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.