When Social Justice Ignores Marginalized Vegans

Dejected pony ignored by larger herd of horses
Shunned pony image from viral AmazonUK commercial.

By Lauren McGrath

Along with defending animal exploitation, asking repetitive questions, and constantly derailing arguments, a favorite pastime of non-vegans as of late seems to be their use of the Social Justice moniker in order to justify their non-veganism. Instead of attacking systems that exploit human and non-human animals alike, the warriors of the almighty keyboard are far more interested in using poor campaigns to justify the torture and murder of innocent non-human animals. They are more than happy to speak over the voices of marginalized members of society who choose to lead an ethical lifestyle in order to assert that no, they are the most ethical of all because they are acting as true allies. Or… something like that. Either way, imagine the energy these blue-in-the-face talkers could be expending on helping to make veganism mainstream and accessible? It’s an interesting combination of trying to play The Ultimate Ally and simple bacon obsession, and there’s no way around this.

Let’s get an uncomfortable truth out of the way; there are certainly vegan organizations who take part in all sorts of bullshittery. From the rampant sexism of PETA to DxE’s constant struggles with racist members, (links for both back to Ecorazzi pieces) the animal rights community does not always act in the best interest of all species. Unfortunately, this is a widespread phenomenon that all activist movements must face and deal with in the same ways. Singling animal rights out, however, is unfair. It’s singled out because of cultural norms of violence and a societal obsession with meat consumption, undoubtedly. Veganism is such an easy target because society at large has created such mountainous misconceptions about it as a social movement. Every time an article critiquing veganism from a non-vegan is released, the author seems to expect vegans from marginalized backgrounds to take the attack lying down.

Last week, I wrote about former vegan Mickey Z.’s anti vegan tirade, and his blatant erasure of non-white, non-male, and poor vegans. “I’m sure plenty of you are itching to assure me that none of your friends behave like this. (None, you claim!) Hey, I personally know some amazing humans who happen to follow a plant-based lifestyle but sorry, that doesn’t alter the overall reality,” he wrote, using a brush to paint one of the most broad takedown attempts I’ve ever seen. “As someone who was immersed in the inner circle of veganism for two decades, I can speak from vast personal experience. So please spare me and everyone else the “not all vegans” defense.”

It’s the #notallvegans bullshit that really sets me off. The “out” vegan movement is diversifying at a rapid rate, with oppressed groups carving out their own spaces. Many of these groups have been at work for years publishing essays in regards to critical theory an animal rights, applying it both to the animal rights movement, and larger societal systems. Believe it or not, vegans can examine the world while also being reflective!

In terms of feminist theory, feminism with a focus on animal rights has existed for decades now. With theorists and strategists such as Corey Lee Wrenn’s The Vegan Feminist Network, Carol J. Adams, and organized efforts such as Collectively Free that highlights grassroots feminist-vegan movement and thought, one must be willfully ignorant in order to not know how powerful vegan feminism is. Many feminists object to feminism and veganism being used in the same breath. They claim that our discussion about the female reproductive system and how it is exploited is taking part in biological essentialism. In truth, it’s the animal agriculture industry that has worked so very hard to gender the animals that they exploit. I would love to speak in more gender neutral terms when discussing the rape of dairy cows or fixation on chicken’s ovums. Unfortunately, farmer’s obsessions with feminizing “their girls” makes veganism a feminist issue whether we’re attaching gender to individual animals or not.

Everyday Feminism recently published an article called “4 Ways Mainstream Animal Rights Movements are Oppressive.” What I found the most disturbing about the article is that it rushes past minority, non-male and queer led movements without really celebrating or giving credit to the hard work they are doing. Author Mahealani Joy lists ways that the “mainstream” movement (defined in the article as groups such as PETA) is oppressive without examining veganism itself. Critique of the mainstream movement is so incredibly important, but it was a huge failure to simply name drop three grassroots movements that are inclusive as a means of “covering all the bases”. “The thing is, those people and the work they are doing is not what most people think of when they think of veganism, vegetarianism, and animal rights,” writes Joy. It’s because of commentary that focuses so strongly on PETA above all else that this problem exists to begin with, and Joy is participating in the silencing of progressive vegan movements by speaking over inclusive vegan movements. To their credit, the piece does highlight that as vegans, less focus needs to be put on aligning ourselves with large organizations and doing more work from the bottom up to prevent misconceptions from taking on lives of their own.

Friends, I’ll take one for the team here. I’ll be the one who says “not all vegans,” because it is so very true. Non-white, non-male, and poor vegans have been thrown under the bus for far too long and used as props and tools for anti-vegans to continue to mislead members of the social justice community. It’s time we stand together as a movement to move past the lies that are told about us.


Click here to visit the author’s website.

whyveganism.com

Fifty Shades of Chicken

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains graphic descriptions of rape and violence against women and other animals.

NOT SAFE FOR WORK: Contains graphic sexual language and disturbing images of violated animals.

