Is This What Vegan Looks Like?

In the June 2018 issue of Women’s Health UK, I was interviewed on the prevailing stereotype of angry vegans that has dominated British media in recent months. In the article, I clarify that, although most animal rights activists and vegans are women, patriarchal norms endemic to society and social movements push men (especially hegemonic ones) to the spotlight. It’s not an especially fair portrayal and neither is it representative:

Whereas women, who are well aware that their emotionality will be framed as “hysterical,” tend to focus more on mediation, education and community-building. It’s tragic that long-standing peaceful leaders in the vegan movement are suddenly being held accountable for the actions of an extreme few.

Readers can access the entire interview here.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and served as Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college 2016-2018. She also served as council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association and was elected chair in 2018. 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.

Dealing with Sexism Requires Initiative

Perhaps one of the most crucial rational strategies for achieving animal liberation which I explore in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, is the firm rejection of sexism. In a movement that is mostly ranked by women but dominated by men, sexism becomes irrational in that it:

1. Counters social justice values
2. Disempowers 80% of the movement, and
3. Discredits the movement in the larger social movement arena.

Dealing with sexism requires initiative. Male-identified leaders must take their position seriously, and part of that serious consideration will entail ceding some or all of that leadership to marginalized demographics. Male leaders should take reports of sexism and sexual violence seriously and have absolutely no tolerance for it. It will take more than waiting for the marginalized to point out problems. Advocates with privilege must start identifying it and rejecting it themselves. They must create a strategy to prevent it from happening in the first place. Those in a position of power are those who must take the initiative to create a safer, just, and rationally consistent movement.

This is not to say that rank-and-file folks will not be involved in this goal as well. Neither is it only men who should pay attention to this problem. Advocates of any gender must take these reports seriously and support one another.

For further reading and inspiration, check out our essay, “Tips for Male Allies.”


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. 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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What is Intersectionality?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

How to Hate Fur Without Hating Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Brian Luke, Brutal

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

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

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

 


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

 

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 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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