Feminism & Veganism

Below is an excerpt of an article originally posted at For the Birds Feminist Collective.

I’ve been a vegan for the last five years.  I have always intuitively connected not using animal derived products to my feminist politics, but only recently was asked to articulate this relationship for a symposium at at local college.  Once I dedicated time, thought, and research to the topic I found many different facets of the intersection, not only between speciesism and gender, but also race and class.

One approach to the topic examines notions of masculinity and femininity within our culture.  Men are often denied emotion, feelings, compassion. Instead rationalization, hierarchy, and conquering are embedded within our notions of masculinity.  Discussed in the works of Max Weber and Theodor Adorno, modernity has contained the thematic of dominating nature (or the feminine).  In reading the work of Carol Adams, I learned that historically men have been the ones to consume meat and determine women’s consumption of meat, despite women’s work caring for the animals and preparing the food.  So while manly men are associated with the active ‘beefing’ up, women are associated more with vegetables. Even in societies where food is more plentiful we can see these distinctions in cookbooks, popular culture, and socialization behaviors (i.e. the bar b que).

If a male does opt to be a vegetarian, there can be a stigma of not being manly and being a ‘fruit’.

At the same time in a recent study of ethical vegetarians in college, Ben Merriman found that family and friends were actually neutral or favorable to men’s transition to vegetarianism.  Women, on the other hand, were found to face hostility primarily from male family and friends.  Merriman concluded that this is because the men were seen as capable of governing their bodies, while the women were not.

Denial over control and exploitation of bodies is certainly not limited to human females.  Animals we culturally define as food have been shown to be sentient beings.  Jonathan Balcombe, a senior research scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has looked at animal’s experience of joy.  He determined that animals have behaviors that are carried out for pure enjoyment, such as oral sex being documented amongst goats, hyenas, various primates, bats, and sheep.  In “Let Them Eat Dog: A Modest Proposal for tossing Fido in the Oven” Jonathan Safran Foer makes the argument that while dogs and pigs are quite equivalent in their emotions and intelligence, we do not eat dogs even though it would simultaneously solve our problems of over population of dogs and hunger.  Even those animals we define as food we need to objectify and remove from their corporeal bodies.  We utilize absent referents, renaming the flesh foods as a way of hiding their origins; we eat pork, bacon, and sausage instead of pigs.

This becomes an explicitly feminist issue when examining the source of our flesh foods.  The ‘means of production’ in modern factory farming is the female animal body.  Impregnation is no longer something occurring between two animals but now involves a ‘rape rack,’ or a metal pipe used to deposit sperm.  Hens are caged in confined spaces, have their beaks cut to prevent killing those they are caged with when trying to move, and are made to lay egg after egg until they can no longer reproduce and are then slaughtered.  Sows are forcibly impregnated and kept in small spaces, making nursing of their young difficult.  Female cows are kept pregnant for their milk until they are ‘dried up’ and then slaughtered.  Their calves are taken away early, to which the mother cows have displayed emotional grief.  Male babies in all of the above are often considered byproducts.  Male calves are often placed in confined spaces and fed low iron diets so that they become desirable veal, while male chicks are simply thrown away.

As human women we are cougars, chicken heads, chicks, foxy, bird (brains), pigeons, bunnies, (ghetto) rats, pigs, cows, pussies, beavers, old bats, and of course bitches.  These comparative labels position women hierarchically below men, justifying our exploitation.  To say you feel like meat is not only to say you feel like an object, but one reduced to flesh.

–Megan, For the Birds

Read the rest of Megan’s article at For the Birds Feminist Collective.

Petition to Pardon Kelley Williams-Bolar

Please consider signing this petition at Change.org calling on Governor Kasich of Ohio to pardon Williams-Bolar for unfair sentencing.

I was infuriated yesterday when I visited The Boyce Blog (via Racialicious’s daily link roundup) to learn about a black woman in Ohio, Kelley Williams-Bolar, who is being sent to jail for sending her children to the wrong school district.  Dr. Boyce Watkins of Syracuse writes, “She was convicted on two counts of tampering with court records after registering her two girls as living with Williams-Bolar’s father when they actually lived with her. The family lived in the housing projects in Akron, Ohio, and the father’s address was in nearby Copley Township. Additionally, Williams-Bolar’s father, Edward L. Williams, was charged with a fourth-degree felony of grand theft, in which he and his daughter are charged with defrauding the school system for two years of educational services for their girls. The court determined that sending their children to the wrong school was worth $30,500 in tuition.”

