Essay Reading – Tips for Male Allies

With sexism so endemic to social justice spaces, how do men help push back against interpersonal violence and systemic discrimination while also respecting boundaries?

Reading by Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn; music by Lucas Hayes.

This is the first installment of Vegan Feminist Network’s podcast series, making popular essays more accessible through audio recording. You can access the original essay by clicking here.

Archives of this podcast can be found here.

Feminism, Veganism, and Vaginal Beer

Vantage Points

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

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

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

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

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

Pinup woman holding glass of beer

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

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

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

 


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

Vegan Feminist Work Removed from Ecorazzi; Author Ousted

Photo of McGrath, quotes "They want me to shut up, to lay low, to be complacent. That's never going to happen."

It is no accident that mainstream vegan spaces are androcentric, and the contributions of women are so invisibilized. There are a number of disadvantages women face to having their anti-speciesist expertise and experience acknowledged, one of them being the overt exclusion or silencing of women.

In late March, 2016, a young woman writing for Ecorazzi published an essay on vegan feminism, imploring the feminist movement to acknowledge the thriving anti-speciesism intersectionality community we’ve been working so hard to build. The article was written by a feminist for feminists; its intended audience was not the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. It nonetheless solicited the attention of vegan men who, while not a part of the dialogue, insisted on eliminating that which promotes vegan feminists and their achievements (to the effect of recentering men’s achievements). At the request of a high-profile male theorist who has described her writing as “speciesist garbage,” her work was removed.

When Vegan Feminist Network made a public statement on the incident, an Ecorazzi staff member responded:

Ecorazzi statement posted on VFN which claims that the essay was removed at the request of Gary Francione for not being vegan or abolitionist enough

The author’s name is Lauren McGrath, and she’s not about to let this go without a fight. In an interview with Vegan Feminist Network, she explained:

This was a public attempt to embarrass and gut me, by both a tired academic and a writing team who I considered my friends. The best part is that they can’t do that- I’m too determined, I’m too passionate, and I fully intend to make the most of this situation.

So how did this happen? As Ecorazzi explains in the aforementioned comment (which was originally published on Vegan Feminist Network’s Facebook page), Ecorazzi has been shifting to a fully Francionist abolitionist approach in its topic coverage. Importantly, this policy appears to necessitate the exclusion of other writers, some of whose advocacy ethics are nonetheless in considerable alignment with “The Abolitionist Approach.”

An Ecorazzi job posting on Vegan Job Board, for instance, seeks a salaried writer who will demonstrate, “A strong understanding of the principles of The Abolitionist Approach by Gary Francione.” The job description insists, “All editorial content will have a strong focus on animal rights and the Abolitionist approach by Gary Francione.”  Says McGrath, “When I was hired, I didn’t realize how aggressively Ecorazzi was going to push Francione’s work.” And this misunderstanding might be expected given that, “The piece I wrote, that got me ousted, was in fact reviewed by all the Ecorazzi staff with zero disagreement or problems.” In other words, it was not until the unofficial “editor-in-chief,” presumably not on staff with Ecorazzi, decided that the piece was not in line with the principles of “The Abolitionist Approach” that McGrath’s work was erased.

After two or three days of no response to McGrath’s voicemails and emails, it was settled via text message that her employment was no longer needed. She was subsequently locked out of the Ecorazzi webpage.

I'm willing to admit when I feel scared, or upset, or feeling threatened, and I think that makes me strong.

In my opinion, McGrath’s contributions to anti-speciesism advocacy are invaluable. Veganism needs more women like her working to build connections to like-minded movements. Unfortunately, she was punished for doing so. Because her experience with marginalization is so common, it only leads me to conclude that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement as an institution, despite its pretenses, ferociously stigmatizes and derides feminism.

What will become of Lauren McGrath after this? I worry for her. She explains, “I’ve had my income, the very thing that sustains my home, puts food on my table, and pays off my bills, yanked out from under me, and that sucks. That’s really, really hard right now, and I’m doing what I can to keep afloat…” Because poverty is feminized, fewer women have access to the secure employment or thousands (even millions) of dollars in wealth that so many of the patriarchs of our movement do, those who use their power to push around those they perceive to be weaker than them. McGrath unknowingly found herself in an impossible position, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t try.

I turned my back on activists I admire and didn't speak up about my beliefs because I wanted to please my boss and keep a job. It was an ugly feeling."

Despite the ethical qualms she faced as an Ecorazzi author and her ultimate erasure, McGrath remains hopeful. As we closed our interview, she insisted, “I’m determined and eager to continue my career nonetheless, perhaps that this has just fueled my passion.”

