Monthly Archives: July 2016

Is Nudity a Prerequisite for Vegan Women’s Strength?

Pamela-Anderson

 

On International Women’s Day, PETA reaffirmed in a March, 2013 blog post (since deleted) that strong women in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement are those who pose naked and sexualized for the presumed male audience. According to PETA:

“The following brazen beauties used their most valuable asset—their minds [emphasis mine]—to speak up for the oppressed […]”

Wendy Williams poses nude for PETA advert

Pamela Anderson models for 'Save the Seals' PETA campaign
Actual images provided by PETA

PETA chose these images as representations of women using “their minds” to speak up for the oppressed. I see instead women who are using their bodies to speak to the oppressors. It’s “Girl power!” PETA exclaims.

Pornifying women (and referring to them as girls) is problematic in of itself, but it becomes especially quizzical when this is done in the name of feminism. In an interview with Bitch Media, a PETA representative not only defends this type of activism as feminist, but insists that those women who criticize it (like those associated with Bitch Media, one of the oldest grassroots feminist organizations in the US) are engaging sexism. After all, women who are sexually liberated are embodying the true feminist spirit, and women who shame that must be conservative, anti-woman prudes.

Of course, I reject that logic completely. PETA’s “feminism” is a corporate corruption of radical social claimsmaking. By slapping feminist rhetoric over the status quo of patriarchal sexual exploitation it, brands itself as cool, hip, and with it while it continues to profit from an unequal system that requires gender inequality. Bitch co-founder Andi Zeisler explores this trend in her 2016 release, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Cover Girl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. A decade prior, Ariel Levy examined the corporatization of feminism as well, emphasizing the dangers of rebranding sexism as “empowerment” in Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

In any case, it’s a real stretch to position PETA’s pornographic objects as female subjects using “their minds” for other animals. In fact, women seem to be actively discouraged from doing so in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, even vilified or harassed if they dare to voice an educated opinion. Pornifying women in activist spaces only reinforces this sexist culture and must be challenged. This isn’t strength. To the contrary, it is the movement’s greatest weakness.

 

A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 8, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and how it capitalizes on gender inequality in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Selling Cancer to Beat Cancer? When Nonvegan Foods Go Pink for Profit

Yoplait Breast Cancer Campaign logoVegan theory acknowledges not only the systematic violence imposed on vulnerable Nonhuman Animals but also the tendency for this oppression to intersect with the suffering of vulnerable humans. One such instance occurs in the pink ribbon “find a cure” campaign.

There is a tendency for companies that peddle carcinogenic products to go pink to increase sales. Caring about cancer is commodified, with the well-being of both women and other animals undermined. For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was, at one time, donating proceeds from every bucket purchased of deep-fried chicken parts to fund cancer research. That is, KFC encouraged the consumption of chickens to fight cancer, although the consumption of these body parts are known to cause cancer.

In another example, dairy consumption is linked with increased breast cancer occurrence, recurrence, and mortality, but Yoplait brands its yogurt products as cancer friendly with its “Save Lids to Save Lives” marketing scheme:

The goal of Save Lids to Save Lives is to support the millions of people who have been impacted by breast cancer by raising awareness and funding to fight the disease.

If Yoplait’s goal really is to save lives (and not to bandwagon on a serious disease to profit from public fear and sympathy), then Yoplait might consider changing out its animal ingredients.

Instead, Yoplait works to make their carcinogenic product “synonymous” with fighting cancer:

For many, Yoplait has become as synonymous with breast cancer research as we are with yogurt. We are proud that over the last 15 years, our commitment to the cause has resulted in nearly $35 million from all our donation programs. Because of this, programs like Save Lids to Save Lives have given many women the support they need when they need it most. However, we can still do more.

I agree, we can still do more. How? First, there is a need to prioritize prevention over “cures.” Cure research is an extremely profitable enterprise, and for the amount of resources it entails, offers very few beneficial results. Much of this research is conducted through vivisection, a speciesist, archaic, and scientifically unsound approach (which also happens to be an extremely profitable enterprise).

Prevention programs require just a fraction of the billions expended on cure research. Importantly, these programs could aid vulnerable human demographics in avoiding suffering and death. They could also spare billions of Nonhuman Animals exploited to both create these dangerous products and test their toxicity.

Prioritizing cure research and trumpeting more consumption to support it is conducive to corporate interests, but a truly effective strategy for combating cancer would entail a focus on prevention. This must begin with structural support for food choices not shown to be carcinogenic (meaning there will be no place for fried chickens or dairy-based yogurt). For those who also wish to support cancer research, they might consider donating directly to animal-friendly cancer foundations, a much more efficient strategy than collecting yogurt lids.

