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August 26, 2010

TO BE A FEMINIST IS TO BE A VEGAN


When visiting a self-proclaimed feminist (non-vegan) friend’s home, she offered me cow’s milk with my tea. I made the profound connection that we can’t truly be a feminist while consuming dairy (or any animal products). A feminist could not participate in the exploitation of the reproductive system of sisters of another species. For this reason, I wrote this article for vegans to share with pre-vegan feminists.

While driving to town, I noticed a cow; right in the corner of her fenced-in enclosure. She was gazing over the driveway that separated her from her 3 calves. They were in the corner of their fenced-in pasture, just staring at their mother. It left me deeply disturbed. The industry practice of separating a mother from her newborn baby is heart wrenching; even to a woman who did not choose motherhood. If nature was allowed to take its course, calves would suckle from their mothers from several months to a year. Both mother and calf are traumatized and bellow loudly after their forced separation. I often ponder in disbelief our culture’s uncivilized ways and what people choose to fund. Upon reading the cruelty inherent in the dairy industry, 34 years ago, I became vegan without pause or deliberation.

Bobby calves; the unwanted male calves from the dairy industry as well as ‘veal’ are byproducts of the dairy industry. The “dairy cow” is killed to be eaten when she is no longer producing. In New Zealand, (what is referred to as) the beef industry survives largely due to "the dairy" industry. (I don’t see cows as ‘beef’ or ‘dairy’.) (It’s important to note that the economic success of slaughterhouses and dairy farms are directly linked to the sale of leather goods, worldwide. According to a U.S.D.A. report, animals’ skins represent the most economically important byproduct of the meatpacking industry.) It’s hard to imagine a person taking a crying baby from his mother shortly after birth, to get his throat slit. (In some countries they are shot at birth.) This is the fate of calves born to cows used for dairy in New Zealand, both on organic and non-organic farms.

We are seeing that there is perhaps even more suffering involved in milk, cheese and egg consumption than flesh consumption, therefore choosing to be vegetarian (for ethical reasons) is not logical. Abstaining from ALL animal products is the ethical stance that gives basic minimal respect due to sentient beings. The dairy cow; riddled with pain as a result of her exploitation, sexually violated, and killed to be eaten typically at around 5 years of her otherwise 20-25 year lifespan, epitomizes a culture that chooses to dominate those physically weaker. Talk about taking advantage of someone’s good nature! The animals that humans enslave for “food” are peaceful and gentle; something to emulate, but instead they are persecuted.

Both genders suffer under institutionalized exploitation; however the females of the species often experience more prolonged abuse. Female pigs are unjustly imprisoned in stalls that are not big enough for them to turn around. They are kept like this for the duration of their lives, impregnated repeatedly. After giving birth, they nurse their babies confined in gestation crates. “Battery” hens are forced to repeatedly produce eggs until they are too exhausted and then they’re slaughtered. Female “breeding dogs” in puppy mills have 2 litters a year; living their entire lives in cages, forced to breed as frequently as possible, until they can no longer breed, and then they are killed. Rabbits that are used for breeding when farmed for their pelts, are kept for up to 3 years, and usually give birth twice a year. Animals are purpose-bred for laboratory experimentation. The dairy industry is literally built on the control of the reproductive systems of female nonhumans. This must be recognized as a feminist issue because it is analogous to the feminist movement’s struggle for women to have control of their own bodies and reproductive systems. Incidentally, bulls are sexually abused also. They are sometimes semen donors. An online photo of a bull in a contraption showed him being forced to supply his goods for the ‘artificial insemination’ industry. All this is a part of dairy consumption; pretty perverted; as is all animal use – when you truthfully think about it.

