There’s a link between veganism and feminism. I didn’t make this connection until a vegan friend casually said to me one day, “I think animal rights is a feminist issue too,” and my brain did a one-eighty. Wait, what? How? “Well,” she said, “Take dairy cows. They’re all female, used strictly for their capacity to breed and produce milk, and then slaughtered when they can no longer do either.” Suddenly the connection seemed so obvious.
Women, like animals, are constantly objectified in our world, and often at the same time (ever see an attractive woman in the same ad for wings or burgers? In these cases, both become a form of meat to be consumed – the woman with our eyes, the animal with our mouths). Carol J. Adams wrote an entire book linking these two oppressions – The Sexual Politics of Meat – and made famous the term for it: the absent referent.
Women are considered “less than” in our world. If it weren’t so, we wouldn’t still be making less wages and being given less opportunity. We wouldn’t be the ones consistently victimized by rape, spousal abuse and workplace harassment. We are objectified, belittled, stereotyped and sexualized early on in our lives, and that never ends. Even if by some miracle we never experience any of that treatment firsthand, we are forever witnessing our gender having to deal with those realities; an entire group of our kin having to live and fight and exist at the mercy of a patriarchal society.
Perhaps the harshest version of women trying to survive in a man’s world is when they too become the oppressors, participating in behaviours that not only perpetuate the status quo but also giving the oppression of females an air of credibility. An example of this is when women consume certain animal products, particularly the secretions of our female friends in the animal kingdom, like milk and eggs. These products can ONLY come from the female species. Milk can ONLY come from cows who have been repeatedly impregnated. Eggs can ONLY come from hens who’ve been genetically modified to produce nearly an egg a day, as opposed to once a month as it would be normally were they not so intensely farmed. As for the baby calves and chicks that are born as a result of these forced and repeated pregnancies, they are completely irrelevant to the industry. Male chicks are destroyed in macerators, female chicks become laying hens like their mothers, male calves are sent to veal farms and female calves become dairy cows. All are taken away at birth. Then companies have the gall to advertise to female consumers by labelling many of these products as a way to care for their own families, appealing to our nurturing side in order to sell us unimaginable cruelty. It’s a very, very dark and disturbing cycle.
I say this not to guilt women further – god knows we have enough of that. But I implore as a woman to women because it often takes people who have experienced oppression to understand and identify it in all it’s forms. Of course there are also men who have and continue to experience their own forms of oppression and they too will understand this. To be confined, repressed, silenced or exploited for any singular reason – genitalia, skin colour, race, gender, religion, age – is something many people experience in various forms on any given day. But animals – in particular the ones we use for food – experience daily imprisonment, mutilations, suffering and slaughter for one main reason alone: they are animals. And somewhere in our history humans decided that this was enough of a reason to do whatever the hell we want with them. This false belief has led us to subject animals to horrors I still find difficult to fathom. But animal oppression, just like every other form of relentless brutality, is wrong and we need to make it stop. And the best way to shut it all down – the factory farms, the slaughterhouses, the gestation crates, the battery cages – is to stop creating a demand for them. Stop eating animals, stop wearing them, stop using them for research and entertainment. Because if we stop, so does their suffering.
I leave you with a few words from Adams’ aforementioned book, from the 20th anniversary edition epilogue:
For women in patriarchal culture….we have been swallowed and we are the swallowers. We are the consumers and the consumed. We are the ones whose stomachs do not listen – having no ears – and we are the ones who seek to be heard from within the stomach that has no ears.
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