Dispatch from the feminist animal rights closet

Woke culture has overtaken the vegan and animal rights movements and the effects have been as harmful as elsewhere. I’ve spoken before about how, ironically, this has gone hand in hand with the sidelining of vegan radicals and the trend towards corporatization and pro-neoliberal discourse and activism. Indeed, “intersectional veganism” and the pro-corporate vegan movement are two sides of the same coin.(1)

What I’ve not yet spoken about is the specific issue of sexism and anti-feminism in the AR movement–a topic that would have already been worthy of discussion before the adoption of gender ideology by much of the movement. I don’t know if animal rights/vegan circles and organizations are particularly bad for women in relation to other social movements (it’s not like non-vegan leftist men have a good track record either, and veganism also holds appeal for those who lean right) but I do know that in absolute terms, it’s pretty bad. Now it has gotten even worse. Woke culture has veered the AR movement in an anti-feminist direction, and in some ways this movement is more susceptible than others to the unquestioning acquiescence to the edicts of SJW thought leaders.

With gender ideology, we’ve gotten to a place in the AR movement where women are branded as TERFs; driven out of their organizations; denied platforms and funding due to their feminism; in my case have their work plagiarized (so that I don’t get credit and visibility from it); blacklisted and excluded from events; and the women who avoid these consequences do so at the cost of never publicly voicing their feminist views. Either that, or they just leave the movement.

I wanted to share a dispatch from the closet that many feminist animal rights activists have been shoved into. It’s an email that was sent to me by a female acquaintance after I wrote my post last year on being dropped as an author from an animal rights anthology. I’m sharing it with her permission and I edited it very slightly to keep it anonymous.

Hi Nassim,

Ugh, I don’t know where to begin…

Your early FB posts on this, and Mary Kate’s writings prompted me to pay closer attention.(2) And then I heard that MK got *fired* from her job because of something she’d written -wtf?

A lot of the verbiage had been troubling me but it wasn’t until I read of Meghan Murphy’s talk (in a Canadian library) being hounded and shut down that, with horror and disbelief, I started reading about what had been developing in the past several years, especially in the UK. 

I wanted to write to you, especially when you posted your last piece on FB re being dismissed from the book, but, coward that I am, was ashamed to be another of the many women who tell you of their admiration and support, but will not also speak up.

I’ve been following a number of sources and barely have the emotional strength to read about it let alone act.

Not only am I struggling to make a living, but the wildly dystopian and incomprehensible nature of what has manifested out of the whole shift from what I thought was settled years ago— that “gender” is a set of artificial “norms“ imposed, especially on women, not a fixed set of behaviors that one can escape or adopt by “identifying” or surgically altering one’s body—is deeply troubling and frightening…

When I was last with a group of friends, one said, 

“Well, I don’t think I’d go as far as to agree with Mary Kate, but…”

What?, but hers is just basic feminism…

I’ve tried writing about it but the fury leaves me unable to focus on anything else. 

The lock-step anti-“TERF“ comments I see on FB, by people who consider themselves deep-thinking progressives … is dumbfounding.

At the Conscious Eating Conference at the end of Feb, just before the lockdown, Pax, acting as conference host and moderator, stood at the podium to introduce Carol J. Adams, and found it relevant to loudly assert that “Trans women *ARE* women”.. and the room erupted in wild applause. (3)

Enough for now…

Notes:

(1) While I have long opposed “intersectionality” as understood in the animal rights/vegan movements, this does not at all reflect an opposition actual intersectionality, as formulated by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

(2) She is referring to Mary Kate Fain, who was kicked out of an animal rights organization she had founded (not only kicked out, but accosted by AR activists who hurled abuse at her on the street). After losing her job she went on to found the feminist website 4W, that in a short amount of time has become one of the most important resources for the feminist movement and that hosts the writings of dozens of women from around the world (and pays them too!); she co-created Spinster, an alternative platform to Twitter which has the habit of booting off uppity women; she is a prolific writer who also recently started a podcast, and on top of that got a job with a radical feminist organization. Basically Mary Kate is some sort of Wonder Woman who could have put her talents towards animal liberation, but the movement preferred to hound her out.
(Read Mary Kate’s story of losing her job in her article Fired For Feminism.)

(3) The Conscious Eating conference is organized by Hope Bohanec, the editor who dropped me from her book because of my feminism. From my interactions with her, it became clear that she has little experience with and interest in human-related issues but strives to tick the requisite boxes of diversity so as to avoid criticism. Being of relative privilege and disconnected from much of the oppression that women experience in this world, she thinks that “transwomen are the most oppressed of women”. This conference took place shortly after Hope dropped me from her book. The focus that year was “to explore overlapping oppressions”; a panel on the history of the animal rights movement with prominent female activists was titled Animal Rights Herstory Panel.
By Pax she is referring to Pax Ahimsa, a trans-identified female who started “educating” the AR movement on gender ideology, “inclusivity” etc etc years ago. Pax’s blog reveals a person who has no grasp of basic feminist analysis and whose ideas are in complete opposition to it.
Carol J. Adams is a renowned vegan second wave feminist who, interestingly, has been attacked by trans activists for various reasons in the past, but is now seemingly on board with gender ideology and has become mealy-mouthed on sex and gender, presumably to gain the approval of the “intersectional vegan” crowd. Maybe this is the sad result of having built an audience composed more of vegans than of feminists.

