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

Pointlessly Gendering Cats and Dogs


My partner and I were shopping for a Christmas present for his dog one December (dogs love gifts, too!), and while sifting through the pet section of Aldi (a grocery chain), we noticed something strange. The holiday gift packs for dogs were tagged as male, while the cat packs were coded female.

According to Armitage Pet Care (“The largest independent manufacturer and distributor of branded pet accessories and treats in the UK”), kitty treats are for “good girls” and doggy treats are for “good boys.” The design colors and animal caricatures used in the packaging appear to be neutral, but the labels are unnecessarily gendered.

Upon further investigation, I found that this gendering process extends beyond Santa’s workshop: “Good Boy” applies to Armitage’s entire line of canine treats, and “Good Girl” refers to its line of feline treats. What is more, this gender assignment is presumed to be implicit. The company website does not bother to clarify which product line refers to which species; it is simply taken for granted that visitors will know that dogs are “good boys” and cats are “good girls” (see below).

Sociologists have noted that humans transfer their gender role expectations onto nonhumans. Dogs tend to be masculinized; cats tend to be feminized. Regardless of the animal’s actual sex, they will be socialized in accordance with the gender of their guardian.

My brother’s pit bull is female, for example, but she plays rough and rowdy. This is because my brother, male-identified, has socialized her as an extension of his own gender expression. Gender is not genetic or instinctual: it is taught and learned. Her behavior cannot be attributed to her breed, as other pit bulls can be very quiet and gentle.

When the sex of an animal aligns with the gender of their guardian as well as the guardian’s gender role projections, this effect amplifies. Consider, for instance, that many men are hesitant to have their male companion animals spayed for fear of emasculating them (a serious problem given the high death rates in kill shelters for discarded and homeless animals). Gender may be socially constructed, but its consequences are real indeed.

Sociologist Lisa Wade regularly deconstructs “unnecessarily” or “pointlessly” gendered cultural artifacts on Sociological Images and its corresponding Pinterest page to demonstrate how powerfully gender shapes the social imagination. To be clear, gendering products is not truly “pointless.” This behavior has a very intentional social purpose: to maintain and reproduce difference (which, in turn, maintains and reproduces social inequality). Nonhuman bodies are often politicized in the process, acting as representations of human stratification.

In many cases, the aggravation of these differences is agential because it also serves to increase consumption. A heterosexual, cis-gender couple can’t just share body wash, for instance. He has to have the forest-scented, icy blast, utilitarian soap in the black bottle labeled “For men;” she has to have the pastel mango passion meadow sparkle soap in the flowery bottle.

The difference enforced by gender is disproportionate in impact as well. Female consumers must fork up extra cash for the pink tax, as women’s products cost more than equivalent products for men. As sociologists understand the economic sphere to be the origin of social structure (and inequality), gender becomes another means for the market to encroach into the private sphere.

Now dogs and cats are being roped into the profit-oriented gender machine as well.

My cats do not care either way if they are a good “boy” or “girl” as long as yummy things are in the packet. My partner’s dog definitely doesn’t care if he is a good “doggy” or a good “kitty” either, and would gladly chomp down on anything and everything in the “Good Girl Christmas Cat Stocking.”

Sorry Armitage, but we’re not buying it. We settled on a chew toy.

 

References

Adams, C. and J. Donovan. 1995. Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ramirez, M. 2006. “‘My Dog’s Just Like Me’: Dog Ownership as a Gender Display.” Symbolic Interaction 29 (3): 373-391.

 

This essay first appeared on Human-Animal Studies Images, a production of the Animals & Society Institute on January 15, 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

A Gallery of Sexism in Animal Rights

Content Warning:  Depictions of physical and sexual violence against women. NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

The following images collected from online news sources and activist spaces chronicles the systematic exploitation of women for the purposes of anti-speciesist campaigning. Although persons of all genders are active in the movement (and nonhumans of all sexes are exploited), it is disproportionately women who are volunteered as proxies for violence against Nonhuman Animal bodies. There are two reasons for this pattern. First, in a misogynistic society, the public is already cued to images of suffering women. Second, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has a long history of institutional sexism. Scientific evidence does not support that this approach is effective. To the contrary, it repels the public, alienates potential allies in other social justice movements, and aggravates the epidemic levels of violence against women and girls across the globe.

