“Feminism” has lately become less of a dirty word, as more people recognize it as being the belief in gender equality. Men, women, and transpeople can all be feminists. According to popular sex educator Laci Green, if you believe women are human, you’re a feminist. It’s that simple.
Or is it? Melanie Joy, author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, states that any view that goes against the dominant ideology is also associated with other traits, being part of the larger belief system of someone who isn’t just like everyone else. As most of the world is still male-dominated, feminists, like vegetarians, hold an alternate view. This is why there are no sufficient words for non-feminists or non-vegetarians. Sure, we could call them anti-feminists and meat-eaters, but these terms do not adequately encapsulate the subtle hegemonic beliefs that come into play. Dominant ideologies are invisibilized, taken to be “the norm.”
Even so, the social climate has changed in recent years, with movements like SlutWalk and HeForShe. The belief that both men and women deserve equal rights (and by extension that all people do) is gaining acceptance worldwide. But it still hasn’t translated into the way that we relate to other living beings. Here’s why, if you identify as a feminist, you should also stand for animal rights.
1) There is an intrinsic link between sexism and speciesism.
Women’s bodies have been used to sell products for decades. In these sexist ads, women’s bodies are marketing tools; the woman is an object, not a person. Interchangeable, not individual. This is why ads often feature only specific parts of women’s bodies, such as their breasts or legs, and the women are often faceless — even headless. The woman is one of a type rather than one of a kind. She is a “piece of meat.” There is a disconnect between the woman’s body and the woman as a person — the woman is her body, and her body exists to satisfy the male gaze.
Sexism goes hand in hand with speciesism, the belief that human supremacy bars animals from the rights to which humans are entitled. The idea that animals exist for human consumption is akin to the idea that women exist for male pleasure. As there is a disconnect between the female body and the female human, there is also a disconnect between that “piece of meat” that we see on the table and the living being from which it came, despite that each animal is an individual being with their own unique personality.
Image from www.plenteousveg.com.
Everyone will stop their cars if a chicken, duck, or goose wants to cross the road, but after these cute birds safely make it across the street, most of us will continue on our way to the nearest KFC. Vlogger Erin Janus asserts that the difference between a safe chicken on the road and a dead chicken in a factory is that one is out in the open and the other is in a building hidden from view, so we don’t put our moral instinct into action, and we let others mistreat the animals that we have the instinct to protect. Like modern day sexism, animal abuse is invisibilized yet pervasive. We need to start making the connection between the living ducks in the pond and the dead ducks served on a platter at the restaurant.
2) Motherhood is meaningful.
Feminists acknowledge the value of motherhood, which has long been underappreciated by society. A man I dated once boasted of his father’s impressive career. When I asked him what his mother did, he nonchalantly responded, “She stays at home. She does nothing.” (We never went past the first date.) Although housewives are negatively stereotyped, when a mother does choose to work, the question of whether women “can really have it all” has been debated in earnest for decades, and is still a common thing to ask actresses on the red carpet. On the other hand, if a woman chooses not to have children, she is selfish. The subtext is that a woman must know her place, that place is motherhood, and therefore motherhood is undervalued because women are the “weaker” sex.
But is there a bond stronger than motherhood? As I discuss in one of my blog posts, according to ancient Indian tradition, there are actually seven mothers: the birth mother, a guru’s wife, the wife of any priest, any nurse, the queen, Mother Earth, and Mother Cow, who gives us milk; all of these mothers were to be honoured and protected. Since colonial times, we have disregarded ancient wisdom as primitive and “othered” wildlife in an effort to “conquer” the earth, and this view has only intensified. Society is now even more out of touch with nature, but the fact remains that we are a part of it.
Image from www.imananimaltoo.com.
Cows feel the same separation as human mothers when they are separated from their calves within days so that they can produce more milk on commercial dairy farms. Healthy cows live over twenty years, but dairy cows live until around the age of four, at which point they are sold to become beef. It’s a brutal process that the meat industry works hard to keep out of the public eye.
Author Melanie Joy purports that exploitative systems are kept invisible for a reason, from the Nazi Holocaust to American slavery. These systems require the cooperation of all levels of society. During the Holocaust, bureaucrats drew up decrees, churches provided evidence of Aryan descent, railroad operators drove victims to concentration camps. But once finally exposed, entrenched ideologies formerly seen as common sense are revealed as ludicrous.
The beef market is destroying ecosystems and contributing monumentally to greenhouse gases. Because 136 million acres of Amazon rainforest have already been clear-cut to create grazing grounds for cattle, protecting Mother Cow — and by extension, Mother Earth — is critical now more than ever.
3) Meat isn’t “masculine.”
The “feminine” is associated with emotion, empathy, and tolerance, whereas the “masculine” is constructed as rationality, focus, and stability. Joy claims that both masculine and feminine traits are equally important, and in fact, they go hand-in-hand, yet womanhood is devalued because women are viewed as inferior. This also explains why women are put down in sexist ads to market meat as “men’s food,” and why the iconic sitcom Seinfeld has poked fun at men who order salads.
The idea that meat is manly isn’t only perpetuated by pop culture. The fitness industry parades meat as necessary for muscle building, despite the abundance of protein in vegetables, grains, nuts, and beans. Even so, the fitness industry uses the protein myth to sell disgusting products such as beef protein shakes. Would any sensible person drink a milkshake made with meat?
Yes, if it was marketed enough. The typo-riddled ad copy for the Carnivor products touted on the GNC website cite the “ravenous appetite” men of muscle have had throughout history for beef, from Roman gladiators to present day Olympic athletes. But I’m not buying it. While the concept of gladiators is in line with the “man over nature” paradigm equally pronounced in other blood sports such as bullfighting and hunting, wherein men assert their superiority over animals by killing them, gladiators were historically an oppressed group. Gladiators were often slaves or condemned criminals, and their vegetarian diet consisted mostly of simple carbs and plant-based protein.
Many athletes have thrived on vegan diets, so meat is not required for maintaining athletic prowess. And if we think we need it order to feel manly, we need to question the meaning of “masculinity.”
Is it masculine to eat a burger served to you on a plate or in a bag, when the meat in that burger came from a factory-farmed cow that never had a chance to live? Does it make you feel like a man to kill a baited bull armed with nothing but its own horns while you wield the sword? Is hunting really a sport when only one of you is holding the trigger? Or is “the better man” someone who fights for a moral cause even when it’s unpopular, and defends those that don’t have a voice of their own? As a friend told me, if this is what means to be a man, he wants no part of it.
Animals are our friends, not food, and we are meant to live with them together in harmony, not hegemony. Anyone who can stand up against gender inequality must also stand against cruelty to animals.