Roasted chicken corpse bound in twine

Vegan feminists argue that oppression is intersectional. In particular, the ways in which women are exploited and harmed are very similar to the ways in which other animals are. A shining example of this intersection is found in Fifty Shades of Chicken, a cookbook that parodies Fifty Shades of Grey (a best selling novel which glamorizes submissive sexuality and violence against women).  Fifty Shades of Chicken, a book “for chicken lovers everywhere,” takes this disturbing subject matter to another level of degradation.

Throughout the book, a chicken’s body is used to replace that of a woman, and she is referred to as “Chicken” or “Miss Hen.”  The choice of “chicken” was not accidental.  Chickens eaten by humans are almost always female.  The body parts of chickens (breasts, legs, thighs) are often applied to that of human women, and human women are often called “birds,” “chicks,” “chickens,” or “hens.”

The cookbook features several images of a muscled, shirtless man dominating a chicken’s corpse with weapons, kitchen utensils, and binding (twine). In one image he is shown sodomizing her with an upright roasting device.  In others, he is shown penetrating her with a baster and shoving cream into her bottom with his fingers.  Most of the photographs of the finished “product” show the bird’s body splayed and ravaged.  She is posed pornographically to mimic a defiled human woman.

Man in an apron firmly places a chicken's corpse onto a funnel

The chef known as “Blades” sodomizes “Miss Hen” with the “erect member” of a vertical roaster.

The recipe titles are also disturbing:

  • “Popped-Cherry Pullet”
  • “Extra-Virgin Chicken”
  • “Please Don’t Stop Chicken”
  • “Jerked Around Chicken”
  • “Mustard Spanked Chicken”
  • “Cream-Slicked Chick”
  • “Chile-Lashed Fricassee”
  • “Skewered Chicken”
  • “Steamy White Meat”
  • “Bacon Bound Wings”
  • “Dripping Thighs”
  • “Thighs Spread Wide”
  • “Chicken Thighs Stirred Up and Fried Hard”
  • “Red Cheeks”
  • “Pound Me Tender”

And my favorite:

  • “Hog-Tied and Porked Chicken”

It is a regular smorgasbord of entangled oppression, violence, sexism, and speciesism.

These recipes are inextricably representative of rape culture.  Sexualized violence is presented as normative, the female body is objectified as a passive recipient of male desire and aggression, and the obligatory obsession with virginity and female purity is highlighted.

Shirtless, heavily-muscled man prepares to bind a chicken's corpse on a cutting board

Chapter Two, “Chicken Parts and Bits,” literally reenacts the fragmentation of the female body into consumable pieces which are wholly divorced from the person they once belonged to.  This objectification erases personhood and makes exploitative consumption all the more palatable.

The recipe instructions also entail graphic violence, domination, and control:

Much pleasure and satisfaction is to be had from tying up your bird.  Not only does it show your chicken who’s boss, but a tight binding ensures the chicken cooks exactly how you want it–evenly, moist, and tender.  It also closes off the chicken’s cavity, so the juices swelling within can’t spill out, at least not until you’re ready for them.  (p. 34)

Using large, strong kitchen shears and a confident hand, forcefully cut the backbone out of the chicken; first cut along one side of the backbone, then cut along the other side until it releases, then pull it out.  Gently spread the bird open, pressing down on the breast to flatten it (see Learning the Ropes).  Massage the flesh with 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt. (p. 116)

Position the chicken’s nether parts over the vertical roaster’s erect member and thrust the bird down.  Tuck her wing tips up behind her wings, behind her body.  Tie her legs together with a piece of butcher’s twine or cooking bands […] (p. 120)

It reads like a manual for serial killing.

Several gruesome pornographic narratives were included to preface the recipes and work the reader up into a hot bother for the pleasurable consumption awaiting them.  Take this example from “Backdoor Beer-Can Chicken”:

‘Hush,’ he says.  He smile and holds up a beer can.

‘Yes, baby, have a drink, I’m sure you need it.’

‘Oh, no, this is not for me, Chicken.’  He quirks his mouth into a wicked smile.

Holy f***…Will it?  How?

I gasp as he fills me with its astonishing girth.  The feeling of fullness is overpowering.

He rests me on the grill and I can feel the entire world start to engorge.  Desire explodes in my cavity like a hand grenade. (p. 137)

Or this story from “Flattered Breasts”:

Suddenly he seizes me and lays me out on the counter, claiming me hungrily.  His fingers pull me taut, the palms of his hands grinding my soft white meat into the hard granite, trapping me.  I feel him.  His stomach growls, and my mind spins as I acknowledge his craving for me.

‘Why must you always challenge me?’ he murmurs breathlessly.

‘Because I can.’ My pulse throbs painfully.

He grabs a fistful of kosher salt.

‘I’m going to season you now.’

‘Yes.’  My voice is low and heated.

He reaches for a rolling pin, then hesitates, looking at me.

‘Yes, please, Chef,’ I moan.