A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 20, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the intersections of capitalism and speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn featured on Maine Public Radio

Vegan Feminist Network

Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn was featured on Maine public radio, Animal Sounds on WMPG 90.9FM on July 13th, 2016 to discuss Vegan Feminist Network advocacy strategies. In this 30 minute program Dr. Wrenn addresses intersections of sexism, speciesism, ableism and more in colloquially used oppressive language. You can listen by clicking here.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about how to challenge oppressive ideologies in vegan advocacy and the importance of a pro-intersectional approach in Dr. Wrenn’s 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

whyveganism.com

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What Black Lives Matter Can Teach White Vegans

Content Warning: Post discusses racism, sexism, and a number of other forms of discrimination, as well as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s protection of discriminatory attitudes and tactics.

SouthernLivesMatter

 

This is a story about symbols and solidarity. It is also a pained confession of my sometimes uncomfortable identity as a white Southerner, one that I hope can constructively add to the dialogue. As I repeatedly come up against white fragility and hostility in the Nonhuman Animal Rights movement as it responds to coalition-building and diversity efforts, I felt compelled to share my thoughts here, born of both personal experience and research in social movement studies. If you have been directed to this essay or otherwise found yourself here and you are white-identified, I encourage you to read on with an open mind. I am not judging you, I am only imploring you.

I grew up in a small town in rural Virginia. The Confederate flag was constantly present in my life. Some people hang the flag on their porch. Lots of “good ol’ boys” plaster their trucks with them. My classmates regularly wore t-shirts featuring the flag to school. Civil War heritage is a major part of life in Virginia as well, probably because much if not most of the war was fought in our state. I am and always have been a history nerd, and I even participated in Civil War living history events and “reenactments” as a teenager.

In graduate school as a young woman, the flag came up in discussion in a sociology theory class. The professor was using it as an example of how symbols become socially constructed and can hold different meanings. He asked us who in the room was not offended by the flag. I am embarrassed to say, I was the only one that raised my hand. I was also the only person from a rural and poor background in the class (poor people where I come from don’t often make it to college, and they rarely find their way into graduate school). I was acutely aware of that. When “outsiders” criticize the confederate flag, some whites interpret this as another attack on poor, working-class Southerners who, to be fair, are disproportionately burdened by a substantial amount of structural classism. Race, of course, still matters, but it is conveniently erased from the framework.

I believe I said something along those very cliche lines of, “It doesn’t mean what you think it means. I don’t see it as racist.” Then I made some awful comparison about the swastika, insisting that Hindus shouldn’t have to abandon the symbol just becomes some people think it’s racist. Oh and didn’t you know that some African Americans fought on the side of the South in the Civil War?

Yep.

That happened back in 2007 and I still remember it vividly because I am mortified by it. I thought I was being critical, but I was really just thinking about myself. It isn’t about me, though. It’s about how others are hurt by these symbols. It’s about the systems of oppression that are still ongoing, still disadvantaging, and still costing lives.

Deep down, Southerners are not ignorant of this meaning. We know it’s not just about Southern culture and working class pride. A few summers later, I was tubing the river in the area where I grew up. I got ahead of my group and while I waited on the banks for them to catch up, two older white men came up to me and started a conversation, having recognized me through their friendship with my late father. While we were shooting the breeze, one of them made an off-hand comment about how they used to have a rebel flag hanging up on a tree by the river entrance to “keep the n*****s away.” I was more or less a stranger to them, but I was white, which made them feel comfortable acknowledging the flag’s implicit meaning. Shocking how I once convinced myself that these racist symbols could ever be “colorblind,” or that my naive personal interpretation as a privileged white person could ever supersede the larger societal meaning.

I share this story because I learned from it, regret past attitudes, and wish I had not sided with self-interested defensiveness. I wish I had thought of others’ interpretations, not just my own. After all, I live in a society, not a bubble. As Black Lives Matter dominates headlines and protesters fill the streets, there has been renewed contention over the flag’s use, which has, in turn, inspired white defensiveness and counter-mobilization. For whites, the contention is a symbolic attack on their way of life (and, whether or not they are willing to admit it, their privilege). For African Americans and other people of color, it’s an attack on their very right to life and safety. The two are not comparable.

BLM

The flag is just one of many examples where meaning is contested and racial inequality runs the risk of erasure. In my observations of the vegan movement, I have seen race issues ignored altogether, silenced by white gatekeepers, or derailed with appeals to Nonhuman Animal lives. Beyond the excuses (“We have to focus!” “Animals are suffering more!”), much of the resistance has to do with activists taking personal offense when their approach is criticized: “I’m not racist! This tactic doesn’t make me racist!” “This has nothing to do with violence against women!” “Speciesism is just like the Holocaust; that’s how it really is!” etc.

Here’s the thing: 

When activists engage tactics that simulate the rape of women or disseminate images and sounds of cows being raped as a scare tactic, the movement appears sexist and callous.

When white activists publish cookbooks from an imagined stereotypical “thug” perspective, and keep pushing the book despite the protests of people hurt by these stereotypes, the movement appears racist and callous.

When middle-to-upper class (even millionaire) activists insist over and over that veganism is “easy” when, for so many living under structural oppression, it absolutely is not easy, the movement appears classist, racist, and callous.

