Feminism, Veganism, and Vaginal Beer

Vantage Points

Editor’s Note: Despite the publication date of this essay, this is not an April Fool’s Day joke, and we encourage you to actually view the campaign linked below. In a porn culture, the consumption of women’s body parts is normalized and fetishized. Shocking as it may seem, products and projects like this one are the predictable result.

Here we go, as if the daily reminders of women’s bodies as objects through the media are not enough, consumer culture has concocted yet another way of degrading women. As of last week an IndieGogo campaign has been created to fund the first vaginal beer. The pitch is that they will use a Czech model’s lactic acid bacteria from her vagina and implement it into a beer. Their long-term plan is to expand the line to involve other women in the production of this beer.

Before getting too deeply into this topic, it is important to point out that not all women have vaginas and that men can also have vaginas, so the pairing of the words “woman” and “vagina is problematic. Although as a cisgender person myself, I cannot accurately critique this from a transgender perspective. Therefore, the light referencing of this issue is not meant to undermine, but rather it is the recognition on my part that it would be disingenuous of me to deeply dissect this project through such a lens.

To start off, the campaign video for project is riddled with sexist language and makes no effort to hide the high levels of objectification being used to appeal to a straight male audience. In the first ten seconds of the video the viewer is presented with the words, “Imagine a woman of you dreams, your object of desire.” The first words of this video flat out refer to women as an object of desire. The hook of this campaign’s video starts off strong with these words, which are accompanied by a sketch of the behind of a naked woman. The first couple seconds presents us with the reality that referring to women as an object in a patriarchal society can be done in such a casual manner without any pressure on the speaker to defend such a statement.  Even more so, this statement is intended to drive profit.

This campaign is not unusual in that sexualized women’s bodies are used to sell everything, especially consumptive products. The term consumptive product here is used in the literal meaning of “things that can be ingested into the body”. It is not new information that these sexualized tactics are used to sell an array of animal products such as hamburgers and steaks in commercials and other forms of media. Although, this campaign takes it even farther by creating a product that literally allows men to drink particular female bodies. This is the actual bottling of vaginal secretions to be sold, so that men can ingest “the essence of femininity and women’s instincts”. Not to mention that there is an intentional use of beer to be the subject of this product, being that beer is a notoriously male-marketed alcoholic beverage.

Pinup woman holding glass of beer

The creators of this project also make sure that they sexualize women, while also shaming them. They explain that the drink does not taste or smell like a vagina. Through doing this it can be understood that women’s bodies are only profitable as long as they are represented in this particular fantasy framework of desire. The natural functions of a vagina are not desirable; in fact, they are something to be disgusted by. Therefore, any arguments that women are being honored in this product should pay attention to this distinction of the smell and taste by the creators while unpacking the true intentions of this product. A true honoring of women would recognize the diversity of women and a true honoring of vaginas would entail an honest representation of the functions of a vagina, beyond a representation deeply entrenched in sexualization and commodification.

Even more so, the language used to describe what a consumer will supposedly get from this beer provides an overbearing amount of gender norms. The video describes flavoring the beer with female essence, femininity, and instincts. The use of these terms reduces women to the idea that they inherently encapsulate these terms (so inherently that the origins can be traced, extracted, and sold). This ignores the fact that gender is a social construction; the biological female essence or instinct does not exist. Furthermore, as stated before, not everyone with a vagina is a woman and to have such a strong link in this product between these two words is harmful towards those who are transgender. Of the terms used to describe the ingredients of this beverage, the term femininity is particularly oppressive. This term is rooted in a burden on everyone who appears to be a woman to interact with the world in a particular way, regardless of whether they identify as women or their actual personalities. This way of characterizing women is not inherent or natural; it is a way in which society restricts women. One cannot scientifically bottle up femininity or women’s instincts in a bottle, but you sure can put your sexist social constructions into a bottle and start a crowdfunding campaign!

This project further frames the need for an intersection between animal rights and feminism. In this example it is clear that the female human-animal body has been reduced to an object to be ingested into the bodies of others for pleasure. This has been a constant in plight of non-human farm animals. In both cases there is a sense of entitlement of those in a position of power towards the bodies of these persons and what these bodies produce are subject to commodification. The reduction of a person to a product that is purchased and enjoyed so fleetingly is a reflection of the level of worth that person is assumed to have in society. Here specieism and feminism intertwine in the need to recognize that the bodies of persons are not to be objectified and commercialized, but to be respected as individuals with autonomy. The only way this can be achieved is through recognizing that the oppression of marginalized groups is not mutually exclusive, but that they are intertwined and reproduce each other.

 


AlexusAlexus is an animal rights activist, who is in a constant state of trying to unlearn indoctrinated forms of injustice. She spends the majority of her days reading to get her degree in Environmental Policy, she is also a writer for the EPIB Trail (an environmental justice newsletter), and on the weekends she waitresses at a vegan café.

Animal Victimization in the Service of Male Vengeance

Consider the following story line:
1. Woman is assaulted/raped/kidnapped/murdered.
2. Man goes on rampage in revenge.

