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.

Maya Forstater, A Galileo of these Nutty Times

Maya Forstater is a gender critical feminist whose court case against her former employer is bringing some visibility to the utter nuttiness of the trans movement and the broader progressive and leftist community.

Image from @GenderfreeCamp on Twitter

Earlier this year, tax expert Maya Forstater was fired from her job at the Centre for Global Development for tweeting that men cannot become women. It is an indisputable fact that humans cannot change sex. A male who gets breast implants is still a male. A male who gets his penis reconstructed into a cavity is still a male. A male who wears eyeliner and declares that he has a woman’s soul is still a male. Whether or not one believes in the existence of an innate gender identity has no bearing on this question. Biological sex is immutable.

A few weeks ago her case against her former employer opened at an employment tribunal, where she was grilled on her “belief” that sex is immutable, i.e. for stating a scientific fact. When this started, I wrote on Facebook that this was some Galileo-level shit. But to be honest, I thought that some level of reason would prevail. Not so. Two days ago, the judge ruled that Maya Forstater’s employer was justified in firing her because her view that sex is immutable “is incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others”.

It is discriminatory to fire people for their beliefs and utterly fascistic to fire them for opinions expressed in their non-professional life. A few weeks ago a woman posted to Reddit because she was called to meet with her boss over private Facebook posts that were considered transphobic. Imagine what we would have said twenty years ago if we thought of losing our jobs over comments we made to our friends at a pub. We would have cited 1984 and most wouldn’t have believed that in the West we were at risk of such scenarios. Social media has taken over the private sphere and it’s absolutely chilling. And with sexist tech bros as our new communication overlords, women are taking the brunt. Women are routinely banned from social media and sent violent and hateful messages, including rape and death threats, for voicing basic feminist analysis.

In the case of Maya Forstater, we’re not just talking about any beliefs or political opinions. What got her sacked was a plain-old, value-neutral statement of fact. In 2019, women who believe that humans are a sexually dimorphic species are like Galileo in front of a tribunal of believers in a magical gender essence that overrides material reality. I’ve said this before: that the trans movement has gotten acquiescence to their dogma inscribed in law and policy is religious fundamentalism.

Debate causes irreparable harm in this brave new world.

This case is in the UK, but Americans are no better. The stereotype of American conservatives is that they are anti-science and ignorant with their denial of evolution and climate change. Now, progressives have surpassed the right in their anti-science attitude. Ultimately this finds its roots in a deeper problem with the culture that is not limited to political affiliation. In his article Modern Biology and Ecology: the Roots of America’s Assertive Illiteracy, Jim Britell warns that; “In worldwide surveys of people’s grasp of biological science and evolution, the results for the U.S. jump out as similar to pre-industrial societies. Chomsky says that to find the scale of ignorance about modern biology found in America today, one must go to mosques in Iran or rural Sicily. Ten percent of Americans believe in modern evolution; 75 percent literally believe in the devil! Americans do not generally realize that the furious debates about teaching evolution and creationism are unique to America.”

There is a problem with thinking that only “the other” (in the US this would be the red states) are a problem. After Trump was voted in progressives threw the blame for all potential catastrophes on Trump voters, but Democrats are erasing women as a class and removing our sex-based rights. Articles have been circulating for a while about the rise of right-wing authoritarianism (Trump, Bolsonaro, Putin..) and its dire effects on women’s rights, but in Trudeau’s Canada women are being assaulted by men in prison. In California, Democrat Scott Wiener authored a bill ensuring that men can be housed in women’s prisons, regardless of anatomy.  This not only puts female prisoners at risk, it forces female guards to conduct searches on male prisoners if said prisoner professes he is a woman. I agree with Jo Bartosch, magical thinking should have no place in law.

Denying the reality of biological sex is anti-science, anti-intellectual and untethered to reality. But denying that biological sex is socially, politically and legally relevant is also part of a fundamentally conservative backlash against the gains made by women. It is on par with “I don’t see race”–you can’t fight sexism if you can’t name sex. You can’t provide women their own services, spaces and resources when you can’t define the word woman. People support this because it has been cloaked as social justice and nobody wants to be on the dreaded “wrong side of history”. Sadly, the failure of progressives to think critically is harming those who are already the most marginalized and vulnerable. Women in prisons and homeless shelters are forced to share rooms with men as long as the man proclaims he has some inner feminine essence, children are medicalized and sterilized for gender non-conformity and lesbians are being attacked by the woke crowd for not having sex with males. Not quite the social justice we were sold.

