Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn of Vegan Feminist Network featured on Maine Public Radio

Vegan Feminist Network

What’s wrong with calling other animal’s “it”? What does it mean for women and other animals when we use the word “bitch”?

Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn founder of Vegan Feminist Network was featured on Maine public radio, Animal Sounds on WMPG 90.9FM. In this 30 minute program Dr. Wrenn discusses intersections of sexism, speciesism, ableism and more in colloquially used oppressive language. You can listen by clicking here.

The Urgency Of Activism: Friend or Foe of Progress?

Not Safe for Work: Contains Coarse Language

Minks in cage

By Michele Kaplan

One thing the Animal Rights movement is not short on is statistics. We have stats so exact, we have what is called “kill counters”, that tell you exactly how many marine animals, chickens, ducks, pigs, rabbits, turkeys, geese, sheep, goats, cows (and calves), rodents, pigeons (and other birds), buffalo, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys (and mules) and even camels have been killed, within seconds that it took to view a page on the internet.

And as we watch the numbers on the counter rapidly increase, taking less than a minute till the numbers are in the thousands (for many animals), what is the animal rights activist to do with that information?

Does one nod soberly, acknowledge the truth, and say something like “there is much work to be done. We keep fighting.”

Or does one intensely focus on the staggering statistics, the numbers that just … keep… rising, and say “There is no time to waste! The animals need us now!!!” This is The Urgency, (the activist panic) that if one is not careful, can swallow you whole.

And while The Urgency says “do… something! Hurry up! Go! Go! Go!!”, is the default answer to take immediate action? Can we remain mindful and aware that because we are in a state of urgency, that it is very much possible that it’s clouding our judgment, as to what constitutes as a good idea for the cause?

After all, when we are in a state of panic (activist or otherwise), often the dominant motivation is a strong desire to experience catharsis, to get relief from said emotion (whether we are conscious of that or not). This is not to say that an action can not be both cathartic and effective, this is to say that just because it feels good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are reaching beyond the choir.

Is it possible to be mindful in a state of urgency, that we can either tell someone “Fuck you!” or we can try to educate them, reach out, but that we can’t do both? That as activists we have to decide what we want to accomplish and ask ourselves : will this action, will this behavior, will these words work towards or against the goal? We all want to say “Fuck you!” sometimes, but what happens when we mistake this for effective activism? #KnowTheDifference

Can we, in our state of urgency, remain aware of triggering language? Can we remain aware that, yes while “holocaust” is defined as “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”, and thus when we use it to describe the animal agriculture industry, we are using it in an accurate fashion, but it’s what the word is commonly associated with (the slaughter of humans on a mass scale), that will matter more in our outreach related conversations?

Can we be aware that having the truth is not enough? Can we be aware of vegan consciousness (and the varying levels of), and that it is simply not always realistic to expect nor demand instant vegan consciousness (that matches our own), knowing that the unlearning of deep rooted speciesism is a process, not a moment. Can we remember in a state of urgency, that unless we were born vegan, there was a time when we didn’t get it either?

Or in our state of urgency, is there no time to be aware of such things? And if that is the case, what exactly are we doing? Are we really helping the animals or are we just yelling “Fuck you”?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was written with no intention to disparage or attack anyone in the community. The article was also written with no intention to put down anxiety or suggest that an anxious state is an inferior state. It is not. There is no inferior or superior emotional state and as with all emotional states, it is to our benefit (when possible) to be aware of how it may be influencing our thought process. This article is also not suggesting that the activist should be perfect at all times. No one is, as perfection does not exist. The only reason I am able to write about The Urgency (aka: the activist panic) in such detail, is because I have often experienced it myself in my own activism, and it is only when I stopped to examine my own behavior, and questioned what was I really accomplishing, was when I realized how The Urgency can impact one’s judgment, despite having good intentions. The article is also not written with the intention of telling anyone how to do vegan activism. It is merely asking questions for discussion. I still struggle at times, with how to reach beyond the choir, but I have learned that activism without self care is just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “The Urgency” is frequently used to divert from pro-intersectional, critical thinking in advocacy spaces. It is also highly gendered in its expectation that women must put others first, thus shaming them for considering how urgency-based tactics could be hurtful to other women. Read more in the essay, “What Are You Doing to Help Animals Right NOW?” hosted on Coreyleewrenn.com.

