Fedoras for Animal Rights

Several animals standing in the background; fedora in foreground, reads, "Fedoras for Animal Rights"

Why fedoras? See bottom of essay.

Dear readers,

Are you tired of endless microaggressions and intentional ignorance disrupting your activism? Totally over the overt racism and sexism levied at you by privileged persons determined to ruin your day? Got a racial tension headache?

Annoyed at the time wasted every day bouncing off derailing comments when you could be advocating for social justice? Yuck. I know I am.

Of course, activists are well aware of the tough resistance inherent to social justice work. Social change is hard. People don’t want to give up their privilege.

But feminists are also aware of a particularly insidious aspect of this work: the frustration, stress, and energy expended in grappling with disingenuous persons who want nothing more than to cause us pain and to block social progress. You know, the doxxers, the cyber-stalkers, the “all lives matter” espousers, the “not all men” proclaimers, and the “reverse racism/sexism” wannabe philosophers. It’s the trolling, the mocking, and the jabs at underprivileged people made by privileged people. It’s the revelry in bigotry.

Certainly, we do not live in a post-racial/post-feminist world, and these attitudes and behaviors are still commonplace in our society. However, it is especially disheartening when they characterize social movements. It’s also especially crushing when it takes place online, where there is little recourse for those targeted. In fact, this kind of behavior especially flourishes in online spaces (male-created and male-dominated) where marginalized persons network and advocate at low cost (which is crucial for us, as poverty targets women and people of color).

Brown fedora hat

Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and other oppressions that seem to proliferate and flourish online can leave activists feeling frustrated, sidetracked, and ineffective. And that’s the point. Countermovements and bigots are successful when they keep activists from doing their important work.

Just how to handle this conundrum has been heavily debated. Some advocate ignoring it, while others advocate spiritual recentering and understanding. Some prefer to tackle it head on by publicly shaming and outing abusers to demand accountability. Whatever works for you, it is still important to acknowledge that the negative impact that systemic oppression has on marginalized activists is real. It hurts.

It also hinders.

My wise friend Aph Ko once explained to me that we all know how to break things down and criticize what is wrong in the world, but we don’t seem to be as skilled in building things back up. We don’t nurture our imagination for reconstruction enough. Instead of incessantly focusing on the negative, how can we start to create the positive world we want to inhabit? Can we start to tune out the bad with stronger, clearer, more radiant messages of social justice and equality?

And so, my dear vegfems, this is my resolution to share with you. Every time someone with ill-intentions seeks to bring you down, slur you, scare you, silence you, try this:

Do something positive for Nonhuman Animal liberation (or Black liberation, or trans liberation, or women’s liberation, et cetera).

Take the ugliness you have been served and use it to fuel your actions in the service of good.
Straw fedora hat

Can you do that? Try it. It doesn’t have to be major. If someone tells you that Black Lives Matter is narcissistic, bring some food to a feral cat colony in your area. If someone calls you a cunt, send an email to a feminist friend and offer some support and tend to the friendship. Shamed for promoting anti-reformist approaches to animal rights? Go post some leaflets in your community. Received a microaggression on Facebook? Give your dog a nice brushing, or treat your cat to some playtime. You get the idea.

Take that negative energy and flip it. When life gives you fedoras, make social justice.

Keep putting the good out there. It won’t stop the hate, and it won’t stop the violence. But it can help you to cope in a constructive way, and it will move us closer to our goal of peace.

So let’s give it a go, okay?

And let us know how it turned out! Please stop by Vegan Feminist Network on Facebook and share your stories, or email them to us! Check out WhyVeganism.com for more ideas.

 

In love and solidarity,
Vegan Feminist Network
Heart

Why Fedoras? In modern feminist spaces, fedoras have come to symbolize fraudulent “Men’s Rights Activism,” or feminist countermovement activity.

Practicing Healing and Self-Care

We Are Not Advocacy Robots

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

Woman in golden field and white dress holding heart shaped pink balloons

At the 2015 Sistah Vegan conference, Dr. Breeze Harper featured an amazing talk on self-care by Jessica Rowshandel, LMSW (the conference recordings are available for purchase on Dr. Harper’s website). What I enjoyed about the talk was that it offered a few clear suggestions (most notably, the importance of friendship and community), but it was also realistic about the barriers many social justice activists face in practicing self-care.  Self-care really can be a luxury for some, and sometimes, we just can’t afford to engage it (financially, time-wise, ability-wise, etc.).

Sometimes it’s more than physical or material barriers that prevent us from prioritizing the self. Sometimes, it can be a matter of female identity or our current position in the activist journey. Women are socialized to be givers, to be selfless, to expect abusive behavior, and to be objects for the resources of others. This feminine identity, then, can really get us into some tough spots in our activism, especially when the activist space is patriarchal, as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is.

But also, the typical activist, I think, experiences an identifiable growth cycle. We learn about injustice, we get angry, and we stay in a rage. We get involved in the movement, we build connections with others, and we learn that social movements are highly contentious spaces with lots and lots of in-fighting and abusive behavior (particularly by men). We rage some more. And then, as the years pass, either we drop out or we start to adopt a sort of activist wisdom. We learn that the schisms and abuse are normal parts of collective behavior, just as they are normal parts of the outside world we wish to change. That doesn’t make it okay, it simply means that we need to prepare for this inevitability. Women and especially empathetic people are going to very sensitive to this constant negativity (and these are the very types of people attracted to the movement). At some point, we have to make changes in how we choose to expend our energy in order for our activism to be sustainable and in order to remain healthy.