How many movies (and television shows, video games, comics, etc.) can you think of that follow this plot? Bravehart? Taken? Just about every video game ever created? The victimization of women is an extremely over-used plot device meant to allow for rampant, unabashed violence from leading male-identified characters.

Taken Vegan Neeson

Feminists have taken issue with the trope, not simply because it gives a green light to hyper-masculinized violence, but also because of the ways in which women are presented. In seeing women vulnerable, victimized, dependent on men, and rarely actively involved in their own protection or survival, women become objects. Women don’t exist as persons or meaningful characters–they exist solely as an excuse for Liam Neeson to blow up half of Europe in search of his daughter, or for Mel Gibson to disembowel and behead half the English army.

Consider the impact this imagery has within a sexist culture. Imagine what it is like to be a woman in a media space that is saturated with images of women being hurt. Think about how difficult it can be to watch an action movie or television drama without being subjected to the obligatory rape scene. Media socializes not only male viewers, but female viewers as well.

Are we being encouraged to empathize with the victim, or are we being encouraged to root for the “good guy”/”hero”?  Are we encouraged to think critically about the systemic violence that the victimization is embedded within? Or are we really just pushed to unload our hatred on one individual “bad guy” and his cronies? When images of violence against the vulnerable are presented as entertainment and cheap plot devices, is this not a form of revictimization?

Lee Hall, a feminist and legal scholar in animal rights, has a chapter in her book On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal Rights Philosophy Down to Earth which questions the use of violent images of Nonhuman Animal suffering in a similar vein. Social movement scholars have pointed to the utility of “morally shocking” imagery as a motivation for becoming an activist, but at what point do graphic images simply begin to reinforce the object-status of Nonhuman Animals as helpless victims? What impact could these millions of images be having on our conceptualization of other animals?

To me, it seems that activists are not only blasting the public with these demeaning images, but they are also sharing them within the activist community as a means of exciting rage and desire for vengeance. Crude images of Nonhuman Animals being kicked, beaten, sexually assaulted, dismembered, etc. are shared among activists with encouragements to “GET ANGRY!” or “DO SOMETHING!”

Ecofeminist Marti Kheel has been writing about this “savior complex” in anti-speciesist spaces for decades. Instead of examining the root cause of exploitation, activists and theorists are looking for a reason to call on their inner Liam Neeson. The vegan feminist perspective, however, sees social change grounded in respect for the exploited and peaceful, non-violent education for the exploiters. Kheel explains:

Whereas nature ethicists have tended to concentrate on “rescuing” the”damsel in distress,” ecofeminists have been more likely to ask how and why the “damsel” arrived at her present plight. [ . . . ]

The natural world will be “saved” not by the sword of ethical theory, but rather through a transformed consciousness toward all of life.

“From Heroic to Holistic Ethics,” Ecofeminism,1993, p.243-4

My concern is that “victims in pictures” simply become revictimized when their experiences are shared in a matter that does not necessarily respect their personhood. In doing so, they simply become objects in the story line of activism:
1. Nonhuman Animal is assaulted/raped/kidnapped/murdered.
2. Human goes on rampage in revenge.

Given that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement already operates according to patriarchal norms and generally celebrates violent direct action, it seems quite fitting that Nonhuman Animals are presented as victims in order to allow men the justification they need to rampage. While violent activism is done in the name of social justice, the “might makes right” logic that supports this approach clearly works within an ideology of patriarchy.

Baby elephant smiles and lifts their trunk upwards towards mother, whose legs and trunk frame the shot

Popular media loves to play this victim card so that audiences can quickly “cut to the chase.” But is it wise to employ the same tactic in social justice efforts?  I think it is fair to say that the norm in other movements is to focus on the personhood of victims and survivors, instead of blasting audiences (and each other) with images of bloodied and mangled corpses or near-corpses. The video capturing the murder of Walter Scott by a police offer has gone viral in the Black Lives Matter movement’s media circles, drawing criticism from some that the revictimization of Black men through imagery mimics the same process found in pornography (an argument I have also made regarding the use of rape memes in the Nonhuman Animal rights media):

Yes, we should celebrate that even though an unarmed black man was killed, his killing was caught on film, so there’s a better shot at justice and closure. But I’m trying desperately to make sense of why watching and sharing the video that tore his mother’s heart to pieces is as normal as making your latest Instagram post. So far I’m landing at this: In a world where we are inundated with explicit content, watching black men die on camera provides a thrill that America thought she lost when popular lynchings ended with no need for a “mature audiences only” disclaimer. [ . . . ]

The black man’s death is repeated, reproduced, shared, and celebrated in a macabre way specific to the snuff genre. These films and activities have always existed, but in the past people didn’t consume them so publicly, or so proudly outside of public executions and lynchings.

Perhaps the Nonhuman Animal rights movement should take note. Instead of revictimizing Nonhuman Animals, let’s present them as persons. Let the Nonhuman Animals take center stage, not their human avengers. This is a movement that seeks to restore dignity to Nonhuman Animals. Reproducing victimization through movement media might not be sending the right message.

 

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

Ms. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and council member of the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association.