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on April 4, 2016.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

whyveganism.com

Does the C-word Belong in the Vegan Movement? Because It’s Here Right Now

Content Warning: Discusses systemic sexism, online harassment, and misogynistic language.
Not Safe for Work: Contains coarse language.

Editor’s Note: The author and I wish to make it clear that we do not endorse the notion that only cisgender women have vaginal canals, and we wish to acknowledge that some women do not have vaginal canals. We also acknowledge that intersex, transgender, agender, and other gender fluid persons can experience the sexism described in this essay.

Hiltner Cross-stictch
By Eve Christa Wetlaufer

“STOP EATING ANIMALS YOU CUNTS.”

I did a double take. Did he really just use that word – and to promote veganism at that? Yes, he did, in a meme on his Instagram feed. A feed with 50,000 followers.

I was stunned and sickened, but sadly, not surprised.

Vegan Meme

In recent weeks, I have become increasingly aware of members within the vegan community casually using term “cunt” to refer to (and scold) non-vegans. I have seen it used in at least a dozen captions of pictures and comments on social media. Perhaps its most vigorous adherent is “vegan famous” YouTuber @Durianrider, who uses the term in his videos, which can get up to 65,000 views. The majority of the voices using this term have been straight white men.

Whenever I see the use of this word, I have responded by commenting my gut reaction. I explain that using this term to urge others to become vegan is both harmful towards people who identify as female, and also harmful towards the movement’s health and validity. I write that for a movement based on compassion for “all” animals, it is shocking to see what disregard there can be for the oppressions of human animals. I’ve also mentioned the recent article, “When is being vegan no longer about ethical living?” written by Ruby Hamad, in which she asserts:

Any vegan who thinks animal liberation can be achieved without addressing human oppression is kidding themselves.

And on one of the posts I wrote:

Yes, peace on Earth will be vegan – but it will also be a world free of racism, sexism, religious discrimination, ableism, ageism, etc.

The response to my comments? Backlash – immediate and alarming. I was told to “Shut the fuck up.” I was told I was being “too soft,” that I was the “#funpolice,” “too politically correct,” and to “go cry somewhere else.” The supporters of using this term tried to silence me, and even questioned whether or not I was actually a vegan. As if a vegan would never point out inconsistencies within a movement – especially if the victim was a human! Especially if the victim was a woman.

After receiving these hateful comments, I did some research. Was I, in fact, over-reacting? I did a quick survey of the women in my house, and found that they too would be offended if called a “cunt.” My mother practically blanched at the question, and replied:

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the ultimate insult to a woman. You just don’t say it.

I then looked online and found that, interestingly, in England and Australia, “cunt” is generally used much more casually than in the United States, carrying much less of a sexist, derogatory stigma. Ok. But does that matter? Are we to forget the very real historical and contemporary uses of this term that have been, and still are, used to violate, denigrate and belittle those who identify as female?

I most certainly do not have all the answers, but I do understand that this topic is complicated. For instance, as a woman myself, I could feel empowered to use this term as to “reclaim” it, as different communities have done with words that have been used marginalized and oppressed them. I am also by no means speaking for all women, as I understand some are not offended by this word. But we cannot forget about those who are offended by it. We cannot call for liberation with words that do not further the liberation of other identity groups.

Since all ethical vegans want the world to go vegan, we need to start tailoring our language to be as effective and inclusive as possible, to make our mission based on love, on loving. If vegans really want to change the world, we need to stop using ethical eating to diminish or ignore other very real systems of oppression. It is also crucial for us to have the understanding that the vegan movement is just one puzzle piece in the greater movement for social justice. True social justice cannot be reached until all forms of oppression have been eradicated, and many of these injustices are linked. When we realize his struggles are her struggles, are their struggles are my struggles, the unity and support of each movement can propel us further into a more peaceful and just world.

