Tag Archives: Intersectionality

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.

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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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Trump Veganism? Research Finds a Highly Intersectional American Vegan Movement

Following the explosion of identity politics that culminated in the shocking 2016 presidential win for Donald Trump, I was curious as to whether these wider cultural trends could be related to the vocal resistance to intersectionality and feminist theory in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, a phenomenon I have dubbed “Trump veganism.” In my article, “Trump Veganism: A Political Survey of American Vegans in the Era of Identity Politics,” published with the peer-reviewed, open-access sociological journal Societies, I surveyed almost 300 American vegans to ascertain their political attitudes and propensity for intersectional awareness and behavior. 

Previous research conducted of vegetarians and animal rights activists from the 1990s and 2000s found this demographic to be particularly left-leaning, and my survey results supported this trend. In fact, this was a very liberal group. The majority were atheist or agnostic, most voted for Hillary, quite a few identified as socialist or anarchist, almost half chose not to report their gender, and about 40% were non-heterosexual. Most respondents were white, under 35, and female-identified.

Yet, there was a streak of conservativism that did give pause. For instance, 14% of respondents either supported Trump or were neutral to his campaign. These conservative vegans participated in slightly fewer social justice movements other than veganism. They were also more likely to be vegan for reasons of personal health, not out of concern for other animals. Even liberal voters demonstrated some level of conservativism when it came to vegan ethics. When asked if they supported the concept of “Nonhumans first,” about half of all respondents agreed.

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement has a bit of a bum rap given its historical legacy of exploiting racist and colonialist tensions to advance its interests. My research supports that, while activists are eager to prioritize the interests of Nonhuman Animals in their campaigning, they are certainly not ignorant of human oppression. Respondents believed that other social justice movements were relevant to speciesism. They were involved with four other social justice movements on average. Respondents also indicated that they did not believe the vegan movement did enough to prioritize diversity, especially women and people of color.

Presuming this sample to be generalizable, Trump veganism can be said to be a marginal position in the American vegan movement. Instead, this demographic is politically intelligent and heavily involved in a variety of social justice efforts. These respondents are certainly not ignorant to the suffering of marginalized humans and its relationship to speciesism.

 


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

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

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The Thug Kitchen Cookbook and the Problem of Vegan Blackface

 

In 2014, it was revealed that the authors of the Thug Kitchena best selling cookbook utilizing basic ingredients, colloquial Black English, and gangster tropes, were white identified. To begin, I believe their intentions were good. Similar to the Vegan Black Metal Chef and the Vegan Zombie, Thug Kitchen probably had hopes of making veganism appear fun and culturally relevant.

Heavy metal musicians, however, are not a disenfranchised group,1 and zombies are not even real. “Thugs,” however, refer to a very real, very marginalized group of people. In American society,2 “thugs” are profiled and assaulted by police, mass incarcerated, stigmatized, and otherized. Oftentimes, their lives are cut short as a result.

These experiences are wholly divorced from that of the white middle-class authors of Thug Kitchen, making this white appropriation of Black culture for the profit and amusement of white audiences a form of literary Blackface.

White-presenting couple standing in front of a food spread. Man is throwing back a large bottle of alcohol. Thug Kitchen authors 

What is Blackface?

Blackface is present when whites represent themselves as Blacks for the amusement of white audiences. Historically, white entertainers would paint their faces and change their dress accordingly, but Blackface more generally relates to the use of nonwhite cultural stereotypes for whites by whites.

Blackface reflects a white legacy of entitlement and control over nonwhite spaces. It is problematic because whites pull on cultural items of value from the safety and comfort of their spaces of privilege while leaving structural discrimination in tact.

As an example, consider the popularity of Black jazz music among young whites in the early 20th century. Whites audiences and white jazz bands enjoyed Black culture in white spaces, while Americans of African descent suffered the Jim Crow violence of enforced poverty, segregation, voting disenfranchisement, and lynching.

By way of another example, consider the mass extermination of Native Americans in the 17th-19th centuries compounded by poverty, mental illness, suicide, and environmental injustice that persists today. Despite this unimaginable state-imposed oppression, whites of European ancestry idealistically lay claim to native geneology, proudly display tattoos of sacred indigenous symbols, and enthusiastically defend the “Redskins” team name and logo as respectful of native culture.

The Thug Cookbook enterprise is supposed to be humerous because it showcases white people “acting Black.”  By extension, being nonwhite is marked as funny because nonwhite culture is supposedly ignorant, primitive, and uncivilized. The cultures of people of color are thus usurped for the entertainment of a presumed white audience, but there is a complete disregard for the dangerous reality of white supremacy in which this minstrelism will be interpreted.

Thug Politics

The rhetoric of vegan Blackface is problematic because “thug” is an extremely politicized word. For those who must live under the label, it can be a matter of life and death. To be labeled “thug” in white America means to be denied opportunities, civil rights, and fair life chances.

