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.

Pointlessly Gendering Cats and Dogs


My partner and I were shopping for a Christmas present for his dog one December (dogs love gifts, too!), and while sifting through the pet section of Aldi (a grocery chain), we noticed something strange. The holiday gift packs for dogs were tagged as male, while the cat packs were coded female.

According to Armitage Pet Care (“The largest independent manufacturer and distributor of branded pet accessories and treats in the UK”), kitty treats are for “good girls” and doggy treats are for “good boys.” The design colors and animal caricatures used in the packaging appear to be neutral, but the labels are unnecessarily gendered.

Upon further investigation, I found that this gendering process extends beyond Santa’s workshop: “Good Boy” applies to Armitage’s entire line of canine treats, and “Good Girl” refers to its line of feline treats. What is more, this gender assignment is presumed to be implicit. The company website does not bother to clarify which product line refers to which species; it is simply taken for granted that visitors will know that dogs are “good boys” and cats are “good girls” (see below).

Sociologists have noted that humans transfer their gender role expectations onto nonhumans. Dogs tend to be masculinized; cats tend to be feminized. Regardless of the animal’s actual sex, they will be socialized in accordance with the gender of their guardian.

My brother’s pit bull is female, for example, but she plays rough and rowdy. This is because my brother, male-identified, has socialized her as an extension of his own gender expression. Gender is not genetic or instinctual: it is taught and learned. Her behavior cannot be attributed to her breed, as other pit bulls can be very quiet and gentle.

When the sex of an animal aligns with the gender of their guardian as well as the guardian’s gender role projections, this effect amplifies. Consider, for instance, that many men are hesitant to have their male companion animals spayed for fear of emasculating them (a serious problem given the high death rates in kill shelters for discarded and homeless animals). Gender may be socially constructed, but its consequences are real indeed.

Sociologist Lisa Wade regularly deconstructs “unnecessarily” or “pointlessly” gendered cultural artifacts on Sociological Images and its corresponding Pinterest page to demonstrate how powerfully gender shapes the social imagination. To be clear, gendering products is not truly “pointless.” This behavior has a very intentional social purpose: to maintain and reproduce difference (which, in turn, maintains and reproduces social inequality). Nonhuman bodies are often politicized in the process, acting as representations of human stratification.

In many cases, the aggravation of these differences is agential because it also serves to increase consumption. A heterosexual, cis-gender couple can’t just share body wash, for instance. He has to have the forest-scented, icy blast, utilitarian soap in the black bottle labeled “For men;” she has to have the pastel mango passion meadow sparkle soap in the flowery bottle.

The difference enforced by gender is disproportionate in impact as well. Female consumers must fork up extra cash for the pink tax, as women’s products cost more than equivalent products for men. As sociologists understand the economic sphere to be the origin of social structure (and inequality), gender becomes another means for the market to encroach into the private sphere.

Now dogs and cats are being roped into the profit-oriented gender machine as well.

My cats do not care either way if they are a good “boy” or “girl” as long as yummy things are in the packet. My partner’s dog definitely doesn’t care if he is a good “doggy” or a good “kitty” either, and would gladly chomp down on anything and everything in the “Good Girl Christmas Cat Stocking.”

Sorry Armitage, but we’re not buying it. We settled on a chew toy.

 

References

Adams, C. and J. Donovan. 1995. Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ramirez, M. 2006. “‘My Dog’s Just Like Me’: Dog Ownership as a Gender Display.” Symbolic Interaction 29 (3): 373-391.

 

This essay first appeared on Human-Animal Studies Images, a production of the Animals & Society Institute on January 15, 2015. 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. 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).

Love, Sex, and the Animal Liberation Front

Man in ski mask kisses woman in black hoodie
Image from Animal Freedom Fighters Unite Facebook group

More so than other factions of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, the “liberation” or “direct action” faction (frequently associated with the Animal Liberation Front) often engages symbolism of human-to-human love, intimacy, and sex in its activist narrative.

Consider Love and Liberation: An Animal Liberation Front Story, a romance novel following a young female activist who falls in love with another direct action activist, the two of them bonding over illegal actions in the name of anti-speciesism.

Cover of Love and Liberation

Consider also the direct action comic, The Liberator, male-created with a male and female protagonist. The female-bodied hero, however, tends to be drawn for the male-gaze, large breasted and sometimes bra-less.

Liberator

More than other factions of the movement, the direct action faction relies on narratives of heroism, machismo, and domination. As with any hero’s tale, the “girl as reward” must be present. In a previous essay, I note the “Liam Neeson effect,” whereby Nonhuman Animals are feminized and their plight exploited as a plot device to excuse hypermasculine vigilantism and violence. “Direct action” activism hopes to attract members and new recruits by creating an opportunity for boys and men to prove their manhood and become real-life superheroes. Steve Best, a leader of the ALF faction, has stated that it will be the media coverage of this type of activism which will motivate and inspire viewers to take up arms, so to speak. Love and sex must be part of this opportunity, as becoming a “man” necessitates power over the feminine.

Relatedly, ALF activists also frequently pose with Nonhuman Animals as loving and thankful. Most of these survivors are undoubtedly relieved, but we must keep in mind that media is not created by accident, and images are carefully chosen to convey a particular message. I see in this thankful animal trope the same patriarchal or paternalist concept: man as liberator and benevolent leader, woman and animal as grateful and dependent. Savior narratives, well-meaning though they may be, are inherently disempowering to the marginalized (this is a major concern in ally politics).