The complex, gendered, and charged connotations with the term “cunt” should by no means be a part of the vocabulary of a movement comprised of individuals who preach compassion for animals. Changing the hearts, minds, and behaviors of non-vegans is crucial, but that also means investigating and changing our vocabulary at times. Although disagreements and conflicts within movements can potentially hinder the overall progress, it is important to constantly check ourselves and each other’s activism to make sure we are being as effective and compassionate as possible. So yes, I will continue to speak up when vegans use harmful words like “cunt,” and if you agree, I urge you to as well.

 


EveEve Wetlaufer is in her third year at New York University in the Gallatin Program, with an individualized major investigating the historical human orientation toward animals, spirituality, and the environment, with a minor in the Animal Studies Initiative. Eve also holds a certification in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. She has worked at several animal rescues, most recently Catskill Animal Sanctuary, as an Outreach and Education intern. She is also the loving companion to a rescued hound named Chrissy.

Lack of Intersectionality: A Moral Inconsistency of the Animal Rights Movement?

Woman brandishing a large rainbow flag with a vegan symbol in the middle; appears to be at a gay pride festival

By Raffaella Ciavatta and Lilia Trenkova

Animal rights activists are often accused of not caring about humans. We can argue that usually these accusations come from people who have just had their speciesism challenged and who feel attacked, so they’re reactionary statements. We can obviously also argue that we do indeed care about other humans. Yet this happens so often that even people who’ve never faced their speciesism have come to believe that animal rights activists simply do not see humans as important as non-humans.

Facebook post responding to Yulin Dog Meat Festival (image shows a man tending to caged dogs awaiting slaughter): "I WOULD LOVE TO BE THERE I WOULD PUT BOMBS TO KILL ALL THESE SICK PEOPLE"

How can we change this view? There are among us those who truly believe we cannot fight one system of oppression (speciesism) by supporting another system of oppression (sexism, for example). It is morally inconsistent to claim we care about the bodily autonomy of hens but to oppose the bodily autonomy of women, just as it is morally inconsistent to say we care about equality but exclude certain species who are worthy of that consideration.

According to Javed Deck, for animals rights “[…] to be a movement that actually transforms relationships between humans and animals it needs to take seriously issues of race, class, and gender, and the ways these impact animal systems. Just like the transformations feminist and queer struggles have undergone as they crossed cultural boundaries, so must animal struggle change across these boundaries.”

>In the 70’s, black feminists who worked both for women’s rights and civil rights, started to look at gender and race as connected issues. The feminist movement back then wasn’t talking about race, and the civil rights movement wasn’t addressing gender. They developed a theory and practice called intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in her insightful 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”.

Applying Crenshaw’s frame of intersection to other systemic oppressions, we can no longer see discrimination based on gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, species, et al, as separate and independent from one another. Axes of identity interact on multiple levels, contributing to systemic injustice and social inequality.

Oppressive systems also share the same roots. They not only have the same strategy, the same tactics, but they also share patterns of behavior and thought. In her essay, Crenshaw uses an analogy to a traffic intersection, or crossroad, to concretize the concept:

“Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them.”

So why should we care about others’ struggles?

  1. Because it is the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong with choosing to be morally consistent.
  2. If we want animal liberation, then we had better build bridges. According to professor Will Kymlicka, 99% of the intersectional analysis that is done by the left today completely ignores the intersection of species. He adds, “I think there’s no way for the animal rights movement to possibly succeed without the support from other social justice movements.”
  3. Being able to create a safe space for activists and potential supporters is key to grow our movement. If we choose to ignore the intersections of oppressions, we run a great risk of turning people away from our cause.

The word intersectionality currently seems to be getting a lot of attention as well as confusion. Quite often there isn’t a mention of the originators of the concept, leaving it to be a white-centric circle, as explained here. Love it or hate it, the concept is challenging all of us, and we shouldn’t turn away from it.