“Thug” politics also influence the epistemologies of white Americans. For instance, the murder of young teen Trayvon Martin was deemed acceptable to many because this young, unarmed man walking home from the store with snacks was perceived to fit the thug profile. Martin was young, black, male, in a hoodie, and in a white neighborhood. For this, he was killed.

“Thug” has become the new n-word.  It is a means of referring to race without actually mentioning it. It a “color-blind” modern society, it maintains the cultural language about Blackness as a public threat.2  “Thug” acts as a racial identifier. It also becomes a qualifier. We are more likely to believe that thugs are innately deserving of whatever institutionalized violence is enacted upon them.  Subsequently, there is no race-neutrality to thug rhetoric.  It works to maintain a system of violence against people of color.

Vegan Blackface

Thug symbolism cannot be disassociated from a long and ongoing history of white supremacy, of which the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has played a part. Early anti-cruelty efforts were framed in white supremacist, nationalist terms. Despite the fact that many activists of the 19th and early 20th century were also heavily involved in human rights causes, they levied humaneness as a means of civilization. Make no mistake, this framework was (and is) highly detrimental to nonwhite, indigenous, and immigrant groups. There are thriving vegan communities of color today, but the mainstream vegan movement continues to be white-dominated in both theory and practice. This documented problem with racism makes vegan Blackface all the more dangerous.

Just as it is inappropriate for whites to wear indigenous headdresses to music festivals or wear sombreros with ponchos to Halloween parties, it is also unacceptable to play “thug” to sell books, t-shirts, or other vegan merchandise.  This is especially so when the dominant ideology of the vegan movement centers the white experience and has historically been used to uphold white supremacy.

 

Notes

1.  It has been suggested that the heavy metal genre actually appropriates African, Asian, and Middle Eastern music to some extent, as well as having historical ties to racist ideology.
2.  UK readers may have a different contemporary understanding of “thug” than Americans, but it is important to note here that the term derives from the Hindi word, “thugee,” and Indians branded as “thugs” were violently oppressed under British colonial rule.
3. Other communities of color are also impacted by thug politics.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.
Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on September 30, 2014 on The Academic Activist Vegan.
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A Month of Vegan Research: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation

animal-rights-dakota-pipeline

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


nibert-entanglementsDavid Nibert. 2002. Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation.  

Animal Rights/Human Rights makes a clear and convincing sociological argument for the social construction of speciesism and stratification. Human oppression and the oppression of other animals are inextricably linked and often compound one another. This oppression is a product of an economically-driven unequal power dynamic.  Those who benefit from this inequality seek to reinforce and perpetuate the system with the support of ideology, the state, and the internalization of powerlessness by those being exploited.

Nibert makes the interesting observation that our use of other animals is not a natural or inevitable phenomenon, but rather a cultural manifestation that reflects institutional arrangements. Human animals once lived harmoniously in their ecosystem as foragers, as this system was much more reliable and efficient. It was not until major changes in the landscape and the increased presence of migrating large mammals approximately 20,000 years ago that hunting became accessible to humans. Nibert notes that the switch to hunting (and eventually livestock keeping) moved human society away from egalitarianism.  This marked the beginning of speciesism, but also the beginning of gender and class divisions soon thereafter. Inequality developed with a fervor from this point and ideologies and state institutions were promulgated to support it.

Nibert argues that this indoctrination is achieved through daily experiences in a stratified and hegemonically controlled society.  Speciesism and other systems of oppression are largely a product of the economic system in which they operate. To develop this proposition, Nibert walks us through progression of human society from prehistoric times, early agricultural systems, feudalism, and to finally global capitalism. Capitalism has been particularly despicable in that it amplifies the exploitation of the oppressed and also normalizes it. When oppression is accepted as normal, natural, and necessary, that oppression is legitimated and is rendered invisible.

homelessness-and-dogs

Nibert’s solution is to move away from a capitalist society. In fact, an approach that ignores the role of capitalism is very unlikely to counter the growing level of oppression of other animals in the era of the new global economic order. Nibert warns that working for a “kinder” capitalism is not practical. Without challenging the hierarchical system, there is little hope for progress. Instead, we might use the opportunities currently available in the capitalist system to transcend it. Nibert cites successes in abolishing a significant amount of vivisection in New Zealand. Because New Zealand is a country that is not economically dependent on the biomedical industry, it exists as an example of how exploitation can be curbed when there is not an institutional reliance on that exploitation.

One major oversight in this publication is the lack of a clear vegan message.  In his latest publication, Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict, however, liberation politics are better emphasized.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about intersectional theory and its relevance for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 1, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism

race-veganism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


Harper, B.  2010.  “Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism:  Interrogating Whiteness, Geopolitical Privilege, and Consumption Philosophy of ‘Cruelty-Free’ Products.”  Journal for Critical Animal Studies 8 (3):  5-27.