For those of you who have pre-existing issues with depression, anxiety, and abuse (if you are female-identified, statistically, this probably includes you, my dear reader), the added stress and vulnerability created by our activism can really become a huge burden. There are a lot of things in this world that we cannot control, but activism is one thing that we can. And while many of us do not want to cut out activism from our life (especially because it can be extremely rewarding to give back through pro-social behavior and because our activist networks can be a positive addition to our lives), we need to recognize that there must be boundaries.

Woman at her desk raising a hammer to her laptop

Photo from The Frisky

Finding boundaries and having the mental strength to reinforce those boundaries is something that I’ve really been working with. I have to stay out of vegan groups, because I know that internet spaces invite vitriol and aggressive behavior. I have to disable comments on my blogs, because, again, the anonymity of the internet and my female identity makes my online activity a beacon for vitriol and aggressive behavior. I have to reevaluate how I will spend my time blogging: will I use the space to vent my frustration on yet another abusive person or corrupt organization? Sometimes that is necessary. But it’s also important to start engaging positive contributions.

As the summer begins to settle in this year, I’m finding myself emerging from a very gloomy winter and spring, wondering what I can do to heal from these past few months. I’m trying to find my grounding after the death of my best friend, the death of my dog, the brutal academic job market, the poverty of graduate school, revising my book, finishing my dissertation, being apart from my partner for many months, a very toxic family situation, and waves of harassment from anti-feminists, neo-nazis, and sexist or racist vegans. I mean, woah. That’s enough to bring anyone down. It’s time to come up for air. With so little out of my hands, it is prudent to ask myself: what exactly can I control?

It’s really important for us to recognize that we are humans. We are not advocacy robots: we have feelings and weaknesses. We get run down, we get tired, we get our feelings hurt, and we find it hard to trust.  Doing what we do is hard work. Let’s be honest about the reality of activism. It’s totally okay to acknowledge that sometimes it becomes too much to take.

My plan for Vegan Feminist Network this upcoming summer is a little bit in the air. I’m spending the next three months in Ireland with my partner, and I hope to stay off the internet as much as possible. I want to reconnect with him, cook healthy vegan food, squeeze in some hiking and a 5k, explore the pubs, and just allow myself to live (though I couldn’t help but pack some vegan leaflets!). Again, self-care can often be expensive. I have the privilege of taking the summer off because I am an online instructor, and we were fortunate enough to “afford” (i.e. go broke on purchasing) an expensive plane ticket (which is several months salary for many graduate students like myself). Some people might have financial security, but no loved ones to spend time with. Some people have families depending on them, and time is just not available. I know everyone has barriers, but we need to do what we can with what little we have to nourish our mental health.

African American woman of size Jessamyn Stanley demonstrates a complex yoga stretch.

Jessamyn Stanley; Photo from Jessamynstanley.com

I have discovered that yoga is one of those concrete ways that we can actually do something to repair ourselves from the damages of patriarchy and toxic activism. And it’s inclusive. There are variations of yoga for all body types and ranges of ability. In activist spaces, so often we focus on the mental emancipation through critical theory, learning, reading, and studying. Yoga is the other half of that–it helps us regain awareness and control over our bodies. Much like veganism, yoga is feminist praxis. For someone like me that has suffered with anxiety for my entire life, I have found that it is an amazing reward to my battered self to just take some time on the mat to stretch and breathe.

And you don’t need any expensive equipment–just comfy clothes and bare feet. I finally splurged on a mat, but it’s not necessary for yoga, just a nicety. For those who cannot afford yoga classes (like me!) or who are geographically isolated (like me!), yoga is freely available online (and allows you to practice from the peace and privacy of your own home). I have found Yoga with Adriene to be an amazing gift. Particularly helpful is her 23 minute “Yoga for a Broken Heart,” which is a gentle, beginner’s level session that will relax and soothe. See also the Instagram and Tumbler of Jessamyn Stanley, who combats the white- and thin-centricism of yoga practice in the West with body-positive curvy yoga. Or, Chelsea Jackson, who integrates critical thinking in her yoga practice for Black-identified persons facing trauma. “I see yoga as a tool to dismantle structural oppression,” she says. “It can help us interrogate systems that are constantly putting us in boxes or marginalizing us.”

Chelsea Jackson; Photo from Yoga Journal

Chelsea Jackson; Photo from Yoga Journal

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have a companion animal in your family, give them a snuggle. Research shows that interacting with them can lower blood pressure and ease anxiety.

A golden lab puppy and a chocolate lab puppy facing the camera and leaning on one another

If all else fails…flip to a random page and prepare as directed (with appropriate modifications for my gluten-intolerant and diabetic friends!). I have heard many say that cooking and baking is a calming experience. And cupcakes are happiness, no doubt about it.

Cover for "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" cookbook

I agree with Jessica Rowshandel in the acknowledgement that self-care will differ for every individual, and sometimes it’s hard for us to really take it seriously and work it into our schedule. Most of us lack the space, money, freedom, or motivation necessary to take time for ourselves. I don’t have all the answers, but I do want to start a dialogue. Some of you reading this might be new on your activist journey and just want to saturate yourself in negativity and fight through it all, but I have a feeling you will reach a point where you must acknowledge that boundaries are necessary. When you reach that point, I hope your remember this post and revisit it. I may revisit this post as well, as I may have new ideas or experiences to share. In the meantime, you may want to take a peek at this step-by-step self-care guide presented by one of my favorite Black feminist blogs, For Harriet.

Take care and be well my friends.

 

 

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.