TRIGGER WARNING: Contains images and discussions of violence against women.
The following image was posted on Facebook today by “intersectional” abolitionist group Vegan Information Project, a vegan outreach grassroots organization that is located in Dublin, Ireland. As one of the few abolitionist groups that claims to take intersectionality seriously, I was very sad to see that, following criticism, the image was not removed and was defended as a “comic.” In other words, violence against women is a non-problem if it’s in a cartoon (similar to the “rape joke” justification).
The “joke” illustrated in the comic is that women do not comprehend the industrialized violence against female bodies inherent to egg production. By describing eggs as periods, the comic seeks to specifically shame women who are involved with the consumption. This “joke,” however, obscures the fact that egg industries are male owned, profits go to men, and capitalists and advertisers that create the demand for these products are almost all men as well. Interestingly, egg processing facilities in the United States are often staffed by women, mostly immigrant women from Mexico or other Latin American countries who cannot speak English and suffer very high rates of sexual harassment and rape. Many are also enslaved, kept overnight in the facilities against their will and without additional pay. Even if we were to accept that using this comic to promote veganism is acceptable, using female-oriented language (“periods”) and drawing on female-oriented imagery (violence against women) to shame non-vegan women distorts the intersectional reality of industrialized speciesism: Violence against chickens entails violence against women. Insinuating that women are getting what they deserve in some way for eating eggs really doesn’t make sense.
The comic is inaccurate, but more importantly, it is inconsistent with intersectional politics. Sadly, using “comics” to mask sexism and misogyny under the guise of humor is not a new technique. I have seen similar comics pop up that use the violent rape of women as a platform for veganism. Though not meant to be funny, LUSH Cosmetics has also utilized misogynistic media to sell their anti-animal testing products by hosting live “performances” of a woman being abused and killed by a man outside their store. Campaigners draw on violence against women to shock women, a marginalized group that lives in constant terror of male violence, into accepting their anti-speciesist message. For intersectional advocates, feminist rhetoric tends to be utilized when it is helpful to a group or individual’s image, but is quickly mocked or dismissed when it interferes with male privilege. This approach is extremely problematic given the reality of gendered violence in today’s world.
In the United States, one of the leading causes of death for women is homicide (2nd or 3rd depending on her age). Death, injury, and harassment by gun is lived experience for women; it is a well-known symbol of male violence and control. Vegan Information Project is an Irish group however, and gun violence is not as prevalent in the EU. Nonetheless, violence against women remains rampant even on the Emerald Isle. The following statistics are reproduced from Woman’s Aid, an Irish domestic violence organization:
- In 2013, there were 3,711 incidents of physical assaults disclosed to the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline. Reported physical abuse included being gagged, kicked and beaten; being choked, strangled and stabbed; being slammed against the wall; being spat on, having hair pulled and being scalded; and being beaten and raped while pregnant. [Women’s Aid Annual Report 2013]
- 49% of women injured by their partner’s violence required medical treatment and 10% required a hospital stay. [National Crime Council and ESRI, Domestic Abuse of Women and Men in Ireland, 2005]
- Irish research found that of women who had experienced violent behaviour, 46% had been injured. Serious violent incidents were common, 10% of women were punched in the face; 10% punched or kicked on the body, arms, or legs; 9% choked; and 9% forced to have sex. [Bradley, F, et al. (2002) Reported Frequency of Domestic Violence; Cross sectional survey of women attending general practice. British Medical Journal; Vol. 324]
- For women aged 15-44 worldwide, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. [WHO (1997) Violence Against Women: A Priority Health Issue]
Any vegan organization that claims to advocate for peace, non-violence, and equality should take very seriously the state of women in the United States, Ireland, and anywhere else. These types of images draw on a culture of misogyny in order to “work.” They draw on the marginalization of women and the constant state of fear that women live in to scare or shame them into compliance. With such a heavy reliance on misogynistic images and sexual objectification, the movement should not have any reason to be surprised or confused at the fact that we cannot expand as a movement or build bridges with other movements. We might claim to care about Nonhuman Animals, but we so often throw vulnerable human groups under the bus with cheap advocacy.
UPDATE: Following the publication of this essay, Vegan Information Project did acknowledge the problems with this comic and promptly removed the image.