Friday, November 2, 2012

The Personal is Political: Veganism is a Feminist Act




“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from the motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

I was born a feminist. I’m not sure where it came from – perhaps my dynamo of a grandmother, confident to the core – but growing up, I never thought that I was anything but a complete equal to everyone else. I was a natural feminist and when I learned that there were was a real need for it - that there were those who believed in arbitrary, illogical and repressive hierarchies - the fire within me to correct injustices was found its fuel source. When I saw kids throw rocks at squirrels, heard people make bigoted remarks, witnessed others being treated unfairly, my hands would involuntarily ball up into tight little fists. Even if I wanted to keep quiet, to not attract the ire of that bully down the block who threw rocks at the squirrels or the loudmouth at the bar years later, I physically couldn’t do it. It’d be like asking a volcano to please not explode. My feminism and my passion for equality and fairness were always fully interwoven and integrated.

Now here is the sad part, the whole falling out between me and mainstream feminism that left me so disappointed. I will concede that maybe I’m na├»ve. It’s quite possible that I’m just out-of-synch with the world around me. I have come to accept that I am stubbornly idealistic sometimes. This is all possible.  

But…

When I came of age as a feminist in college the idea of intentionally adopting a patriarchal system of oppression was unthinkable. This is not to say that I was perfect by a long shot: I have a virtual walk-in closet chock full of skeletons just accumulated from the Booze Era of my life that lasted from ages 19 to 26. Even with a mean hangover, though, the idea was that I was trying to dismantle vicious systems of tyranny, not benefit from them. The thought of consciously participating in a fundamentally unjust and violent power structure once I knew about it would have been akin to keeping slaves simply because I could.

Animal agriculture is a historically and essentially oppressive one, one that asserts at its very root that “what’s yours is mine” if you don’t happen to be a human. Your milk, your eggs, your life. This is an entrenched patriarchal conceit, born of domination, and the idea that women, feminists at that, would accept this particular status quo is strange and troubling to me. That they would adopt it and wrap it in the parlance of quasi-feminist empowerment is especially unsettling. Yet I see photos of women with weapons standing over dead animals, grinning victoriously. I read grandiloquent accounts of slaughter, including one in which a woman was quoted as saying that she felt like “a goddess, an Amazon” after killing a chicken with her own hands. (Oh, and a knife.) I hear women speaking with obvious pride about shooting deer, killing the animals they have raised, taking them apart from limb to limb. Less overtly inspired by bloodlust, I know of avowed feminists who could “never” give up “their” cheese, who don’t pause to reflect on the lives of the chickens on the plate in front of them at their favorite Thai restaurant, who say that they consider their preferences first as a matter of self-empowerment.  

Here is the thing: when feminists are accepting and embracing the tools of oppression, it’s time to reevaluate things. Ladies, you have co-opted your own feminist principles and replaced them with maintaining your comforts instead.

Feminism is a social justice movement, one that asserts at its core that females are equal to males. No one deserves violence, injustice, suppression, and inequality simply because she was born with X and Y chromosomes, just as no Jews deserve persecution just because of the lineage they were born into or people of color deserve it because they are not Caucasian. We know this. Why are the animals people exploit and kill – those who were born to circumstances outside of their own control, just like all others – excluded from the sphere of consideration by otherwise thoughtful, kind, and progressive people? Because unrestricted access to animals is their right, damn it, and they will guard this privilege to the finish.

Feminism is about many things and it differs from interpreter to interpreter. I get that. If feminism implies through word and deed (or is also complicit by the lack thereof) that some females are more equal than others, though, this crosses into the troubling mentality that supports slavery and selective, self-serving habits over moral consistency. When females of different species are forcibly impregnated and have their babies and milk taken from them in an enforced cycle of pregnancy and birth until they are considered worthless, that is a crime against them and it is gendered. This is institutionalized, state-sanctioned violence and exploitation. Wouldn’t a feminist naturally take a stand against such abuse? Wouldn’t a feminist naturally not aid and abet such heinous cruelty? Wouldn't a feminist naturally disavow such distinctly unenlightened and unnecessary violence? 

I am a feminist because I believe that all beings were created equal. I am a feminist because I reject the common practices of patriarchal violence, no matter how culturally ingrained they are and beneficial they might be to me.  I am a vegan because I am a true blue, proud feminist. We have to be honest to ourselves and honest to each other: are those of us who believe in social justice going to go the distance for others or are we just going to remain in our own comfort zone? Are we going to be fearless as we create this new world order or are we going to accept business as usual, choosing comfort over challenging ourselves to be true champions for sovereignty of the body and spirit?   

