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.