– Corey Lee Wrenn, PhD

Last Updated: April 23, 2017
This blog post is no longer being updated. Please visit the permanent resource page for curated version.


PETA – Anti-Leather Campaign

PETAUK – Anti-Foie Gras Demonstrationforce-fed-foie-gras

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Animal Liberation Victoria – Anti-Vivisection Campaign

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Stop UBC Animal Research & PETA – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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Anima Naturalis – Anti-Vivisection Demo
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Citizens United For Animals

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Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania
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Igualdad Animal – World Meat-Out Day
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PETA – Go Veg Campaign
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PETA’s “Youngest Pinup” (Model is 16)
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Deutscher Tierschuntzbund E.V. (German Animal Welfare Association) – Anti-Fur Campaign
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Deutscher Tierschutzbund E.V. (German Animal Welfare Association) – Anti-Horse Branding Campaign
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Image from Vegan Pinup

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign
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PETA – Milk Gone Wild Commercial
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Citizens United for Animals
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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign
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PETA – Anti-Sealing Campaign
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PETA – Leather Shoe Protest
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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign
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PETA – Dogs in Hot Cars Commercial
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PETA – Horse Carriage Campaign

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 PETA – Go Veg Campaign
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PETA – Spay/Neuter Campaign
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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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FishLove – Over Fishing Campaign

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Freedman & Barnouin – Cookbook

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign (Targeting the Olsen Twins)

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Circus Campaign

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FishLove – Over Fishing Campaign

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PETA – Animal Times Cover

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PETA – Go Veg Demo
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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Demo

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Fur Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Fur Demo

LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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PETA – Vegetarian Campaign

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PETA – Glue Trap Campaign

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PETA – Spay & Neuter Campaign

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PETA – Veggie Love Casting Session

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Animal Liberation Victoria – Anti-Whaling Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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Animal Liberation Victoria – Anti-Whaling Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Demo

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PETA – Anti-Vivisection Campaign

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Animal Naturalis – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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LUSH Cosmetics – Reduced Product Packaging Demo

Animal Liberation Victoria – Milk Sucks Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign (“Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom Out of Me”)

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Fishing Demo

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PETA – Anti-Circus Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Glue Trap Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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PETA – KFC Boycott Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Demo

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PETA – Anti-Bull Fighting Demo

PETA – KFC Boycott Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Circus/Elephant Rights Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Vivisection Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Foie Gras Campaign

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PETA – Animal Adoption Campaign

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Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on May 22, 2013.whyveganism.com

NEJEŠ MÄSO? NIE SI PRAVÝ MUŽ! – ODPOR K VEGÁNSTVU AKO PREJAV PATRIARCHÁTU

Translation by Feminist, FYI. The original English version of the following essay can be found by clicking here.

Prednedávnom mi jeden z čitateľov, Alexander Lawrie, zaslal námet na článok, ktorý som sa ihneď rozhodla využiť. Predstavuje totižto vynikajúci príklad toho, ako mužská nadradenosť a dozor nad vykonávaním rodových rolí vytvárajú prekážky pri presadzovaní záujmov nielen žien, ale aj iných druhov.Ide o príspevok zverejnený v Škótskych novinách. Tieto uverejnili reportáž o žene, ktorá sa stala obeťou šikanovania zo strany obsluhy po tom, ako si v reštaurácii vyžiadala vegánsku verziu pokrmu. Na bločku našla napísané: „Vegánsky zbabelec!“ (Vegan Pussy). Obsluha urážku z bločku doplnila aj o uštipačné poznámky na adresu zákazníčky na facebookovej stránke reštaurácie. Týmto to však nekončí! Noviny, ktoré sa rozhodli o tomto incidente informovať, našli facebookový profil poškodenej a zverejnili ho s kompletnými informáciami (celé meno, profilová fotografia, miesto výkonu práce). Obťažovanie, ktoré nasledovalo, bolo natoľko závažné, že sa noviny napokon rozhodli zmazať komentáre pod príspevkom a stiahnuť fotografiu obete.

