Is This What Vegan Looks Like?

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

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

Readers can access the entire interview here.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and served as Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college 2016-2018. She also served as council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association and was elected chair in 2018. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

Animal Whites and Wrongs

animal whites

For a movement built on racism and white-dominated in leadership, theory, and rhetoric, it is all too common for Nonhuman Animal rights activists in the age of “colorblindness” and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaigning to fall back on white fragility and open hostility to people of color and their allies when challenged on their complacency with racism. I think it is fair to say that most animal whites activists are happy enough to identify as “anti-racist,” but when pressed into action, most will find themselves on the defensive, worried about their identity as a “good” person, and positioning themselves as uncompromising saviors to other (seemingly more deserving) animals.

This is most glaring when racism-apologists shut down Black Lives Matter activism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with “ALL LIVES MATTER” or “Black Lives Matter, too.” Indeed, the rhetoric and ill-conceived rationalizations used to justify this intentional misappropriation often read eerily just like that of America’s conservatives. How very strange given the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s claim to liberal, inclusive values.

The “color-blind” “all lives matter” approach is racist. It intentionally and consciously ignores difference. More than ignoring it, it aggressively seeks to stomp it out. White activists do not like to be reminded of their privilege. Being an activist “for the animals” allows them to take on a sense of heroism, goodness, and superiority. Acknowledging racism in the ranks challenges that self-image.

But, white vegans, this isn’t about you. Ignoring difference (and violently rejecting its existence or importance) is one of the main reasons why the Nonhuman Animal rights movement struggles with diversity. It is one of the main reasons why the movement is not taken seriously. The exclusionary actions and “All lives matter” rhetoric of “colorblind” activists and organizations demonstrates beautifully how and why people of color are actively marginalized in the  movement, even to the point of squeezing them out of leadership roles. What choice do people of color really have? A white-dominated space that can’t even say “Black Lives Matter” without adding conditions or making alterations makes for a hostile work environment. Especially for grassroots coalitions, the institutional channels for addressing racially antagonistic behavior are frequently non-existent. Aggravating this is the general failure for the Nonhuman Animal rights movement to adopt an intersectional understanding of oppression, choosing instead to support a single-issue approach. White protectionism thus prevails and contributes to the destruction of “the other.” How very antithetical to the liberatory message the movement espouses.

We have a moral duty to support justice where ever it is needed. The promotion of racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement divides in the most deplorable way. Bizarrely, racism-apologists insist that marginalized persons who push back against sexism and racism are responsible for this division, but that logic only makes sense if the Nonhuman Animal rights movement were a movement in support of social inequality, not one opposed to it.  Making the world a better, more safe and just place is not now and nor was it ever a single-issue endeavor.

I have also seen racism-apologists accusing activists of slander for the “crime” of identifying racism present in the words and actions associated with single-issue, “colorblind” organizations. This baffles me completely, as speciesists regularly engage this exact same pro-oppression tactic to silence Nonhuman Animal rights activists. There is no desire whatsoever to learn from others, only a prioritization of the ego. To be fair, this is a common enough psychological reaction, but activists are in the business of persuasion and behavior change, and should be more sensitive to the dangerous consequences of cognitive dissonance once aggravated.

I want to be clear that this is not a matter of “bad apple” activists organizations, but this is instead systemic to a movement that formulated its identity out of Jim Crow white supremacist ideologies, prioritizes a single-issue approach to activism, and tokenizes people of color. It is a movement that appropriates non-white experiences when convenient while simultaneously celebrating white leadership and white-centric, often racist tactics.

These are sad and scary times, and my condolences go out to all those who have been hurt by unfortunate (and unnecessary) diversity failures in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. It is demoralizing, but I ask readers to keep up the fight. We are on the side of righteousness. And, as they say: if you aren’t making white people uncomfortable with your anti-racism activism, you aren’t doing it right.

Cheers to the allies, who are doing what is right and taking the burden off of people of color who are too often unfairly expected to defend themselves, explain themselves, and dismantle the system that whites created. More importantly, cheers to activists of color who do not have to, but nonetheless go out of their way to explain racism to an audience that has already ignored so many opportunities to learn.

