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

Aris Austin

Content Warning: Rape mention, ableism, racism, misogyny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry? I’d be angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

I’M ANGRY. And It’s My Right.

Content Warning: Discussions of hetereosexism.
Not Safe for Work: Contains strong language.
Jaguar roaring or yawning

By Raffaella Ciavatta

I came out when I was 13. The world before then was vampiresque, hollow and dark to me but after coming out of the closet, it became even more apparent to me how angry I really was when I started to experience systemic oppression through every pore of my body.

My first contact with activism was through the LGBTQ+ community. However back then I worked solo and not only mocked but despised and regarded LGBTQ+ activists as conformists and tame. The thought of anyone wanting to build bridges or work with heterosexuals was beyond my understanding.

“My voice and my anger were the only weapons I had against homophobia and I intended to use them as loud as I possibly could. I, was a lone gay warrior in a world that hated women and LGBTQ+ folks.”

My “no-sugar-coating” attitude and blunt anti-heterosexism soon began to be noticed in the small LGBTQ+ community of Sao Paulo through Orkut, a predecessor of Facebook (does anyone remember it?) and Fotolog.net. If I were to transport my Orkut account to Facebook this is what it would have looked like:

Facebook post from 1997 that shows author with friends making mocking faces. Says, "The world would be a much better place if hetereosexuals didn't exist. I mean, they are so pathetic! All they care about is breeding, being oppressive and wasting space!! Today when I was simply walking around, holding my girlfriend's hand these bunch of dudes came up to us and asked if we needed a dick to make things better. Later on the same day a woman called me a dyke so I told her her sister tasted real good last night. HA! Oh, and by the way, if you're straight FUCK OFF, don't comment. I don't need your fucking pity or "solidarity". My community and I can handle this shit without your despicable selves!!"

I bet many of you now are “appalled” by my behavior and perhaps many of you would have defriended me then, called me names or felt sorry for me. But listen up. I want to challenge the dynamics of this relationship.

My voice and my anger were the only weapons I had against homophobia and I intended to use them as loud as I possibly could. I, was a lone gay warrior in a world that hated women and LGBTQ+ folks.

When you live in a system where you cannot go one single day without being called a dyke, offered a dick by cis men (as if lesbians never date trans women who have dicks), being mocked at, laughed at, sexualized, physically assaulted, bombarded with images of straight happy couples, living a perfect life – you either break, become apathetic, find some strength to deal with all of it positively or you become angry. I chose the latter.

Three couples are pictured, the heterosexual couple is scratched out with a red x

For the longest of time I never fully trusted straight folks. I always thought there was an underlying reason why they wanted to be friends with me – either because they needed to feel better about themselves with their “Look, I’m not like them!” argument or because they wanted something from me, like men getting aroused from my stories or similar things.

The truth is that no matter how loud I was, the chances of the world ever being LGBTQ-only was nearly impossible. So I ask that we pause and analyze the power dynamics that we have here: no matter what I said, by the end of the day the chances of me being verbally or physically assaulted were still very high. No straight person will ever have to worry about being beaten up over their sexual orientation. End of story.

It is my right, as someone who has been systematically oppressed, to let my rage breathe. No matter if the things I say are violent or offensive, it is not for straight folks to tell me how to deal with my anger.

Is exterminating all heterosexuals going to make the world a better place for LGBTQ+ people? No. I do not believe so and deep down I think I never believed it! The truth is that back then straight folks terrorized me, i said and did things that may not seem the most logical or effective.

But were my feelings justifiable? Yes. They were a perfectly natural response to oppression and it was the best I could have done at the time where I literally had no more energy left to keep fighting.

Could I have dealt with things differently? No. Not at the time. My spirit had been so broken that anger was the only way I found to vent. I have talked about how I don’t believe in misanthropy or how attitudes similar to mine are perhaps not beneficial to anyone or any movement. The toxicity of it actually hurts us. But we have to understand where they come from sometimes and let this rage breathe.

I worked really hard to break my cycle of anger and distrust but I don’t think it will be something I will ever fully overcome due to the various traumatic experiences I suffered and still suffer from! However, today I’m able to deal with homophobic situations much better and usually anger becomes secondary in the process of coping. I have found other things that help me deal with anger like working out, poetry, talking it out, and music, etc.