Dr. Boyce offered further analysis:

[I]t’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black. I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense. Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects.

I’m not sure why the court is treating this law-abiding mom like a thug who ran into a building with a shotgun and robbed the district of $30,000. Instead, they could simply subtract the amount it costs for her kids to go to the second school from the amount that would be spent for them to attend the first one. I’m sure the difference would still be substantial, since American educational apartheid dictates that schools in poorer neighborhoods are of significantly less quality than other schools. The racial divisions within American schools are nothing less than a blatant and consistent human rights violation and should certainly be treated as such.

The article on Change.org points out that Ms. Williams-Bolar had nearly completed educational requirements to become a teacher in Ohio, and now will be unable to do so as a convicted felon.  What’s horrifying is that the judge, Patricia Cosgrove, was well aware of this at sentencing, saying, “Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today. The court’s taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve.”

Please remember to sign the petition at Change.org! And spread the word.

–Rosamund Hunter

Melissa Harris-Perry: Michael Vick, Racial History, and Animal Rights

After feeling as if her comments regarding Michael Vick were not properly contextualized on her appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show last night, Melissa Harris-Perry took the opportunity to flesh out the history of race and animal rights on her group blog today.  I was happy to see she tackled the issue of Tucker Carlson’s recent comments that Michael Vick should be executed as punishment for his crimes.  Here, Harris-Perry discusses some crucial historical connections that rarely get discussed:

Recall that North American slavery of the 17th and 18th century is distinguished by its “chattel” element.  New World slavery did not consider enslaved Africans to be conquered persons, but to be chattel, beast of burden, fully subhuman and therefore not requiring the basic rights of humans. By defining slaves as animals and then abusing them horribly the American slave system degraded both black people and animals. By equating black people to animals it both asserted the superiority of humans to animals, arrayed some humans (black people) as closer to animals and therefore less human, and implied that all subjugated persons and all animals could be used and abused at the will of those who were  more powerful. The effects were pernicious for both black people and for animals….

Not only have animals been used as weapons against black people, but many African Americans feel that the suffering of animals evokes more empathy and concern among whites than does the suffering of black people.  For example, in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina dozens of people sent me a link to an image of pets being evacuated on an air conditioned bus. This image was a sickening juxtaposition to the conditions faced by tens of thousands of black residents trapped by the storm and it provoked great anger and pain for those who sent it to me.

I sensed that same outrage in the responses of many black people who heard Tucker Carlson call for Vick’s execution as punishment for his crimes.  It was a contrast made more raw by the recent decision to give relatively light sentences to the men responsible for the death of Oscar Grant. Despite agreeing that Vick’s acts were horrendous, somehow the Carlson’s moral outrage seemed misplaced. It also seemed profoundly racialized. For example, Carlson did not call for the execution of BP executives despite their culpability in the devastation of Gulf wildlife. He did not denounce the Supreme Court for their decision in US v. Stevens (April 2010) which overturned a portion of the 1999 Act Punishing Depictions of Animal Cruelty. After all with this “crush” decision the Court seems to have validated a marketplace for exactly the kinds of crimes Vick was convicted of committing.  For many observers, the decision to demonize Vick seems motivated by something more pernicious than concern for animal welfare. It seems to be about race.

Read Melissa Harris-Perry’s full blog here at TheNation.com’s group blog, The Notion. (WARNING: Disturbing images.)

–Rosamund Hunter

Revisiting the Civil Rights Era: Condoleezza Rice & James Bonard Fowler

I wrote this on November 16th but was hesitant to post it due to recent comments on this blog that reeked of racism and a general distaste for addressing white privilege. Upon revisiting it, I decided it is better published than sitting in our draft box.

Two articles on my reading list this morning brought me back to the Civil Rights Era in American History. First, Latoya Peterson at Racialicious did a great review of Condoleezza Rice’s new book Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family. Peterson highlighted Rice’s lucid details of the salient threats of violence that ravaged Alabama at this time, while also questioning Rice’s foreign policy more recently.

Then, my attention was brought to Robbie Brown of the New York Times, who reported yesterday that Alabama state trooper James Bonard Fowler finally plead guilty to his “fatal shooting” of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old civil rights activist, in 1965. Fowler considers the shooting self-defense rather than murder. While I write a lot about race in US culture, both articles served as a reminder of how recent this struggle, this violent and contentious time, actually is in our history. Continue reading

The Scavenger: Addressing racism and classism in animal rights activism

via Racialicious.