Celý prípad zapácha mizogýniou. Keby bol obeťou muž, predpokladám, že by bola reakcia podobná, pravdepodobne by sa k použitým urážkam pridala aj homofóbia. Patriarchát podporuje myšlienky nadvlády nad ostatnými a tým aj konzumáciu mäsa, dokonca ich propaguje ako jeden zo stavebných kameňov mužnosti. Vegánstvo sa častokrát považuje za zženštilé a to nielen preto, že si ho často vyberú práve ženy, ale aj kvôli snahe vegánstva o obhajobu záujmov tých, ktorí sú podrobení útlaku mužov. Vegánstvo bojuje proti patriarchátu.

Nemalo by nás prekvapiť, že podnik, ktorý profituje z nehumánneho vykorisťovania zvierat, využil druhovú diskrimináciu a sexistické urážky na to, aby ponížil ženu. Taktiež by nás nemalo prekvapovať, že médiá (ktoré vo všeobecnosti existujú na ochranu a šírenie záujmov elity) celý stav ešte väčšmi zhoršili. Ale prečo sa do ponižovania zákazníčky zapojila aj čašníčka? (Ktorá po medializácii incidentu dostala výpoveď. Pozn. prekl.)

Ariel Levi vo svojej knihe: Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women in the Rise of Raunch Culture (sorry za druhovú diskrimináciu) vysvetľuje, že za všetko môže stále stúpajúca popularita „post-feminizmu“, ktorý reprezentuje patriarchálnu voľbu ideológie na boj proti útlaku žien. Počas toho, ako ženy súperia o pozornosť mužov, sa samé dostávajú do konfliktov. Vo svete, kde je mužnosť spájaná s prestížou a mocou, častokrát vídame ženy, ktoré inklinujú viac k maskulinite a strácajú záujem o ženské väzby. Deniz Kandiyoti (1988) to označuje za „podplácanie patriarchátu“. Aby sa vyrovnala so svetom, ktorý je nepriateľský k všetkému ženskému, sa čašníčka rozhodla podporiť patriarchálne hodnoty a zosmiešnila zákazníčku, a to všetko pre zachovanie svojej pozície, či tváre medzi kolegami.

Nesmieme však zabúdať ani na to, že aj pre mužov je veľmi náročné byť pod neustálym tlakom spoločnosti a spomínaných „hodnôt mužnosti“. Reklama na americkú firmu „Carnivore Club“ (klub mäsožravcov) je dokonalým príkladom oboch problematík. Snaží sa poukázať na kontrolu v rukách muža, na jeho inteligenciu a nadradenosť (pokiaľ „hrá podľa pravidiel“) a to všetko na úkor ženských hodnôt.


Autor reklamy poukazuje na mnohé stereotypy týkajúce sa vegánstva: je hlavne pre ženy, s mužnosťou nemá nič spoločné, vegánske jedlá sú mdlé a príliš úzkostlivo zdravé.  Mužom, ktorí vstúpia do klubu mäsožravcov, garantuje ochranu ich dominancie, kontrolu nad prírodou a dokonca aj bezchybné fungovanie ich intímnych partií (aj napriek tomu, že konzumácia živočíšnych produktov je častokrát spájaná s kardiovaskulárnymi ochoreniami a diabetom, ktoré vedú k poruchám erekcie).

Propagovanie tejto firmy ako „exkluzívneho klubu“ bolo zámerné. Podnik sa touto cestou snaží naznačiť, že iba jej členovia sú „pravými mužmi“, ktorí vedia, „čo je správne“. Presne ako rebríček najúspešnejších podnikateľov „Fortune 500 CEO“, legislatívne orgány, manažment médií a iné pozície len pre „mužov“, aj „The Carnivore Club“ pozýva mužov, aby sa pridali k elite a zúčastnili sa nadvlády nad zraniteľnými. Bez členských údajov sa nedostanete ani len na ich stránku.  Všimnite si, prosím, aj všetkým dobre známu postavu, „hlúpučkú, nič netušiacu manželku“, ktorá je často využívaná v reklamách a filmoch. Ženy sú skrátka absolútne neschopné uvedomiť si, čo majú ich mentálne nadradení mužskí partneri za lubom.

