“Obsessive” Vegans: The Politics of Vegan Ableism

In the bid to become more effective activists, it is important to acknowledge differences in identity and access that characterize the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s diverse constituency. Although recent publications such as Sunaura Taylor’s Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation have drawn attention to the many compelling intersections between speciesism and ableism, it remains the case that the movement at large is insensitive to the experiences of non-able-bodied persons.

As I explored in a 2015 publication with Disability & Society, both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its countermovement engage in ableist frameworks to dismiss the legitimacy of one another’s position. For instance, speciesists regularly refer to liberationists as “crazy,” while liberationists have been known to employ labels of “sick” or “schizophrenic” in retaliation. Since publishing this article, I have noticed that “obsessiveness” is another identity under contention. As with “craziness” and “sickness,” “obsessiveness” becomes a flashpoint for both sides of the animal rights debate, while actual disabled persons are erased in the crossfire.

Problematizing mental illness resonates in an ableist society, and Nonhuman animal rights organizations too willingly adopt resonate frames regardless of the negative consequences for those whose identity is objectified. Vegan Outreach, the Humane Society of the United States, and other professionalized charities frequently chastise vegan liberationists for “obsessing” over animal ingredients in a self-centered effort to achieve “personal purity.” In doing so, they pull on social stigma against self-focused behaviors and anxiety disorders to shame radical contenders into silence, or at least to dismiss them as lesser-than in the movement hierarchy.

While it is unfortunate that Western society stigmatizes disability, it is truly shameful that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, a movement that purports to represent compassion and justice, should exploit ableism for its gain. When vegans call nonvegans “psycho” for consuming flesh to advance the movement, they trade on ableism. When nonprofits call vegan liberationists “obsessive” for finding fault in reformist approaches to speciesism, they are doing the same.

In other cases, OCD is trivialized in the pursuit of profit in a movement that has been co-opted by corporate interests. Take for instance the vegan makeup company Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics: “The first step is admitting you have a problem,” says company founder David Klasfeld, “I did and the result is a line obsessively crafted from the finest ingredients possible, to celebrate the driving compulsions of makeup fanatics everywhere.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not simply a qualifier to denote extremism or fanaticism. It is a real medical condition that impacts real people.  While level of severity varies and some individuals are able to live healthfully in an able-bodied world, the International OCD Foundation emphasizes that:

Those tortured with OCD are desperately trying to get away from paralyzing, unending anxiety…

I also wish to emphasize that ableism is a feminist issue. Anxiety disorders disproportionately impact women, a demographic that happens to be most receptive to anti-speciesist messages and dominates the movement’s rank-and-file. This predisposition to anxiety is not a biological happenstance. It is, in large part, a survival strategy that develops in response to strain within a patriarchal social structure.

Thus, vegans would do well to lend solidarity to stigmatized groups in forgoing inconsiderate ableist references to all things determined to be bad (“obsessive” vegans) and trivial (“obsessively” vegan makeup). Ableist claimsmaking is tactically impotent as it is bound to offend and alienate the disabled community that makes up a considerable portion of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s constituency.

 


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

whyveganism.com

Dove “Real Beauty” is a Real Nightmare for Animals

Dove Real Beauty Veganism
Palm oil is produced by extremely exploited, practically enslaved humans in developing countries. Production is also extremely destructive to the environment, and orangutan populations, in particular, have been hit hard.  Many Nonhuman Animal rights activists have stopped consuming palm oil and have urged vegan companies to switch out the offending ingredient.

Recently feminists have joined the dialogue as well with parallel campaigns against palm oil. Unfortunately, their claimsmaking tends to overlook the intersectional nature of this social problem as their efforts tend to focus on nonvegan products. Without vegan praxis, feminism undermines itself.

orangutan-orphan-palm-oil

Organizations such as Fem2pt0, for instance, have targeted Dove (a product of Unilever) insisting that the soap brand to go “slavery-free” and drop the problematically-sourced palm oil.  Yet, even with the most ethically produced palm oil, forced labor remains fundamental to Dove products.

Most name brand soaps available in major supermarkets rely on the oppression of vulnerable Nonhuman Animals. Unless the soap is specifically marked vegan or vegetable-sourced, chances are very good that the soap is composed of slaughterhouse renderings. That is, one of the main ingredients in Dove is the body tissues of Nonhuman Animals. These “ingredients” never gave consent, never received compensation, and ultimately lost their lives in the exchange. This violence should be identified within the feminist critique of Unilever and similar corporations, but, unfortunately, it is not.