When cis-gender activists belittle transgender persons who advocate for transgender rights instead of prioritizing speciesism, the movement appears trans-antagonistic and callous.

When thin-privileged activists politicize obesity and post billboards mocking women of size by calling them “whales” with the intention of shaming them toward veganism, the movement appears sizeist and callous.

Who would want to associate with such a movement? If participants are attracted by racist, sexist, classist, or sizeist claimsmaking of this kind, are they associates the movement will benefit from? Are these the best ambassadors for a social justice movement?

Importantly, many vegans engaging these problematic tactics have been exposed to patient explanations from people who are actually living under the oppressions themselves. Yet, vegans continue to defend these tactics with gusto, doubling down on defensiveness. In retaliation, it is vegan feminists and allies who are accused of bigotry, taking things too seriously, or looking to start trouble and drama. I am reminded of a small protest that took place at the Animal Rights National Conference in 2016 in which an audience member took his turn during the Q&A to ask the white male speaker to consider not taking up so much space at conferences to make room for marginalized voices who are rarely given platform. The moderator shut down the protester, and the audience erupted in applause. They were not clapping in support of the protester’s brave actions, but rather the moderator’s restoration of (white supremacist) order.

Defensiveness over mindfulness.

Me-myself-and-I thinking subjected me to public embarrassment in that graduate classroom so many years ago, and I have learned a very important lesson since that day. Activism isn’t about one’s own interpretation. Given that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is largely white-identified and middle-class, the prevailing interpretations can never be considered universal. A failure to acknowledge privilege equates to a failure in resonance. Activists must consider the interpretation of those who are being hurt by movement rhetoric, attitudes, and behavior.

There are consequences resulting from this ignorance. If the goal is to grow the movement, shouldn’t activists be more concerned with the interpretations of others rather than their own? After all, resonating with the audience is one of the most important goals for any social movement.

Ethics matter as much as efficacy, however. Defensiveness over white privilege runs counter to the ethical position the Nonhuman Animal rights movement espouses. The white supremacist hijacking of symbols in an effort to racially neutralize them for the interests of privilege is not in alignment with justice. “All lives matter” claimsmaking, for instance, is frequently cited by white vegans who perhaps wish to capitalize on the visibility of Black Lives Matter mobilization to draw attention to other animals who are also suffering extreme violence. Black Lives Matter claimsmaking, however, is not race-neutral, and when whites attempt to make it so, this is an act of racism.

“All Lives Matter” is not alliance-building, it’s alliance-destroying. It suggests that mobilization to improve the life chances and well-being of the Black community is somehow unwarranted or distracting. It erases difference, and when difference goes invisible, this invisibility supports systems of inequality that feed on difference. Difference exists whether or not whites choose to acknowledge it, and rejecting its existence is complacency with oppression. Nor should readers forget the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s historical legacy of racism. Appropriating the symbols of Black liberation when the movement has, for years, both excluded and oppressed Black persons is especially problematic.

All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter. Espousing that Black lives matter does not mean that Nonhuman Animals do not matter, or that white lives do not matter, or that anyone else’s lives do not matter. It only means that the systemic oppression faced by Blacks is abominable and must stop. White vegans have an obligation to support this effort, not to derail it.

White vegans, it’s not about you.

 

A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on July 15, 2015.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the legacy of racism in vegan advocacy and the importance of a pro-intersectional approach in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Unnecessarily Gendered Vegan Food

50_50__5clam“Organic Girl Good Clean Greens,” because only women eat organic?

Perhaps because it challenges a controlling and hierarchical relationship with the environment, organic consumption and food products are often feminized. Men dominate the environment, force it to comply, and destroy threats to this control. Women harmonize with nature instead. Men need their meat, and are willing to hurt others to get it. Women, however, just eat salads, not unlike the vulnerable herbivores men desire for their dinner.

The emphasis on vulnerability is reinforced by referring to female consumers as “girls.” Infantalizing women with “girl” rhetoric is a common practice, one that disempowers women and reaffirms male dominance. Grown men are infrequently referred to as “boys,” with the important exception of African American men, who have historically been called “boys” by whites seeking to reinforce Black men’s relative powerlessness in a racial hierarchy.

Feminizing food has the potential to reinforce inequality. The process links plant-based eating with marginalized social groups, and stereotypes women as weak. Ironically, while consuming animal flesh is a privileged act as it rests on human supremacy and control over other animals, eating green is privileged as well, despite its bad rap. Plant-based foods promote health and longevity, but they are sometimes difficult to obtain given poor food accessibility in many parts of society. Eating “clean” and “green,” as this product champions, should be accessible to anyone, regardless of gender.

Why does food gendering happen? As with any product for sale, considerable resources are invested in its marketing. Nothing happens by accident in this process. Advertisers are aware that gendering products can increase the number of products a household must purchase (this item is for her, that item is for him), and the amount paid (products advertised for her tend to be marked up in price). Food and gender is “the perfect mix” for profit-minded corporations.

 

This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 8, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

 

Readers can learn more about the intersections of veganism and gender  in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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