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.
Dr. 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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