What is Heganism?

Actor Joaquin Phoenix poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills. He has a huge beard and is looking very scruffy.

Vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix

Heganism. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s veganism…for men. “Heganism” generally refers to the rebranding of traditional vegan concepts or products to be suitable for male consumption.

But why?

The vegan movement is crowded with 101 different variations of veganism, all with one intention: sales and fundraising. It’s non-profit marketers asking the team, “How can we make our own stamp on this trend? How can we stand out against the rest? How do we make them buy here and not somewhere else?”

Gender distinction generally serves capitalist interests, and it does so by maintaining difference and inequality. Gendering products mean that households need to buy more than one product that might otherwise be shared (and women’s products often cost more). The blue, industrial one for him; the pink, flowery (and more expensive) one for her.

Gendering can also open up products to a larger market. The feminine stigma must be removed so that men can feel comfortable consuming them; but the stigma doesn’t disappear, it’s only reinforced. Like the guy-etDr. Pepper 10, and lotion “for men,” gendering veganism works to protect masculinity by otherizing that which is feminine.

What’s wrong with dieting, drinking diet soda, using body lotion, or eating vegan? It’s what women stereotypically do, and women are one of the most detested and devalued groups in society. In order for men to participate, the stigma must be removed by creating a “masculine” alternative.

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

Introducing more men to veganism is important for the health of the vegan movement and for the health of boys and men (most of whom do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and veg). But male inclusivity should not come at the cost of women’s rights. Photo credit: The Advertiser.

Masculinity is defined largely in what it is not–and it is not feminine.  This works much in the same way as speciesism: we define humanity in being not animal, and therefore humanity is superior by comparison.  This is also thought to be one of the root causes of heterosexism: masculinity is defined by ostracizing that which is feminine. In other words, differentiating persons into groups and then placing them on a hierarchy to support these differentiations feeds structural discrimination.

Distinction greases the wheels of oppression.

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

In my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, I explore the theme of feminist repackaging in vegan spaces. Because veganism is so feminized, it is deemed a threat to patriarchy and it is often dismissed. One reaction that organizations take is to actually buy into the language of patriarchy in order to “sell” veganism.

So, instead of remaining firm in radical feminist opposition to patriarchal oppression, vegans sometimes repackage veganism as “sexy” and present women as consumable objects for male consumption. PETA is probably the most notable organization in this regard, but its dominant position in the movement means that is is influencing a norm of pornographic protest. Vegan women are no longer changemakers, they’re just another “exotic” taste served up on the patriarchal platter. Take this Tumbler “heganism” gallery as one very literal example (warning, contains pornography).

There is a real danger in aggravating sexist attitudes about Nonhuman Animal rights activism.  “Heganism” is unnecessary and offensive. Is a feminized vegan space so repugnant that men need to spin off into a separate space in order to participate? If so, we need to back up and reevaluate our approach. So long as the movement supports the hating of women, it can’t reasonably expect its audience to stop hating other animals.

Heganism is a tactic that undermines itself. If activists inadvertently support the notion that veganism is “just for women” and that men will be stigmatized if they participate in “regular” veganism without the masculinity facade to protect them, this is doing the movement a disservice. Instead of pandering to patriarchy and capitalism to be heard, activists could instead incorporate a feminist approach to anti-speciesism. In this way, all interests are considered, and one group will not be demeaned for the hoped benefit of another.

Capitalists will inevitably argue that gendering veganism is simply catering to the market, but they are actually creating a market with approaches of this kind (LEGO makes the same disingenuous claim about its gendered products). A market built on oppression, one that functions to divide groups along lines of power and powerlessness, will not be a space that is conducive to liberation.


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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Should We Retire “Mother Earth”?

Image of a celestial mother earth holding planet earth in space.

By Eve Wetlaufer

We have all heard the ubiquitous term “Mother Earth,” and often in reference to treating the environment with more care. While the term might seem innocent, does anthropomorphizing the Earth actually help or hurt the environment? What about when the gender is female? What about when the female is a mother? What does the feminization of the Earth do for the feminist movement? I will first look at the ways in which giving the Earth a gendered role as our “collective Mother” is harmful, and then the ways in which it is beneficial. This is a topic that, for me, raises many more questions then it answers, but that is quite all right. As long as we continue to use this term, it is important to discuss the implications.

In the English language, nature and natural forces (hurricanes, tornadoes), many animals (cats, deer, rabbits), and, in general, whatever cannot be controlled take the feminine pronoun; when applied to nature, “she” still carries the connotations of femininity. ‘We should check carefully whether we really want to view our relationship with the Earth through genderdized lenses,’ warns Yaakov Garb. ‘What baggage will carry over from one domain to another (especially in a culture whose relation to both women and mothers is as misogynous as ours is)?’