Toto je toxická maskulinita. Nielen, že sú muži podporovaní v stravovacích návykoch, ktoré im spôsobia choroby, ale aj ženy sú podporované v odmietaní vegánstva na úkor „prežitia“ v anti-feministickej patriarchálnej spoločnosti. Nesmieme zabúdať ani na tých, ktorí prehrali tento boj na plnej čiare. Zvieratá, ktorých útlak je marginalizovaný, ich advokáti sú umlčaní a vystavovaní poníženiu a šikane.

 


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

3 Reasons Why You Should Become a Pro-Intersectional Activist

Art by Emma Fay

By Lilia Trenkova, Co-Founder of Collectively Free

Intersectionality theory was created by Kimberlé Crenshaw and other black feminists in the 1960s and 70s as a form of resistance to the predominantly white (read: racist) feminist movement and the predominantly male (read: sexist) civil rights movement at the time. It introduced the idea that 1. People who experience multiple – layered – forms of oppression (e.g. racism and sexism) face more struggle than people who experience less forms (say who only experience sexism) because 2. These oppressions feed into and support one another with the help of both institutions and social prejudices. So the term “pro-intersectional” means applying and developing this analysis further in order to affirm and empower people who exist in non-dominant (unprivileged) layers of society.

1. Because it’s important to know the truth

Pause and think about a moment when you realized that your whole life you had been lied to about something you believed in deeply. Remember the feeling of confusion, indignation, sadness or anger.

For example, regardless of which country you grew up in, you were likely taught in school that Columbus “discovered” America. You learned it, you repeated it in your quizzes and essays, and unless you were told otherwise by say your parents, you accepted it. Until one day you realized how deeply wrong it was. Columbus didn’t “discover” the continent; he launched its colonization, paving the way for Western Europeans to commit centuries of atrocities against the humans and nonhumans who already inhabited the lands and waters. How messed up is it that you were fed a totally different story?

Or for example, perhaps you realized one day that there were things in your life you had taken for granted but that someone else in your life had never had access to those things. Maybe you were walking on the street one day and suddenly became aware of all the potholes, tall curbs and steps leading into buildings that make it difficult, if not impossible, to navigate for a person using a wheelchair. Or you woke up one morning and figured out that each bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich requires the bodily harm of three different species of animals… and that they would have much preferred to continue living unharmed.

If you’ve experienced such a bubble-bursting, life-changing realization, you know the mix of feelings that evokes. You can feel scared and confused (“How could I have been lied to about all of this?”) while at the same time feeling exhilarated and inspired (“F*** this, I’m going to do something about it!”) Which brings us to reason #2:

2. Because it’s important to do something about it

If you learn the truth about something and you don’t let anyone know about it, did you really learn it? And more importantly, did anything change?

Whenever you first learn the truth about a social injustice, it’s natural to feel compelled to do something about it, especially if it has to do with your values.  Obviously you’re more likely to do something if it affects you directly; it feels like it’s your duty! But what if the realization you’ve just had has to do with the lives of others and not so directly yours? Well, it’s still important that you do something about it – precisely because you’ll be in a position where you could potentially have leverage.

What you do can come in many forms. It can mean speaking with people: on a small scale with your family and friends or addressing larger groups of people that you have access to (say if you’re a teacher or in a leadership position). It can mean launching an organization or joining one that already exists. It can mean confronting the problem physically via direct action, or non-physically through writing, art, political campaigns or any other means that combines raising awareness with creating a solution.