Three images juxtaposed: An American flag being burned; a picture of a Black muscular man threatening a white man and posturing at the camera; Black Lives Matter protesters holding signs in the street

That is not to say I deserve sympathy or a medal. I have had moments where I snapped and I still never hold my tongue when people want to be oppressive towards me. The difference is, I have found other ways to put people in their place. And it makes me happier that I am able to fight back without self-destructing.

Next time you see someone with similar behavior, don’t be “appalled”. Don’t stop being friends with them, don’t call them names, and certainly don’t pity them. Let their rage breathe. Don’t try to say “It gets better,” especially if you’re not part of their community. Sometimes the best allies are the ones that know when to remain silent. If you make these mistakes, own up and apologize.

License plate of an automobile that reads, "YU ANGRY"

Anger is a way of resistance! Anger has been used by many people, movements, and countries! Think of Brazil’s (and Latin America in general) blunt anti-American stance: one of the ways a country built on colonialism has found to defy imperialism is by publicly  “hating” on Americans. I included Brazil here and qualified it as rage since I observe a clear anger from Brazilians in relation to the US. Think of Black Rage: a book which focused on the racial crisis in the US. Think of Black Lives Matter: a movement which emerged out of the rage and mourning that accompanied George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Let’s do our best to support oppressed peoples in our communities the best we can. And when they get angry, let their rage breathe!

 

This essay originally appeared on Collectively Free.


Raffaella

Co-founder of Collectively Free, Raffaella Ciavatta is vegan animal liberation activist, art director, poet, photographer wanna-be, DJ in some past live and most importantly… a big dreamer who makes things happen.

From Domestic Violence in a Homophobic and Meat-Centric Country to Animal Rights Activist: Destroying the Hero Worship

Trigger Warning: Discusses sexual abuse, domestic violence, heterosexism, eating disorders, and suicide.

Destroying-the-Hero-Worship By Raffaella Ciavatta

Before I dive into this article I have to confess that writing it was not an easy decision. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a very long time but undressing myself before the eyes of people I’ve never seen, talked to or interacted with in any way can open the door to a lot of hatred. But it also opens the doors to all of you out there, who can relate to my experiences, and my hope is that you too, can turn violence into activism. This story is for you, brothers and sisters.

Pink flowery sheet set up as a tent with blankets and pillows insideI too have regarded women as prizes. I am no heroine. And for that I am sorry.

I was born and raised in Brazil, a tropical paradise, people say, where everyone is always partying, LGBTQ flags flapping on a hot breezy day, gunshots and pools of blood, a country which has as many steak houses as the U.S has Starbucks’ stores.

Growing up there was far from paradise. I discovered glimpses of my sexuality at a very early age, so young I’m not sure how old exactly I was but I’m going to estimate 5 years old. I remember this girl came to play with me and I took her to my bedroom. I loved to pretend I was camping so I used to make tents with my bed sheets. I invited her in. I kissed her. We touched each other.

About a year later, age 6 a man came to live with us. I’ve always had a talent to read people and I knew something about him was terrifying. I refused to call him father not because I was jealous that my mother was with someone but because I could smell the violence in him. I called him “Big Bee” (if you translate it from Portuguese), probably because I had been stung by bees before and I knew it hurt a lot.

Like most predators, he took some time to unveil his true self. Before that he had to gain our trust and approval, which he tried to get from me by buying me things, taking me to places I wanted to go, and by supposedly making my mother happy. I pretended to give him my trust but inside I was shaking.

Then the days when he would come home somewhat drunk started. At first it was because he had a bad day at work, long hours of art direction call for some whiskey. Those days started to get more frequent, the tone of his voice started to raise, his hands also started to raise. I put myself between him and my mother day and night, I begged him to stop, leave her alone. For some reason I knew I was immune to him. I didn’t fear for my life, I feared for my mother’s.

Every night I knew he was coming home because I could hear the revving sound of his car entering the garage. Sometimes I would hear it for minutes because he was too drunk to drive through it. I would never fall asleep before knowing he had arrived, even when it was very late and I secretly hoped he would die alone in a car crash. But he never did. He always came back.

Car headlights at night

He would come straight to my bedroom since my mom had started sleeping with me. Sometimes she would come out to talk to him. Inevitably I had to go out to stop him from beating her because he always did.

I studied a lot then, from 8am to 4pm. I loved school and I hated home. I never told anyone about what was happening at home. I became so hollow and cold I remember this one time I was looking at myself in the mirror, forcing myself to cry right before I went to school to see if one of my friends would notice so I could tell them what was going on. Not one single drop came out. I grinned and beared. It was almost relieving, to live this double life. In the eyes of the world I was just this kid, innocent and naive.

