Chère Nouvelle Vegane

Translation by Christophe Hendrickx. See more French translations of critical vegan essays by grassroots activists by visiting his blog, La Pilule Rouge. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexisme et violence sexuelle

Two young thin white PETA volunteers pose naked on a street corner with their bodies marked like meat cuts holding a PETA sign that asks viewers to go vegan
Chère Nouvelle Végane,

Prépare-toi, car un parcours mouvementé t’attend. Devenir vegane est, au début, une expérience très frustrante et traumatisante. Tu devras apprendre à manger autrement, ce que tu peux acheter ou non, comment gérer tes amis et ta famille, et comment gérer les sentiments intenses de colère et de tristesse qui viennent lorsque l’on ouvre son esprit et son cœur à la souffrance des autres. Rien de tout cela ne sera facile, mais, je te prie de ne pas abandonner, car cela deviendra vraiment plus facile au fur et à mesure de ton parcours. Cela deviendra normal et habituel avant que tu ne le réalises, je le promets.

Tu te tourneras probablement vers la communauté vegane pour t’aider lors de cette transition. Tu te feras beaucoup d’amis formidables et tu apprendras beaucoup des autres. Tu ressentiras un grand sentiment de paix en sachant que tu n’es pas seule et qu’il existe d’autres personnes qui sont aussi passionnées que toi pour changer le monde.

Par la suite, cependant, tu pourrais commencer à réaliser qu’être vegane est une chose, mais qu’être vegane et s’identifier1 comme une femme est tout autre chose. Si tu es en couple, tu pourrais t’apercevoir que ton/ta partenaire est hostile par rapport à ton choix. Surtout si ton partenaire s’identifie comme un homme, ta présence vegane pourrait présenter une remise en question de son autorité masculine. Il pourrait insister sur le fait que tu ne pourras jamais le changer (même si tu n’as jamais mentionné quoi que ce soit à ce sujet !). Il pourrait insister à ce que tu prépares des plats non-vegans, ou que tu l’accompagnes dans des restaurants non-vegans. En tant que femme, tu pourrais ressentir une pression importante à concéder cela. On apprend très tôt aux femmes que les intérêts des hommes passent en premier. C’est nul, mais c’est comme ça. Ne te sens pas mal si c’est le cas.

Woman looking outraged as her male partner scoffs down a burger

Si tu t’identifies en tant que femme, tu pourrais réaliser que tes amis s’identifiant comme des hommes sont également rebutés par ton véganisme. Par exemple, un post Facebook bien intentionné qui rappelle à tes lecteurs que les animaux non-humains comptent aussi, pourrait ennuyer des hommes qui sont prompts à répondre par des commentaires te décrivant comme quelqu’un de a) trop sentimentale ; b) grande gueule ; ou c) « folle ». La sensiblerie, le franc-parler, et la maladie mentale sont toutes des caractéristiques hautement sexuées. Les femmes sont vite rejetées comme étant soit trop féminines, soit pas assez féminines. Pendant des siècles, nous les femmes avons été stéréotypées comme étant « hystériques » et de là institutionnalisées pour nous contrôler et nous faire taire. Tu te trouveras souvent entre le marteau et l’enclume : ne sois pas trop sentimentale, mais, en même temps, surveille ton ton et ne sois pas trop agressive. Tu réaliseras qu’il est quasiment impossible de leur faire plaisir, et je suggère que tu continues simplement à continuer ce que tu faisais.

Male-identified vegan leader gives talk with microphoneMais tes combats en tant que femme végane pourraient ne pas s’arrêter là. Si tu décides qu’être vegane n’est pas assez et que tu veux t’impliquer dans l’activisme, tu feras à nouveau face à plus de violence masculine. L’activisme vegan est dominé par les femmes en termes de nombres, donc tu pourrais t’imaginer que c’est un espace sûr pour toi. De nombreuses manières, ça l’est. Tu trouveras de la solidarité féminine. En revanche, le mouvement vegan est fortement contrôlé par les hommes. Les hommes mènent l’activisme vegan – ils créent la théorie et ils définissent les tactiques qui sont acceptables. Ils occupent majoritairement la scène et leur voix sont les plus fortes.