– Greta Gaard, Ecofeminism, p.303

Femininity as well as motherhood carry many, often-stereotypical connotations in the world we live in today. When the Earth is given both a gender and a familial role, those connotations carry over. Gaard goes on to say that when the Earth is seen as female, she becomes associated with some of the cliché female attributes projected on to her such as the “damsel in distress,” “out of control,” and the sexualized female who can be a virgin, pillaged, and raped. In the later example, and issue Gaard points out is that the one who does the raping is culture, thus “culture is masculinized, and the human-nature relationship becomes one of compulsory heterosexuality” (104).

The second layer of the Earth’s given femininity is that she is a mother. The mother role takes on a whole other array of linked attributes such as nourishing, caring, supportive, and forgiving, and then on the flip side, stern, punishing, and spiteful. Mother Earth is often (subconsciously, even) seen as the female counterpart to “Father God,” who is most always male in the three major monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. God is commonly understood to rule over (Mother) Earth, he created the Her (i.e. Psalm 24:1 states, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it,) and in contemporary commentary, God is often portrayed as working through the Earth with natural disasters, weather patterns, and the like. God and Mother Earth are commonly seen as separate from one another, but they are also in a hierarchical and heterosexual relationship of control.

A serene forest with a large tree canopy blotting out the sun

The many different characteristics associated with a female and mother Earth can be harmful not only to the Earth itself, but the humans living on it. For example, Simona Sacchi, Paolo Riva, and Marco Brambilla begin to answer the question of how anthropomorphizing the Earth helps or hurts it, especially when wearing the “wise mother” hat in their 2013 study, When Mother Earth Rises Up. They conducted two studies that tested whether or not a group of people would feel more or less inclined to help victims of a natural disaster when the Earth was anthropomorphized. They found that “humanizing nature undermines the tendency to support victims of natural disasters.” While hypothetically it could actually help people cope with natural disasters because the natural force that caused it is rational and therefore must have had a deliberate reason, that is, in fact, the exact reason people were less likely to help victims. If Mother Earth deliberately caused this natural disaster to destroy a group of people, she must have had a reason, the thinking goes, according to the study. The Earth is simply acting as the “wise and all-knowing” mother role attributed to her.

Mother Earth Painting

Another example of a Mother Earth characteristic that works against it is the “always-loving” and “ever-replenishing” role. It is said that you can treat those who love you the most, the worst, because you know they will forgive you. Time and again, we see how mothers of convicted killers, for instance, still deeply love their children. Unconditional love is something a parent often has for their children, and that dynamic carries over to the way humans can be careless in their treatment of the Earth. These individuals separate themselves so deeply from the Earth that they view environmental degradation as an outside problem, one that She can deal with, especially because She is a mother figure, who is often seen as a fountain of replenishing love, wisdom and forgiveness.

A final critique of the term “Mother Earth” is that it is typically linked with whiteness. Although artistic depictions of Mother Earth often show her with green skin, the Earth-loving, granola-eating, White people have appropriated sustainability and care for the Earth as their movement. Lolaboloca writes about this issue in her article Reclaiming Abuelita Knowledge As A Brown Ecofeminista. She writes:

The thing is, I DO care about the environment but I cannot stand it when white people pretend they are all connected to the earth and refuse to understand that many of us — Migrant Brown People — come from backgrounds where “environmentalism” is not talked about because we grow up doing unintentional “green” things.

She gives the example of reusable pads during menstruation. Associating Mother Earth singularly with whiteness also discounts many People of Color whose religious and cultural traditions incorporate Earth fundamentally and often in a maternal role, such as many Native Americans tribes, who have long linked the Earth with spirituality and the Mother of all.

An interesting case study regarding these issues can be seen in the current state of the Yamuna River. Snaking down from the Himalayas and passing through Delhi, the Yamuna River spans 853-miles through India. With the rapid industrialization and increasing population of Delhi, and India as a country, the Yamuna has become neighbor to many manufacturing plants that directly dump their waste into the river, while 60 million people rely on the Yamuna for drinking and bathing water. Although there have been protests and a movement to protect the river, in some areas it is a thick, black stream of sewage. For many Hindus, the Yamuna River is much more than just a holy river; it is quite literally the Goddess who is giver of life and a lover of Krishna. Many devotees perform rituals at the river, in which they bathe and then drink it ceremoniously.

