“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 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).

How Farmers are Making Dairies Sexy for Men’s Health

Young white woman naked in a wheel barrow; she is covered in hay and wearing very large pump red heels

Macra na Feirme, a farmer’s association in Ireland, is creating a pornographic calendar to raise awareness about mental health problems and suicide in the farming community, particularly that of young men.

This project is gendered, as pornography predominantly involves the display of women’s bodies, while farming is masculinized. Women are the objects on display, while men are the subjects of concern.

Advertisement for Macra; A pair of legs and the top of a skirt is visible, a woman is sitting on a bail of hay in high heels

Calendar sales will go to the mental health non-profit Walk In My Shoes

What is interesting is that the campaign seeks to challenge unrealistic masculine gender roles (which discourage boys and men with depression from seeking help or admitting weakness), and yet those same roles are protected by framing the campaign in clear scripts of patriarchal dominance.

Importantly, the centering of men’s experiences also makes invisible the multitude of research that shows clear correlations between the sexual objectification of women and women’s higher rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm, as well as lower rates of self image and self efficacy.

But more is going on in these images–we’re also seeing the romanticization and sexualization of speciesism. In one image, the Rose of Kilkenny (Ireland’s version of Miss America), poses seductively with a milking device. An instrument of torture for the Nonhuman Animals involved, but a very naturalized symbol of power, domination, and the pleasurable consumption of the female body for humans who interpret the image.

Woman in red high heels with legs exposed holds a milking device in the middle of a dairy, with the back ends of cows lined up on the machines visible in the background

What’s also made invisible is the relationship between mental health and participation in systemic violence against the vulnerable. Yes, the campaign seeks to bring attention to the emotional challenges associated with farming, but no connection is being made to the relationship between hurting others and the hurt one experiences themselves. Slaughterhouse workers, for instance, are seriously psychologically impacted by the killing and butchering they must engage. Dairy workers, too, are paying a psychological price for their participation. This isn’t just about “farming” in general, this is about speciesist practices in particular. Speciesism hurts us all: Nonhuman Animals in particular, male farmers as a consequence, and women who are objectified and hurt in a society where the exploitation of feminized vulnerable groups is normalized.

Indeed, I find it interesting that, for women who want to participate in a social movement, the “go to” response is so often to get naked or make pornography. It is a powerful statement about the gender hierarchy in our society and the limited and often disempowering choices available to women. Ultimately, it speaks to a considerable limitation on our social justice imagination.

 

Thank you to our Hungarian contributor Eszter Kalóczkai for bringing attention to this story.


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, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with Colorado State 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 the 2016 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 (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).

As Long As It’s Vegan? Single-Issues, Silos, and Social Justice

Not Safe for work:  Contains semi-revealing images of nude woman.

LUSH "Go Naked" ad featuring four women standing naked, exposing their bottoms. Reads, "We prefer to go naked, like over 100 of our products"
LUSH Cosmetics advertisement

Single-issue campaigning and social movement siloing are toxic for social justice. Despite the veganism’s collective identity as a movement for love and compassion, it has a remarkable tendency to dismiss human injustices under the banner of “nonhumans first.” The “as long as it’s vegan” ideology has been used to protect nazism, rape, racism, and other manifestations of bigotry in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, stifling critical thought and eliminating any chance for coalition-building.

What makes this ideology so insidious is that its adherents often believe themselves to be a compassionate activist committed to Nonhuman Animals at any cost. While this is, of course, admirable, it is also a self-concept which inhibits self-reflection. Because the movement is white-centric and post-citizen (meaning that most vegan activists already have a number of essential rights and privileges established for themselves), it becomes very difficult for them to acknowledge how many humans still lack these rights.

Woman used in LUSH demo pictured with cords attached to her head, she is gagged and wearing a nude suit

In one of several misogynistic live action advertisements, LUSH hired a street performer in a nude bodysuit to enact gruesome scenes of vivisection for approximately 10 hours.

This is aggravated by segregation; when privileged groups do not have to interact with disenfranchised groups, it is easy for them to ignore or downplay the experiences of others. Membership in a white-centric, middle-class social movement only reinforces these walls of separation.

Consider, for instance, this Irish grassroots group’s promotion of LUSH Cosmetics products on World Vegan Day. LUSH is known to regularly engage misogynistic tactics to scare or shame women into buying its products.  It also mirrors People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in prostituting women’s bodies to grab media attention and sell goods. The group announced that it would be leafleting outside the Cork LUSH store and accepting donations from LUSH for every “Charity Pot” lotion product that is purchased.

Please email for transcript of image

When confronted with LUSH’s misogynist business ethic, this local vegan community predictably employed a number of tropes to restore its positive self-image. First, it suggested that as long as individual women “choose” to participate, this supposedly absconds the organization that hosts the event as well as all involved parties from any responsibility for the negative consequences for women as a class.

Second, it is mistakenly argued that the inclusion of “men, too” would eliminate the misogyny of these tactics. But this falsely presumes that society is gender-neutral and that sexualized violent imagery of women would be interpreted equally with equal impact.

Third, for the purposes of this essay, this group also highlighted that the supposed animal-friendliness of the company trumped any misgivings about its misogyny. Nonhumans first.

As these deflections illustrate, there is a profound disconnect between the oppression of women and the oppression of other animals. The logic that normalizes the commodification and sexualization of violence against women is the same logic that normalizes the commodification and fetishization of violence against animals.

The vegan movement’s confusion over this intersection is all the more evident in its bizarre alliance with LUSH. LUSH is not a vegan company. It is a speciesist industry that profits from the the sale of Nonhuman Animals’ bodies, products, and labor. Bizarre though this relationship may be, it exemplifies how a movement culture that devalues intersectional awareness can undermine Nonhuman Animal interests. Putting “nonhumans first” may unwittingly be putting nonhumans last.

LUSH employee wearing nothing but an apron as part of an advertising campaign

LUSH often holds in-store promotions that feature its mostly female staff unclothed.

That activists appeal to the marketplace to support their single-issue focus is not surprising. I am of the persuasion that intersectional failure is intimately bound to capitalism and its intentional fanning of individualism and false consciousness. This ignorance is key for the perpetuation of an oppressive system. It undermines efforts for equality.

Any movement, faction, organization, or activist that fails to acknowledge the root cause of capitalism in manifesting inequality will never achieve its goals. By participating in capitalist enterprise, vegans only contribute to the humane-washing of an inherently violent economic system. For resource-starved grassroots groups, it is all too tempting to partner with speciesist industries who trade attention and platform for community approval and immunity from protest.

This trade-off is not a wise one. “As long as it’s vegan” does Nonhuman Animals no favors if it destroys the movement’s ability to be taken seriously as a social justice effort. Neither is it helpful if it normalizes frameworks of oppression, as these frameworks are not species-specific but universally dangerous.

 

 


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).