Marriage and Patriarchy

Anita Magsaysay-Ho "Women Feeding Chickens"

By Marv Wheale

Marriage is an ancient yet contemporary institution. Its cultural allure lies in its ability to appeal to aspirations for love, happiness and identity. Ceremonial bonding is a way of tying individuals together in pursuit of a fulfilling future.

You can’t fault couples for wanting a marvelous life but the troubles with marriage are many.  I will examine two:

– wallpapers over unequal social conditions between men and women

– demotes intimate nonsexualized relationships (friends, siblings, humans with other animals) to a lower status

Sexual Politics Surrounding Marriage

Marriage as an established fixture of society veils the divisions of power between men and women in the face of intimacy between them. Quite simply, women do not have equal standing to men even when mutual fondness is deep: assigned sex roles at home / unpaid reproductive labor / unequal pay in the labor market / disproportionate participation in governments / lack of representation as heads of large companies, police, courts and the military / sexual harassment, rape, battering and murder /  sexual objectification in porn, other media and prostitution.  All these factors are compounded by race, economic class, disability, size, age…

Because marriage obscures these disadvantages it makes it hard to organize against male power. Mobilizing energy becomes diverted into “marriage interest” which sinks scads of material and emotional resources into something that can’t satisfy our deepest longings. Essentially it is counterproductive to invest so much into what is unable to deliver what it promises to women and men as social groups. Of all the identities that affirm women’s subordination in patriarchy, marriage may be the most influential.

LGBTQ+ marriages are a reform but they retain the effect of sanctioning an institution made by patriarchy. Any improvement to the system further legitimizes it. Think of the touted vegan capitalism, animal welfare measures, feminist porn, sex object work heralded as bridges to liberation. Contradictory movements won’t bring emancipatory results. They are liberal illusions.

Outliers

To further grasp the implications of marriage you have to recognize how it constructs those outside its borders. The unmarried are relegated to a subservient social position on the basis of not measuring up to the marital model. Living in different kinds of connections they are less than. This is evident not only at the level of cultural nonrecognition but in the laws of the land. State sanctioned sexual relationships afford all kinds of rewards:  income tax deductions, mortgage loans, adopting children, access to a partner’s social security benefits, medical insurance privileges, hospital visitation rights, advance directives in dying, survivor rights and inheritance beneficiaries, immigration rights, next of kin rights, etc.

Counter Arguments to Marriage Criticism

People will say it’s an oversimplification to see marriage as irredeemably sexist and lording over platonic relationships.  After all, myriads of women are happily married.  From this standpoint, more sensitivity and credit should be given to particular examples of marriage where both spouses have demonstrated alignment with feminist objectives and respect the relationship pluralism of the unmarried.  They propose all legal and economic advantages of marriage be extended to alternative relationships.

Furthermore, numerous underprivileged couples find marriage to be a refuge from white supremacy, economic adversity, abled dominance and hetero-primacy.  They claim while marriage has its downsides for women it is less burdensome than the more overbearing problems of racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism.  What’s important to them is to centre marriage on reciprocity and resistance to social injustices.  In these cases marriage is deemed to strengthen working class, racial, disability and LGBTQ+ struggles and they, in turn, fortify it.

Vegan marriages are held up as a way to publicly express emotional attachment, shared values and the cause of animal liberation.  The reasoning and feelings are similar to other social justice-minded marriages.

Final Remarks

Yes, not all marriages are equal but the dispute against matrimony is political since it is a political entity. The idea that consensual marriage can be good or bad depending on mutual respect, affection and solidarity, clouds the reality of sex classes and privatizing women within them. It also downgrades those who don’t belong to it, culturally and legally, undeterred by the progressive optimism of open-minded married people.

Surely people can and do have intimacy and political activism without nuptial ties.

Violence towards women by men is a system of power.  Much of it happens within a spousal setting. Why promote an oppressive form that disguises the structural occupation of men in women’s lives?

Couldn’t we make intersectionality more inclusive of battered women by critiquing marriage as a fabrication?  We know gender, race, ability and class are social constructs, why can’t we ascertain marriage as one too?

Do we tend to cling to socially learned habits that prevent us from scrutinizing our worldviews?