ALF member in ski mask cradling small monkey

Social movements consciously strategize in their media representations, using particular codes that the audience will be expected to accurately and favorably interpret. The ALF and other direct action collectives bank on our cultural literacy with misogyny and patriarchy in order for these scripts and codes to make sense. I question as to whether or not this hypermasculine script will translate for an anti-oppression future if we’re still speaking the same language of domination.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. 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).

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 Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. 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).

The Sexual Politics of Breast Milk in the Amazon

Content warning: Contains images of victimized Nonhuman Animals.
Not Safe for Work: Contains images of people unclothed.

awa-amazon-tribe-breastfeeds-animals-61

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese | Image was not altered by VFN

In a story with Bored Panda, a photographer’s account of an indigenous tribe in the Amazon highlights the practice of breastfeeding nonhuman species. The above image is used to bait readers into clicking and visiting the site, suggesting that the practice is considered shocking and strange.

From a vegan feminist perspective, this “click bait” is intriguing.

Why stigmatize when humans breastfeed other animals? It erodes that hierarchy of power and dominance–it reminds us that we are all animals.

SqA cow being milked by machineuirrels aren’t the only opportunists. Many humans consume enormous quantities of nonhuman breast milk. Importantly, it is mechanically collected. Why is it stigmatized to drink directly from the breast of other animals? Again, it reminds us that we are animals. Separation also helps to commodify and objectify the persons exploited in the process. This is necessary because intimacy and empathy disrupt oppression.

It should also be noted that breastfeeding in general is rather stigmatized in the “developed” world. Again, this likely has to do with breast feeding reminding us that we are animals, too. Of course, it also uses a sexualized body part for something other than male pleasure, a cardinal sin in the patriarchy.

As shocking as these images may be to some readers, humans breast feeding other animals is not new or unheard of. It is, however, rarely visible in patriarchal, elite-run media spaces and historical accounts.

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

What is also interesting from this story is that the Bored Panda story fails to include any images from the collection that depict animals in various states of death, decay, and butchery. This gruesome theme featured prominently in the original photographer’s gallery.

But nonhuman suffering does not fit into the journalist’s one-with-nature paradise narrative. Consider the images below, for instance. Bored Panda chose to share the image of a man kissing a monkey, but did not include the image of the monkey broiling for dinner.

The photographer is quoted:

They feed the squirrels and monkeys like they feed their kids, breast feeding. [ . . . ] It highlights how far we have come from where we were. [ . . . ] They are so close to nature. [ . . . ] In fact, it is not even close – they are part of nature.

Indeed, indigenous communities are frequently subject to this romanticization, a process that is objectifying in itself. Inaccurate and infantilizing, these stories make good entertainment for the perceived white audience in the West.

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

 


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. 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. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 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.

Des Hommes Rongeant des Steaks

Translation by Hypathia: Feminist and Anti-Speciesist Blog. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.
Man in a suit sits in front of a plate with a raw steak, knife and fork poised in his fists on the table

A la suite de mon essai “Des femmes riant seules avec des salades “, un collègue curieux google-ise ce qu’on pourrait considérer comme le contraire : des hommes mangeant des steaks. Ce qu’il a trouvé, et qui s’est trouvé confirmé lors de mes propres recherches d’images sur Google, est le thème répétitif  d’hommes s’agaçant les dents sur une grosse tranche de viande, souvent avec la fourchette et le couteau fermement plantés de chaque côté de leur assiette.

Man gnawing on raw steak

Le message primordial envoyé par ces images semble être ” JE SUIS UN HOMME ; L’HOMME A BESOIN DE VIANDE “. Ses poings bien alignés et leur prise ferme sur les ustensiles sont des codes genrés communs, présentant les hommes aux commandes et au contrôle de leur environnement.

De façon intéressante, les steaks sont presque toujours montrés crus. L’intention vraisemblable est de montrer la consommation de chair crue par les hommes (un comportement anti-naturel) comme naturelle. Le fait est souligné par l’abondance de photographies qui montrent des hommes consommant le steak directement sans l’aide de couverts, rongeant la chair comme s’ils étaient une espèce carnivore non humaine. A contrario, quand je cherche des images de femmes mangeant des steaks, à maintes reprises, elles sont aux prises avec de la viande crue positionnée au-dessus de leur tête, l’air accablé -personne ne mange la tête à la renverse. Ceci suggère aussi la soumission, une soumission souvent sexualisée à travers leur pose et leur nudité. Quand elles ont des couverts, elles sont davantage montrées les utilisant de manière faible ou peu sûre.

Woman Eating Steak

Par dessus tout, les images de femmes mangeant des steaks sont moins nombreuses, car la notion est contraire aux normes de genre. Quand on en trouve, il est clair que la hiérarchie des genres doit être préservée en démontrant que la consommation de chair (un acte de domination et de pouvoir) est moins naturelle et plus maladroite chez les femmes.

Women Cutting Steak

La viande est un symbole de masculinité. Donc, les hommes interagissent avec la viande pour démontrer leurs prouesses, les femmes interagissent avec la viande pour démontrer leur soumission.


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. 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. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 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.