The first blow of the rolling pin jolts me but leaves behind a delicious warm feeling.

‘I.  Will. Make.  You.  Mine.’  he says between blows. (p. 62)

These narratives often present the chicken’s corpse as a willing accomplice. This is quite telling, given that she was beheaded and drained of blood days before she arrived in this man’s kitchen under saran wrap. This narrative of willingness is ubiquitous in rape cases and pornography. Even girls and women who are drugged or unconscious are frequently considered “willing.” It is therefore not surprising that a decapitated corpse, in the case of Miss Hen, is depicted as consenting.

As with other females, Miss Hen’s sexuality is strictly controlled and meant only for male entitlement. The relationship of domination that makes consent an impossibility, privileges men, and leaves women and Nonhuman Animals in a position of subservience is obscured.  Instead this chicken is “free-range,” implying that she has a choice in the matter.

What is worse, these actions are supposedly done out of “love” and for her pleasure.  It is not enough that women and Nonhuman Animals submit to male superiority, they must also be seen as enjoying their subjugation.  If the consumer was made aware of the immense suffering that lies beneath the surface of pornography, prostitution, exotic dancing, dairy, “meat,” “leather,” zoos, horse racing etc., the pleasure of that consumption would be challenged.  Previously unexamined oppression would come to light. What a buzz kill.

This book takes the male fantasy of ultimate control over a humiliated, submissive woman to its full fruition.  Men cannot legally coerce women into obliging sex slaves through force and fear.  They cannot legally fragment women into their body parts, strip them of their identity and self-efficacy, or pulverize and consume their bodies for sexual gratification (though more men than we like to admit do).  However, men can have the next best thing–they can humiliate, torture, dismember, and objectify a female Nonhuman Animal for pleasure. He can molest her, sodomize her, rape her, bind her, break her, “pork” her, and “slick” her with cream to the point of physical arousal and salivation.

Whether the victim is human or nonhuman, the script is the same. Control over the vulnerable is sexualized; domination and power is hot stuff.  And it’s completely legal, with full support from a patriarchal society.

He continues to fondle my liver with his fingertips until I can’t stand it.

He gently places my quivering offal into a skillet where some softened onions are waiting for me.  Holy f****** s***…we’re cooking in the middle of a party?  Everyone’s mingling and chatting, but I am not paying attention.  He stirs my insides with a deft wooden spoon, around and around [ . . . ] (p. 103)

As traumatizing as this book is on its own, what is perhaps most upsetting is the complete lack of criticism from the general public. The book racks up rave reviews by Amazon users who are beside themselves with laughter, folks who can’t get over just how darn clever this book is.  Violence against women and Nonhuman Animals is often trivialized, masked by humor, downplayed, and made more or less invisible…but surely, the triggering offensiveness of this book could not be ignored?  Not so. At the time of this writing, Fifty Shades of Chicken enjoys a whopping 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

The message could not be clearer:

Women=Nonhuman Animals=Sexualized=Dominated=Meat=Objects of Pleasurable Consumption

and

Nonhuman Animals=Feminized=Sexualized=Dominated=Meat=Objects of Pleasurable Consumption

. . . and apparently this is a hoot.

 


This essay was based on the work of vegan feminist Carol Adams.  For more information, check our her comments on Fifty Shades of Chicken posted on her blog.  See also the book’s promotional video on YouTube depicting a bird’s corpse being bound and cooked by an imposing looking  man accompanied by music and narration intended to convince the audience that the assault is “sexy.”

An adaption of this essay was published in 2013 in Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism 2 (1): 135-139.

You can read more about intersections of sexism and speciesism in A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave 2016).


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

whyveganism.com

How Veganism Became an Integral Part of My Feminism

Woman lying in snow with a bear
Photo by Katerina Plotnikova

In Carol J. Adams’ 1990 groundbreaking eco-feminist text The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, she takes the reader on a journey that touches on patriarchy, meat-eating, feminism, veganism (though Adams calls it vegetarianism, as a vegan herself she addresses dairy and egg production), and the ways in which each influence one another. One of Adams’ most pervasive theories compares the ongoing oppression of women and consumption of animals as influenced by their roles as “absent referents,” which divorces the consumable object (figuratively as the female body and literally as the animal body) from the individual.

When I was first introduced to this text in college, I was an active and enthusiastic meat-eater. I once had a fleeting thought that I could try vegetarianism, but it was quashed pretty quickly when my breakfast sausages arrived. I even teased a friend of mine for being vegetarian. I didn’t give a second thought to the ethics of eating animal products because I cared about problems already! I was active in the feminist group at my university. I understood systemic oppression and as I learned more my eyes were opened to the most insidious injustices that faced humans. In sum: I cared deeply about addressing my own internalized biases, but only if it didn’t involve an upheaval of my everyday behavior.