The drinking then started to happen at home. He would sit in his study, writing his pathetic poetry, pretending to be some kind of artist while quenching his thirst with a Johnny Walker bottle. He would fall asleep with his mouth open, in such deep sleep I imagined myself throwing all sort of disgusting things in it.

I have almost completely erased the 6 years of abuse from my mind without erasing the consequences of it, of course. But I vividly remember one night when I must have fallen asleep and I woke up to sounds heavy suffocation. I jumped out of bed. He was giving my mother a choke hold. My mother, someone who suffered from asthma, a choke hold. I jumped on him, I took him off her. I think this was also the same night when he had almost broken her wrist.

Leonardo Dicaprio, black and white image. He is young with shaggy spikey hair. Holding a large pair of plastic lips that read "kiss me"In anticipation of people saying I became gay because of an abusive male figure in my life, even though it’s a fact I was already attracted to girls before, I started to give boys more of my interest but let me point out, I was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio – androgyny anyone? I was reassured not all boys were abusive and violent but I knew I didn’t want to be with them.

Not long then my mother had a brain aneurysm, right in front of me. She told me she covered her face because she felt like her eye was coming out. She was identified with aneurysm pretty quickly. I told her it was going to be okay, but that she was going to look like Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien – basically saying that she was going to have her head shaved, operated.

She survived. With no neurological damage. A true miracle if you ask me. It would all have been good if we hadn’t gone back home and it had taken another act of violence from him to finally dictate that we were leaving for good. I was in my pajamas.

Not surprisingly my sense of justice and determination to fight against injustices only grew bigger: the same way I felt it was my responsibility to protect my mother, I felt like it was my responsibility to also help others. “Trauma and activism appear to be in contradistinction—the former defined by exclusivity and concealment, being hidden and out-of-sight; and the latter by action, out-in-the-open, in public,” says Outspoken.

I had always been drawn to helping animals, cats and dogs for the most part, but insects, birds and fishes also. At age 15 I also thought I was helping women by getting involved in relationships in which women seemed to need my help with a specific issue: straight rebel girls who wanted to piss off their parents, girls who couldn’t feel anything at all, girls who were taking a break from their current relationship, later in life married women, women who were just as lost as me. I would immerse myself completely in them, ensuring that they were completely in love with me. It was almost like art for me, how they would put me up on a pedestal.

The cycle basically went down like this: get involved into a relationship with a woman who supposedly needed an issue resolved, be the heroine of the day, get bored because the “challenge” was finished, leave. A few things to point it out is that this cycle was very gradual. It was never about the sex, quite the opposite, I despised one night-stands. It was for me a narcissistic need for attention, to feel loved but to anticipate the inevitable destruction of that relationship and so be the one who leaves it first.

I would then start to destruct the relationship, usually by cheating. I have cheated on almost every single girlfriend I had and I had many – I will not get into detail of every individual since I don’t have the consent to share our story publicly. I had given them what I thought they wanted and it was time for them to be on their own. So I abandoned them. “If I could recover from all the atrocities I had gone through, they sure could recover from a breakup,” I told myself over and over again to justify my behaviour.

Those relationships made me feel alive, made me feel like I was in charge. Between my self-destruction spiral with anorexia, a disease in which one disappears to be seen, bulimia nervosa (and very shortly with alcohol), my attempt of suicide, and my struggle with homophobia (Brazil has highest LGBTQ rate of murder in the world), from verbal to physical abuse, those relationships were something I had control of and I didn’t even have to feel guilty about it: it was consensual.

Image of fox that contains quote: "You become responsible forever for what you have tamed"

My favorite character in The Little Prince was the Fox, “People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” My mother, seeing my vicious patterns tried to warn about the consequences. But I did not want to take love advices from her. Not after everything she had put me through.

I left Brazil to come to the US in hopes to leave my demons behind. But they followed me. I became involved in LGBTQ activism, feeding the homeless and became involved again into helping cats and dogs. My good deeds were still taking place while I continued to treat women like trophies, to self-destruct and of course, I continued to eat the flesh and drink the secretions of non-human animals.

It was time to go back to therapy. I was 26 and I was still getting involved in relationships in which I was the heroine, bragging to my friends about my “adventures.”

