social conditions between men and women

– demotes intimate nonsexualized relationships (friends, siblings, humans with other animals) to a lower status

Sexual Politics Surrounding Marriage

Marriage as an established fixture of society veils the divisions of power between men and women in the face of intimacy between them. Quite simply, women do not have equal standing to men even when mutual fondness is deep: assigned sex roles at home / unpaid reproductive labor / unequal pay in the labor market / disproportionate participation in governments / lack of representation as heads of large companies, police, courts and the military / sexual harassment, rape, battering and murder /  sexual objectification in porn, other media and prostitution.  All these factors are compounded by race, economic class, disability, size, age…

Because marriage obscures these disadvantages it makes it hard to organize against male power. Mobilizing energy becomes diverted into “marriage interest” which sinks scads of material and emotional resources into something that can’t satisfy our deepest longings. Essentially it is counterproductive to invest so much into what is unable to deliver what it promises to women and men as social groups. Of all the identities that affirm women’s subordination in patriarchy, marriage may be the most influential.

LGBTQ+ marriages are a reform but they retain the effect of sanctioning an institution made by patriarchy. Any improvement to the system further legitimizes it. Think of the touted vegan capitalism, animal welfare measures, feminist porn, sex object work heralded as bridges to liberation. Contradictory movements won’t bring emancipatory results. They are liberal illusions.

Outliers

To further grasp the implications of marriage you have to recognize how it constructs those outside its borders. The unmarried are relegated to a subservient social position on the basis of not measuring up to the marital model. Living in different kinds of connections they are less than. This is evident not only at the level of cultural nonrecognition but in the laws of the land. State sanctioned sexual relationships afford all kinds of rewards:  income tax deductions, mortgage loans, adopting children, access to a partner’s social security benefits, medical insurance privileges, hospital visitation rights, advance directives in dying, survivor rights and inheritance beneficiaries, immigration rights, next of kin rights, etc.

Counter Arguments to Marriage Criticism

People will say it’s an oversimplification to see marriage as irredeemably sexist and lording over platonic relationships.  After all, myriads of women are happily married.  From this standpoint, more sensitivity and credit should be given to particular examples of marriage where both spouses have demonstrated alignment with feminist objectives and respect the relationship pluralism of the unmarried.  They propose all legal and economic advantages of marriage be extended to alternative relationships.

Furthermore, numerous underprivileged couples find marriage to be a refuge from white supremacy, economic adversity, abled dominance and hetero-primacy.  They claim while marriage has its downsides for women it is less burdensome than the more overbearing problems of racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism.  What’s important to them is to centre marriage on reciprocity and resistance to social injustices.  In these cases marriage is deemed to strengthen working class, racial, disability and LGBTQ+ struggles and they, in turn, fortify it.

Vegan marriages are held up as a way to publicly express emotional attachment, shared values and the cause of animal liberation.  The reasoning and feelings are similar to other social justice-minded marriages.

Final Remarks

Yes, not all marriages are equal but the dispute against matrimony is political since it is a political entity. The idea that consensual marriage can be good or bad depending on mutual respect, affection and solidarity, clouds the reality of sex classes and privatizing women within them. It also downgrades those who don’t belong to it, culturally and legally, undeterred by the progressive optimism of open-minded married people.

Surely people can and do have intimacy and political activism without nuptial ties.

Violence towards women by men is a system of power.  Much of it happens within a spousal setting. Why promote an oppressive form that disguises the structural occupation of men in women’s lives?

Couldn’t we make intersectionality more inclusive of battered women by critiquing marriage as a fabrication?  We know gender, race, ability and class are social constructs, why can’t we ascertain marriage as one too?

Do we tend to cling to socially learned habits that prevent us from scrutinizing our worldviews?

I am not calling on married people to separate or divorce.  That would be arrogant, reckless and absurd. It’s not individuals fault for being socialized into societal norms and values. My invitation is, to put aside resistance to questioning and challenging our institutionalization into ways of thinking, feeling, living.

 


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.

Food Justice: A Primer

Food Justice: A Primer, edited by Saryta Rodríguez condenses a wide-angle view of ethical considerations surrounding the production and distribution of food into a concise collection of essays that is richly informative and thoroughly persuasive. This 239-page paperback covers a large range of topics, historical and contemporary. Each section is united by the common thread of undertaking the study “through a vegan praxis.” In other words, viewing non-human animals as deserving the same rights and dignity as people, when identifying the problematics of agriculture and proposing solutions. But this perspective should not be misunderstood as a narrowly defined scope through which to examine the topic. Rather, it is necessarily at the core of the issue and this book’s focus brings that reality to the forefront.

As the arguments put forward in each of the pieces show, food justice is not just about food; it is interconnected with many areas of life, such as how we work, our attitudes toward others, and how we perceive the world around us and affect it with our actions (or inactions). An essay by Lilia Trenkova draws bold parallels between racism as a driving force behind colonialism and neo-colonialism and speciesism—the idea that humans are superior to other animals and by extension, all manner of cruelty may be excused—as the widely unchallenged belief responsible for the inhumane treatment of animals, including their use as food. These parallels follow through their resulting effects on inequitable food supply. Just as the mercantile practices of colonial and neo-colonial countries squeeze the economies and drain resources from less developed countries, the (mis)use of land for animal agriculture significantly reduces the maximum amount of food that can be produced, and applies upward pressure on prices, thereby artificially limiting resources and increasing food costs. In another essay, Saryta Rodríguez points to data that show that cows used for beef consume twenty-five times more food than they produce. Conditions for farm workers are also netted in this equation of systemic superiority, as Trenkova dissects how racist attitudes baked into the North American Free Trade Agreement created second tier system, where laborers in Mexico and immigrants in the U.S. are not afforded the same basic rights that many American workers take for granted.

Land use is also addressed in other contexts throughout. The book’s introduction briefly describes some notable land rights campaigns including the formation of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in 1984 and Palestine’s Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in 1986. The UAWC is referenced as an example of a group that fights for food sovereignty, which is under the umbrella of food justice and pertains to a peoples’ ability to choose how their food is produced, distributed, and consumed. The MST is a movement that settled people to work on unused land and was able to make legal claims on much of that land through a part of Brazil’s constitution enshrining land as serving a public function.

Among the essays, the book also includes an interview by Saryta Rodríguez with Gustavo Oliviera, a spokesperson for Occupy the Farm, which comprised of a couple hundred activist farmers who took over an unused plot of land belonging to the University of California, Berkeley that had been slated for commercial development. It is an inspiring story of grass-roots direct action that demonstrates that anyone can take part in effecting change.

Rodríguez aptly curates an enormous depth of information and perspective in this slim volume making for a well-paced read that is small enough to carry on the go. After reading this compelling compendium, one cannot ignore that achieving food justice depends on recognizing that animal agriculture is unsustainable. Therefore, the notion that a complete and internally consistent understanding of food justice has as much to do with issues of equitable supply and distribution as workers’ rights and animal rights should not be a revolutionary one.


Dale Classen is a Brooklyn-based musician and sound designer. Dale performs with the band Grim All Day and lives with two cats, Sonny and Toad. He graduated from Stony Brook University with a B.A. in psychology.