Adams’ work was presented to my feminist group during the spring semester of my sophomore year. The woman presenting showed us images and advertisements in which farmed animals and women were interchangeable, treated as equal players in the eyes of the intended (meat-loving, heterosexual, male) audience. With warning of violence, we briefly watched footage from Earthlings (I closed my eyes). We were shown a White Castle advertisement in which a pig dances seductively and pours on herself barbeque sauce (described as “sweet, saucy, and oh so naughty”), resulting in the hooting and hollering of the male audience. In one heartbreaking photo, a pregnant sow documented in an undercover investigation of Iowa Select Farms was in a crate she couldn’t move in, attached to which was a card that described her as a “FAT/SELFISH BITCH.”

Sows crammed into gestation crates; identification paper attached to the top of the cage reads, "FAT/SELFISH BITCH"
Image from Mercy for Animals

We were captivated by the presentation. But, of course, following the meeting the majority of us did nothing to change. That would require too much effort when we could, alternatively, do nothing. We were engaged in learning more about and fighting human injustice, and adding farmed animals into our circle of compassion felt more like a chore than a choice. We didn’t want to acknowledge that refusing to eat animal products was as much a rejection of participation in suffering as anything else we strove to do. While outwardly agreeing the presentation brought our attention to disturbing information and offered avenues for action, we were internally defensive due to prior exposure to vegan activism. We perceived PETA to be the face of veganism and therefore extended our judgment of the organization onto all vegans. PETA’s alarming willingness to objectify women to make a point required us as feminists to dislike them and, consequently, all vegans.

Despite our skepticism, we had living proof that at least two vegans, Carol J. Adams and the woman presenting Adams’ work to us, cared about both feminism and veganism. To justify our unwillingness to make fundamental changes in our behavior, we claimed excuses that many people make when encountering veganism for the first time. We lived on campus and had to rely primarily on dining hall food, which had vegan options but certainly not as many as there were non-vegan options. And vegans have so many health concerns, right? (We couldn’t be certain the speaker didn’t have protein, calcium, and B-12 deficiencies!) We really couldn’t live without cheese—being vegan was an ascetic lifestyle that some could handle but most couldn’t, and we feigned sadness when conceding we were part of the latter group. Our friends liked to get burgers and go to the local ice cream shack, and we would be left out. Plus, our families ate animal products, what would we do when we went home? We had a laundry list of excuses that sounded really convincing and we hid behind them. I remained staunchly non-vegan, but all the information I had been exposed to during the one-hour meeting stayed in the back of my mind and slowly ate at me.

At the end of that year I found myself eating a hamburger as my mother boasted about how much I had always loved animals. I never played with dolls, but I had piles of stuffed animals and absolutely loved cats, dogs, horses, and even hamsters (I have pictures of myself as a child with nearly every animal I ever met as proof). I looked at my hamburger and it was no longer simply beef. It was an animal who was killed, ungraciously and without necessity, to become an object for my consumption.

Well, shit. Here I was halfway through a burger, uncomfortably burdened by two distinct realizations: 1) the list of excuses I began making nine months earlier suddenly seemed entirely inadequate and 2) Adams was right (she, too, realized her hypocrisy while consuming a hamburger). For the first time I understood Adams’ politicized version of the absent referent.

One does not eat meat without the death of an animal. Live animals are thus the absent referents in the concept of meat. The absent referent permits us to forget about the animal as an independent entity; it also enables us to resist efforts to make animals present. (51)

The absent referent allows us to buy prepackaged meat at the grocery store without reflecting upon the living animal it was part of not long before, and what conditions she lived and died under. It allows us to order ice cream without recognizing that milk can only be obtained by (typically artificially) impregnating a cow and separating her from her baby, and without considering what happens to that baby, or his mother. We can eat an omelette at brunch without thinking of the millions of male chicks who are ground up alive or suffocated each year because they are worthless in the egg industry, chowing down with nary a thought that the “cage-free” eggs we’re charged extra for might only be a marketing tactic. The role of living animals as absent referents means “I want these leather shoes!” is rarely followed with, “I love the feel of animals’ hides and skin on my feet.” We celebrate the success of one cow escaping the slaughterhouse and the kindness of a family rescuing a piglet found in the snow but have difficulty applying that compassion when considering the approximately 140 million cows and pigs that are slaughtered throughout the course of a year in the US. We see the individual animal when she presents as a fighter—as desperately wanting to live—and only then does she deserve her life. When she doesn’t earn that recognition, she ceases to deserve any thought at all. Without a publicized escape attempt she is not an animal who may have desperately wanted to live, but a product to be bought and the absent referent at the dinner table.

The absent referent is eagerly upheld by eateries who have a stake in the willing naïveté of their customers. The “farm-to-table” movement gets its popularity from its we-put-our-foot-down demand of “humane” meat, dairy, and eggs. Restaurants participating in this movement strive to only serve “antibiotic-free pork” and “pasture-raised dairy” as if they have a garden patch with flowers that spurt cows’ milk and bacon that grows like a root vegetable. The terms hide and further prevent us from acknowledging the experiences of “happy” cows, who are forcibly impregnated as often as possible so we can enjoy the milk they’ll produce as a consequence of pregnancy. Once these “pasture-raised” cows have had a few calves and are “spent,” they’re killed as well.