Despite how disappointed I have felt by other feminists over the years, I am still one in my heart and soul. This won’t ever change. I am just ready for other feminists to step up to the plate and take the animals off of it. We have to never let go of a commitment to tenacious compassion.

We are the ones. The future of the world rests in the hands of the powerful and fearless vegan feminists.  

14 comments:

Vegan Burnout said...

YES to all of this! I am so proud to know and learn from a fierce vegan feminist like you. Totally bookmarking this for future arguments. :)

Anonymous said...

Uhhh...humans and other animals are not of the same class of beings. You can completely believe that all humans are created equal and not be in any kind of ideological tension for thinking animals are not equal to humans.

And if you do really believe that all BEINGS are created equal, which is not the same thing as conventional feminism (believing that both HUMAN GENDERS are equal), let me ask you this: do you also refuse to kill bugs, mice, and other creepy critters in your house? They're beings and deserved to be created equally. Do you also refuse to use antiseptics? Bacteria are "beings" too, aren't they? You can't practice genocide on any class of being according to your moral theory

tl;dr you're basically a Jainist, not a feminist. Good luck with that :/

Vanilla Rose said...

Way to dodge the issue, Anonymous!

Marla said...

Uhhh...First of all, Nony, what is this "class" of beings you are referring to? That sounds highly subjective. For the record, we don't kill bugs. I won't get into any more of your nonsense, because as Vanilla Rose pointed out, that is dodging the issue. And I sure as hell AM a feminist: This is why I am not the accomplice in killing others. Find your real name, Nony, before you post again.

Quiet Vegan said...

Hello Marla,

On the subject of women and animals, I have to say that two ladies I admire immensely are Gail Eisnitz, author of Slaughterhouse, and Lyn White of Animals Australia.
Lyn White is probably less well known outside Australia, but in our country she has been really effective in elevating the treatment of 'livestock' to national attention.

On the subject of Lyn White, first a relatively benign but - I think - really well made commercial about factory farming.

The latest campaign Animals Australia is promoting is here: http://www.makeitpossible.com/

If there a better ad to bring the reality of factory farming to non-vegans, I haven't seen it. I think Peta could learn alot from this (no naked women, for a start).

I really encourage everyone to take a look at this ad and share it widely with your vegan and non vegan friends.

More about Lyn White and her investigative work specifically:

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2011/s3228880.htm

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20110530/cattle/

http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/therazorsedge/default.htm

Also, the journalist who made 'A bloody business' is one of Australia's best regarded, and also a woman. She recently followed up with:

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2012/11/02/3623727.htm

Candy Beans said...

Bravo. I love your writing, and you really hit it out of the park here. Thank you for never losing your voice. It's inspiring to those of us who sometimes falter in their speech.

proud womon said...

i haven't heard the phrase 'the personal is political' for decades Marla - thank you for reminding me of it...

and i can't help but wonder what anonymous's problem is - they're certainly 'loud' but not too proud of their beliefs otherwise they'd be upfront about who they are...

keep on weaving your wonderful words Marla...

Marla said...

Thank you, Vegan Burnout, and I am so proud to know YOU.

Marla said...

Thanks so much, Quiet Vegan. I am chagrined that I do not know about Lyn White. Thank you for bringing her to my attention and I look forward to reading more about her and her work. The Australian animal advocacy world is really emerging as a force to be reckoned with for their bold and honest work.

Marla said...

Thank you, Candy Beans! Oh, I certainly do falter sometimes - we all do - but writing here I have the power of editing. :D Keep being your awesome self.

Marla said...

Thank you, proud womon, and thank you for all you do!!!

Michelle Waters said...

Marla, I've been enjoying your blog posts in general but this one is particularly eloquent on a subject I hold dear - the connection between the oppression of women and the oppression of animals. Sadly, I'm not shocked anymore when I see women behaving in speciesist ways, but I am also disappointed and wonder what we can do to open other feminists' eyes. Thank you.

damsel.in.de.tech said...

Great to find other like-minded feminists. I find the best way I've found to change hearts and minds in my own life is to live as an example. I make amazing food, and share it, and share amazing recipes to make veganism seem less daunting and "foreign". I confess I'm not 100% vegan atm, but that's largely because I've been more "freegan" due to budgetary issues. BUT, happily for me and many a critter, my life has improved and so shall now my ability to put my ethics where my mouth is.

Anonymous said...

Why are you inclined to join the legion that feminism is anything about equality? Why not call oneself an "egalitarian"? Both men and women were/are (dis)advantaged by the polarisation of the sexes in role. It baffles me that you compare the slaughter of animals to the restrictions placed upon women in history. What about the brutal wars throughout history, that are completely negated of sex-specific reasoning?