Ce que cela veut dire c’est que tu ressentiras beaucoup de pression pour aider les autres animaux en ayant un rôle discret en coulisses en soutien de ces hommes. Tu pourrais aussi être encouragée à enlever tes vêtements pour certaines campagnes. Ce ne seront peut-être pas directement les hommes qui te diront de les enlever (les femmes t’encourageront aussi), mais les normes patriarcales du mouvement ont créé un environnement dans lequel on attend tout simplement des femmes qu’elles deviennent des objets sexuels « pour les animaux ». Tu pourrais commencer à penser que se déshabiller pour la cause est « libérateur ». Si tu commences à penser cela, wow, stop. Détrompe-toi. Songe également au fait que seules les femmes minces, blanches, cis sont autorisées à « s’émanciper » pour les autres animaux, et que réveiller les hommes sexuellement n’est pas réveiller les hommes sur le véganisme. Les recherches empiriques indiquent que faciliter l’oppression des femmes ne remet pas en cause l’oppression d’autres animaux.

Tu trouveras également beaucoup d’harcèlement et de violence sexuelle envers les femmes dans le mouvement vegan. Je ne veux pas te faire peur, mais c’est la vérité, et tu devrais être prévenue. C’est quelque chose dont on parle peu, mais c’est plutôt monnaie courante. Si tu es une femme, ne laisse pas cela te dissuader : rappelle-toi simplement que l’engagement pour la justice sociale pour les animaux non-humains ne se traduit pas nécessairement en un engagement pour la justice sociale pour tous. Vraiment, ces hommes qui insistent sur le fait qu’ils se soucient des droits et du bien-être des femmes, des personnes de couleur, et autres groupes humains désavantagés tendent à être tout aussi dangereux que ceux qui ne prennent pas la peine de s’en soucier. Si tu t’identifies comme un homme, je t’implore de travailler pour rendre les espaces militants plus sûrs.

Malheureusement, le travail du changement du monde est le travail des hommes. Si tu t’identifies comme femme, il est probable que tu rencontres de la résistance si tu souhaites participer à la sensibilisation au véganisme de façon plus significative qu’en faisant le café ou en te déshabillant. Cela ne doit pas se passer comme ça. Essaye de ne pas te perdre. Reste forte, prend la parole, et demande à être respectée. Insiste pour que le véganisme soit une expérience positive et ferme. Ne laisse pas les mentalités oppressives de certains t’empêcher de faire le travail important que tu avais prévu. Et messieurs, soyez s’il-vous-plaît solidaires des femmes. Un peu d’aide ne ferait pas de mal.

P.S. Si tu es une femme de couleur, c’est un ensemble supplémentaire de défis. En tant que femme blanche, je ne peux pas parler en profondeur de ces défis, mais je peux te dire que le mouvement vegan peut être un endroit vraiment désagréable par moments. Jette absolument un oeil au Projet Sistah Vegan!

– Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Notes:

1. Cet article parle de l’expérience féminine, qui peut inclure celle des femmes trans, femmes intersexuées, et femmes gender-queers. Il faut prendre en compte le fait que les veganes trans, intersexuées, et gender-queers font face à un nombre supplémentaire de défis dans le mouvement.

This piece was originally submitted to an advocacy anthology designed to introduce new vegans to the movement, but did not make the final cut. For more information on sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, please stay tuned for my forthcoming release, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory to be published by Palgrave Macmillan later this year. Please also see my publication with the Journal of Gender Studies, “The Role of Professionalization Regarding Female Exploitation in the Nonhuman Animal Rights Movement and my essay for The Feminist Wire, “Gender Policing the Vegan Woman.”

 

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.

What Would Donald Watson Do? How This One Question Promotes Sexism

Donald Watson gardening, reads, "What would Donald Watson Do? WWDWD?"

By Dr. C. Michele Martindill

“WHAT WOULD DONALD WATSON DO?” How Does that One Question Promote Sexism and Prevent Inclusiveness in the Vegan Abolitionist Movement?

What sacrilege! How dare any vegan suggest anything negative about the man who coined the term veganism! ::gasp:: Read the title again. Donald Watson is not the problem, nor is his work to end the suffering of animals the issue. The problem is how vegans today invoke Watson’s name and his definition of veganism as a cure-all whenever there is a dispute in the movement, and in so doing fail to use critical and reflexive thinking to understand why the vegan abolitionist movement is floundering.