Katrina Fox, editor of The Scavenger, also became aware that dairy consumption is a feminist issue. She eloquently explains:
“Recently I attended the first feminist conference in Sydney, Australia for 15 years. … But while progress had been made on some fronts, there was one area that had fallen off the agenda and indeed, it seems, feminist consciousness, and that is speciesism:  the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership. Nowhere was this more obvious than the catering, which included a stall selling meat pies, including veal, an abundance of dairy milk for tea and coffee and a conference dinner that was held at a non-vegetarian restaurant. All in all, it added up to an epic F for Fail. Failure, that is, to see the intersectionality between various forms of oppression – in this case, between female humans and non-humans,,, Farmed animals feel pain, fear, loss, grief. By consuming their bodies and excretions we give our approval to them being tortured and abused. As feminists we must hold ourselves to ethical standards that align with, and are considerate of, the struggles of others, including non-humans, otherwise we are no better than the patriarchy that seeks to dominate and oppress us as women.”
I'm deeply troubled about the reproductive system of a female, of any species, perceived as nothing more than an economic resource. The animal farming industry has done quite a job of advertising images of ‘happy cows’ gladly giving us their milk and covering up the offensive practices in dairy production. Dairy farming involves forcibly impregnating cows. Some in the industry use the term “rape-rack” for the restraining piece of equipment used to artificially inseminate cows and pigs. Inseminators invade the cow by putting their arm up her rectum, to push on the cervix, while inseminating her with the other hand. Inconceivably to me, even women perform this job. Vegans oppose ‘sexual assault’, no matter the species of victim.

Because she is re-impregnated while still lactating from the previous pregnancy, a “dairy cow” will spend 7 months of each year - pregnant and producing milk. A calf would naturally feed 5-6 times a day so that the maximum amount of milk in her udder would be around two liters. But on modern dairy farms a cow is only milked twice a day, allowing milk to accumulate in the udder; thus forcing her to carry around 20 liters of milk or more. This greatly enlarged udder leads to lameness in her hind legs and predisposes her to mastitis (a painful udder infection). Her only rest from this appalling existence is during the last 2 months of her pregnancy when she is not milked in preparation for giving birth. Then the awful cycle starts again.

Hobbles and shackles are commonly attached to the hind legs of cows who have suffered damage during ‘calving’, and would not be able to stand of their own accord. Injured cows are often forced to continue in pain, for 7-8 months, until their milk yield drops (so the farmer won’t lose a large quantity of milk) and then they are killed. Seeing photos of these shackles online conjures up images of slavery and shines a light on the very real fact that bred and farmed animals ARE slaves; owned by human ‘masters’ and treated as if they were lifeless objects. However, the opposite is The Truth. Rather than being ‘property status’ or ‘things’, they are ‘persons’ dressed in a furry coat with many similarities to us. Other animals have eyes, ears, legs, a nose, a brain, a face, a heart and circulatory system, a nervous system and pain receptors, a digestive system, a respiratory system, a reproductive system, awareness and cognitive abilities, as well as the capacity to feel, to communicate (if only humans would listen); just to name a few of the similarities we share with the innocent victims of human exploitation, and therefore we should be able to empathize with their plight.

It’s unjust for humans to steal milk that was designed by nature to nourish growing babies of another species. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why anybody would want to drink cow’s milk; perfectly designed for baby calves. Cow's milk provides the calf with the nutrients to grow to 200 kilograms, in just a year. Cows' breast milk is much higher in protein than requirements for humans and provides everything calves need for rapid growth. How could anything that was not meant for us by nature, and is so disrespectful to other animals, possibly be healthful for humans? It’s not reasonable.

Humans have no physical need to consume products that are the result of horrific practices such as tail docking, dehorning, branding, rape racks, induced calving, artificial insemination, painful procedures performed without pain relief, embryo transfers and hormone treatments resulting in 3-6 calves instead of the usual single birth, separation of mother from newborn, and killing infants. Even if all these heartless practices were not customary, and attaining milk was carried out with more concern for the animals, it is morally wrong to consume the bodies or the bodily secretions of other animals. All animals (human and nonhuman) are equal in that they come into this world with the birth-right not to be sexually assaulted, exploited, and murdered by humans, as we have no physical requirement to do so. Humans that have not become vegan are not honoring the inherent rights of fellow sentient animals.