McGrath isn’t the only victim–this is a systematic attack on women’s contributions, and very often, it is racialized. Recall that Sarah K. Woodcock, Korean-American and feminist founder of The Advocacy of Veganism Society was removed from not one, but two conferences at the behest of white male gatekeepers. I think it no coincidence that she also takes a strong feminist and anti-racist position in her advocacy approach. To be clear, while Vegan Feminist Network fully supports McGrath and the loss of her job is a serious injustice, the disproportionate amount of support and attention her case is garnering does warrant an acknowledgement of how Woodcock’s race may also be working against her (or, rather, how McGrath’s race may be working for her). Stinging from the repeated microaggressions and outright discriminations she has faced, Woodcock questions: “Does oppression only matter when it happens to white people? Does sexism only matter when it happens to white women?”

We need accountability. We must push back against blatant discrimination and woman-hating. So long as the movement remains male-focused and violent in its strategy, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement will remain marginalized, mocked, and misunderstood. I reject this oppressive behavior. What about you?

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

Does the C-word Belong in the Vegan Movement? Because It’s Here Right Now

Content Warning: Discusses systemic sexism, online harassment, and misogynistic language.
Not Safe for Work: Contains coarse language.

Editor’s Note: The author and I wish to make it clear that we do not endorse the notion that only cisgender women have vaginal canals, and we wish to acknowledge that some women do not have vaginal canals. We also acknowledge that intersex, transgender, agender, and other gender fluid persons can experience the sexism described in this essay.

Hiltner Cross-stictch
By Eve Christa Wetlaufer

“STOP EATING ANIMALS YOU CUNTS.”

I did a double take. Did he really just use that word – and to promote veganism at that? Yes, he did, in a meme on his Instagram feed. A feed with 50,000 followers.

I was stunned and sickened, but sadly, not surprised.

Vegan Meme

In recent weeks, I have become increasingly aware of members within the vegan community casually using term “cunt” to refer to (and scold) non-vegans. I have seen it used in at least a dozen captions of pictures and comments on social media. Perhaps its most vigorous adherent is “vegan famous” YouTuber @Durianrider, who uses the term in his videos, which can get up to 65,000 views. The majority of the voices using this term have been straight white men.

Whenever I see the use of this word, I have responded by commenting my gut reaction. I explain that using this term to urge others to become vegan is both harmful towards people who identify as female, and also harmful towards the movement’s health and validity. I write that for a movement based on compassion for “all” animals, it is shocking to see what disregard there can be for the oppressions of human animals. I’ve also mentioned the recent article, “When is being vegan no longer about ethical living?” written by Ruby Hamad, in which she asserts:

Any vegan who thinks animal liberation can be achieved without addressing human oppression is kidding themselves.

And on one of the posts I wrote:

Yes, peace on Earth will be vegan – but it will also be a world free of racism, sexism, religious discrimination, ableism, ageism, etc.

The response to my comments? Backlash – immediate and alarming. I was told to “Shut the fuck up.” I was told I was being “too soft,” that I was the “#funpolice,” “too politically correct,” and to “go cry somewhere else.” The supporters of using this term tried to silence me, and even questioned whether or not I was actually a vegan. As if a vegan would never point out inconsistencies within a movement – especially if the victim was a human! Especially if the victim was a woman.

After receiving these hateful comments, I did some research. Was I, in fact, over-reacting? I did a quick survey of the women in my house, and found that they too would be offended if called a “cunt.” My mother practically blanched at the question, and replied:

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the ultimate insult to a woman. You just don’t say it.

I then looked online and found that, interestingly, in England and Australia, “cunt” is generally used much more casually than in the United States, carrying much less of a sexist, derogatory stigma. Ok. But does that matter? Are we to forget the very real historical and contemporary uses of this term that have been, and still are, used to violate, denigrate and belittle those who identify as female?

I most certainly do not have all the answers, but I do understand that this topic is complicated. For instance, as a woman myself, I could feel empowered to use this term as to “reclaim” it, as different communities have done with words that have been used marginalized and oppressed them. I am also by no means speaking for all women, as I understand some are not offended by this word. But we cannot forget about those who are offended by it. We cannot call for liberation with words that do not further the liberation of other identity groups.

Since all ethical vegans want the world to go vegan, we need to start tailoring our language to be as effective and inclusive as possible, to make our mission based on love, on loving. If vegans really want to change the world, we need to stop using ethical eating to diminish or ignore other very real systems of oppression. It is also crucial for us to have the understanding that the vegan movement is just one puzzle piece in the greater movement for social justice. True social justice cannot be reached until all forms of oppression have been eradicated, and many of these injustices are linked. When we realize his struggles are her struggles, are their struggles are my struggles, the unity and support of each movement can propel us further into a more peaceful and just world.