We can do better, and we must do better. For those privileged to do so, keep going. Let’s not give up.

 

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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The Woman as Sexy Dying Animal Trope

Women crouch in filthy cages, dressed in rags, looking around in fear; promo image for "The Herd"

Too frequently in anti-speciesism advocacy, women become stand-ins for Nonhuman Animals suffering from extreme human violence and degradation. It is not by chance that women predominate in these roles. Women are selected (or self-select) because it culturally “makes sense” to audiences that sexualized violence will be aimed at women. If men, a relatively privileged group, were to substitute the vulnerable and suffering Nonhuman Animals, it just wouldn’t compute.

Women are regularly subject to violence and degradation, so they become the “natural” choice when staffing campaigns. Women in the audience, too, are familiar with the normalcy of misogyny, and perhaps social movements hope to trigger them into supporting the cause by tapping into their fears and traumas. Such a tactic begs the question as to how aggravating inequality for women could reduce inequality for other animals.

Consider the vegan advocacy film, The Herd. Status quo misogyny predominates, and there is arguably nothing that sets this film apart from standard sexist and violent horror movies except the good intentions of the filmmakers. The script is exactly the same: young, thin, white women, naked or nearly naked, are sexually brutalized for the titillation of the audience.

I ask activists to consider how replicating violent, misogynistic media could, logistically, disrupt oppressive thinking about other vulnerable demographics. Further, I believe it is ethically problematic to contribute to a culture of woman-hating in a world where actual violence against actual women continues to happen so frequently that it can only be described as normal. Images have power, and these images should be used responsibly in service of social justice. It is both unwise and immoral to capitalize on sexism to advance anti-speciesism.

In the video linked below, I have compiled a number of images to illustrate the woman as sexy dying animal trope. This is a pattern that extends across a number of organizations, notably PETA, but also LUSH Cosmetics, 269life, and others. Consider what it means when activists instinctively position women as representatives of speciesist violence. Consider also the privilege afforded to men who are less frequently used, but also the dangers in positioning them as abusers in protest scenarios. In a society where violence against women is still not taken seriously, it is unclear how movement audiences could be expected to take violence against animals seriously through misogynist imagery of this kind.

 

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

You can read more about gender politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies 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

Essay Reading – Dear New Vegan

Vegan Feminist Radio

Newly establishing vegans face a number of hurdles in their transition, but not all of them have to do with changing palates. New vegans must also contest with the gender politics of food and activism.

Reading by Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn; music by Lucas Hayes.

This is an installment of Vegan Feminist Network’s podcast series, making popular essays more accessible through audio recording. You can access the original essay by clicking here.

Archives of this podcast can be found here.

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, Raffi 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.

“The AK47 I Have Sitting Conveniently Beside My Coffee Machine”: Benevolent Sexism and Veganism

Content Warning: Contains sexist and ableist language in addition to threats of violence.

Photo of owner from White Moose Cafe Facebook page. Caption reads, "If you do happen to see Paul in the café, it is strongly advised that you do not approach him with any complaints. This is in the interest of your own safety, as well as the safety of others around you."

Photo of owner from White Moose Cafe Facebook page, Paul Stenson. Caption reads, “If you do happen to see Paul in the café, it is strongly advised that you do not approach him with any complaints. This is in the interest of your own safety, as well as the safety of others around you.”

What happens when a seemingly “vegan-friendly” restaurant gets a reaction it doesn’t want?

Apparently vegans can’t take a joke. Or at least that’s what the owner of Dublin-based restaurant Paul Stenson envisions as he grapples with a torrent of customer backlash.

The cafe reportedly published some snarky comments about vegans, only to experience a retaliation in bad reviews. From there, things escalated quickly.

An anti-cafe page emerged, then and anti-anti page emerged. Online networks were activated, and vegans came in droves to drive down the review rating of the restaurant. Stenson then began monitoring reviews and posting increasingly hostile public announcements on the Facebook page.