The above mentioned industry practices were cited to shine a light on just how immorally humans do act when they have the legal right to own an animal. At this stage, the answer is not to work for bigger cages, but to jointly focus on our goal to bring about a vegan world and the abolition of the entire structure of humans dominating other animals. Directing campaigns at the institutionalized exploiters of animals rarely, if ever, diminishes them, as we’ve seen for decades now. Evidently, they are more driven by money than morals; they impose misery on gentle, conscious animals - for money. They will stop exploiting and killing only when the public stops paying them to do so. Educating people about vegan living is the method that has real potential to achieve animal emancipation. We don’t have time any more for incremental steps towards abolishing animal slavery. Oppression is oppression. Violence is violence. The species of the victim is irrelevant. The way I see it, to be an animal rights activist is to be a vegan. To be an abolitionist is to be a vegan. To be a nonspeciesist is to be a vegan. To be an environmentalist is to be a vegan. To be a peace-loving-pacifist is to be a vegan. To be an ethicist is to be a vegan. AND YES - to be a feminist is to be a vegan.

13 comments:

herfancy said...

This is a very well written article. Thank you. I think people like to set boundaries on their ideologies so that they don't have to cause inconveniences for themselves. For a feminist to embrace dairy is like the person who protests against fur and wears wool or the environmentalist who eats animal products. There are some big disconnects.

The Naked Gardener said...

Wow another amazing article. What a great vision of the future.

NigeM said...

Wow another amazing article. The last paragraph says it all we don't have time for incremental steps. Thanks

Kerry said...

Great article! If I may make just one (constructive) observation... In the third paragraph you mention that "It’s hard to imagine a human being taking a crying baby from its mother shortly after birth and then 2 days later herding the scared infant onto a truck and taking it to get its throat slit."

As part of evolving away from speciesism and speciesist language, I try to always refer to non-human animals as "he" or "she" and not as "it". Using "it" is something I have caught myself doing too, by the way - it's so ingrained in the way we're brought up! I thought I'd mention it because I think that the way we use language can be a powerful tool we vegans can use to help people think about how we see other species. Using "it" puts other beings in the category of things, and therefore property... just another way in which speciesim permeates language from our early years! We use it without even noticing. I ask others to always tell me when I use "it" inadvertently. It doesn't reflect the way I see non-human animals - it's just habit.

I loved the article and will be sharing it with others. Thanks!!

Amanda said...

Wow is right. Thank you for such a beautifully written piece. I plan on sharing it with all my non-vegan female friends.

ppunkgoddess said...

You might be interested to know that the Network of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) recently had their annual conference at Newcastle University, of which I was one of a team of women organisers.
Our overarching theme for the conference was Intersectionality and our workshops and speakers covered topics as diverse as speciesism, marriage equality, trans* rights, race based oppressions, Indigenous rights/sovereignty, disability rights, queer rights, class based oppression, access to reproductive rights and many more.
AND, we catered it totally vegan.

Todd said...

I support your article, but my issue is with the confusing of "gender" and "sex."

For example: "Both genders suffer under institutionalized exploitation or animal farming; however the females of the species often experience more prolonged abuses."

Aren't we really talking about sex, especially if you believe that gender is a social construct?

The Compassionate Hedonist said...

A great book from the 90's that is helpful is The Sexual Politics of Meat.

thank you for bringing up this issue.

Amulya said...

Great article, I'm going to forward the link! I like the fact that you put references as well.

aerialgrrrl said...

Are you for real? Because this is the kind of garbage that makes 'feminism' look like whacked-out, head-in-the-clouds garbage. I'm all for people choosing to be vegan, but you can eff right off if you think I can't be feminist AND an omnivore. No animal should suffer cruelty for sport or sadism. But calling cows your 'sisters'? You do realise your pets only care about you as a source of food, and would happily eat your dead body if they needed to, to survive? Please give us your opinions about how vaccinations are really full of poison, because we're just dying to know.

morgan evermore said...