Regardless of what type of action you choose, it’s important to continue to learn (and unlearn, as the case may be). Just because a realization made you spark into action doesn’t mean you fully grasp the issue yet or how it relates to other issues and the bigger picture. As you learn, you begin to realize for instance that you can no longer speak about economic justice without also talking about race, gender, age, ability or nationality. You begin to realize that what’s happening in, say, Flint, MI, is not isolated from what’s happening at Standing Rock or at Smithfield Foods. And eventually you find out where exactly you fit into this whole big mess…and that’s when it all becomes a full circle and it all makes sense.

 

This video shows animal liberationists who struggle against many different “-isms” in their daily lives. Yet their fight to exist (queers, single mothers, Latinx, indigenous, disabled, Muslims, trans, working class, students, anarchists, black, immigrants, Asians….) is not separate from, nor does it compete with, their fight as activists for nonhumans; it’s not a matter of either/or but rather it’s both/and. For them, viewing social issues in isolation doesn’t work because they can’t stop being queer or disabled, etc. when they speak out for nonhuman animals or for immigration rights, etc.

Could the notion that we must always choose one thing to focus on also be a story you’ve been fed unquestionably?


Learning about and questioning social issues and how they affect one another is an indispensable part of being an activist. The good news? Your learning gears and your action gears are perfectly capable in working together. In fact, each makes the other stronger! Even better is when you do this learning with others around you, which brings us to point #3:

3. Because it’s important to do that something with others

Why is it important to work with others? Because doing activism and learning about social issues can be an emotional (and physical!) rollercoaster, so it helps to share the experience with others who understand what you’re going through. It also helps to know that you won’t be alone and that others in your group will have your back if something happens. Stronger communities mean you gain stronger control over your own life.

Why is it important to work with and listen to others who have different backgrounds from yours? Because social issues too don’t all have the same background – so why should we use cookie-cutter solutions? In other words, not everyone in your community will experience the same struggle in the same way. For example, a queer immigrant from Latin America will experience homophobia in a different way than a queer U.S.-born citizen. A cow at a dairy farm will experience speciesism in a different way than a fox trapped for their fur. So when a community values the distinct perspective within itself is when we can start coming up with solutions that will benefit everyone affected.

Community is both the means and the ends in the fight for social justice – it both leads to action and results from action. Community isn’t just a group of people sharing the same space; it requires action from all members for all members. In a community we all teach and motivate one another, as well as hold one another accountable when we mess up so that we can become not only better activists but better people.

 


Lilia Trenkova was born and raised in Bulgaria during the final years of communism before embarking on the long journey (recently completed) that is U.S. immigration. She holds an MFA in Scenic Design, a BA in Theater and Studio Art, and is a certified permaculture designer. In addition to activism, Lili works as an environmental designer, scenic artist and fabricator. She’s a co-founder of Collectively Free where she gets to combine her organizing and creative skills to fight for justice.

whyveganism.com

Uh Oh… Your Vegan Panel is All White or Male

A few  years ago, I was considering attending Colorado VegFest 2014 until I read the program and changed my mind. Almost every single presenter appeared to be white and male. I wasn’t the only person to notice this. Several concerned activists raised the issue with the program organizers, and were, to my dismay, met with strong resistance. Because we were critical of the program’s male-centrism, we were curiously accused of being sexist ourselves. Moreover, we were told we were ruining activism “for the animals.”

Because these reactions are so common to feminist critique no matter how politely or compassionately that critique is offered, it is worth exploring why these responses are both inappropriate and oppressive.

Gender Inclusivity is Not Sexist

When feminists ask that more women be included in speaking events, it is not an insinuation that men are not capable of having good ideas and should be barred from participation. It is only asking that women be actively included with the understanding that women have been consciously and unconsciously excluded from participating in the public discourse for centuries.

This is not sexism against men because, under patriarchy (a system of male rule), men cannot be victims of sexism. “Reverse sexism” is a trope designed to protect male privilege and deflect criticism, but it lacks empirical support. The institutions of patriarchy are designed to privilege men, therefore, men cannot be the victims of sexism when women challenge this privilege.