If someone asks why the vegan movement is almost entirely comprised of women, but the leadership roles are filled by men spewing ideologies born of patriarchy, they are told veganism is only about helping the animals. A question about how a vegan group could have a logo steeped in ageism is met with the observation that we have to keep the focus on the animals and not worry about ageism; besides, the caricature logo of an old man and woman are meant as a joke. When someone asks why Persons of Color are largely absent from the vegan movement, the response is that that they could be vegan if they wanted to, but they choose not to be vegan.

Black and white image of Donald Watson tending to some beanstalks in a garden.

Donald Watson. Image from The Vegan Society

In each instance there is usually a reminder that veganism is only concerned with the animals, and the name of Donald Watson and his definition of veganism are raised to punctuate the end of the conversation. The vegans who see veganism according to this very narrow understanding of veganism might as well be asking What Would Donald Watson Do? (WWDWD?)—a play on the ubiquitous What Would Jesus Do? refrain. In each instance where the movement excludes women, older people, POC, the lower classes or people with disabilities WWDWD? Meanwhile, those from marginalized groups are left to wonder how a white man from an age of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism and imperialism could be the final word on ending oppression and exploitation.

Vegans are for the most part well aware that Donald Watson came up with the term vegan in 1944 as a way of both differentiating his previous commitment to being a vegetarian from his new vision of how humans should relate to their environment, and as a name for his newly founded society of like-minded individuals, the Vegan Society.  Many can recite his definition of veganism from memory:

[…] a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

– The Vegan Society

It was a radical statement for 1944 as well as for vegans today, and Donald Watson was surely a radical in his time. Right?

One current leader in the abolitionist vegan movement contends that Watson’s definition of veganism is meant to inspire vegans to work toward social justice for humans as well as other animals, but he also states that radical veganism died decades ago, replaced by consumerism. This leader questions how vegans can be more concerned with a new brand of chocolate bar suitable for vegans than with the corporatization of the Vegan Society and similar groups, groups that garner large donations to pay high salaried executives. How is it that veganism succumbed to capitalism? Here’s a better question: How radical could Donald Watson or his concept of veganism be when they emerged from a society steeped in white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism and imperialism? Keep in mind that this question is not meant to label Watson, but to help us understand how systemic oppressions affect social action and how the foundation of the social movement leaves it vulnerable. There is no personal attack on Watson in this essay.

Radical is a socially constructed concept, which is to say the definition of radical changes according to the historical and local contexts in which the word appears. Within Donald Watson’s social world of 1944 England it was no doubt radical for him to not eat meat and to further stop using all other forms of animal by-products. Still, much to the frustration of some vegans in 2015 there is no strong statement from Donald Watson that could be applied to other social justice concerns of his era or ours. We can ask WWDWD? with regard to sexism, racism, ableism, classism or ageism, but there are no definitive answers to guide the vegans who campaign for inclusion of marginalized groups in the abolitionist vegan movement today, an effort that recognizes the intersectionality of how people identify with particular groups according to gender, race, physical abilities, social class and age.

We can never know what Watson intended. Knowledge of anyone’s intentions requires the ability to read minds. We only have actions and historical context to analyze. We know that Watson was enabled to form the Vegan Society through his position in a society that respected the work and ideas of white men like Watson; however, he was also constrained in the extent to which he could promote social justice for all marginalized human groups when asking others to consider veganism because calling for an end to the use of animals for human purposes was such a radical request. It required many explanations, and it is not difficult to imagine the near overwhelming backlash he faced from the corporations and politicians that benefitted from the exploitation of animals. Watson was a radical challenging the mainstream belief that other animals were merely objects for humans to use as they pleased—for food, for scientific experiments, for farm work, for clothing, for transportation, and for entertainment. So, we are left with many questions about how the abolitionist vegan movement of today remains predominantly white, still grounded in patriarchy and making a dismal effort at inclusivity.

tiled image of blue male stick figures with one solitary pink female stick figure in the middle

A recent online discussion highlights the difficulty in relying on Watson to be the final arbiter of how the movement can become inclusive. When members of a group were questioned about the sexism in the movement, one man responded that structural or systemic sexism has always been around so there was no reason to worry about it. His concern was that someone in the discussion suggested Donald Watson was not a radical, but a product of a white supremacist society. He wanted to defend a perceived insult toward another white man rather than take seriously the sexism in the movement. Another man jumped in to claim the movement has always had plenty of women prominent in its leadership, and he proceeded to play the counting vaginas1 game by naming all of the famous vegan women. He even pointed out that Watson’s wife was in on the process of creating the word vegan, no doubt at the kitchen table. Others suggested that outside of the United States women lead animal liberation groups and are not all “thinking like men,” thus suggesting that sexism is relative to certain geographic locations and not to be found in the United Kingdom, New Zealand or Australia, for instance. All of these responses miss the main point: it doesn’t matter how many women organize or lead activities in the abolitionist vegan movement as long as we are living in a society dominated by the ideologies, social structures and movement strategies of white men.