I am not calling on married people to separate or divorce.  That would be arrogant, reckless and absurd. It’s not individuals fault for being socialized into societal norms and values. My invitation is, to put aside resistance to questioning and challenging our institutionalization into ways of thinking, feeling, living.

 


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.

Why Trump Veganism Must Go

trump-veganism

Donald Trump’s horrific rise to power was based on fear-mongering and the blatant exploitation of divisions. Millions of “forgotten” working class whites rallied behind Trump, driven by his appeals to dangerous immigrants, nasty women, and dangerous “urban” people of color. Fear, anger, and otherization both mobilized and motivated.

Bigot-powered politics typify other change-making spaces beyond the American presidential race. Veganism, for instance, frequently banks on the same inflammatory approach. Women’s bodies are abused, assaulted, and raped to shame other women into compliance. People of color are framed as “brutes,” “savages,” or “monsters” to encourage whites to side with veganism.

Disaffected vegans, mostly white and male, embrace these tactics, eager to transmit “their” vegan movement, one that prioritizes white-centric, patriarchal values and banks on the ostracization of nonwhites and women. Incidentally, such an atmosphere puts pressure on marginalized people to join ranks with the majority as a measure of protection. As many white women voted for Trump, many white women also throw their support behind these hateful vegan campaigns, happy to cash in their racial privilege and bargain with patriarchy in hopes of higher status by association.

When these tactics are criticized, their vitriolic supporters go ALL CAPS. They become aggressive and threatening, desperate to protect their privileged approach as common sense while framing their critics as anti-vegan. Anyone that finds such an approach problematic is accused of not caring about animals, or told, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” “Make veganism great again,” they seem to suggest.

“PC” culture isn’t welcome here. Neither are women, people of color, disabled persons, trans persons, and others. In fact, they are framed the bigots for daring to challenge the discriminatory status quo.

trump-fans

The result of anti-intersectional vegan campaigning is strikingly similar to that of Trump’s. The ranks swell with sexist, racist, blissfully ignorant, and hateful deplorables. More than tapping into and inviting in this bigotry, this framework actually aggravates it, creates it, and normalizes it. Being racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced and discriminatory is becoming an acceptable value so long as it is positioned as necessary for the protection of the oppressed.

Violence begets violence. History has shown that appealing to privilege will encourage behavior change that is unstably based on violent ideology. This violent ideology supports discriminatory actions. It further marginalizes the underprivileged. Vegans will do well to avoid taking cues from Trump’s play book. It is unsustainable and wholly incongruent with the principles of social justice.

I am further wary of post-Trump appeals to “come together” or strive for “unity.” It is akin to victim-blaming. Rape survivors hear it. Communities impacted by police violence hear it, too. Those who have been wronged by institutional oppression are not those who should be concerned with unity. They should be focused on how to strategize to survive systemic violence. Vegans betray justice by insisting all movement parties “just get along.” There is no ethical justification for supporting violence in our society or a social justice movement. Both Trump’s campaign built on hate and the vegan movement’s campaign built on hate will have deadly consequences to minorities impacted by that ideology.  “Unity” rhetoric is a form of social control and protects, rather than challenges, inequality.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, 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

The Sexual Politics of Holier-Than-Thou Veganism

Stella McCartney and dog walking on trail

Stella McCartney

 

Stella McCartney’s vegan fashion line was featured in a recent piece by feminist magazine Bustle in “Fashion & Beauty.” At first, I was thrilled to see veganism presented in a feminist space, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

It seems the author, too, is aware of the political disconnect between feminism and veganism, as she takes care to buffer readers with a disclaimer. Following a statement by McCartney that her brand is “the most ethical and loving company in the fashion industry,” Bustle clarifies:

The outlet notes that she said that with her tongue tucked in her cheek, indicating that she’s not holier-than-thou about her cruelty-free stance, which isn’t always the case with animal activists.

I find this disclaimer to be quite curious when placed in the context of feminist politics. Feminists generally balk when tone-policed themselves and often chastise celebrities who refuse to identify as feminist. But all’s fair when we’re talking about Nonhuman Animal rights. In other words, feminists determinedly encourage loud and proud feminism in an effort to destigmatize social justice activism, but they can be quick to turn around and vilify those who do the same on behalf of other animals.