The complex, gendered, and charged connotations with the term “cunt” should by no means be a part of the vocabulary of a movement comprised of individuals who preach compassion for animals. Changing the hearts, minds, and behaviors of non-vegans is crucial, but that also means investigating and changing our vocabulary at times. Although disagreements and conflicts within movements can potentially hinder the overall progress, it is important to constantly check ourselves and each other’s activism to make sure we are being as effective and compassionate as possible. So yes, I will continue to speak up when vegans use harmful words like “cunt,” and if you agree, I urge you to as well.

 


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.

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.

Vegan Bros: The Way to a Meat-Eater’s Heart is Through His Vagina

Content Warning: Sexism and trans-antagonismMeme produced by Vegan Bros which reads: "The Way to a Man's Heart is Through His Stomach: Unless He Eats Meat, Then It's Through His Vagina!"

There are a number of things wrong with Vegan Bros (a weight-loss business that banks on sizeism, thin-privilege, and fat-shaming to sell products and programs), but their recently published vagina burger meme really takes the cake.

12305471_10207777919227379_2042539549_n

Posted on the Vegan Bros Facebook page on November 22nd, 2015, the meme reads:

THE WAY TO A MAN’S HEART IS THROUGH HIS STOMACH…UNLESS HE EATS MEAT, THEN IT’S THROUGH HIS VAGINA!

In addition to being extremely misogynistic, the meme is also trans-antagonistic. According to Vegan Bros, to have a vagina is to be lesser and/or to be a man with a vagina is to be lesser.1

The Abolitionist Vegan Society agrees, strongly condemning the message. Vegan Bros responded with pleasure at the offense it caused, citing it as “validation” for their cause:

When the Abolitionist Vegan Society hates on your post you know you’re doing something right.

Recent essays posted on the Vegan Bros website mirror this violent rhetoric. For instance, one post that declares animal ingredients in man-friendly products like beer are actually vegan (as though thousands of vegan-friendly beers were not readily available). Those who disagree with their patriarchal entitlements are referred to as a “piece of shit.”2

Vegan Bros sitting in a bar

Vegan Bros

As Cheryl Abbate has discussed in an earlier essay with Vegan Feminist Network, the promotion of masculinity and “real manhood” in vegan spaces inevitably upholds violent gender norms and attitudes associated with masculinity and patriarchal rule:

Let us recall what the message of animal liberation entails: one of the goals of the animal liberation movement involves challenging the model of dominance by rethinking why we give privilege to and admire “dominant” or “stronger” beings. Yet, when organizations use bodybuilders to sell the vegan message, they send the opposite, dangerous message: masculinity is preferable to the feminine and there is a hierarchy where the masculine reign and dominate at the top.

Not only does this idea endanger women, but the idea that there is a dichotomy between the masculine and feminine disadvantages animals, since animals are identified as part of “nature”- and nature is in turn identified with the feminine.

Indeed, Vegan Bros bills itself as “[ . . . ] a movement dedicated to raising up an army of fit, sexy vegan soldiers [ . . .], making the language of domination, force, and anti-femininity part of its brand.

I am skeptical that there is room for masculinity in the vegan world we seek. Masculinity relies on hierarchy and violence, and is thus deeply counter-intuitive to our goals.3

In the comments following the publication of the meme, Vegan Bros sought to clarify their intentions and wrote: “Most feminist vegans understand what we are doing with this post.”  Yes. I understand very well. I know bigotry when I see it.

 

Notes:
1. Women and female body parts are regularly used throughout the website to degrade and humiliate a presumably male audience. For example, in a post about Thanksgiving, Vegan Bros infers that being vegan is “badass”: “Extending your circle of empathy and compassion is [not] for pussies.”

2. Ableism is also regularly utilized, with detractors labeled “fucking stupid.

3. Male-identified Professor Gary Francione has chimed in to position my feminist “complaining” as “idiotic”:

"I certainly do not agree with people who complain that anyone who does not think they're just 'awesome" are sexist/racist/evil, etc.; indeed, I think that is very harmful in various ways. And I agree that it is beyond idiotic to claim that the use of "Bros" per se is inherently sexist."

“I certainly do not agree with people who complain that anyone who does not think they’re just ‘awesome’ are sexist/racist/evil, etc.; indeed, I think that is very harmful in various ways. And I agree that it is beyond idiotic to claim that the use of ‘Bros’ per se is inherently sexist.”

 


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. She was awarded the 2016 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).