The show that has ensued makes for an amazing example of what can happen when male privilege is challenged by feminine forces.

First, presumably male customers are invited to bond (and become aroused) over the domination of feminized bodies:

Facebook post from WMC: "A warm welcome to everyone joining us from the Chef Memes page. You are guaranteed a good time here on our page. There are lots of psychotic vegans to make fun of, and lots of mouth-watering meat dish pics to become aroused by. I wish you a very pleasant stay at The White Moose Café."

Another response (likely due to his suspicion that many of the fake reviewers were American) was to fabricate “joking” threats to assault vegans with a high powered rifle. For Americans, mass shootings are a reality, and the owner intentionally draws on this trauma to demean and intimidate.

Facebook post by WMC in response to a visitor who was sharing advice on how to report the owner's threats to the police "For any vegans worried about the mass shooting I am going to commit with the AK47 I have sitting conveniently beside my coffee machine, please see this advice from Ciara Norton. When you call the station and the Garda laughs at you, please remember that it's not because you are a vegan, it's because you are a fucking sap with the intelligence of a hot dog."

WMC Facebook post: **SPECIAL OFFER ON FULL IRISH BREAKFAST - ONE DAY ONLY** Seeing as we have had so many vegans trying to 'turn' us over the past day or two, it's now our turn to try to 'turn' them! For one day only, our delicious, meat-rich, Full Irish breakfast is ONLY €5 (usually €11.95). We guarantee that any vegans who try this will never look back! P.S. Don't forget your bullet-proof vests!

Not surprisingly, ableism is at the root of most interactions, as is misogyny:

WMC Facebook post: "**FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE VEGANS PROTESTING OUTSIDE THE CAFE** Please be advised that our café operates during day time hours only. Our opening hours are clearly visible on both our Facebook page and our website. You might want to familiarise yourself with these before you turn up at the café door looking like complete and utter twats."

Apparently, White Moose Cafe also has some serious issues with ethnocentrism and racism, having caught fire in the past for unapologetically hiring “Irish Only.” The restaurant is also openly hostile to poor and/or homeless persons, discouraging unworthy clientele from visiting its establishment. Owner Stenson writes:

Look we’re not a charity, if you want charity then go to a homeless shelter or sleep with a dog at the DSPCA [Dublin’s SPCA], you have to be firm with this otherwise people will walk all over you.

It is not uncommon for men and patriarchal spaces to react in this way. This is because male power is protected and replicated by 1. Dominating feminized bodies; 2. Denigrating all that is feminine; and 3. Using force and violence.

But, wait, what happened? Wasn’t this restaurant supposed to be vegan-friendly?

Feminists are often critical of benevolent sexism, that seemingly positive “special treatment” given to women that is generally rooted in discrimination and wields the potential for violence. “Cat-calling,” for instance, is supposedly just well-meaning guys “complimenting” women they don’t know on the street. In reality, it’s a show of male power over the public space and a not-so-subtle reminder to women that their existence in that space is conditional and vulnerable. If the men cat-calling do not get the response they want, women know all too well that things can become extremely threatening very quickly as men seek to establish dominance and exert male entitlement.

I see a similar pattern in the vegan/nonvegan interactions. In the case of White Moose Cafe, apparently some vegan options are offered on the menu, but if vegans step out of their place in the hierarchy (pushing back against anti-vegan “jokes”), patriarchal dominance will be enacted. White Moose Cafe does this by 1. Dominating feminized bodies (reminding the audience that the real heart of the business is hurting Nonhuman Animals; offering specials for Nonhuman Animal corpses); 2. Denigrating all that is feminine (using speciesist, misogynist, and ableist insults); and 3: Using force and violence (posting aggressive announcements and threatening a mass shooting).

Beware of benevolent sexism. When the male entitlement to feminized bodies is challenged, violence is often the next recourse to maintain dominance and power.

 

Note: While Irish gun control is quite strong and the possibility of Stenson committing a mass shooting is rather small, it is also important to consider the considerable white privilege he is able to engage by repeatedly making public threats without fear of police intervention.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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