Animals are made absent through language that renames dead bodies before consumers participate in eating them. Our culture further mystifies the term “meat” with gastronomic language, so we do not conjure dead, butchered animals, but cuisine.” (51)

Neither Adams nor I mean to imply people don’t know the general source of food. Rather, we critique the widespread and harmful adoption of fantasies like grassy hills, happy cows, and harmless slaughter. It is the willful ignorance on the part of the consumer and the encouragement of ignorance on the part of the provider that play an important role in the continuance of consuming animal products. Animals are given positive emotions for marketing purposes, but we refuse to believe they can and do suffer.

Without its referent point of the slaughtered, bleeding, butchered animal, meat becomes a free-floating image. Meat is seen as a vehicle of meaning and not as inherently meaningful; the referent ‘animal’ has been consumed. (59)

The living animal becomes an object to purchase and consume, experiencing unimaginable conditions throughout his life before parts of his body hit shelves in time for the Sunday rush. The living animal loses his identity in the food process, advertised only as “grass-fed steak” or “pasture-raised beef,” already an object when describing a time during which he was very much alive and not yet butchered body parts. As the absent referent, the animal never lived nor was he slaughtered, he was only a dozen cuts of meat in a field, patiently waiting for his time.

Despite initial resistance, my feminist roots eventually brought me to vegetarianism and then veganism. I began noticing the shared language surrounding the treatment of women and animals. Objects to be consumed. Loss of identity during objectification. Mouth-watering breasts, legs, thighs, and rumps. Being reduced to body parts for others’ enjoyment. Adams offers additional insight regarding how the absent referent relates to the politics of reproductive justice. Adding to Adams’ politicized concept of the absent referent, I conclude that human suffering, like the suffering of animals during the process of objectification, is a hidden cost of the consumption of meat. I watch how we not only ignore the routine suffering and death of the animals when choosing a package of chicken wings, we also turn a blind eye to the serious health implications of working in a poultry slaughterhouse. The absent referents are slaves in the seafood industry, and families affected by factory farm pollution. The mechanism that allows us to overlook injustices like these against humans is the same that allows us to sit down at dinner without considering the lives, suffering, and deaths of the animals that made it possible.

Being a feminist vegan is not changing the world single-handedly; the real changes take a group effort and for that I’m thankful for activists who understand the prevalence of human and non-human animal  suffering and strive to address both. However, my participation in both movements did change me: it made me more aware of the world I live in and how I can act within our current society to avoid contributing to systems of oppression.

My veganism has been a reconciliation of existing ideologies and concepts I once could not adopt because they were so inconvenient and unfamiliar. Already a feminist, veganism was a step outside the path I was already comfortable taking. Adams opens The Sexual Politics of Meat with, “My becoming a vegetarian had seemingly little relationship to my feminism—or so I thought. Now I understand how and why they are intimately connected, how being a vegetarian reverberates with feminist meaning” (23). Like Adams, I also realized my vegetarianism had and my veganism has everything to do with my feminism and the reality is clear: the parallel suffering of women and animals in their roles as the absent referents will continue to exist as a consequence of objectification so long as we continue to deny their fundamental interconnectedness.

 

This essay was originally published on Ecorazzi on February 22, 2016.


Anna Varga is a feminist and vegan advocate living in Washington, D.C. with her partner and two cats, and is particularly passionate about the ways in which vegan politics and theory can and do address both human and non-human animal suffering.

Are Furry Nails the New Trend?

Woman holds her hands to her face, the nails each have a tuft of brown fur attached

What we wear is bound to social inequality and capitalist interests. “Fur” epitomizes this (I use quotations to denote that “fur” is a euphemism).

The “fur” industry works hard to make its product appear appealing in the most arbitrary and ridiculous ways. After all, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu reminds us that “taste” and “fashion” are socially constructed, and those in power enjoy most of the privilege in determining them. Most of us obediently follow suit, whether we like it or not, as non-conforming can invite policing or stigmatization.

So here we have it, the new furry nails trend.

I don’t know about this company/designer, but the “fur” industry does put considerable pressure on designers (through free product or funding) to bring glamour to its products and increase sales. Capitalism is all about creating new markets and more reasons to buy and buy more. “Fur,” in many cases, is losing out to more affordable (and less cruel) synthetic materials, but the industry has bounced back by inventing new purposes (such as the popularization of “fur” trim). Actually, fashion itself creates an endless market, with consumers encouraged to have a large wardrobe of many items, all of which must be periodically replaced as they go out of style.

Woman covers her face with her hads, has tufts of brown fur glued to her nails

Fortunately, the nails that made it to the runway were utilizing faux fur.  Nonetheless, glamorizing the hair of dead Nonhuman Animals is ethically problematic given we live in a speciesist world where animals are highly vulnerable to violence when their bodies are viewed as commodities. Furry nails perpetuate the normalization of speciesism, and, really, it’s only a matter of time before some folks graduate to real nonhuman hair.

