Tag Archives: Feminism

Why Food Justice is a Feminist Issue

In an interview with Alternet’sHere’s Why Our Food Systems are a Central Feminist Issue,” I was asked to elaborate on women’s contributions to critical food justice and how current sexual politics inhibit or even invisiblize women’s contributions today.

Both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and the environmental movement, I note, were established by women who strategically employed stereotypes about women’s proper role in nurturing and caring. This strategy was necessary to gain access to the public sphere in an era in which women were expected to remain inside the home and well outside of politics.

Unfortunately, this feminization persists in modern food justice efforts. Sociological and psychological research supports that environmental and vegan campaigns and products are less likely to find male support simply due to this feminization. This gender divide translates into a serious barrier to success given that men’s recognition is necessary for a movement to gain legitimacy in a patriarchal society.

Rather than celebrate women’s contributions to anti-speciesist efforts, the vegan movement has opted to elevate men in campaigning and leadership. This, to me, is indicative of intersectional failure. Patriarchal bargains are unlikely to liberate Nonhuman Animals given the historical relationship between sexism and speciesism:

… the fact that men have to be involved to bring legitimacy to a cause demonstrates that we still haven’t come to terms with the underlying ideological roots to oppression.

Readers can access the entire interview here.

 


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

Readers can learn more about feminism and veganism 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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Veganism “At All Costs” Costs Animals

As my academic interests have turned to intersections of human and nonhuman inequality, I’ve come to recognize that many entanglements of oppression operate unchallenged within social justice spaces themselves. Unfortunately, the Nonhuman Animal rights/vegan movement presents a rich case study for sexism, racism, sizism, and classism. It also perfectly demonstrates the callous engagement of victim-blaming to protect this violence.

Once confronted with criticisms intramovement violence, many activists react by doubling down on discriminatory attitudes. Others simply ignore the problem altogether. Acknowledging intersectional failure is too often framed as “bad for the cause,” “drama,” or “attention-seeking.” This reaction is almost predictable given that the movement is dominated by those occupying positions of gender, race, body, or class privilege. Subsequently, the notion that veganism should be promoted at all costs, regardless of who it hurts, emerges as the movement mantra.

Violence in anti-speciesism efforts is a political problem. For one, it silences and intimidates existing activists. Silenced and intimidated activists are hardly effective ones. This violence also works to repel newcomers from participating. The strategy of pushing veganism at all costs while ignoring violence in the ranks means that new recruits will enter the movement only to bounce right back out. Worse, they may become victims, too. There is an imperative for activists to get their own house in order before welcoming new participants if the goal is to retain and sustain new vegans. It is even more important if the goal is to undermine violence rather than replicate it.

In The Revolution Starts at Home, activists across the social justice spectrum have observed that accusations of “creating drama” are employed so as to avoid airing a movement’s “dirty laundry.” This strategy is indicative of victim-blaming. By blaming the victim for the structural problems the victim identifies, the activist community attempts to redirect guilt and culpability. For instance, should they point out problems of racism, they are likely to be accused of racism themselves for the audacity of bringing up race in a society that is supposedly post-racial. Women who critique sexist patterns in the movement may be accused of hurting Nonhuman Animals with their selfishness. Victims are made to feel illogical, unreasonable, and insincere as a result. This is, curiously, a defense strategy that vegans themselves face when confronting nonvegans. The irony, however, is lost.

As a tactical matter, oppression cannot be undermined within a social movement community with willed ignorance.  As a philosophical matter, it is simply counterintuitive to proclaim that violence against animals should be combatted “at all costs” while simultaneously failing to address the more accessible suffering of human animals within the community. If the anti-speciesism movement cannot be a safe space for activists, it cannot be a powerful force. Instead, it only contributes to the culture of violence so abhorred by vegans.

The expectation is that presenting a false front of unity and cheerfulness will be more enticing to newcomers. But, again, ignoring the problem does not eliminate the problem. New activists lured under false pretenses are not likely to remain in the long term.

A version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on December 4, 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 nonprofit industrial complex in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Is This What Vegan Looks Like?

In the June 2018 issue of Women’s Health UK, I was interviewed on the prevailing stereotype of angry vegans that has dominated British media in recent months. In the article, I clarify that, although most animal rights activists and vegans are women, patriarchal norms endemic to society and social movements push men (especially hegemonic ones) to the spotlight. It’s not an especially fair portrayal and neither is it representative:

Whereas women, who are well aware that their emotionality will be framed as “hysterical,” tend to focus more on mediation, education and community-building. It’s tragic that long-standing peaceful leaders in the vegan movement are suddenly being held accountable for the actions of an extreme few.

Readers can access the entire interview here.


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

Readers can learn more about the politics of gender in the animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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What is Intersectionality?

Mainstream theories of social inequality frequently compartmentalize experiences, but inequality rarely works that way in real life. Instead, individuals are comprised of many different identities at once, and these identities will interact with one another in unique ways.

Furthermore, multiple systems and institutions are simultaneously at work in a given society. So, for instance, simply focusing on race as an identity and white supremacy as an institution ignores the fact that race will be experienced differently by people with different genders, ages, sexualities, abilities, and nationalities.

This schema is known as intersectionality, and it is a concept that emerges out of Black feminist thought.

