Irish Vegan Feminism: Intersections of Sexism, Speciesism, and Resistance in Postcolonial Ireland

In Animal Rights, Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation, David Nibert (2002) suggests that the switch from an egalitarian economic structure to hunting initiated gender distinction such that sexism and speciesism are most accurately recognized as intersecting systems. Ecofeminists, too, have underscored the deep relationship between the objectification, commodification, and oppression of women and other animals (Adams 2000, Gaard 1993), a doctrine that can be described as vegan feminism. Although vegan feminism has been applied liberally to the experiences of women and other animals in the West, it has primarily focused on the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, severely underserving historically oppressed nations which are well positioned to illuminate patterns of intersecting inequality. This essay applies vegan feminist theory to the postcolonial nation-state of Ireland, explicitly recognizing that the historical processes of anthroparchy, patriarchy, and colonialism in collectively shaping its national identity and political economy.

In the era of colonialism, dietary patterns were employed to rationalize and justify conquest and subjugation (Adams 1990). British “beefeaters” thought themselves morally, cognitively, and physically superior as a result of their carnivorous diets, whereas Indian “rice eaters” and Irish “potato eaters” where rendered effeminate and in need of rule. Indeed, Nibert (2013) argues that the colonialist system acted in tandem with the world capitalist economy, satiating the need for new resources and markets. Domestication, or, as he calls it, domesecration, was instituted across various nonhuman species to increase their exploitability. In Ireland, nationalists were keenly aware that Britain’s imposed system animal agriculture was directly tied to the suffering of Ireland’s people vis-à-vis consistent food insecurity and eviction. Others understood it as a means of pacifying and weakening the Irish constitution, advocating vegetarianism as a means of liberation. In fact, many female activists, who themselves felt domesecrated by the patriarchal rule of British colonists and Irish men alike, acknowledged the relationship between nationalism, feminism, and animal welfare. Many (such as Charlotte Despard pictured here) incorporated vegetarianism into their politics (O’Connor 2016).

Charlotte Despard

Somewhat unique for its time, Ireland’s 1916 uprising and eventual independence in 1922 explicitly incorporated feminism and recognized women’s role in manifesting the republic. Entry into the patriarchal nation-state system, however, quickly soured this liberal streak, and, by 1937, Republican feminism had disintegrated into a deeply conservative Marianism. Women were no longer agential comrades, but damsels in distress and angels of the home. Their second-class citizenry became essential to the functioning of the new society, marking Ireland as a country of traditional values but also providing considerable value in unpaid productive and reproductive labor in homes and farms. This shift coincided with the decision to reinforce animal agriculture as the leading Irish industry. Both women and other animals became livestock for the new Ireland. Although the lowered status of women and the economic exploitation of other animals were both symptoms of colonial rule, Ireland opted to rebrand these systems rather than purge them. According to vegan feminist theory, this correlation was not happenstance, but instead a predictable outcome of participation in the androcentric nation-state system. Economic structures based in the oppression of animals are frequently dependent on gender inequality as well (Wrenn 2017), but, as a feminized postcolonial nation, Ireland was itself vulnerable to exploitation from wealthier core countries made powerful by centuries of colonialist practices.

Irish National Dairy Council advert from the 1970s reads "WATCH IT FELLAS! Women are clever. They know the value of Irish cheese. Great Manfood. So watch it! Cheese is manfood!" Shows three women smiling at camera holding plates of cheese.In the decades since, global influences may sometimes challenge Ireland’s hierarchical structure. Incorporation into the European Union, for instance, has improved wages for women and welfare standards for other animals. Western influences have also ushered in more radical developments in feminism, veganism, and anti-globalization ideology. In its bid to remain competitive and culturally distinct, however, Ireland has doubled down on its misogynistic and speciesist policies. Inflexible anti-abortion and divorce policies are pitted as necessary to protect women and Irish tradition, while ever expanding animal agriculture is also hailed as higher welfare and foundational to Irish tradition. That said, as Ireland enters the postmodern era, the negotiation of global citizenship and economic participation increasingly involves a vegan or feminist perspective. In some cases, these epistemologies merge, much as they did at the dawn of the republic at the turn of the 20th century.

Works Cited
Adams, C. 2000. The Sexual Politics of Meat. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gaard, G. 1993. Ecofeminism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Nibert, D. 2002. Animal Rights, Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation. New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

——. 2013. Animal Oppression and Human Violence. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

O’Connor, M. 2011. The Female and the Species: The Animal in Irish Women’s Writing. Bern, CH: Peter Lang.

Wrenn, C. 2017. “Toward a Vegan Feminist Theory of the State.” Pp. 201-230, in Animal Oppression and Capitalism, edited by D. Nibert. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press.


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 species and gender in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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