You can read more about the role that capitalism plays in maintaining speciesism in A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave 2016).


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

whyveganism.com

Is Intersectionality Speciesist?

Vegan Intersectionality

With the growing popularity of intersectional approaches in vegan spaces, there is some concern about what this means for a meaningful anti-speciesist message. I have written at length on this topic in my book A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory, but offer this essay as a quick reference to readers. In short–intersectionality can be speciesist, but it need not be.

Developed in the context of Black feminism by Dr. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality theory asks us to acknowledge how various forms of oppression are entangled with one another. Intersectionality theory insists that our struggle for social justice cannot be single-issue. For vegans, this means that we cannot advocate for Nonhuman Animals while ignoring (or aggravating) sexism, racism or any other “ism.” Doing so overlooks the root cause of injustice.

Intersectionality theory acknowledges that some individuals belong to multiple oppressed groups; their experiences cannot be fully understood with a single-issue analysis. For instance, Black feminists insist that any feminism lacking a critical race component is insufficient or incomplete: Black women’s experiences are not always comparable to that of white women. Women’s liberation efforts which fail to acknowledge this difference will be disjointed and fall short of success. Racism and sexism are not the same, but they manifest similarly. Thus, leaving any group behind leaves the system intact.

While intersectionality is a theory of Black feminism, it can also be applied to understand other complex identities. Consider how a dog’s experience is different from that of a human. Consider also how a disabled dog’s experience will be markedly different from that of an able-bodied dog in a human supremacist and ableist society. Intersectionality theory asks us to be conscious of differences in experience, and the complexities of oppression. Intersectionality is about awareness to difference.

However, some have suggested that intersectionality displaces the centrality of Nonhuman Animal suffering in the vegan movement. Some have also suggested that intersectionality somehow opens up the door for anyone and everyone to claim to victimhood, thus absconding them from their responsibilities for anti-speciesist political engagement.

This simply isn’t the case. A pro-intersectional approach acknowledges the reality of oppression and seeks to uproot it. Racism, sexism, speciesism, etc. all rely on similar mechanisms (in-group/out-group maintenance, stereotypes, objectification, etc.) and manifest in similar ways. A pro-intersectional approach only seeks to acknowledge and accommodate these unique positions in society in our collective journey to justice.

We may have cross-cultural moral universals (such as the renunciation of unnecessary violence), but there is no one-size-fits-all moral solution. In an ideal world, all humans would be vegan. But the world is teeming with intersecting oppressions, and veganism is not (or may not appear to be) attainable. It’s our job to make it so. Intersectionality is a political approach, not a hands-off, live and let live resignation.

Importantly, abetting oppression is never part of intersectionality’s accommodation of difference. This is why vegan pro-intersectionalists firmly reject all welfare reforms and single-issue campaigns, which have been shown to be ideologically problematic and empirically counterproductive. Some non-vegan/plant-based intersectionalists take no position on the capitalist co-optation of non-profits or the agricultural industry’s manipulation of post-speciesist ideologies. They may also suggest that veganism is what you make of it. But this position is not universally accepted.

Crowd of protesters leave animals behind

As I understand it, veganism is a political expression of anti-speciesism. It is not just about the personal; it is first and foremost about the collective. Plant-based diets can certainly be liberatory, anti-colonial, feminist, or anti-racist, but a plant-based diet without the anti-speciesist element ultimately stops short of our obligations to other animals.

I’m not the vegan police; I can’t tell communities living in life-or-death situations how to manage their scant resources and it’s not my business to tell others how to self-identify. Nonetheless, it is important to be clear: eating plant-based foods while still engaging in speciesist actions is problematic. It is ethically problematic to wear “leather” or “wool.” It is ethically problematic to vacation to Seaworld or buy “purebred” dogs. It is ethically problematic to support PETA and the HSUS as well, because these organizations promote institutionalized violence against animals.

So, intersectionality can be speciesist if it fails to meaningfully incorporate a vegan ethic. But then, intersectionality theory in practice has never been perfect. There are lots of non-vegan feminists, heterosexist anti-racists, sexist gay liberationists, etc. Many activists claim to both understand the connections and live by them, but research indicates that all social movements are grappling with internal discrimination. This is not good, of course, but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We must still be accountable to the marginalized. For those of us identifying as “vegan,” we must be vigilant in our obligation to embrace an anti-speciesist position so as not to aggravate systemic violence against Nonhuman Animals. To do so, we must first live up to our own potential. Second, we must also use whatever privilege we enjoy to help others do the same. Recognizing that oppression impacts some communities in ways that makes their participation in social justice difficult, it’s up to activists to find solutions to break down those barriers.

