Why Food Justice is a Feminist Issue

In an interview with Alternet’sHere’s Why Our Food Systems are a Central Feminist Issue,” I was asked to elaborate on women’s contributions to critical food justice and how current sexual politics inhibit or even invisiblize women’s contributions today.

Both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and the environmental movement, I note, were established by women who strategically employed stereotypes about women’s proper role in nurturing and caring. This strategy was necessary to gain access to the public sphere in an era in which women were expected to remain inside the home and well outside of politics.

Unfortunately, this feminization persists in modern food justice efforts. Sociological and psychological research supports that environmental and vegan campaigns and products are less likely to find male support simply due to this feminization. This gender divide translates into a serious barrier to success given that men’s recognition is necessary for a movement to gain legitimacy in a patriarchal society.

Rather than celebrate women’s contributions to anti-speciesist efforts, the vegan movement has opted to elevate men in campaigning and leadership. This, to me, is indicative of intersectional failure. Patriarchal bargains are unlikely to liberate Nonhuman Animals given the historical relationship between sexism and speciesism:

… the fact that men have to be involved to bring legitimacy to a cause demonstrates that we still haven’t come to terms with the underlying ideological roots to oppression.

Readers can access the entire interview here.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Corey 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). Subscribe to Dr. Wrenn’s newsletter for research updates.

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.

Why Can’t the ALF Talk about Sexism?

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and other direct action collectives have a rocky track record with women in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.

In celebrating violent masculinity, the language and imagery of the ALF is repellent to women and antagonistic to femininity. In my research, I have noted that direct action collectives regularly denounce nonviolent civil resistance (what they sometimes misconstrue as pacifism), framing it as weakness and complacency. Consider a 2012 conference presentation in which ALF founder Steve Best aggressively lectures a room of female attendees, furious at the feminization of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and demanding that activists literally take up arms against speciesists. The now defunct project Negotiation is Over published regular criticisms of vegan baking as outreach.

Nonviolent civil resistance of all kinds, but especially baking, is, of course, feminized. The proposed alternative–taking up arms–is explicitly masculinized. As a male-dominated organization, the ALF’s adamant rejection of women’s tactics is blatantly sexist.

In Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror, vegan feminist Lee Hall also describes parallels between masculinity and ALF operations. Vandalism, arson, and threats to researchers and their families are understood to be “front line” activism. This activism earns men prestige and honor in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. This is real activism, activism for the “brave” and “courageous.” In practice, it is most adopted by male teens and 20 somethings who have absorbed the patriarchal culture of glorified violence, anger, and domination.

ALF actions are as much a performance of maleness as they are tactics of nonhuman liberation. Activists who do not engage in direct action are labeled “cowards” to humiliate men by feminizing them and intimidate women by shaming their femininity.

 ALF Supporters Group Newsletter

In a misogynistic society, there are serious consequences for women and girls when a social justice movement aggravates gender stereotypes. There are consequences for the entire movement and Nonhuman Animals, too. Although peaceful vegan activism surely played a part as well, it was specifically ALF’s violence that would prompt agricultural elites to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in the 1990s (see Muzzling a Movement 2010). This act would essentially criminalize any action that interferes with speciesist enterprise, violent or not. Equally problematic, young men are made vulnerable to serious fines and jail sentences when this kind of activism is valorized.

Women, of course, are not completely absent in direct action, but even the most masculinized of spaces will sometimes attract female participants who understand that association with patriarchy can grant them some male privilege, albeit with considerable limitations and always at the expense of other women. In ALF literature, the role of women tends to be one of sidekick and adoring fan. In Love and Liberation: An Animal Liberation Front Story (Piraeus Books LLC 2012), the female lead is portrayed as smitten by the male lead’s prowess, prompting her to follow him into combat. This is a classic masculine trope whereby men’s violent bravery is rewarded by an objectified woman. As a trophy or prize, the woman’s character is subservient to and dependent upon the man’s story.

ALF

Other ALF publications are more straightforward in their sexual objectification of women. Liberator, for instance, has been criticized for its sexist themes. The illustration below featuring a female protester with large breasts fit into a tight shirt with no bra is a case in point.

The Liberator

The comic creator Matt Miner responded to feminist criticism in a now deleted “Open Letter to the Open Letter Author on Women in Comics.” His tone was dismissive and aggressive:

[ . . . ] you’ll notice that the art does not focus on her breasts, she’s fully clothed, the piece does not sexualise her in any way.

In your “open letter” you state other inflammatory nonsense that I find particularly offensive, attacks on my qualifications to write this series and there’s even a misguided attempt of associating me with the sexist animal killers of PETA, but clearly you’ve not done the slightest bit of research before unleashing so I’ll just laugh that bit of irony off.