Consider also that Unilever, like many name brand cosmetic companies, is a company that tests on Nonhuman Animals.  Unilever claims to be moving away from vivisection, but it continues to test nonetheless.  Nonhuman Animals are tortured with abrasions and blinding with the chemicals and detergents found in nonvegan soaps.  Many companies hold trials in which animals are force-fed ingredients until at least half of the sample population dies to determine toxicity.  Dove soap is always sourced from oppression, torture, and death, palm oil or no. These products are made of the bodies of the nonconsenting, from the products of the nonconsenting, and are tested on the bodies of the nonconsenting.

Dove has a weak record in demonstrating its concern for the suffering of others. Remember the feminist Facebook protest of May 2013?  Because Facebook was unresponsive to the rampant misogyny and violence against women and girls promoted throughout the platform, feminists began to pressure its advertisers instead.  Many companies quickly pulled out, but Dove stubbornly remained with Facebook.  Neither has Dove been popular with feminists with its shallow representation of women’s self-acceptance in the “real beauty” advertisements. Everyone is beautiful to Dove, but not quite beautiful enough to forgo its beauty products.

Dove ad featuring seven women in their underwear happy and posing

Ethical consumption is, in other words, far from simplistic and many angles must be examined. For those feminists who are concerned about the suffering of others who are commodified in the products we consume, it is necessary to consider veganism.

Step one? Go vegan and dump Dove; switch to vegan brands.  Affordable vegetable glycerin soaps are available in most supermarkets, and countless vegan companies offer amazing upscale soaps and body washes as well. Just steer clear of LUSH, it has a history of exploiting women and perpetuating rape culture.

 


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

Podcast #4 – Veganism & Capitalism

Vegan Socialism

In this podcast, Corey and Brian liberate a can of worms in discussing the many important overlaps and disconnects between socialist activism and veganism. Despite the relevance of Marxist critique, it seems that ideologies have gotten the better of us.

This episode is not safe for work (contains cursing).

Episode recorded on September 24, 2016.

Show Notes

Alexander Simon  – “Against Trophy Hunting: A Marxian-Leopoldian Critique” Monthly Review

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

What is Heganism?

Actor Joaquin Phoenix poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills. He has a huge beard and is looking very scruffy.

Vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix

Heganism. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s veganism…for men. “Heganism” generally refers to the rebranding of traditional vegan concepts or products to be suitable for male consumption.

But why?

The vegan movement is crowded with 101 different variations of veganism, all with one intention: sales and fundraising. It’s non-profit marketers asking the team, “How can we make our own stamp on this trend? How can we stand out against the rest? How do we make them buy here and not somewhere else?”

Gender distinction generally serves capitalist interests, and it does so by maintaining difference and inequality. Gendering products mean that households need to buy more than one product that might otherwise be shared (and women’s products often cost more). The blue, industrial one for him; the pink, flowery (and more expensive) one for her.

Gendering can also open up products to a larger market. The feminine stigma must be removed so that men can feel comfortable consuming them; but the stigma doesn’t disappear, it’s only reinforced. Like the guy-etDr. Pepper 10, and lotion “for men,” gendering veganism works to protect masculinity by otherizing that which is feminine.

What’s wrong with dieting, drinking diet soda, using body lotion, or eating vegan? It’s what women stereotypically do, and women are one of the most detested and devalued groups in society. In order for men to participate, the stigma must be removed by creating a “masculine” alternative.

A father and son in a sea of fruit and vegetables, only their faces are peaking out

Introducing more men to veganism is important for the health of the vegan movement and for the health of boys and men (most of whom do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and veg). But male inclusivity should not come at the cost of women’s rights. Photo credit: The Advertiser.

Masculinity is defined largely in what it is not–and it is not feminine.  This works much in the same way as speciesism: we define humanity in being not animal, and therefore humanity is superior by comparison.  This is also thought to be one of the root causes of heterosexism: masculinity is defined by ostracizing that which is feminine. In other words, differentiating persons into groups and then placing them on a hierarchy to support these differentiations feeds structural discrimination.

Distinction greases the wheels of oppression.