Perhaps most importantly, we should be listening and lending platform to those folks engaging this difficult work who are themselves part of those communities. If marginalized human groups were given support, encouragement, and resources instead of being hassled, derided, and patronized by wealthy white vegans, we could see some serious change. Vegans with relative privilege should be wary of imposing their unique worldview unrealistically on vulnerable groups (who, by the way, became vulnerable in the creation of said privilege; this is no circumstance of chance). White-identified vegans in particular should beware of the white savior complex, as this mindset can replicate patterns of oppression. Privileged people will need to get comfortable with relinquishing control. After all, equal access and equal representation will be the new status quo in a liberated society, will it not?

We need to promote veganism for Nonhuman Animal liberation, but we can’t do so if we build a wall between ourselves and our audience. The anti-speciesist vegan movement has much to inform other movements, but we must remember that other movements have much to inform us, too. This is how bridges are built, solidarity is nurtured, and oppression is dismantled. If we want liberation, this step is not optional.

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement must prioritize coalition-building. In doing so, however, we must be clear about our obligations to other animals. Veganism should be encouraged and engaged when possible, and single-issue campaigns that compromise the well-being of Nonhuman Animals should be firmly rejected.

Some activists working in vegan spaces come to the table from other movements and do not include Nonhuman Animals in their advocacy, or, they may promote speciesist non-profits or speciesist tactics. I am sensitive to the fact that some people occupy more precarious social positions and must prioritize other justice campaigns. I am also deeply committed to supporting the efforts of others wherever it is ethical to do so. Raising anti-speciesist awareness in sister movements is a worthy goal, as is raising our own awareness to the struggles of others.

The only vegan pro-intersectionality I condone is that which embraces and acknowledges other forms of oppression without undermining our obligations to other animals. Indeed, a position is hardly intersectional if it works to ignore, invisibilize, or further marginalize any oppressed group–human or not.

 

You can read more about the importance of species-inclusive intersectionality in A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave 2016).


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

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“My Dog gets Hit on More than Me:” The Objectification of Female Human and Nonhuman Bodies

Content Warning: Contains uncomfortable discussion of sexual harassment of girls, women, and dogs.

Melly

Melly getting ready for a winter walk.

It was a muggy, July mid-afternoon the first time a man hit on Melly, my Pitbull mix.

We strolled up Carteret Street towards the local park.  Wiping off sweat beads from my forehead, I soaked in the scenery.  The rows of houses’ shutters knitted together, blocking out the oppressive sun rays.  The yellow paint seemed to melt off the street pavement.  It was quiet, save for the faint buzz of air conditioning units and the hiss of mosquitos.  Melly, already panting, sniffed half-heartedly at a tree.

“Sorry, Mel,” I rubbed her white-and-brindle spotted head, “I know it’s hot.”

At twenty-one-years-old, I deftly calculated our walking routes down to a fine science.  I was my family’s designated dog walker since we adopted our first dog, Cody.  Nine years of dog walking taught me the art of avoiding sexual harassment.  I learned Jaguars owners were just as likely as unnamed Junker cars drivers to ogle out their window.  Walking with earbuds in, even if music wasn’t playing, lowered the honking rating; harassers won’t bother if they don’t have an audience.  It’s important to balance out the amount of naked skin: wear shorts with t-shirt or capris with a tank-top.  Never wear a tank top with shorts.

I checked my watch.  It was 3pm.  If I stuck to the residential Carteret, Midland, and turn around at Walnut Street, I could still wear my cool summer dress without being harassed.  But, I needed to move quickly on Midland; despite being buried in the suburban thicket, there were still plenty of cars zipping up and down.

Chills always ran down my spine whenever I turned onto Midland.  I was twelve, walking down this road, the first time a car followed me.

At first, I did not notice the reptilian green pick-up truck crawling next to me.  I wore my earbuds and I was looking down at my dog at the time, Cody.  Suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled.  I jerked my head to my left and found a middle-age man sitting in driver’s seat.  Small framed sunglasses covered his eyes.  His features were solemn as he peered out the window towards me.

I froze, unsure what to do.  A million questions raced through my head: what do I do?  Why did he stop?  Is he lost?

“Can I help you?” I asked.

He didn’t answer.  The truck continued to slide forward.  The man moved his head, never looking away from me.  Suddenly, the driver slammed on the gas pedal and screeched around the corner.

I shrugged and brushed off the incident; it was a fluke.  Maybe he was looking at the house behind me.  Maybe I had something in my teeth.  Cody and I walked further down the road.  He stopped and sniffed a pile of newspapers.

As I tapped my foot, a low rumble of a car came towards us.  Brakes screeched to a halt.

Looking up slowly, I came face to face again with the green pick-up truck.  This time, the man pulled over to curb and lowered his sunglasses.  His blond moustache sneered.  Mud eyes scavenged my pre-pubescent body.  It felt like his pupils slipped underneath my flat t-shirt and unbuttoned the top of jean shorts.  When he met my eyes, the man bit his lip, winked at me, and sped off before I could even scream.

