Breeding Slavery: Why Veganism Should Be Considered a Feminist Issue
In September, I was interviewed by activist Ashley Maier, whose blog explores many issues, including the intersection of veganism and feminism. She asked some excellent questions and gave me the opportunity to further explore the concepts outlined in the article I co-authored with Butterflies Katz: To Be a Feminist is to be a Vegan.
Q: How did you make the connection between veganism and feminism? Was there an “aha!“moment?
A: I was raised in a strongly feminist household, but I can’t say that it directly influenced my journey to veganism, or my activism. My decision to become vegan was based around the realization that all animals (male or female) have the right to live free from human oppression and that I don’t want to have any part in their exploitation. Over the years, it seems that the more I examine it, the more it becomes clear that veganism is deeply connected with all issues of social oppression, as every aspect of society is impacted by our willingness to use and objectify others for our own gratification. The connection with feminism itself didn’t really become clear to me until I read Will Tuttle’s book, The World Peace Diet. In the chapter, ‘The Domination of the Feminine’, he does an excellent job of explaining the wider implications of our exploitation of the female reproductive system. Of course, it’s not only the female system that has been oppressed by the animal industry. Every male animal who is dehorned and/or castrated is also a victim of our domination of the masculine.
Q: Your article provides many details about the reality of dairy production. How did you learn about these practices and how do you think we can help others learn about them?
A: There is a ton of information out there for anyone who wants to know. The film Earthlings (narrated by Joaquin Phoenix) covers almost every aspect of animal exploitation, but there are also many short video clips and articles all over the internet. How can we help others to learn about them? I think we just have to keep on speaking about what’s going on to anyone who will listen, especially using the wide reach of the internet.
Q: Regarding the above question, it‘s one thing to learn about the realities of dairy production and another to make the feminist connection. Any ideas for how to foster that connection?
A: We need to keep drawing attention to the connections between animal oppression and all other forms of oppression. One of the Gentle World founders has written a couple of excellent articles on this subject: most notably Occupy Humanity. But there are also some fantastic educational materials specifically about the uniquely female experience that should be illuminating to all women, whether or not they identify as feminists (or mothers). In Mother’s Milk, I reproduced excerpts from the Peaceful Prairie Pamphlet, Milk Comes from a Grieving Mother. Peaceful Prairie also released a fantastic article called Letter From a Vegan World. These are excellent resources which can be printed and distributed by grassroots activists anywhere. There’s another amazing story about a cow who gave birth to twins and tried to save one from slaughter by hiding him from the farmer. Sadly, the fact that she kept showing up to the milking area with udders empty clued the farmer in to her secret, and her other baby was killed as well.
Q: When I shared your article on Facebook, I asked, “I often wonder why my feminist colleagues and friends who are able to choose the food they eat consume dairy. Is it because they don‘t know the details of its production? Do they know but simply don‘t care? Do they not believe the facts about dairy production?“ What do you think?
A: Isn’t this just the million dollar question? I often wonder the same thing about non-vegans who are liberal, those who are environmentalists, those who work to protect endangered species or companion animals, those who work in other fields of social justice, and everyone else who ignores the truth of animal rights despite their open-mindedness to other causes. The moral rightness of it seems so obvious and yet it’s so rare that people make the connection and actually become vegan, even though it’s incredibly easy today. But one reason that veganism is different to many other social causes is because it requires the person in question to make a very specific set of changes in his or her own daily life. As far as I can tell, most social causes don’t require such an ongoing personal commitment from their supporters. But really, once you internalize the ideal of non-violence and make a commitment to it, living as a vegan is not only essential, but just as natural as can be.
Q: What type of resistance have you faced when talking about these issues with feminists? What have you found is the most effective way to deal with it?
A: I stopped reading the negative comments on my blog a while back, because I found that it was sapping my energy for activism. I love engaging with people who are interested and open, but simply being argued with isn’t something I enjoy. I think it’s important to remember that not everyone is going to agree right away, but behind what sometimes seems like a wall of negativity, there are likely people listening very intently and perhaps getting ready to break through to a new perspective.
Q: Closing thoughts?
A: I think that feminists who resist veganism need to look inward and ask themselves whether there is really a significant moral difference between a female cow/hen (or any other animal) and a female human. I always suggest to people that they try and imagine what it would be like if there were another species, more powerful than we are, who wanted to use us in a similar fashion. How would we feel being forced to reproduce so that members of this other species could use our milk and our eggs, or take our children away and kill them for food? How would we feel being bred into captivity, being separated from our babies, being milked by machine (or even by someone’s hand), and ultimately being killed so that someone else could eat our bodies? How would we feel about our daughters being condemned to the same lifetime of breeding slavery? How would we feel if each of our sons was taken away to have his flesh sold as veal and the lining of his stomach used to make cheese? How would we feel if our bodies were literally the property of someone else, and we were defenseless against the ongoing assault upon our reproductive systems?
How can we expect our society to respect the rights of human women when those same women don’t respect the very basic rights of other female animals? I would go so far as to say that it’s not only a feminist issue, but it’s the biggest feminist issue there is.
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