We would like to share our view about it and how we are learning to apply it to Collectively Free. When we first started CF, our dream was to create an anti-speciesist group that embraced the intersections of oppression, both internally in our community and externally in our actions.

Within our community, we strive to create a safe space for activists to express themselves and for potential supporters to join us. We have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but we have also tried our hardest to remain humble enough to recognize our mistakes and implement prompt changes to repair them. A great example of that was when the amazing activist, Heather P. Graham, felt triggered during one of our protests after hearing an activist use the word “rape” trivially.

We reached out to her, heard her concerns and asked her to do a panel discussion about the “Importance of Language In Our Movement” followed by a Q&A. We learned a lot from Heather that day. It pushed us forward to officially retire a poster we hadn’t used in a long time, part of our early days, which had the r-word in it. The decision wasn’t because of personal purity, because we care more about what other people may think, or because we don’t believe that mother cows are truly sexually assaulted – it is because we learned that we can achieve the same result in making people understand our message without running the risk of triggering them. Lesson learned: always listen when people who have been hurt share their stories, and always listen when someone brings up issues to your attention.

In terms of delivering an effective message for our activism and building bridges, our first big effort was at NYC PRIDE 2015 (here’s a YouTube link if you don’t have Facebook). We wrote a speakout and chants that reflected the common goal of anti-speciesist, anti-heterosexist and anti-cissexist struggles – liberation from oppression and equality of consideration. Feedback on our video from that day was overwhelmingly positive, from both animal rights and LGBTQ rights activists. Another lesson learned: participate in different movements’ protests and support their causes.

It wasn’t until we launched the campaign against Starbucks that we had the opportunity to really bring that concept out in our actions. We spent several months trying to convey a strong message for the animals while highlighting Starbucks’ exploitation of coffee workers. We have never felt so listened to in any action we ever participated in as on our first day of action, and we are certain it was because we carefully brought together human rights and animal rights.

Our community is not perfect, and we’ll surely continue to make mistakes and learn from them. But if we all stay open to ideas that challenge us we’ll also make strides. Don’t worry, our community will still be hard-core, progressive, envelope-pushers – but now with a bonus! Our activism will no longer appear as a one-way street but as a lane on a highway, a highway shared with other fighters for liberation, equality and freedom.

 

Raffaella

Co-founder of Collectively Free, Raffaella 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.

 

Lili

Lilia Trenkova is an activist vegan, set designer, fabricator, organizer and musician.

Minding Our Language

Content Warning: Discusses sexist, racist, ableist, and heterosexist language.
Not Safe For Work: Some offensive words are presented.

Reads, "It doesn't mean what you think it means!" Picture of a fedora

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D., Ph.D.


Language is a process that we begin to learn as children, but continue to refine as adults. Social justice advocates in particular are constantly reevaluating our language with the understanding that words are embedded in power structures. We can disrupt oppression by rejecting particular words or labels. We can create our own power in creating alternatives.

In my own case, this reevaluation began at sixteen.  My friend told me that when I said, “That’s so gay,” it was hurtful to him.  I stopped using it right then and there.  When I got a little older, I realized what “That’s retarded” really meant: “This is so silly and ignorant it’s the equivalent of something that someone with an intellectual disability might say or do.”  I stopped saying it.  When I went vegan, I realized that calling people “chicken,” “cow,” “scaredy cat,” “rat,” etc. used Nonhuman Animals as objects of insult.  I’ve started cutting back (I’m still a work in progress!). In my late 20s, as I started to find my feminist voice, I began to realize that “bitch” was no longer so easily articulated. It now makes me cringe. Fortunately, the “N word” has never crossed my lips.

PSA that lists a number of words that can replace the use of "retarded"

Is this political correctness run amuck? Why do activists care so much?