Given that 80% of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is female and given that veganism is extremely “feminized,” the sexist undertones to vegan stereotyping are important to recognize. It is possible that the “holier-than-thou” pejorative assigned to activists and vegans is actually a form of gender policing. In other words, these stereotypes work to shame and silence “uppity” women who dare to get political.

Feminists should steer clear of social justice shaming. Caring about the oppression of others should not be something to be hidden or downplayed. The commitment to ending injustice should be a marker of pride. We should be celebrating activism. It is hard work, it wins few friends, it is mentally fatiguing, and so few people are willing to get involved. Feminists should not be adding to that difficulty when they could be an important source of support. This is especially so since most vegan activists are women and speciesism is so intimately tied to patriarchy.

The Sexual Politics of Vegan Food

Cover for "Crazy Sexy Diet"

Carol Adams has written extensively on the sexual politics of meat, arguing that women and other animals are both sexualized and commodified to facilitate their consumption (both figuratively and literally) by those in power. One result has been the feminization of veganism and vegetarianism.  This has the effect of delegitimizing, devaluing, and defanging veganism as a social movement.

But I argue that this process works within the vegan movement as well, with an open embracing of veganism as inherently feminized and sexualized.  This works to undermine a movement (that is comprised mostly of women) and repackage it for a patriarchal society.  Instead of strong, political collective of women, we have yet another demographic of sexually available individual women who exist for male consumption.

Take a browse through vegan cookbooks on Amazon, and the theme of “sexy veganism” that emerges is unmistakable.

Cover for "Ms. Cupcake:  The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town!" Pictures a piece of cake with a tiny woman in a bikini sitting on top

Ms. Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town!

Cover for "Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook" Shows author posing with food dishes

Cover for "Skinny Bitch in Love:  A Novel"

Oftentimes, veganism is presented as a means of achieving idealized body types.  These books are mostly geared to a female audience, as society values women primarily as sexual resources for men and women have internalized these gender norms.  Many of these books bank on the power of thin privilege, sizism, and stereotypes about female competition for male attention to shame women into purchasing.

Cover for "Become a Sexy Vegan Beast:  The Guide to Vegan Bodybuilding, Vegan Nutrition, and Body Fat Loss" Shows woman in a sports bra and shorts with hands on her hips looking behind her

Cover for "Skinny Bitch Fitness:  Boot Camp"

Cover for "Eat Yourselve Sexy", Shows a topless woman with her arms up and behind her head, looking seductively at the camera

Eat Yourself Sexy

Cover for "Appetite for Reduction" A vegan weight loss book. Shows an illustrated woman in vintage style

To reach a male audience, authors have to draw on a notion of “authentic masculinity” to make a highly feminized concept palatable to a patriarchal society where all that is feminine is scorned.  Some have referred to this trend as “heganism.”  The idea is to protect male superiority by unnecessarily gendering veganism into veganism for girls and veganism for boys.  For the boys, we have to appeal to “real” manhood.

Thankfully Meat Is For Pussies (A How-to Guide for Dudes Who Want to Get Fit, Kick Ass and Take Names) appears to be out of print.

Cover for "Skinny Bastard:  A Kick-in-the-Ass for Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff"

Skinny Bastard: A Kick-in-the-Ass for Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff

Cover for "Eating Veggies Like a Man"

Cover for "Real Men Eat Tofu"

Then there is the popular tactic of turning women into consumable objects in the exact same way that meat industries do.  Animal rights groups recruit “lettuce ladies” or “cabbage chicks” dressed as vegetables to interact with the public.  PETA routinely has nude women pose in and among vegetables to convey the idea that women are sexy food.  Vegan pinup sites and strip joints also feed into this notion.  Essentially, it is the co-optation and erosion of a women’s movement.  Instead of empowering women on behalf of animals, these approaches disempower women on behalf of men.

Image shows two white, tan women back to back wearing lettuce bikinis and opening their mouths wide to insert veggie dogs. Woman facing camera is wearing a Playboy necklace.

Alyssa Milano dressed in vegetables. Reads: "Let Vegetarianism Grow on You."