From the New York Times article, Across the Globe, A Serious Backlash Against Women’s Rights: ‘Over the last few years, a global surge in right-wing, authoritarian movements has spurred a broad backpedaling on women’s rights and, in particular, protections against gender-based violence. “In general, we see a very serious backlash against women’s rights,” said Kalliopi Mingeirou, who leads the U.N. division focused on ending violence against women and girls. And that backlash, added Mingeirou, has helped normalize violence and harassment, either by dismantling legal protections or by hollowing out support systems.’ What they fail to mention is that transactivism is part of this backlash and the Left has been eating it up.

Women who speak the truth are branded as witches again. Is it any wonder that JK Rowling came to our rescue? The meltdown in response to her tweet has been epic. Transactivists are calling her a TERF, a nazi, a bigot, a cunt; complete with calls for her books to be banned and burned. Ricky Gervais has come to the dark TERF side and people are finally starting to ask what the hell is going on. So far, progressives have gone along with the demands of transactivists without trying to understand what those demands were. With the firing of Maya Forstater, the dogma they have been ramming through law and policy with no public discussion is starting to become clearer.

Dr. Jane Clare Jones explains that it is thanks to this lack of public engagement that their gains have been won, “The reason why the trans rights movement cannot allow there to be a public discussion around its political ideology and its implications is because if people really understood that it’s political ideology is committed to denying that there are male and female humans, then the collective ‘What the Actual Living Fuck?’ would be so deafening that the whole political project would be dead in the water. So, instead, it has had to be achieved by a) a ton of behind-the-scenes collusion between trans rights organization and individuals in positions of political and civic power and, b) silencing public interrogation by bullying dissenters, hamstringing the press and public bodies, and making sure that everyone understands the very high social sanctions for speaking out.”

Hopefully, the visibility of JK Rowling and Ricky Gervais are ushering in this collective “WHAT THE ACTUAL LIVING FUCK” moment. It’s about time.

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.

In 2019 in the United States, I Lost Funding for Expressing Feminist Views

I run a small non-profit that works on issues where my feminism has no direct relevance (food politics, sustainability, animal rights). Our budget has always been shoestring and my work has for the most part been unpaid. Despite this, I have done a huge amount of impactful and truly revolutionary work over the last few years. Last summer, we lost the only funder with whom I had an ongoing, informal relationship. My organization is completely unique in what it does, so the fact that this funder severed our relationship was directly harmful not only to us, but to the “cause”.

This happened because I’ve openly shared my gender critical views. Namely that biological sex is real and that gender is a social construct. That a man can like makeup and dresses and that doesn’t make him a woman. That women are oppressed on the basis of biological sex and that this is the basis on which women’s rights were fought for. That we must continue to fight sex-based oppression and that gender essentialism and the goals of gender identity movement run counter to this.   

The writing with which she took issue is copied at the end of this post, and she found my statement that I don’t use preferred pronouns particularly damning. She did not engage with the analysis that accompanied the statement. Instead, it was taken as proof that I was squarely past the grey zone and in the field of bigotry. Ironically, I wrote about the dogmatism of this movement and her reaction was a clear validation of my point.

To be noted, this woman wasn’t the full-on gender identity activist in this story–someone else “flagged me hard” which led her to read my posts. In a way, this was more offensive because she presented herself as a neutral good-willing party who is distraught by the “divisions” in the movement. She said that while she hates the “I punch TERFs” rhetoric of transactivists… both sides were guilty. This is an incredibly dishonest cop-out when she doesn’t have the ovaries to stand up for women. While she insisted several times that both sides were guilty, she didn’t name anything feminists have done that remotely resembles the violent rhetoric coming from transactivists. Feminists are not punching and harassing transactivists, getting them fired and deplatformed, calling for violence against them or spewing hateful rhetoric. Unbelievably, she (a white woman) tried to educate me on how certain types of discourse can serve to paint “marginalized populations” as dangerous. As someone of Iranian and Muslim origin, I have direct experience and intimate knowledge of this. I told her that my posts had done nothing of the sort, but focusing on my statement on pronouns was her way of dealing with her cognitive dissonance around considering herself a social justice advocate while punishing a female activist for speaking up for women. Under the current dogma, not using preferred pronouns is a clear-cut sign of being “mean”–no more critical thinking required.