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Is Animal Liberation Incompatible with Food Sovereignty?

I am currently writing a chapter on the role of social movements for a very exciting book on the transformation of food systems, and thinking about the different elements that will allow us to build a veganic food system. I remembered this comment that I posted to Animal Liberation Currents some months ago and would like to share it here. 

I founded the People’s Harvest Forum in 2015 as a way to promote food sovereignty and agroecology, while working within a vegan ethic. I think that if we simply present veganism as the better way to eat or grow food, then advocating for a strict adherence to veganism is fundamentally incompatible with food sovereignty. This is one of the reasons the forum never included presentations on veganism as a necessary solution to environmental, social or public health issues (e.g. veganism as a response to climate change). On the other hand, I think we can stand firmly behind an animal liberationist ethic and promote veganism in the same way we promote women’s liberation and other social justice causes – with all the conundrums these pose and despite the fact that these are also often at odds with the traditions and the status quo of groups with which we interact.

The reason vegans feel the need to make veganism about everything else under the sun is because we are an ideological minority and veganism is very far from being normative, so it stands out in a way that accepted positions don’t. The strategy of the People’s Harvest Forum was to consciously reverse that attitude and treat our empathy towards cows as something no different than our empathy for dogs. So in our panels on agroecology, there was of course an element that went against tradition, however those who promote agroecology will tell you that while they want to maintain tradition in how we grow food – to a large extent – they also want to do away with tradition in regards to relationships of power between men and women. There are vegans who would have liked to help build the food sovereignty movement and have had difficulty plugging in. Some have given up activism, others have given up veganism. Seed the Commons was created as third solution, a place for activists to work towards a transformation of our food system that includes nonhuman animals in our ethic.

Unfortunately, the animal rights movement is mostly focused on individual consumption – even the voices that pass for radical in the movement push the notion of voting with ones dollar. There needs to be a true radicalization of people in the movement (by this I do not refer to extremist tactics but rather to a focus on transformation of food systems instead of the liberal approach of advocating for small improvements to existent structures and corporations). On the other side of it though, I don’t think the food sovereignty movement will easily take on animal liberation because so many people within the movement live off of animal exploitation. For better or worse, the social transformation here is probably going to be led by a more middle class, urban mainstream. As veganism becomes mainstreamed, it will be easier for people within radical movements to advocate for an inclusion of nonhuman animals.

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Your Intersectionality is Bullshit

These days I’m less connected to the animal rights movement and less present on social media, so I’m not on top of trends, but for a while intersectionality was a BIG THING. It’s always been bullshit, but I thought people had moved onto different framing, different language…. like “radical veganism”. I guess I was wrong. Getting back on facebook has me coming across pro-intersectional posts from vegans, so the bs still needs pointing out. 

I see the appeal of the punchy, self-righteous language, but this is empty virtue-signalling. The people who popularized “intersectionality” in the animal rights movement are in no way fighting against ALL oppression. Or even the most widespread oppressions. Who right now is organizing against the wars in the Middle East? What vegans are working with the labor movement? And don’t get me started on how the “intersectional” crowd is purging women who speak up for women from the movement.

These messages are harmful because they shame people away from their activism. Single-issue activism is completely fine as long as it doesn’t serve to oppress others. Yes, your animal rights activism should not become a vehicle or an excuse for racism. This is not the same as saying that if you spend time on animal rights activism you must also spend some time doing anti-racism activism. Basically, this is an All-Lives Matter response to animal rights or whatever other activism is being shamed (typically animal rights or women’s rights; other movements are more often left alone to do the limited good they do).Facebooktwittermail

Celebrating the Cycle of Life with Death

Alemany Farm, San Francisco’s largest urban farm,  is celebrating Earth Day this year by roasting a pig, as they do every year. When vegans have questioned this in the past, their response has been “circle of life”. So while spring is in bloom and the air is full of the scent and colors of life bursting forth, Americans celebrate the circle of life with death. 

Meanwhile, Iranians are currently celebrating our new year. Norooz falls on Spring Equinox and revolves around the sacredness of the circle of life. Before Norooz, we grow sprouts (sabzeh) for the haftseen, a table with symbolic items which will be laid until the end of the celebration. 