Derogatory language has the power to uphold inequality.  A lot of this language is either used by folks who are fully aware of the hurt behind it, or folks who are honestly unaware and have never stopped to consider the meaning of their words. Admittedly, the hold that language has over our brain makes it very difficult to eradicate many words, even when we are aware and want to change.  Fair enough.  However, when someone is presented with the reality of that hurt and the logic behind oppressive language, and they continue to dig their heels in, then we should find this problematic.  At this point, it is no longer about ignorance. It’s about privilege.

When I was visiting Scotland in 2012, my activist colleagues there had an ugly habit of calling any person they didn’t like a “twat.”  After about the 100th time of hearing it, I finally said something. I explained that they were using a crass word for my genitalia as an insult.  Basically being a female is lower; if they think something is bad, they insult it by calling it female.  As punishment for making this objection, I was dragged into a 20 minute debate. It was me, the female-identified visitor, pitted against two British adult men who were convinced if they just explained to me what the word “really means” and that it “really means” nothing at all, it’s just something they say all the time, it’s always been that way, etc., then I’ll suddenly give up and realize the word isn’t sexist. And after all, don’t we use “dick” as an insult?  The “men, too” argument is a common one that falsely imagines a post-gender utopia where men and women are represented equally and fairly.

Large bearded man, reads, "Excuse me miss, my eyes are up here"

In another example, an administrator for a Nonhuman Animal rights organization Vegans for Reason and Science adamantly defended the use of “stupid,” “insane,” “loons,” etc. as valid insults.  I asked if they would ever use “faggot” or “gay” as an insult, they said absolutely not, and they would call it out if they ever heard it.  I asked what was so different about using ableist language as slurs? Well, I was reading their words too literally, they explained.

The vulnerable groups in each situation may have varied, but there was one similarity between the people defending this language:  their privilege.  For the most part, I was up against men who were middle class, heterosexual, cis-gendered, non-disabled, and white-identified.  This is the demographic that is granted the ability to create language and define meaning. Power is manifested and replicated through the construction of meaning and the validation (or invalidation) of others’ existence and their social worth.

People with privilege should not get to decide what language is or is not hurtful to vulnerable people.  It shouldn’t matter how many gay friends or close female friends or sisters they have, or how long they’ve used the words, or how “figurative” they are meant to be.  If someone in a disadvantaged position says they hurt, stop using them. These words are a product of ongoing discrimination and violence. Even if we do not condone the political meaning of these words, we have a responsibility not to be an active participant in the oppression of others.

Avoid using the identity of oppressed groups as an insult.  There are about 171,000 words in the English Language; it won’t be a major inconvenience to retire a few.  I recognize that these words are habitualized and continuously reinforced by our peers and pop culture, but we can do better if we try.

 

Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at 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. 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.

The Language of Patriarchy & the Animal Rights Imagination

Cartoon of woman breaking down wall with sledgehammer. Reads, "Live as an intersectional vegan and fight conformity"

An important aspect of feminist theory and practice is the challenge to problematic language. This is because language is power: it reflects existing power relations and works to reinforce them, often unconsciously. When we speak of our advocacy as a “battle” against speciesism that we are “fighting”–that is, when we use language of violence, competition, and domination–we are pulling on the language of patriarchy to reach a peaceful world.

“Rights” language is also the language of patriarchy because it puts individuals in competition with one another. For that matter, rights were originally devised by men to protect male interests and have been used to exclude vulnerable groups for several centuries.

Book cover, reads, "Animal Warfare: The Story of the Animal Liberation Front"

Direct action approaches that heavily utilize”war” language and literally attempt to act out their battle tactics amplify this masculine framework. Not surprisingly, these approaches primarily attract men.

I can understand the desire to use this language. Sometimes, it really does feel like a battle to liberate other animals, and, personally, I stand by the rights-based approach to liberation as the most appropriate in our current political climate. Nonetheless, we should always be cognizant to the power of language. This post is derived from the work of early vegan feminists who have previously theorized the masculine rhetoric of Nonhuman Animal rights. If you want to learn more about the language of anti-speciesism, check out the work of Josephine Donovan, Lee Hall, Carol Adams, and Marti Kheel.