The truth about being a vegan and a feminist

Wmc Fbomb Vegan Jordan Christian Unsplash 91920
Credit: Jordan Christian, Unsplash

I am a vegan and a feminist. Despite their different labels, however, I don’t believe these are separate identities. The main beliefs at the heart of feminism are that all living beings are equal and that exploitation (especially of women) should be abolished. It's disturbing to me that most feminists only hold these beliefs about humans — that they don’t believe the lives of animals are worth nearly as much as their own, and that they continue to financially support industries that see animals as products rather than living beings.

We currently kill and exploit literally trillions of animals a year. We do not need to kill these animals in order to survive, but do so because consumers effectively demand their deaths. Companies that tell consumers that they need to eat meat and consume animal byproducts to grow healthy and strong are billion-dollar corporations that want to profit off this belief; they do not have our best interests at heart. Humans don’t need to consume animals and their byproducts to get the nutrients we need; a vegan diet is acceptable throughout all phases of one’s life, including as a child, a teenager, an adult, during pregnancy, and in old age. In fact, a 2015 study by the World Health Organization recommended a plant-based diet above all others. This study was preceded by the 2005 China Study, which also concluded that veganism can prevent and even reverse heart disease and diabetes, which are two of most lethal diseases in the world today.

So if eating meat is not nutritionally necessary, how can people morally justify enslaving, torturing, exploiting, and killing animals en masse? Aside from the nutritional argument, many meat-eaters claim that animals are beneath humans: It’s a matter of the food chain. Yet which animals we consider below us is relatively arbitrary. Why do we love and protect dogs and feel horror at the idea of them being slaughtered or eaten, but don't care when pigs are treated this way — even though they been proven to be even more intelligent than dogs? Humans have a moral agency unlike any other animal, and yet we seem to have ignored this injustice completely, likely in large part due to our disconnection from the violent process required to turn these living beings into consumable meals. If slaughterhouses had glass walls, most of the world would be vegan, but industrialization and capitalism have made sure to help consumers set their morality apart from their consumerism.  

From a feminist point of view, it’s also worth noting that humans’ justification for eating meat is similar to the patriarchy’s justification for enforcing inequality. Just as men have historically seen women as vulnerable, incapable of fighting back, giving consent, or effectively communicating — and therefore considered them their property, available for exploitation in the name of profit and consumption — so do we consider animals. What’s more, it’s worth considering how female animals’ sex, namely their reproductive organs and abilities, including those that allow them to breed, lactate, and menstruate, dictate how exactly they will be oppressed. For example, female cows are forcibly impregnated on what the meat industry literally calls a “rape rack”: they are immobilized in tiny cages in which they are artificially inseminated. Once the cows give birth, their babies are ripped from them, often only hours later, and then attached to milking machines. The milk that should have gone to their baby is painfully taken from them for human consumption. We are the only animal that takes milk meant for another baby to drink for ourselves even into adulthood. If a cow has a male calf, he is frequently deemed useless and killed in his first week of his life for veal. This process is repeated four or five more times until the cow literally cannot take it anymore, collapses, and is taken to a slaughterhouse. Unlike what many people are told, the cow is not painlessly, quickly killed; she watches as all the cows in front of her are stunned, strung up by their feet, and killed. This portrays how female animals are degraded and devalued as they wear out and age and can no longer reproduce, much like female humans.

Pigs meet the same fate of being thrown into gas chambers after being repeatedly, forcibly impregnated. Female chickens are manipulated into constant cycles of ovulation, which create unbearable amounts of stress on their bodies that often result in painful and deadly illnesses, so that that the industry can sell and consume their eggs, only to ultimately be tortured and slaughtered. Like male calves, male chicks are of no use to the industry and so are separated out from female chicks and forced into huge grinders to be ground alive.

While the reproductive violence done to female animals is perhaps the most extreme and graphic comparison to the oppression of women, there are other ways oppression against women and animals overlap. In many ways, women are animalized and animals are feminized to justify their various oppressions. Restaurants like Hooters are the perfect showcase for how typically macho spaces blend the exploitation and diminishment of women as nothing but pieces of meat for them to ogle, objects with which they can do what they like and be served by, with the objectification of animals as meat. The creation of industries that profit by sexualizing animals and women together are also abundant, such as Playboy bunnies and sexy animal Halloween costumes for women. Speciesism, sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression are interconnected and overlap.

The connection between violence done to animals in our society and its translation to other humans is often underemphasized, yet studies have shown that there are definite links between people who are violent toward animals and people who are violent toward other humans. A 2009 study concluded that towns that have slaughterhouses within them also had much higher rates of violence, including crimes like domestic violence, rape, and murder. The majority of the victims of these crimes are women. One 1998 report found that a whopping 71 percent of battered women reported that their partners also showed violence toward their animals. In 88 percent of homes in which child abuse occurs, so does animal abuse. It makes sense that when the government does home inspections for abusive behavior, they first look at the well-being of the pets and that the FBI uses animal abuse as one of the main indicators to track the behavior of a person suspected in other crimes.

These correlations suggest that feminists who are rightly insistent on dismantling the patriarchy also need to include animals in their fight. How can we pay to consume a once-living being that was raped, exploited, and slaughtered while trying to fight against rape culture, gender inequality, and often lethal violence against women? We may have been raised in a society that does not recognise all animals as sentient, feeling beings, and therefore tend to be insensitive to what we do to them, but fighting for justice must include all living groups that are oppressed. We cannot fully address and solve one problem without addressing them all and without being aware of these connections.

The idea that there could be such a thing as the humane slaughter of a living, breathing, sentient being’s body — a body that does not want to die — is an oxymoron. So is paying to consume a raped, exploited, and slaughtered being while trying to fight against rape culture, gender inequality, and the exploitation of women. Just as feminists asked men to give up some of their privileges for cultural and social change, now so must we make sacrifices ourselves to truly live our ideals. As feminists, if we want to rid the world of this system of hierarchy, of needless violence, then shouldn’t we fully commit to it?

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Ella Hague
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