That night, I scrubbed every inch of my body till I glowed crimson.  And yet, I still couldn’t get feeling of shame off of my skin.

My mom teared up when I told her about the incident.  She gripped me to her chest and whispered, “I’m so sorry, honey.  I didn’t think it would happen so soon.”  Mom then passed down to me my womanly inheritance: catcalling coping mechanisms, eye avoidance tactics, and developing thick skin techniques.

When I tried telling it to my girlfriends, they sighed.

“I mean yeah, it’s creepy, but I mean it’s kind of flattering, too,” they insisted.

So when the clunker Honda Sedan slowed down next to me and Melly, I had a thousand years’ worth of knowledge.  Eyes to the ground, I jerked her leash with one hand, and flatten the back of my white dress with the other.  Melly scoffed.  She dug her paws in the ground.  At 65 pounds of pure muscle, she was not going anywhere; she was going to sniff that tuft of grass whether I liked it, or not.

“Melly, walk walk,” I snapped.  The Sedan pulled over to the curb across from me and Melly, sputtering to a stop.  Its tawny body clashed with the electric green driver’s door.  The back side passenger’s side window was covered in duct tape and cardboard.

I cursed to myself for not bringing any treats.

“Melly, let’s go,” I urged, clicking my tongue.  A single brown ear shot up, but she didn’t move from sniffing the grass.

“Hey,” a man’s voice called out to me.  Gulping, I looked up.

The driver leaned against the mismatched door.  He was young thirty, with a shimmery bronze skin, black hair, and black eyes.  He wore a muscle-tee, jeans, with two black sweatbands around his wrist, and a black bandanna.

“I was wondering—” he began.

I gulped and took a step behind Melly.  Her head was towards the street and her hindquarters to me.  I nudged her back leg, trying to get her to look up.  Melly was a very loving dog; however, she was fiercely protective.  If the man could just get a glimpse of her jaws, may he would leave me alone.

“—is that a girl?” he asked.

I blinked, “What?”

The man motioned to Melly, “Is it a girl?”

Stunned, I nodded, “Yes, she’s a girl.”

He crouched on the other side of the street, inspecting her like a car needing a tune-up.  Melly kept one eye on him while chomping on grass.  The hairs between her shoulders stood-up ever so slightly.

I scrunched my forehead. There was something familiar about his expression.

“She’s a real beauty,” he said.

“I know.”

He sat on his heels and looked up at me.

“Can I breed it with my dog?” he asked.

My jaw dropped, “You want to do what with her?”

“Breed it,” he repeated, “I’ve been searching for a girl with that same brindle and white color.  Wait, does she have that diamond spot on the top of her head.  Man, that’s perfect!” he said.

I could have told him that Melly was found on the streets, abandoned by her previous owner.  She was twenty-three pounds and sickly when my family adopted her.  After she started to gain some weight, her stomach bulged out.  The vet found her uterus sloshing with retained fluid after an ultrasound.  When the vet spayed her, he found her uterus corroded with disease.  The vet reasoned it was probably because she was breed too early, compounded by neglect.

I settled on, “She’s fixed.”

The man scowled, “What the hell did you do that for?”

Suddenly, it dawned on me.  He was inspecting my dog the same way the man in the pick-up truck inspected at me.  It was a certain configuration: the narrowed brows, dilated pupils, taunt mouths.  It wasn’t about lust, but about ownership.  Melly and I did not exist.  To them, she was only good for her fur, diamond spot, and uterus.  I was only good for my legs.

Anger burned the back of my throat.  I was tired of putting up with the stares, catcalling, and honking.  I was tired of adjusting my route and my body to prevent others from objectifying me.  Melly’s past owners, the drivers in the green truck, and the man standing before me did not care that Melly and I snore, enjoyed napping, or loved peanut butter.  They only cared how well we pranced.

I wanted to say, “Because people like you force puppies like her to get pregnant, pop out more puppies, and then just leave her to die.”

Instead, I gripped the leash, and said, “She was sick.”

He clucked his tongue, “Too bad.”

The man got back in his deprecated car, winked at Melly, and sped off.

Staring after his car, I broke out in hysterical laughter.  I fell to the sidewalk and doubled over, tears springing to my eyes.  Melly nudged my face with her wet, brown nose and licked my cheek.

“How about that, Melle-Belle,” I held her downy face between my palms, “you get hit on more often than I do.”

“You should be flattered,” I said.  The sarcasm tasted bitter on my tongue.

 


SM- Author PictureSarah McGrail is currently a senior at Monmouth University. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Sociology. Her poems, “A Ten Minute Love Story,” “Blind Reflection,” and “Victoria Tube Station Food Chain” were published in the literary magazine, The Monmouth Review in Spring 2015 and in the upcoming issue Spring 2016. She was awarded the 2015 Monmouth University English Departmental Creative Writing Award for her nonfiction essay, The Martian. She is currently a research assistant for Monmouth University’s director of Sociology and Gender Studies program, Dr. Johanna Foster.