When another feminist questioned the implications of his comic on his Facebook page, Miner responded with a rudimentary appeal to reverse sexism in describing the criticism as “offensive.”

ALF and sexism

As this essay has outlined, there are three roles that women play in direct action claimsmaking, all of which are sexist: the feminizing factor, the prize for male activists, and the eye candy. Aggressive deflection of feminist criticism is generally engaged in favor of putting “nonhumans first,” but the ALF’s protection of sexism is not for the protection of Nonhuman Animals. It is merely unchecked violent masculinity masked as social justice. Violent masculinity “for the animals” “by any means necessary” provides a rationale for reinforcing privilege and hurting others.

Oppression cannot be dismantled with more oppression and a brazen refusal to self-reflect. In the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, sexism does not seem to exist unless it is acknowledged, validated, and legitimated by men. While it is true that men have more symbolic power in a patriarchal society, women are not obligated to take men’s sexist interpretations of the social world as reality.

 


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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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).

Héganisme: Le Véganisme pour Hommes!

Essay and translation by Hypathia: Feminist and Anti-Speciesist Blog. The original English version of the embedded essay can be found by clicking here.

Le mot “héganisme” n’est pas arrivé en France me direz-vous. Quoique. On est fins prêts en tous cas. Mardi 16 février 2016, France 5 diffusait “Un monde sans viande” plutôt prometteur. Sauf que. C’est parti en couilles dès les premières cinq minutes. Le documentariste est allé s’acheter un steak végétal chez Sojasun (lien non sponsorisé, même si c’est un voisin de Noyal Sur Vilaine) et en a fait l’analyse. Ce steak végétal est à base de soja, sorte de haricot, donc une légumineuse très protéinée, mais qui a la réputation de contenir des isoflavones, un ersatz végétal d’hormones femelles. Bon pour les femmes de plus de 50 ans, mais mauvaises, très mauvaises pour les hommes et les enfants prépubères et même pubères, dixit le journaliste ! Nous y voilà: le steak de soja est soupçonné de déviriliser les hommes. S’en est suivie une pénible bataille de chiffres et de milligrammes entre une diététicienne défenseuse des couilles des mecs, et la Cheffe de produit de Sojasun qui défend elle son produit et dit que, pas du tout, son steak de soja contient moins d’isoflavones que le prétend la diététicienne. Après le film, durant le débat, le médecin pro-viande a affirmé que les isoflavones sont inoffensives et même plutôt bonnes pour la santé. Mais le mal était fait, à mon avis. Le végétarisme et le véganisme sont perçus comme une menace pour la virilité, comme l’explique Corey Wrenn sur son blog Vegan Feminist Network, dont je vous propose cette semaine la traduction du billet:

Man with big lettuce leaf hanging out of mouth

Crédit photo: Salon – Forget vegan, he’s hegan (en anglais)

What is Heganism?

Héganisme. Oui, c’est bien quelque chose. C’est le véganisme… pour les hommes. “Héganisme” réfère généralement au “rebranding,” à donner une autre image de marque aux traditionnels concepts véganes, afin qu’ils conviennent à la consommation masculine. Mais pourquoi ?

Le mouvement végane est truffé de 101 variations différentes du véganisme, toutes avec la même intention: vendre et faire rentrer des cotisations. C’est le marketing des associations demandant à ses équipes “comment pouvons-nous nous démarquer sur cette tendance? Comment pouvons-nous nous distinguer du reste des autres? Comment pouvons-nous les faire acheter ici et pas ailleurs? Les distinctions de genre servent généralement les intérêts capitalistes et ils le font en maintenant les différences et les inégalités. Spécialiser les produits par genre suppose que les ménages ne doivent plus se contenter d’un seul produit qui peut être partagé (et les produits destinés aux femmes coûtent souvent plus cher). Le produit bleu et industriel pour lui, le produit rose fleuri (plus cher) pour elle.

Genrer est aussi l’occasion d’ouvrir un plus large marché aux produits. Le stigmate féminin est enlevé, ainsi les hommes peuvent les consommer plus confortablement ; mais ce faisant le stigmate ne disparaît pas, il est seulement renforcé. Comme pour “Guy-et,”1 Dr Pepper10 et la lotion Dove men care (pour hommes), genrer le véganisme travaille à protéger la masculinité en ostracisant, en renvoyant à l’altérité ce qui est féminin. Qu’est ce qu’il y a de mal à faire un régime, boire du soda sans sucre, ou manger végane? C’est que ce sont les stéréotypes de ce que les femmes sont censées faire, et les femmes sont le groupe le plus détesté et le plus dévalorisé de la société. Pour que les hommes y participent, il faut enlever le stigmate féminin en créant une alternative “masculine”.