Really good article, thank you. I must say after perusing a few of your articles, I think you are real..so real I instinctively like you!


With regards to feminism: when one truly 'gets' it, it seems natural to gravitate to veganism and v.v.

Oppression be it towards female humans or other animals is so strikingly similar that it has had me wonder often if both are perceived as one and the same at the end of the day by the prevailing [read virulent, violent] patriarchal [read rigid, exclusive] mindset.

The term 'rape rack'..there is absolutely no mistaking what occurs yet interesting to note, no use of a euphemism by the perpetrators. Hence they are cognizant of what is taking place.

Rape is a crime and to call it exactly that in relation to other animals, informs us that there is conscious awareness that rape is taking place, intent [constructing the racks], and these points equate to an admission of guilt.

Meaning, rape is rape period. No distinctions between humans and other animals are being made. They have incriminated themselves.

I think a creative imagination could put together a play [court room scene] to provoke movement in the public's mind and real courts of law.

I would like to recommend Professor David Nibert's book, 'Animal Rights/Human Rights' for all budding feminists and of course for all others who are curious or find themselves waffling.

It is a sociological historical view of the previous 20000 years [backed up by a multitude of research material] to enhance one's grasp and understanding of oppression, its entanglements and our combined liberation [read freedom].

Hopefully, if it hasn't happened already, this work will make one question everything around one’s life experience - past and present.

Please bear in mind, a prerequisite for effective critical thinking is to put ones attitudes, customs, pet beliefs to the side for a little while as they can be noisy thus disruptive in accessing one's clarity.

If I was to drop dead, I would hope that my feline roommates would not hesitate to eat my body. In my life so as in death, I want them to survive.

Regarding me viewed as merely a source of food...I keep their food bowl full all the time so there is no meal ritual, no rise and fall of hunger, no acquiescence, no begging, no frantic meowing, etc.

In this void, they seek me out at will when they want to socialize. They rarely meow yet do growl when people are passing close by outside thus act as an early warning for me: their sense of hearing being superior to my own.

I suppose one could describe our collective interactions as a symbiotic relationship permeated with my care and awe [read no domination or expectations of reciprocity on my part]. Due to chance, fate, or what have you I simply happen to be the breadwinner for us all.

One last item: regarding poisons, as a nurse I feel comfortable with assuring the above commenter other animals being consumed for food are basically toxic waste reservoirs. Pesticide-laden feed; overuse of antibiotics to boost quick weight-gain; hormone injections; high levels of internal stress hormones; diseases; infected wounds; pus; excrement; [read poisons] to name a few are all going through the food chain, landing on your plate and into your glass.

Vaccines may be getting too much attention thus acting as a smokescreen obscuring the above and its insidious yet wide ranging and extremely harmful fallout - affecting both human and other animals.

Having said all that, I don't think stopping consumption of other animals for ones health is the way forward, I think one should cease consuming them for their health, their lives, and their well-being. It is an ancient tao of honour and respect towards all other life forms we share this small planet with.

Thank you for giving me space to share my thoughts. Best regards, bt

Anonymous said...

Lady you are nuttier than a Planter's Christmas gift set. You're the kind of raging veggie-head extremist that gives real feminists a bad name

Anonymous said...

What about Title IX in the U.S., which stops schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex?

Title IX isn't just about school-sponsored sports teams - it's also about not keeping girls out of advanced math classes, keeping boys out of cooking classes, and so on.

For example, even if no girl in a small and low-income American school district had yet expressed a desire to go to the public high school instead of dropping out after 8th grade to work, Title IX meant that high school still needed to add a girls' bathroom to reduce sexism.

If species is as arbitrary as sex, then isn't it speciesist to leave public school facilities only welcoming to human children instead of accommodating the young of other species too?