PETA ad showing a nude woman laying on a giant bunch of broccoli; reads, "EAT YOUR VEGGIES"

In my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, I explore the theme of feminist repackaging in vegan spaces. Because veganism is so feminized, it is deemed a threat to patriarchy and it is often dismissed. One reaction that organizations take is to actually buy into the language of patriarchy in order to “sell” veganism.

So, instead of remaining firm in radical feminist opposition to patriarchal oppression, vegans sometimes repackage veganism as “sexy” and present women as consumable objects for male consumption. PETA is probably the most notable organization in this regard, but its dominant position in the movement means that is is influencing a norm of pornographic protest. Vegan women are no longer changemakers, they’re just another “exotic” taste served up on the patriarchal platter. Take this Tumbler “heganism” gallery as one very literal example (warning, contains pornography).

There is a real danger in aggravating sexist attitudes about Nonhuman Animal rights activism.  “Heganism” is unnecessary and offensive. Is a feminized vegan space so repugnant, that men need to spin off into a separate space in order to participate? If so, we need to back up and reevaluate our approach. So long as the movement supports the hating of women, it can’t reasonably expect its audience to stop hating other animals.

Heganism is a tactic that undermines itself. If activists inadvertently support the notion that veganism is “just for women” and that men will be stigmatized if they participate in “regular” veganism without the masculinity facade to protect them, this is doing the movement a disservice. Instead of pandering to patriarchy and capitalism to be heard, activists could instead incorporate a feminist approach to anti-speciesism. In this way, all interests are considered, and one group will not be demeaned for the hoped benefit of another.

Capitalists will inevitably argue that gendering veganism is simply catering to the market, but they are actually creating a market with approaches of this kind (LEGO makes the same disingenuous claim about its gendered products). A market built on oppression, one that functions to divide groups along lines of power and powerlessness, will not be a space that is conducive to liberation.

 

A version of this essay was first published on March 5, 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.


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

Veganism, Degrowth and Redistribution

Bird subsumed in oil spill

By Marv Wheale

The Vegan Feminist Network is dedicated to scrutinizing the interconnections among speciesism, genderism, heterosexism, colonialism, racism, poverty, disablism, ageism, sizeism, ecocide…..  Today I would like to concisely examine some related elements that could exercise a role in overcoming these structures of subordination.

We know that veganism is the credible stance to take against the ideology and praxis of human  supremacy.  Yet when we practice and promote a vegan way of life within capitalism, veganism stands unopposed to the continuation of economic inequality, middle class values/lifestyles, the larger systems of animal use and ecological erosion (obviously vegans do mitigate these troubles to a limited extent).

Chicken corpses on conveyor belt

For veganism to succeed and not be isolationist it must be anti-capitalist and degrowth.  Though socialism may resolve economic class divisions, it’s emphasis on growing the economy puts a strain on ecosystems, nonhuman species habitats and climate (possibly as much as capitalist development).   Mining, industrial agriculture, intensive logging and fossil use are integral parts of many socialist agendas, except  the green kinds.  Perpetual production growth is a dead end for a liveable planet.

Compulsory societal wide frugal living is required for securing biosphere sustainability and enhancement.

We could call it “revolutionary simplicity”. But how do we end indigence with economic contraction?  Don’t the poor need growth to have a dignified life?  

Not in the conventional sense.  Improving employment, wages, living conditions, local vegan food production, education, public health and transportation and providing clean water don’t have the same devastating impacts on nature as aggregate expansion for private or government gain.

Free vegan food being offered at a Food Not Bombs tabling

Dispersing wealth evenly, vegan living, green energy, social housing, workers’ cooperatives, working less hours, men care-giving instead of worshipping porn and sports teams, cultivating talents, idle contemplation and revelry are types of progress that don’t ravage the earth and living beings like commercial extractivist societies do.

Redistribution, economic democracy,  animal/human animal equality, producing and consuming less, and post-growth economies would be powerful forms of intergroup solidarity and justice for all.

Veganist degrowth and redistribution is not a full-grown theory, plan of action or affiliation.  It is nonetheless worth exploring and perilous to dismiss.  Something nonvegan socialists and capitalists should adopt as well.   

SoaringFrigateBird

Dreamer?  Climate disruption, environmental despoliation, destitution and war may force us to take radical measures.  Now is the time to spread the conversation to raise consciousness to act for a nonviolent transition.

 


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.