Within the context of feminist geography, racial politics, and consumption studies, I have observed that mainstream vegan outreach models and top selling vegan-oriented books rarely, if ever, acknowledge the differing socio-historically racialized epistemologies among non-white racial groups. There is an underlying assumption among the white middle class mainstream vegan media that racialization and the production of vegan spaces are disconnected. However, space, vegan or not, is raced and simultaneously sexualized and gendered directly affecting individuals and place identities. Racialized places and spaces are at the foundation of how we develop our socio-spatial epistemologies; hence, these epistemologies are racialized. This paper will explore examples of how epistemologies of whiteness manifest within vegan rhetoric in the USA, and explain why a “post-racial” approach to vegan activism must be replaced by an anti-racist and color-conscious praxis.

Chris Nino, 11, carries empty pepper bags across a Plainview, Texas, field Sept. 21, 1997. Workers like Chris may earn as little as $1.20 per full bag of chili peppers. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Breeze Harper’s research asks activists to reexamine the meaning of “cruelty-free” in vegan production and the white worldviews that direct vegan outreach.  When major organizations define cruelty in food production as a nonhuman-only experience, the suffering of third world persons, immigrants, poor persons, and people of color are rendered invisible.

Harper’s article explores the heavy resistance to racial issues in vegan spaces.  One of the major reasons that human suffering is excluded from “cruelty-free” and vegan outreach efforts is because the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is predominantly white.  White privilege (and class privilege) reinforce the elitism of the movement, making social change piecemeal and stunted.  Harper suggests a rejection of “post-racial” ideology (the belief that racism is no longer a major problem) and a conscious awareness of the specific challenges facing vulnerable humans as well as nonhumans. Human and nonhuman oppression are heavily entangled.  A single-issue approach to anti-oppression work is not likely to be very successful.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 5, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment

animal-rights-sexism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Carol Glasser.  2011.  “Tied Oppressions:  An Analysis of How Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment.”  The Brock Review 12 (1):  51-68.

All oppression is rooted in the same system of domination and so embracing any form of oppression reinforces all oppressions. Unless social movements recognize oppression as rooted in the same system of domination, they will not be able to reject the foundations upon which their oppression is rooted. Dichotomous epistemology and value-hierarchies are the main characteristics of patriarchy that enforce both sexism and speciesism. I illustrate this by examining two animal rights advertisements that use sexist images. I demonstrate how sexism bolsters speciesism by reinforcing dichotomous epistemology, establishing value-hierarchies and accepting that positioning women as animals is degrading to women.

Many organizations and activists support a “sex sells” notion when promoting misogynistic tactics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, but there is no evidence to support that objectifying women encourages people to stop objectifying other animals.

Glasser explores this irrational assumption in “Tied Oppressions,” reminding us that oppression works intersectionally.  Treating women like meat only reinforces social norms in treating other vulnerable group like meat, including Nonhuman Animals.

lizzy-jagger-naked-tuna-fishlove-jerry-hall-mick-jagger

 

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 17, 2013.

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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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A Month of Vegan Research: Why Feminist-Vegan Now?

woman-and-veganism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


Carol Adams.  2010.  “Why Feminist-Vegan Now?”  Feminism & Psychology 20 (3):  302-317.

In this essay, I offer a reflection on the publication of The Sexual Politics of Meat, introducing several of the main theoretical insights from the book, and examining whether and how they hold true twenty years after the book’s first publication. I examine the associations among notions of virility, masculinity, and meat eating, and explain the concept of the absent referent and how it functions in the institution of eating animals. I also explore why images have proliferated that show the animalization of women or the feminization and sexualization of farmed animals, and propose that these are recuperative responses attempting to reinstate ‘manhood’ and meat eating. I propose that resistance to the decentering of the human being often is expressed through what I call ‘retrograde humanism’. To conclude, I meditate on ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes’ – what it means for women that the animal movement so often wants to disown their work, yet needs them to do that work.

I often assign this article to my students because it neatly condenses the main points of Carol Adams’ theory in a short and accessible piece.  The exploitation of other animals is highly gendered.  The feminist perspective understands all vulnerable groups that have been victimized by the white capitalist patriarchy as feminine.  What this means is that our society is structured according to “male” and “female” gender roles.  Within this binary, “male” dominates and controls and “female” is dominated and controlled.  That which is “female” is seen as a resource to men.

Not only women but also Nonhuman Animals and the environment are feminized in this way.  Adams argues that challenging patriarchy must go deeper than the human male/female dichotomy and also include other vulnerable groups that have been feminized.  Feminism only makes sense when it is intersectional, and this intersectional approach must include nonhumans as well as humans.Pinup drawing of a white woman straddling a polar bearskin carpet. She is in black lingerie

This image is a good example.  Notice how both the woman and the bear have been sexualized and presented as a resource.  They are both on objects on display for the male gaze and for male consumption.

 

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

 

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


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 10, 2013.

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