We’ve heard a lot about sexism in the animal rights movement, particulary in regard to PETA advertisements.  Stephanie Lai wrote a great piece for The Scavenger which takes a closer look at racism and classism in animal rights activism.

Historically, in Western animal rights activism, it’s been considered a very white, middle-class movement. There’s an assumption of a certain level of education, and of physical ability.

People who don’t fall in to this image have felt unwelcome or alienated from animal rights because of this. A failure to take into account intersections can also be very disempowering for the marginalised group/s.

Traditionally it has been ‘How do we get X minority group to come to us?’ which ignores the reality that often these groups are already part of animal rights activsm, or doing their own thing, and the mainstream just hasn’t noticed them.

Or the approaches taken have ignored the reality of what’s going on, and so have squandered an opportunity to get a certain group on board.

A lot of intersectionality issues have been ignored or dismissed by western animal rights activists because “We don’t have time for that” or “It’s not about the animals.” The term I use for that is ‘single issue vegan,’ and it’s not a nice term.

Being single issue is giving preference to a political party based on their animal rights promises and ignoring their history of environmental and racial issues, never mind their history of breaking promises.

Being single issue is buying the cheap cotton jumper from some shop, without considering its environmental impact and their abuse of labour and sweatshop laws.

Being single issue is choosing something vegan with no consideration for whether it’s heavily processed and packaged, and what that means.

The reason why I talk about intersectionality in animal rights is because I have often felt alienated from it.

I am bisexual and ethnically Chinese, and I grew up economically not that well-off (though I am now a middle-class hipster).

I come to animal rights from environmentalism.

All of these things intersect for me, because what it means is that I deviate from the “norm” within animal rights. In animal rights, and also within veganism, terms that are frequently used, as they are in many movements, are things like ‘normal,’ and ‘exotic,’ and I’m usually positioned outside of these terms.

This has always been really alienating for me, because things that I think of as normal or everyday are actually considered odd, especially within vegan circles.

BI just wanted to flag this, because this is what intersectionality is about in animal rights: it’s about making sure that we’re not excluding, ignoring or dismissing people. And it can be about harnessing potential.

Read Stephanie Lai’s full post at TheScavenger.net.

Sarah Lawrence grad wins contest, fights stereotypes

courtesy of Hyphen Magazine

Recent Sarah Lawrence graduate Kyle Chu, hailing from San Francisco, won the 2010 Mr. Hyphen contest, an event somewhat based on more traditional beauty pageants and the “signature” event of Hyphen Magazine. Chu discusses his drag performance to Queen, one of the many factors contributing his win. On choosing to do this performance, Chu explains that he wanted to use drag as a “queer tradition” to bring attention to the fact that gender is fluid and that there are a plurality of ways to be masculine. Chu’s $1,000 prize goes to his charity of choice, the Center for Asian American Media. Having interned at the Center, Chu also chose it based on his own encounters with racism, telling a hurtful personal story to illustrate how important these efforts to fight stereotypes and media misrepresentations are. To hear Chu’s far more eloquent explanations, please listen to the full NPR interview here.

– Kate Wadkins

In Canada: City’s anti-racism campaign fights ‘white privilege’

This article was originally posted by Richard Liebrecht of the Edmonton Sun.

“A white person looking for an apartment to rent does not face similar challenges that an aboriginal person does,” said Coun. Amarjeet Sohi, explaining what is meant by the phrase white privilege.

But Ryan Hastman, the federal Conservative candidate for the Edmonton-Strathcona, said he’s concerned because the campaign’s focus on white people is too narrow.

“If we try to address these issues by singling out groups, it seems to be counterproductive,” said Hastman, who posted some of his concerns on Twitter.

The City of Edmonton and 13 Edmonton organizations – including the Edmonton Police Service, Alberta Human Rights Commission and Edmonton Catholic Schools – are behind the Racism-Free Edmonton campaign.

The campaign is focused on identifying and resolving institutional barriers faced by aboriginal people and other racial groups in Edmonton, according to a City of Edmonton release.

The campaign aims to have 30,000 Edmontonians sign a scroll committing to defeating racism locally.

On the campaign’s website, http://www.racismfreeedmonton.com, under the “What can you do to stop racism” heading, the first line reads “acknowledge your white privilege.”

Read the full article here.