Further irony: This woman took over the organizing of the Animal Rights National Conference last year following the #metoo scandals in the animal rights movement, including involving the conference’s previous founder and organizer. The women upholding the edicts of gender identity have no solidarity with their class, no interest in understanding actual feminism, and no integrity. But they’ll get on a platform and take credit for “making change for women” or some such empty soundbite.

In my conversation with the funder, she named three examples of my wrongdoing. The first two are that I stated that I don’t use preferred pronouns and that, in her words, I compared gender identity to “magic” (see excerpt copied below). While I did not say magic, it is correct that belief in innate gender identity is often akin to a mystical belief system. However, this misses the point that irregardless of one’s belief in gender identity, women’s oppression is sex-based. People with vaginas suffer violence and discrimination by and relative to people with penises. Resources and spaces for people with vaginas are necessary on this basis, independently of the inner sense of identity of a person with a penis. Reworking the words man and woman does not do away the oppression of people with vaginas by people with penises.  

The third example was a meme I shared on Facebook, with Caitlin Jenner’s quote that the hardest part of being a woman is choosing what to wear, over an image of a maimed woman and figures about worldwide violence against women. This was interpreted as an unfair attack on transwomen by using the ridiculous statement of one privileged person who is arguably not a good representative of most transwomen. But my post was not a commentary on transwomen nor an attempt to paint them all with the same brush. It was a commentary on a gender-identity movement that is erasing and making light of women’s sex-based oppression. Not all transpeople are on board with the gender id movement and many of its champions are not trans themselves, but Jenner’s statement absolutely encapsulates the philosophy of this movement. 

The minimization and denial of sex-based oppression is there when pussy hats at a women’s march or mentions of female biology are deemed exclusionary, when women’s prisons and homeless shelters are opened up to men, when men can claim women’s scholarships and compete in women’s sports, when bathrooms are made unisex because transwomens’ fear of male violence is seen as valid but women’s fear of male violence is dismissed as hysterics and bigotry.   

We are dangerously sliding backwards when feminist analysis is unspeakable and feminists are punished for advocating for women. And given that many women are active in other social movements, this surge of misogyny is harming other important causes as well. In my post I drew a comparison between Iran and the West, which was deemed unacceptable by an economically privileged white American woman who considers herself a fighter for “intersectional social justice”. The funder belongs to a crowd that urges us to “listen to POC! listen to women! listen to marginalized folks!”–but that only applies to the POC, the women, the marginalized folks that are keeping to script and saying things with which they agree. To truly fight for the disadvantaged and for the planet will require intellectual integrity over easy mantras, to step outside of one’s bubble and engage with a broader set of voices.   

Excerpt from Twitter, Transactivism and the New Religious Fundamentalism:

‘There is no scientific backing of the existence of an innate gender identity. It is purely a belief – not a fact – about the nature of the human mind or soul. (And even if gender identity were a real thing, why would it follow that we should redefine the words man and woman on the basis of this newly discovered spiritual/psychological attribute?) It’s fine to hold non-scientific beliefs, but believers should not force others to adopt these beliefs or participate in the language or rituals associated with them. To use preferred pronouns is an ideological choice and we should be free to opt in or out of it. I don’t use preferred pronouns because I don’t believe in gender identity, and furthermore I think it is a harmful belief system that reinforces sexism. (…)

To mandate speech that upholds a mystical belief system, and to persecute those who reject or critique that belief system, is religious fundamentalism. While it could be argued that Twitter is a private company and can do what it wants, companies like Twitter and Facebook have effectively taken over the public arena and by censoring feminists, they are excluding feminists from public discourse. And this goes beyond tech companies. In New York  City for example, employers and landlords can be fined for “misgendering” someone. This flies in the face of the separation of church and state.’

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).