At a time when the vegan abolitionist movement most needs to address its lack of inclusiveness, it is mired in defensive posturing and denial. As long as men are quick to claim #notallmen (McKinney, 2014) in their responses to concerns about sexism, we are left to think there are just a few bad individuals and efforts to end systemic sexism are in turn stifled. Corporatism and capitalism thrive in so-called vegan societies and organizations because we don’t acknowledge how the abolitionist vegan movement grew out of the man dominated white supremacy of our social world. Not one of us can escape the influence of these social structures unless we question and challenge their existence. Women are not completely constrained by patriarchal social structures, but they do have to become conscious of how those structures work, how they affect all women and then actively dismantle them to make space for structures that combine equity, compassion and peace.

What about men?

Telling women in the abolitionist vegan movement to quit making trouble by complaining about sexism is a way of defending the power and leadership of the men in the movement. Telling women that there were and are plenty of women in leadership roles or that the movement is primarily made up of women is a smokescreen that diverts attention from how menThought bubble that reads: "...Not All Men" maintain their status and privilege. Telling women to focus only on the animals and to stop making the movement look bad is another way men perpetuate their positions of power. Men might as well be saying they do not want to discuss gender inequalities and prefer to tell women how best to serve the interests of men. Men consistently interrupt women in both online and face-to-face conversations about veganism, aiming a barrage of questions at them, questions that constitute microaggressions against women (Khan, 2015).

Here’s a sampling of such questions:

  • How can you say there is sexism in the movement when Donald Watson’s wife helped with his work? [note: it’s always HIS work, not HER work that is cited]
  • How can you say there is sexism when women of the 1980s organized and carried out liberation activities, and we see women continuing to do the same?
  • How can you say there is sexism when we need to be concerned with spreading veganism, especially since veganism will lead to the end of sexism?
  • How can you say there is sexism when you’re the only one who’s being sexist? You don’t even know the meaning of being sexist. I know sexism and you’re not even close. It’s sexist for you to call me sexist.

AND ONE MORE THING:

Men need to put themselves in the positions of marginalized group members and think about how it sounds when a white man quotes another white man–Donald Watson in this case–when defining veganism. We need to hear the voices of women in the movement. Don’t just quote women to women. Step aside and know women can speak for themselves! Radical.
Works Cited

Khan, A. (2015, January 18). 6 Ways to Respond to Sexist Microaggressions in Everyday Conversations. Retrieved from Everyday Feminism: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/responses-to-sexist-microaggressions/

McKinney, K. (2014, May 15). Here’s why women have turned the “not all men” objection into a meme. Retrieved from Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/5/15/5720332/heres-why-women-have-turned-the-not-all-men-objection-into-a-meme

Notes

1. Meant as a figure of speech; not all women possess vaginas. White men in the movement don’t even realize there are trans or other gender identities. They still see the world in binary form. If they do see multiple genders, it’s still only vaginas they want or count in the movement.

 

Dr. Martindill earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri and taught there in the Sociology Department, the Peace Studies Program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Her areas of emphasis include political sociology, organizations and work, and social inequalities. Dr. Martindill’s dissertation focuses on the no-kill shelter social movement and is based on ethnographical research conducted during several years of working in an animal shelter. She is vegan, a feminist and is currently interested in the stories women tell through their needlework, including crochet, counted cross stitch and quilting. It is important to note that Dr. Martindill consistently uses her academic title in order to inspire women and members of other marginalized groups to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges those dreams may entail, and certainly one of her goals is to see more women in academia.

On the Hegemony of White Male Vegan Voices

Sarah Woodcock

 

If you claim to be against all forms of oppression but find yourself mainly subscribing to, valuing, and sharing the voices of white men when it comes to veganism or really all of life’s topics, you need to think about why. And you need to think about the consequences of that.