In animal studies, vegan feminists employ this framework to argue that one’s life chances will be shaped, not just by one’s race, class, or gender, but also by their species. Vegan feminists also recognize the influence of an additional system….human supremacy.

For animals, we want to be thinking about how historical constructions of race, class, gender, and other identities shape how animals are thought about and how they are treated. Female-bodied animals, for example, are more likely to be exploited in the food industry given their ability to produce breastmilk, eggs, and babies. In another example, some animals that are associated with communities of color, like pit bulls, are more susceptible to punitive and often lethal breed restriction policies.

Meanwhile, for human justice theorists, it will be important to recognize how human oppression is always shaped by processes of species inequality. For instance, women and people of color have historically been animalized, and this animalization is inseparable from the oppression they face today.

Given that species, class, race, gender, and other identity categories are all historically constructed using similar mechanisms (such as animalization, objectification, sexualization, depersonalization, denaming, and so on), it is important to apply an intersectional perspective to achieve a more accurate understanding of oppression for nonhuman animals and humans alike.

 


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

Readers can learn more about the politics of vegan feminism 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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Pussy Grabs Back: How Feminists Bestialized Politics but Failed Nonhuman Animals

In an article published with Feminist Media Studies, I explore the symbolic application of animal imagery in America’s largest protest to date, the 2017 Million Women March. In the march, women and their allies “bestialized” politics in an attempt to reclaim their animality as an asset rather than a disparagement. In this study, I looked beyond the pink pussy hats to also consider how this bestialization manifested in protest slogans and signage. Not only were cat pictures and costumes prevalent, but protester discourse regularly included plays on words such as, “This pussy grabs back” and “Hear me roar.”

Although feline imagery made for compelling visual protest, I argue that the march ultimately constitutes what Kimberlé Crenshaw might identify as intersectional failure. This finding is not surprising. Throughout the history of Western feminism, the most privileged in the ranks–Western, white, straight, middle-class, cis-gender, human females–have taken precedence over the most vulnerable. The exclusion of Nonhuman Animals is only consistent with the fallibility of feminist solidarity.

 


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

Readers can learn more about the politics of vegan feminism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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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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Animal Abolitionism, a 19th Century Holdover

The desire to totally liberate other animals from human oppression is generally thought a product of late 20th century imagining. In today’s capitalistic  movement, activists and organizations scramble to specialize and copyright their particular brand of activism, often to the effect of invisibilizing a rich activist history.

In researching for my new book on factional debate in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I noticed that, while the abolitionist faction seems to have developed as a distinct collective in the 21st century following the energizing work of the late philosopher and activist Tom Regan, the very arguments that distinguish it were developed much earlier in the 19th century.

The abolitionist approach to Nonhuman Animal rights probably originates from its appropriation of tactics and rhetoric associated with the antislavery movement. Early vegetarian reformers were deeply involved in anti-slavery efforts, even positioning vegetarianism as a means of ending slavery. In fact, the term “abolitionist” itself is usually traced to this hugely influential movement. Like other movements against oppression, the anti-slavery cause was divided over whether or not to advocate for complete abolition or abolition-oriented gradual reforms.

Anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison considered many anti-cruelty and vegetarian activists as colleagues, and abolitionist papers reported on vegetarian events. These early reformers also supported women’s suffrage, and explicitly encouraged women to speak at vegetarian conferences. Vegetarian suffragettes also made the connection that ending animals’ oppression was the key to ending women’s oppression.

Although born of an intersectional past, abolitionism would gradually detach as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement gained momentum. For anti-speciesists of the late 19th century onward, abolitionism referred almost exclusively to nonhumans. Regardless, the belief that the oppression of Nonhuman Animals should be abolished rather than modified or reformed is a concept that is as old as is the movement. Heated debates between welfarists and abolitionists in the early years of the SPCA in England and the AHA in America are recorded in meeting notes. Frances Power Cobbe and other antivivisectionists, enraged by reformist legislation that effectively legitimized and protected vivisectors, explicitly identified as abolitionist. Even Donald Watson and the early vegans were abolitionist, regularly lambasting welfare reforms in early issues of The Vegan.

Today’s abolitionism as was developed by Regan, then, is merely one wave of many. It is a shame that Post-Regan abolitionism has completely diverged from its early connection to anti-racism and anti-sexism, but it is heartening to rediscover this legacy of compassion and refusal to compromise.

 


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

Readers can learn more about the politics of speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Dr. Corey Wrenn Featured in Huffington Post on Women in Politics

cat-memes

On November 3, 2016, I was interviewed by The Huffington Post for its story, “The Bizarre History Of Anti-Suffrage Cat Memes: In 100 years, we went from cat memes to grabbing ‘em by the p***y” in response to the clear intersections between animalizing women in the early suffragette movement and the animalization of women in the 2016 American presidential campaign.

In the piece, I clarified that animalizing minority groups is one of the oldest tricks in the book. By framing women, people of color, immigrants, and other mariginalized folks as animal-like and of another species, their unequal position can be justified, rationalized, and normalized.

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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.

 

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.


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

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Project Intersect in Bluestockings

Bluestockings 01-16

While visiting New York City this weekend, I stopped into Bluestockings Bookstore and found Project Intersect for sale! I was beyond thrilled that my little essay on atheism in ecofeminist spaces was tucked away in this historic feminist landmark. I actually saw quite a few vegan feminist and critical race vegan books on offer.

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