The cyclical renewal of life is celebrated with the vibrancy of life growing from seeds and creating a lush tapestry of green. On our haftseens we also place hyacinths, apples, and other symbols of abundance, health, life and nature. Norooz is celebrated for thirteen days, during which time the haftseens are a joyful backdrop, and people take pride in the beauty they’ve created. Then comes Sizdah Beh Dar (“thirteen to the door”); on the thirteenth day of the new year, friends and families spend the day in nature. The sabzeh is brought along for a final ritual. People tie little tufts of sprouts into knots as they make a wish for the new year and then throw them into a river, looking forward to the gifts that the river will bring back to them. 

All the while in my city, young Americans are choosing to honor the Earth and the circle of life by gathering around the body of an animal who will have wanted nothing more than to stay alive. This pig’s life will be violently ended by people who have absolute power over him or her and who have no need to kill to sustain themselves, but who choose to do so anyway because their entitlement trumps their empathy. Domination and death are the values upheld as Alemany gathers around another broken body. 

These daily choices and rituals call upon us to question our culture and the connections between the local and the global, the individual and the collective. 

Consider that the United States military is a bloated killing machine that receives more than a third of total global military spending. With bases around the globe and the wanton slaughter of civilians in criminal wars, it is the main source of terror in the world. Consider that last year American police killed a thousand of their own citizens and this year we’re already close to 300. This is summary execution at home as abroad, condoned by the legal system and the masses. Consider that in a country of extreme wealth, many die from lack of access to housing, healthcare and basic healthy foods. 

As parks became parking lots, as processed and packaged foods replaced fruits plucked from a backyard tree, humans are not the only ones to have suffered. Insects are dying off, the fish are dying off, mammals are dying off. Every corner of the Earth is poisoned as we pursue domination and profit.   

Tomorrow for Sizdah Beh Dar, I will bring a plant-based picnic to Golden Gate Park and will spend the day enjoying the sun, the grass, the trees, the flowers, the birds. I will take my sabzeh to Mission Creek and make a wish of liberation for the hundreds of thousands of pigs who are killed every day in the US, most of whom never see sunlight or touch the earth. I will reflect on how we can foster a culture in which we meet life with awe and tenderness, not destruction. If we are serious about Earth Day, nothing else will do. Those who attend pig roasts dressed in feel-good language think that the artisanal butchery of an individual pig raised outdoors can not be compared to the grotesque excess of industrial animal farming. They are wrong.

This equation of destruction and killing with the cycle of life, the logicking out of one’s own compassion, the rituals of domination that make up the fabric of American social life: these are the very basis of the culture of violence that has spawned horrors at home and abroad. The entitlement over the life of another is the same entitlement that drives the trashing of the planet, as we commodify every last part of nature. Kindness is the basis of sustainabilityany true celebration of Earth Day will require genuine soul-searching as we begin to change our culture at its very core.

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Cruelty Finds Justification

A pig is a dog is a cow is a cat.

Pig being transported to slaughter. Photo Credit: Toronto Pig Save.

Nothing justifies sending a terrified animal to slaughter. Yet through the increased popularity of the food movement (which is positive in some ways), animal cruelty has a renewed appeal.

It’s not that the food movement is “worse” or that they are more attached to meat consumption than your average person (save in the case of people who are themselves linked to animal husbandry through family/community tradition). Rather, the food movement legitimizes and anchors society’s natural resistance to change. But, their main arguments are nonsense:

Necessity
We are often told that what we’re being sold is necessary because it’s harder to argue against necessity than against preference. A good example is milk; the dairy industry got us by instilling the fear that without milk, our kids were missing something essential to their normal development. So these days, the argument is that we NEED cows to save the soil, we NEED manure to grow sustainably, we NEED beehives to pollinate the crops and so on. Don’t believe it. They are tapping into our Eurocentric biases to make cruelty appear unavoidable and enlightened.

Terrified pigs before slaughter

Culture
Another favorite of enlightened foodies and food activists. Why yes, liberating animals does go against almost all of our cultures, there’s no denying it. And we don’t have to deny it, because culture should not trump ethics and tradition should not be dogma. A double win of doing away with this nonsense justification is that we can also stop treating people of color (especially the “Native American hunter in touch with nature”) as Noble Savages, which is another manifestation of racism.

Only industrial animal agriculture is harmful
This is where the food movement and the animal rights movement are speaking at crosshairs. It’s true that factory farming is not representative of all animal husbandry, and that traditional forms may well be much better… for the environment. But this is not about the environment. If someone were breeding and killing puppies on their land, we wouldn’t say “That’s wonderful because this sustainable puppy farm sequesters carbon and supports biodiversity”. These pigs feel happiness, pain, joy and extreme terror just like dogs do. There is no rational justification for treating them differently.

Why Do We Love One, but Eat the Others? by Pawel Kuczynski
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