Gender Inclusivity is Not Speciesist

Lamenting “the animals” who are presumably hurt by efforts to improve diversity is another distraction technique.  It takes the blame away from those responsible for the problem (almost always persons protecting their privilege) and puts it on those who are drawing attention to the problem (usually marginalized persons). “Won’t somebody please think of the animals!” rhetoric protects structures of inequality.

Emphasizing the urgency of Nonhuman Animal suffering (“RIGHT NOW!”) eliminates the potential for civil discourse and careful thought, both of which are necessary for effective activism. No time to think, animals are suffering! This trope exploits the torture and death of Nonhuman Animals to maintain privilege and inequality.

Failing to Assume Responsibility is Sexist

Most gatekeepers in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement are unwilling to accept responsibility for institutional discrimination. To a point, this is understandable. Very few persons today are explicitly sexist or racist; most engage in implicit or unconscious prejudice and stereotyping. You do not have to identify as sexist to be sexist. In fact, many people who believe themselves to be champions of women are actively engaged in sexist systems.

The majority of us theoretically support egalitarian ideals, which is good news, of course. Yet, this superficial support also makes challenging the many barriers that remain all the more difficult. Marginalized groups today are harmed by institutional discrimination far more than interpersonal prejudices and discriminations. Even if you personally do not feel you are sexist or racist, that does not mean sexism or racism doesn’t exist.

Sexism and racism are both structural, but most interpret these systems as individual. In this case, VegFest panel organizers were confronted with the presence of sexism and racism and interpreted our feminist critique to mean that they themselves (not the institution they represent) were being labeled sexist and racist. They reacted with more individual-level thinking, reversing the contention by insisting that it was we the complainants who were the truly sexist and racist persons. By this schoolyard logic, any acknowledgement of white male privilege is inherently sexist and racist. But acknowledging gender, race, and difference in representation and opportunity is not bigotry. Such a framework invisibilizes the very real systems that insure that this panel and most panels in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement have a race and gender problem.

Solutions of Responsibility

Blaming the complainants is only one tactic. Blaming the disenfranchised is another popular approach.

Ignoring systems invites a deflection to the most vulnerable. Too uncomfortable to consider that their own biases might somehow be responsible for the lack of diversity, organizers lazily insist that it is simply the case that no women or people of color were available or interested. Again, this response inappropriately individualizes a systemic problem. Institutions wield incredible privilege in normalizing agendas and discourse. They also wield incredible privilege in acting as gatekeepers and setting standards and values for their audiences.

Men and whites (and especially a combination of the two) must take responsibility for sexism and racism in the movement. Even if these persons do not feel they are racist or sexist, they nonetheless benefit from these systems and are thus morally obligated to acknowledge and resist them. Allies should, first, contact organizers and express their disappointment with the lack of diversity. They should, second, withhold their services or patronage until diversity is improved.

In a movement that is 80% female, there is no excuse for an all-male or nearly all-male group of speakers, contributors, or leaders. Race is more complicated. The overwhelming whiteness of the activist pool indicates that many people of color–who also care about other animals and practice veganism–rightfully avoid the movement and either abandon activism or create independent collectives. Those who remain are vulnerable to exploitation, over-extended to fulfill diversity quotas and often used as tokens.

Conclusion

I am of the position that most of these events are wastes of precious few resources. I recognize that creating community is essential to retaining vegans, but conferences and fests are not explicitly “for the animals.” The majority of event goers, I suspect, are not uninitiated persons, but rather persons who are already vegan or vegetarian. These events are predominantly sites of fundraising, career advancement, personal entertainment, and celebrity worship. They are not “about the animals” so much as they are about humans.

Diversity disrupts the historical use of conferences as spaces to engage in and enjoy privilege. If these conferences were truly in the business of spreading vegan ideals, they would embrace diversity rather than accuse women and other disenfranchised groups of being discriminatory themselves simply for requesting representation. A movement that belittles and trivializes the marginalization of human groups will be unwelcoming and ineffective for other animals. If the community believes that conferences matter, then they must become relevant and inclusive.

 


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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