 

– Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society

Vegan Feminist Network Interviewed on “Under the Toadstool” Podcast

under_the_toadstool_web

Corey Lee Wrenn, founder of the Vegan Feminist Network, is interviewed on Episode 2 of Sonia Chauhan and Sarah K. Woodcock’s “Under the Toadstool” podcast. In this 40 minute program, the state of sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is explored, with some discussion of how to identify and disrupt it. This program was specifically designed to be introductory and is meant to share with those who are new to topics in intersectionality.

If you found your way to this page after listening to the podcast, welcome! We are so thrilled that you are here and that you care about social justice for everyone! Want to be a better advocate? Start by visiting our “What You Can Do!” page.

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.

Male Privilege, Discussion Derailments, and the Politics of Politeness

dawson-leery-is-crying-male-tears

Yesterday I was in a conversation with a male colleague who supports violence and welfare reform in Nonhuman Animal rights efforts.  As an abolitionist, I reject these tactics as both ideologically flawed and counterproductive.  The violence/non-violence debate and the abolition/welfare debate have long histories in the movement, and debates over effectiveness are never ending.  Because I specialize in social movement theory in my academic life, I have some rather strong positions on these topics.  My colleague, however, is a non-academic and is not versed in the science of social movements, basing his position on the dominant (male-led) discourse of the movement.  As the conversation progressed and I continued to remain strong in my position, my colleague pointed out that he didn’t feel like he could talk to me without eventually being accused of sexism.  This may have been because I was using the language of privilege to discuss the dominance of welfarist organizations in the movement, or it may have been because I noted that violent tactics are patriarchal and tend to attract men.  Whatever the reason, I was being flagged for communicating my position within the framework of inequality.  I certainly never accused him of sexism. However, it soon occurred to me that my colleague was probably not making this claim out of true exasperation, but rather as a manipulative tool intended to derail the discussion and restore male supremacy.

Men tend to be socialized to expect domination in discourse.  They are socialized to believe they are right, that their opinions matter, and that these opinions are the most important.  This is not based on experience or expertise, rather, it is based on their privileged social status as a male.  Women, on the other hand, are socialized according to the politics of politeness.  We are taught to give men more room to talk, to value their opinions no matter how ridiculous or offensive, to soothe their egos, etc.  Decades of sociological research on talk, language, and social space regarding mixed gender interactions has confirmed that men talk more, they take up more space, they dictate the discussion, and their opinions are viewed as more credible and legitimate.  Women, on the other hand, speak less, support more, and take up less space.  Their opinions are also extremely devalued.

When men complain about not being able to say anything without being accused of sexism, what they are really saying is:

1.  I am used to having control over the conversation, your awareness of sexual politics makes it difficult for me to enact this invisible privilege smoothly.

2.  I am used to being able to speak about any topic without my authority being challenged, the possibility of being accused of sexism interferes with my authority.

3.  I am drawing on politics of politeness to shame you into putting my feelings and interests first.

4.  Feminist theory is a charade.  Sexism isn’t real, you’re just using that rhetoric as a way to win the argument.

This tactic is a variation of tone-policing. Rather than engaging the discourse, there is a derailment created by appealing to the bruised male ego, the woman’s character, and the authenticity of feminism.  Women are distracted from expressing their own authority on a subject when men exploit femininity and pressure women into paying deference to the patriarchal social structure.  The validity of my argument goes by the wayside, I have to put his feelings first.  Not putting the feelings of men first is a cardinal sin in the patriarchy.  Being a woman with an educated opinion seems to be a great offense as well.

Finally, it is extremely important to recognize that when we individualize oppression, we obscure its systemic nature.  If we can’t discuss systemic oppression because people of privilege prioritize their discomfort at what appears to be a personal attack, we will not be able to have the important conversations necessary for creating an egalitarian society.  Making it personal (“Hey, I’m not sexist!”; “Hey, are you calling me racist?!”) seriously derails the conversation.  Instead of challenging structural oppression, advocates find themselves tending to the feelings of people of privilege who are used to being shielded from discomfort. It becomes extremely wearisome for oppressed people to continuously pander to the feelings of privileged persons.  Doing so redirects attention from the oppressed to the oppressors.  It also shuts down the dialogue, interferes with critical thinking, and impedes social justice work.


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).