Devotees wade in the Yamuna River, which froths heavily with pollution and is littered with trash

In David Haberman’s ethnography, River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India, he describes how the belief in the Yamuna as a Goddess can actually cause a lack of environmental action for some people who believe Her to physically and spiritually wash away all sins, including the material waste. If She makes all unclean clean, then the pollution is inconsequential, and even offensive to some to discuss the current state of the river. Others feel the river’s condition can harm the living creatures in Her, but not the Goddess herself. And lastly, there is a group of Hindus who believe She (the river) is a victim and must be protected. This group has been a part of the protests and show us that personification of nature can in some cases be a motivator for action to create a more healthy Earth.

Before I explore the benefits of calling the Earth our mother, it’s important to take a step back and ask: Is anthropomorphism always bad? I don’t think so; in fact it seems to be a natural tendency for humans. We often relate the knowable (human) to the unknowable (non-human) in order to better understand. This is why we narrate what our companion animals are thinking, yell at technology when it isn’t working properly, and exclaim how wonderful the birds sound when they “sing.” In the same way, referring to the Earth as our mother allows us to frame the complexity and unspeakable mystery of the universe into terms we can easily relate to. This bridge has the budding opportunity to lead to empathy and compassion.

The Earth is a living, conscious being and the personification of it can help people to see that. This is one reason why James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory was so influential for the scientific community and beyond. In the late 1960’s Lovelock developed the Gaia Theory, which stated the organic and inorganic elements of the Earth have developed together as a single, self-regulating, living system. This allowed people to connect the Earth to any living organism, such as the human body. It also showed how humans as a species are dramatically effecting the harmony of the Earth, but how we also have the potential to live in accordance with the Earth’s equilibrium because we are a naturally occurring part of it. The theory is named after Gaia, Earth Goddess, whom in Greek mythology is said to have given birth to the universe.

"The Gaia Hypothesis: The earth is more than just a home. It's a living system and we are a part of it."

With all the problems discussed in calling and experiencing the Earth our Mother, it has shown to also be a pragmatic tool to help the environment. There are countless nature-based schools, gardening and conscious living publications, vegan cafes, cruelty-free beauty brands, health food stores, and more all using the name “Mother Earth,” “Mother Nature,” or “Gaia,” which draw people closer to nature-based living.

But perhaps the greatest benefit from identifying the Earth as our mother is something that goes much deeper into our core understanding of our place in the world. When we identify the Earth as our Mother, there is a greater likelihood that we will create a connection that allows people to empathize with the Earth and her suffering, as they would with a member of their family. Viewing the Earth as a member of one’s family is a profound shift from the mainstream understanding of our relationship to the environment, and even different than the mainstream environmental thought. If the Earth is a part of our family, or better yet, we are a part of it and all that lives and grows upon it, how could we ever bring ourselves to harm it? To harm her is to harm ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh elaborates on shedding the common dualistic mindset when it comes to our perception of the Earth and ourselves in his book Love Letter to the Earth. Just as we are made up of our biological parents, we are also made up of the Earth:

We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth. The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.

He goes on to say that by realizing our interconnection with the Earth, and understanding it to be our Mother, we are bound to change the way we act for the better.

We too can see that the Earth is a living being and not an inanimate object. She is not inert matter. We often call our planet Mother Earth. Seeing the Earth as our mother helps us to realize her true nature. The Earth is not a person, yet she is indeed a mother who has given birth to millions of different species, including the human species.

But don’t think that Mother Earth is outside of you. Looking deeply you can find Mother Earth within you, just as your biological mother who gave birth to you is also within you. She is in each of your cells.

If we need to turn to anthropomorphic terms to feel this connection and subsequent care for the Earth, is that worth the baggage that comes along with feminizing and giving the Earth the role of our collective mother? Ideally, we would simply be at peace with the Earth as it is; with utter awe, reverence, and respect for its intrinsic value. Ideally, we would break free of the desire to relate everything back to human terms, as if the very essence of our species is the central tenet of what all else needs to be compared to. But we do not live in an ideal world. So I believe that in order to get one step closer to it, we can call, and more importantly feel, the Earth to be our Mother. Moving towards a more inclusive sense of family; towards an interconnected relationship with our human and non-human brothers and sisters, and with our Mother Earth.


Conniff, Richard. “The Yamuna River: India’s Dying Goddess.” Environment: YALE Magazine. : The Journal of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Spring 2011. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Gaard, Greta Claire. Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993. 303-04. Print.

Haberman, David L. River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India. Berkeley, CA: U of California, 2006. Print.

Hạnh, Thich Nhất. Love Letter to The Earth. Berkley: Parallax, 2013. Print.

Lalobaloca. “Reclaiming Abuelita Knowledge As A Brown Ecofeminista | Autostraddle.” Autostraddle. N.p., 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Sacchi, Simona, Paolo Riva, and Marco Brambilla. “When Mother Earth Rises Up: Anthropomorphizing Nature Reduces Support for Natural Disaster Victims.” Social Psychology 44.4 (2013): 271-77. American Psychological Association. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.