In parallel I became the board director at a dog and cat rescue. It was then that I came to realize the hypocrisy into saving some animals but not all by watching slaughterhouse videos, today I recommend this one. Long story short, I went vegan overnight, and most importantly I became a vegan activist.

I knew I needed help. To understand why self-destruction was taking over my life and how I could end my relationship patterns. It was because of doctor Laura and over 1 year of intense therapy (this was followed by other years of therapy I had done) that I was able to identify my mechanisms and make sure my patterns were broken. It was not easy. It was painful, humiliating in many ways, but enlightening.

I am a product of a broken home, like Placebo would say. It is true that childhood trauma affects and changes someone forever:

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is something that everybody needs to know about. It was done by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser and Dr. Bob Anda at the CDC, and together, they asked 17,500 adults about their history of exposure to what they called “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs. Those include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental mental illness, substance dependence, incarceration; parental separation or divorce; or domestic violence. For every yes, you would get a point on your ACE score. And then what they did was they correlated these ACE scores against health outcomes.

What they found was striking. Two things: Number one, ACEs are incredibly common. Sixty-seven percent of the population had at least one ACE, and 12.6 percent, one in eight, had four or more ACEs. The second thing that they found was that there was a dose-response relationship between ACEs and health outcomes: the higher your ACE score, the worse your health outcomes. For a person with an ACE score of four or more, their relative risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was two and a half times that of someone with an ACE score of zero. For hepatitis, it was also two and a half times. For depression, it was four and a half times. For suicidality, it was twelve times. A person with an ACE score of seven or more had triple the lifetime risk of lung cancer and three and a half times the risk of ischemic heart disease, the number one killer in the United States of America. (Nadine Burke Harris 2014)

Do my destructive relationships have do with my past? Absolutely. But it does not excuse me or anyone else from seeking help. Multiple times if you have to. Our past cannot be used as an excuse to justify our actions.

Author stands at protest holding a poster of a pig that asks, "Will You Let Me Live?"

I overcame my personal trauma and transformed it into a catalyst for activism. It was most likely because of my trauma that fighting against injustices was so dear to me. However, as you have seen, I am no heroine. Despite my exhaustive dedication to Animal Rights and for that matter, to all forms of oppression, I have treated women like trophies. I have never been a predator, or engaged in any form of nonconsensual act but I have used those relationships as a way to feel empowered and then to self-destruct. I have also never shared anything about the women I was with publicly without their consent but I have disregarded the feelings of countless individuals.

What triggered me to write this article was the return to Facebook of Hugo Dominguez, former Direct Action Everywhere organizer, who has admitted to sex crimes. I see a few parallels between us, this is why I want to bring him into this story.

Hugo may have acknowledged his behaviour but he hasn’t actively and truly sought help. Someone who wants to get better will remove themselves from situations that will trigger the behavior again, and in his case his attention-seeking addiction is being fed by his latest return to Facebook.

I too have regarded women as prizes, so I know exactly where Hugo stands. I too have moved away from my country trying to escape my past, I too have taken a few months to reflect but those were band-aids on a hemorrhage. Overcoming a vicious behaviour takes time and commitment. It also includes giving time and space to the victims.

I have described my upbringing in detail to inspire others who have gone through childhood trauma to seek help. Consciously or unconsciously I have let my past dictate my present but we must use traumatic experiences to push us forward, to help us and others grow. I sincerely hope Hugo can.

We have seen the dangers of hero worship, so please, let’s destroy pedestals and let’s embrace one another on the same level.

 

Raffaella

Co-founder of Collectively Free, Raffaella Ciavatta is vegan animal liberation activist, art director, poet, photographer wanna-be, DJ in some past live and most importantly… a big dreamer who makes things happen.

Dr. Harper’s New Book, “Scars,” Brings Intersectional Theory to Life

I recently had the pleasure of reading Dr. Breeze Harper’s new fiction publication, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England and feel confident recommending the book for newcomers to intersectional theory, undergraduate students studying feminism, critical race, and other social justice issues, and seasoned advocates and scholars who might enjoy a fictional break that speaks to their interests. A trigger warning is in order because, as the title warns, Scars deals with many uncomfortable topics and visceral experiences, including racism, domestic violence, child molestation, and rape.

Although the concepts that shape the book are acute, Scars is an engaging read that both entertains and educates. The main character, Savannah (Savi), is a young college student that we can all look up to. As a poor white girl from Appalachia, I sat mostly silent in the classroom, absorbing what I was taught without question.  So, for me, Savi instantly becomes a hero of critical thinking as she challenges the white male normativity of the privileged world around her. She courageously speaks out against post-racial ideologies and the micro-aggressions of her more privileged peers, even when her friends and classmates resist. Savi is a little radical, and I love it.