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

Faire venir plus d’hommes au véganisme est important pour la santé du mouvement végane et pour la santé des garçons et des hommes -la plupart ne consommant pas assez de fruits et légumes. Mais l’inclusion des hommes ne doit pas se faire aux dépens des droits des femmes. Crédit photo: The Advertiser.

La masculinité est largement définie par ce qu’elle n’est pas-et elle n’est pas féminine. Cela marche de la même façon avec le spécisme:2 nous définissons l’humanité comme n’étant pas animale, et donc l’humanité est supérieure par comparaison. On pense aussi qu’elle est l’une des racines de l’hétéro-sexisme : la masculinité est définie par l’ostracisation de ce qui est féminin. En d’autres termes, différencier les personnes en groupes et les placer dans une hiérarchie qui soutient ces différences nourrit une discrimination structurelle. La distinction huile les roues de l’oppression.

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

Dans mon livre, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, j’explore le thème du nouveau packaging des espaces véganes. Parce que le véganisme est tellement féminisé, il est considéré comme une menace pour le patriarcat et donc dévalorisé. En réaction, les organisations qui le défendent adoptent le langage du patriarcat pour mieux “vendre” le véganisme. Au lieu de rester ferme sur une opposition féministe radicale à l’oppression patriarcale, les véganes refont l’emballage du véganisme en le présentant comme “sexy” et montrent les femmes comme objets destinés à la consommation des hommes. PETA est probablement la plus détestable association à cet égard, et sa position dominante dans le mouvement signifie qu’elle influence une norme de protestation pornographique. Les femmes véganes ne sont plus facteures de changement, elles sont juste un autre goût “exotique” destinée à être servi sur un plateau au patriarcaux. Ce Tumblr “Galerie hégan” en est littéralement un exemple : les images sont inspirées de la pornographie.

Il y a un réel danger à aggraver les attitudes sexistes dans l’activisme pour les droits des animaux non humains. Le mot “Héganisme” est inutile et insultant. Est-ce qu’un espace végane féminin est si répugnant que les hommes doivent s’en dégager et occuper un espace séparé pour y participer? Si oui, nous devons remplacer et réévaluer notre approche. Aussi longtemps que le mouvement soutiendra la haine des femmes, il ne peut pas raisonnablement attendre de son public qu’il arrête de haïr les animaux non humains.

Le héganisme est une tactique qui se sabote elle-même. Si les activistes soutiennent la notion que le véganisme est “juste pour les femmes” et que les hommes seront stigmatisés s’ils y participent sans la façade de la masculinité pour les protéger, cela rend un mauvais service au mouvement. Au lieu de s’accommoder du patriarcat et du capitalisme pour être entendu.es, les activistes doivent au contraire incorporer une approche féministe à l’antispécisme. De cette façon, tous les intérêts sont pris en compte et un groupe ne sera pas diminué ou exclu au bénéfice d’un autre. Les capitalistes vont inévitablement argumenter que genrer le véganisme c’est simplement nourrir le marché, mais ils créent simplement un marché de cette sorte : “LEGO se résout finalement à créer des jouets pour les filles” (en anglais chez Feminist Frequency). Un marché basé sur l’oppression, un marché qui fonctionne sur des groupes divisés selon la ligne pouvoir contre impuissance, et ce ne sera pas un espace conduisant à la libération.”


Dr Corey Wrenn est professeure de sociologie, membre de l’Association Sociologique américaine, section Animal et Société. Elle anime le blog Vegan Feminist Network.

Notes:
1. “Guy-et” : jeu de mot intraduisible en français formé de “diet”: régime, et de guy : mec, soit régime pour mec.
2. Le spécisme est un préjugé, une attitude ou un biais envers les intérêts des membres de notre propre espèce, contre les membres des autres espèces. J’ai préféré le mot francisé épicène végane à l’anglais vegan, -ce sont eux qui ont inventé le mot. En français on peut aussi écrire végétalien.

Edit: Le documentaire de France 5 comportait aussi une visite dans les laboratoires de Beyond Meat, une corporation étasunienne qui tente de cultiver le la viande en éprouvette, un autre cauchemar carniste ; en attendant l’avènement de la viande de culture, leurs steaks végétaux sont fait pour donner le change, oubliant qu’on ne devient pas forcément végéta*ien pour manger des substituts de viande, sauf si on craint de mettre à mal virilité des hommes ? On n’en sort pas.

whyveganism.com

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.