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.


Veganismo y Políticas de Género


Translation by Mariángel Villalobos. You can follow her on Twitter @mvillabe. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

Por Corey Lee Wrenn

Un lector, Alexander Lawrie me envió esta historia y pensé que sería un ejemplo excelente de la supremacía masculina y la vigilancia de género como una barrera en contra del avance de los intereses de las mujeres y otros animales. Un periódico Escocés reportó que los empleados de un restaurante se burlaron de una mujer la cual solicitó que un artículo del menú se hiciera vegano. Su recibo leía: “Vegan Vegan Vegan Pussy”. El restaurante añadió sal a la herida cuando se burlaron de la mujer en su página de Facebook.

¡Pero no termina ahí! El periódico que cubría la historia encontró la página de Facebook de la mujer e imprimió su foto de perfil junto con su nombre completo y lugar de empleo. El acoso adicional que siguió fue lo suficientemente severo para que el periódico moderara los comentarios y eliminara su foto.

Todo el incidente apesta a misoginia. Si la víctima hubiese sido hombre, esperaría que la reacción hubiese sido similar, aunque probablemente con la adición de la homofobia. Bajo el patriarcado, el dominio sobre otros y del consumo de la carne es altamente masculinizado. El veganismo ha sido feminizado no solo porque es más común que los veganos sean mujeres, sino también porque el veganismo representa los intereses de quienes son subyugados a la opresión masculina. El veganismo lucha contra el patriarcado.

No deberíamos de estar sorprendidos de que una compañía que saca provecho de la explotación de los Animales No Humanos use un insulto especista y sexista para desestimar a la mujer, ni deberíamos estar sorprendidos de que los medios de comunicación (que por lo general existen para proteger y reproducir los intereses de la élite) solo hagan las cosas peores. ¿Pero por qué la mesera actuó de esta manera?

En “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women in the Rise of Raunch Culture” (Disculpen el título especista), Ariel Levy explica que la popularidad del “post-feminismo” en realidad representa una co-optación de una ideología céntrica en la mujer anti-opresión patriarcal. Las mujeres son puestas a competir entre ellas al rivalizar por la aprobación del hombre. En un mundo donde la masculinidad es igualada con prestigio y poder, es común que las mujeres abandonen su feminidad y recurran a la masculinidad. Denis Kandiyoti (1998) le llama a esto negociación patriarcal. Para hacer frente a un mundo que es hostil hacia todo lo femenino, la mesera estaba cuidando sus intereses al apoyar los valores masculinos y al condenar la cena vegana.

Por supuesto, esto significa que los hombres mismos están bajo una enorme presión de conformarse a estos valores masculinos. Este comercial para el “Carnivore Club” (Club Carnívoro) busca reafirmar el control masculino, la inteligencia masculina, y la superioridad masculina de cara a los valores femeninos invasores.


Este comercial juega con muchos estereotipos del veganismo: Es para mujeres; es castrante, sin sabor, y fastidiosamente saludable. El unirse al Club Carnívoro promete a los hombres proteger su dominio, su control sobre la naturaleza y hasta su virilidad (aunque consumir productos de Animales no Humanos es vinculado a una letanía de enfermedades que amenazan a la vida, incluyendo problemas cardiovasculares y diabetes, que son unas de las causas principales de la disfunción eréctil).

Carnivore Club Advert

Formular este producto como un “club” es intencional. Los anunciantes esperan usar la masculinidad como un espacio exclusivo para miembros, que están al día. Como los CEOs de Fortune 500, los cuerpos legislativos, los ejecutivos de los medios de comunicación, y otros espacios exclusivos de chicos y su privilegio masculino, el “Carnivore Club” invita a los hombres a que se unan al rango de la élite masculina en su dominio sobre los vulnerables. Verdaderamente, uno no puede siquiera tener acceso a su sitio web sin iniciar sesión como un miembro. Nota también el cuento de la “esposa boba y despistada” tan común utilizado en comerciales, programas y filmes. Las mujeres son demasiado incompetentes para darse cuenta de lo que hacen sus compañeros masculinos de mentalidad superior.

Esto es una masculinidad tóxica. No solo los hombres son motivados a dar rienda suelta a comportamientos nutricionales que les causa enfermedad y muerte, pero las mujeres son también motivadas a que rechacen el veganismo al planear su supervivencia en un patriarcado anti-feminista. Y no nos olvidemos, los más grandes perdedores son los Animales No Humanos cuya opresión es vista como natural y sus defensores son burlados, acosados y silenciados.


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. 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 (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).


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.


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 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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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.


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


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