Harper

Dr. Breeze Harper

But Savi isn’t a perfect superhero. She is certainly human, facing many structural barriers due to her race, class, and sexual orientation. Brave in some situations, she is scared and vulnerable in others. Her experience with racial slurs as a small child is heartbreaking. Her terrifying experience with a sexually aggressive customer alone in the gas station where she works brings chills. Her debilitating concern for her mother’s health and the constant burden of bills and cold temperatures reminds readers of the stark realities of difference in America.

There is also something to be said of the tension Savi faces in experiencing oppression. At times she is scrappy and outspoken, tackling challenges head on. Oftentimes, however, confrontation is pushed onto her and she feels quite helpless. We see this when she is engaged by her white male classmate who seeks Savi’s counsel in understanding his privilege, but we also see it with her struggle to come to grips with her lesbianism and the pressure to “come out” before she feels ready. Rarely does she feel comfortable admitting weakness and accepting help.

The book’s primary strength relies in its ability to carefully tackle the intricacies of oppression. Her best friend, who is hearing disabled, often engages his male privilege and abuses their friendship with near constant pressure for a relationship, seemingly unable to understand that no means no. Savi herself faces a considerable level of structural oppression, but she comes to recognize that she also maintains some degree of privilege as a human and as a Westerner. She learns that Coca-Cola is responsible for serious social and environmental injustices, but doesn’t want to give it up, so she creates rationalizations. Though she is lactose-intolerant, she continues to eat animal flesh and balks at the thought of giving up McDonald’s.

CocaColaInjusticeNone of the characters are perfect in understanding oppression; everyone is still learning. We see this in Savi’s heavy use of sexist and disableist language, the fetishization of animal bodies as food by most of the characters, and her vegan friend’s wool clothing. Oppression is never straight forward, and Scars helps readers to navigate these complicated concepts and relationships.

When all is said and done, Scars is not a doom-and-gloom story. Harper is careful to point out bright spots, altruism, and room for hope. There are characters that are willing to learn, and many individuals seek to disrupt violence in any way they can. Although there are definitely hierarchies of privilege, no character lives unburdened from some sort of systemic barrier or personal tragedy. Everyone has scars, but everyone has the potential to heal.

 

Party with the Meat Stick: The Sexual Politics of Slim Jim

Slim Jim, an American brand of cheap, convenience store animal-based jerky has launched a new ad campaign, “Party with the Meat Stick.”  A series of three commercials, all place “meat” within the realm of masculinity by feminizing their competitors.  This is done in some cases to degrade the competition.  In other cases, Slim Jim jerky is positioned with women to make their jerky appear more sexy, attractive, and consumable.

Image from Slim Jim website that shows 2 white women's bodies in tiny shorts and tops with midriffs exposed. They are touching each other with the beef jerky sticks.

The first ad features two women’s bodies (their heads are cut off, because this is, much like the jerky, about the consumption of fragmented body parts).  The Slim Jim women touch each other sexually with the “meat sticks” (an obvious phallic referent).  The competitor’s jerky, however, is held by two fat men who rub and poke each other’s protruding bellies with the sticks.  The commercial pulls on homosexuality (and fat-phobia) and makes it “disgusting” in order to feminize their competitor in the negative sense.

 

In the second commercial, a display box of Slim Jim gets progressively more masculine (first donning men’s sunglasses, then a mustache and an athletic medal, and finally a captain’s hat).  The “impostor” jerky (or, what they call “impostor meat sticks”), however, gets progressively more feminized.  First, the display box dons a baby’s bonnet and diaper, then a possum appears next to the box. In the case of Slim Jim, many masculine referents are used; in the case of the competitor, femininity referents are used (infants and Nonhuman Animals are both feminized bodies).  Note that feminist theory considers any  group that is marked with powerlessness, vulnerability, and low social status and is also oppressed, dominated, and consumed within a patriarchal society a feminized group.

Man dancing behind Slim Jim display surrounded by several dancing women.

