A number of vegan feminists have noted the ways in which sexism and speciesism intersect. Few, however, acknowledge the role of capitalism in exaggerating this entangled oppression.
Capitalism often exaggerates the gendering process to maximize consumption. Instead of buying one family razor for everyone to share, for instance, households are encouraged to purchase a razor for him and a razor for her. Each razor will be packaged and designed to cater to imagined differences in how women and men shave (with a pink tax often applied for the women’s version).
For masculinized types of consumption, a case must be made as to why women should partake for this strategy to work. Shaving was once a primarily male domain in the West. Razor companies, hoping to expand their market, began appealing to ideations of gender differences in the early 20th century and exaggerated them to convince women to start purchasing razors to remove body hair that, at one time, was not seen as antithetical to femininity. This is a campaign that is currently being waged by Western corporations in Asia where women’s body hair has not been as problematized.
In Critical Animal Studies, similar patterns can be identified. Many forms of speciesist consumption that involve directly working with the bodies of exploited and/or dead animals are masculinized. To increase sales, capitalists will sometimes advertise directly to women, reworking gender norms to align masculinized practices with women’s consumerism. By way of example, the “hunting” industry has lost much of its consumer base as killing other animals continues to lose its appeal. With almost all “hunters” being male, the industry has attempted to compensate for falling sales by directing ad campaigns at women.
Co-opting feminist values to promote consumerism is a common tactic. Shaving and “hunting” can be “empowering.” Participating in men’s consumerism is “equality.” Capitalist appeals to women’s political interests easily subvert the real meaning of feminism. Feminism is not just about choice in the marketplace, it is about restructuring society in such a way as to eliminate unequal life chances and access to resources based on socially constructed differences.
Vegan feminism would argue that tweaking speciesist masculinized consumption to include women subverts anti-speciesism as well. It does nothing to challenge the fetishization of commodified bodies. The “pork” industry attempted to boost the sales of dead pigs, for instance, by launching a campaign to encourage women to get grilling. “Ladies everywhere” are encouraged to “step out of the kitchen” and rub pigs’ flesh according to their “mood” and desire for “intensity.” Although Mother Jones was quick to highlight the blatant sexism of the advertising materials in which women are belittled as “grill girls,” “ladies,” “hot mamas, “spicy girls,” and “gal pals,” nothing was said about the extreme violence experienced by the pigs who are objectified as “pork.”
Capitalism’s creation or aggravation of tropes about men, women, people of color, animals, and other groups facilitates particular identities that, in turn, facilitate consumption as consumers work to fulfill those identity expectations. Expanding gender identities to challenge the divide between masculinized and feminized consumption may seem to advance feminist ends, but, as these examples show, they often fall flat. Furthermore, they are ultimately interested in profit, not liberation. So long as the objectification of vulnerable groups remains unchallenged as is almost always the case with Nonhuman Animals, capitalism and its exploitative nature will continue to divide and dominate for the benefit of society’s most privileged.
Readers can learn more about the intersections of capitalism, veganism, and feminism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.
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