Older woman in a pink cat sweater holding two cats next to "impostor" jerky

In the final commercial, the Slim Jim jerky attracts a partying man with several young women dancing behind him.  The “impostor meat sticks” attract an older woman wearing a cat sweater who holds two cats.  With “real” meat, men can expect a sexy good time with lots of available women at their disposal.  With “fake” meat, we should expect non-sexy, worthless women who are of no use to men because they are no longer viewed as sexual resources.  The cats are additional markers of “negative” femininity, as, again, Nonhuman Animals can be considered feminized bodies.

In all cases, “impostor meat sticks” are feminized using references to women, children, homosexuals, older persons, fat persons, and other animals.  “Real meat’ is masculine, or rather “real men” eat meat, and “real men” are defined by what they are not:  feminine. They are in control, they dominate, and their power and social status comes from the denigration and consumption of vulnerable bodies. In the case of the Nonhuman Animals, cows, pigs, and other animals are tortured, killed, ground up, spiced, and squeezed into plastic tubes.  Their bodies are literally being consumed to maintain male privilege.  “Meat” becomes a signifier of masculinity.  The consumption of animal bodies becomes a way of “doing” male gender.  It is a performance of domination enacted through the consumption and the active maligning and mocking of the non-masculine.  Men are encouraged to “party with the meat stick,” meaning, they are invited to celebrate and enjoy the privilege of masculinity using feminized bodies.  Their privileged status is demonstrated by reinforcing the disadvantaged status of others.

 

This blog is based on the theory of Carol Adams. Learn more about the sexual politics of meat by visiting her website.

 

Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

“Sexism is Nuts” says company that enslaves animals, children, and uses disableism in slogans

Over the weekend, feminists were in a fury over a new Australian Snickers ad that makes a mockery of street harassment and gender equality. For some time now, Snickers’ commercials have been based on people acting really strange or belligerent because they are hungry.  Once fed a Snickers bar, they are satiated and return to normal. In this Australian commercial, construction workers are acting out of sorts from hunger. We know this because they are yelling egalitarian slogans at female passerby that sound straight from the mouth of feminist Ryan Gosling.

Hey Girl: Gender is a social construct but everyone likes to cuddle

Feminist men: It’s funny because it would supposedly never happen.

In the commercial, we see that most women are afraid at first (and this is supposed to be funny), because we have been conditioned our entire lives to expect and to fear strange men yelling at us. However, the women in the commercial appear to be pleased and amused when they realize they are hearing pro-feminist calls.  Lisa Wade at Sociological Images describes the cruelty of playing on these gender scripts:

And then the commercial ends and it’s all yanked back in the most disgusting way. It ends by claiming that pro-feminist men are clearly unnatural. Men don’t respect women — at least, not this kind of man — they’re just so hungry they can’t think straight.

Wade finishes her piece by declaring that she would never be buying Snickers again. But I’d like to know what feminist would be eating them in the first place.

Today Cadbury jumped on the bandwagon with an ad for their Boost bars that reads: “We at #BOOSTNUTS believe that men with real nuts proudly respect women whether they’re hungry or not. #Sexism is Nuts.”  Then MissRepresentation retweeted it.  Now I’m really confused.

Cadbury Slaves Vegan Feminism

So far as I am aware, both Mars (who makes Snickers) and Cadbury source their chocolate from child slaves in Africa.  Their chocolate also contains dairy products from enslaved and tortured cows who are eventually killed.  Cadbury suppliers rip the newborns from their mothers, throw them in the back of a corpse-laden truck, and blast them in the face before feeding them to dogs.  The calf pictured managed to survive a bullet to the head and struggled his way across the bodies of his family members to the corner before he was finished off.  Additionally, Mars has been testing their products on animals for years–so they can tout the healthy properties of their chocolate.  It appears Cadbury was purchased by Kraft Foods, which likely conducts animal testing as well.  So, really, as a feminist against the oppression of others, I would never, ever purchase from Mars or Cadbury, and I’m really quite disgusted that large feminist collectives would promote either.

Cadbury Calves

Male calves are considered “by products” of the dairy industry and meet brutal deaths. Cadbury was under fire for shooting calves in the head. Though this image is disturbing, this calf’s torture and death is considerably less brutal than that of most male calves (who enter the veal industry).

These are capitalist enterprises–sexist or not sexist–they are out to profit by exploiting the vulnerable. Nice try Cadbury, but aside from being a slave industry, you also managed to maintain cis-normativity in presuming real men must possess “real nuts.” And using “nuts” as a pejorative is also disableist! “Sexism is nuts” reads like “People who are sexist are bad people, just like mentally ill people.”  Fair-traded vegan chocolate for me, please.