Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Feeding Desires, Appetites for Destruction

The Vegan Vine; The Sexual Politics of Meat
From the cover of
The Sexual Politics of Meat
In my never-ending quest for self-improvement I've been working on not succumbing to cultural notions of femininity. As a straight, cisgendered woman, I've had to unlearn decades of programming, which has not been easy. Perhaps, just as difficult as for those attempting to unlearn cultural notions of what is—and who is not—food.

I spent 20 years eating what I had been instructed to eat and another 15 years doing all those things women have been trained to do—consciously and subconsciously—to be appealing to the opposite sex. Like most females, I've been objectified, but I've also treated other animals as objects. 

It’s been a slow but deliberate process in which I’ve unburdened myself from the lies and the liars, from being the consumer and the consumed, transitioning from the non-vegan oppressor to the vegan liberator of my own life and the lives of others. I still have a long way to go, but I'm on the potter's wheel.

At the age of 20 I began eliminating the bodies of animals from my intake. After learning about the dairy and egg industries, I aspired to remove the use of all animal products from every area of my life and home. I committed myself to ethical veganism, which had a snowball effect on my psyche. I became acutely aware of how animal enslavement impacts the environment, buoys economic inequality and capitalism, intersects sexism and racism, and affects my perception of myself, other animals, and institutions I had once revered. I discovered that being an ethical vegan is not merely about food, but about campaigning for animal rights and defending truth and social justice.

I began to see things anew after adopting a cat named Max from a local shelter. I abruptly quit smoking cigarettes having realized the hypocrisy in caring for other animals but not caring about my own animal self. I read Zoe Weil’s Most Good, Least Harm and rethought our concept of possessions and how the deleterious effects of consumerism and development are depleting our planet’s resources, and destroying lives and habitats. I have strived to void my home of meaningless things that rob me of time, energy, and money, and I seek to minimize the buying of new things that require still more resources. While doing so, I have also managed to end fruitless and corruptible relationships which have similarly stole my time, energy, and self-respect. When a boyfriend angrily demanded sex, insisting that I owed it to him because it was his birthday, I knew I had been reduced to a body with serviceable parts.

According to John Berger in Ways of Seeing, “To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. . . . A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. . . . Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object.”

I tried online dating periodically for a few years. The last man I communicated with seemed promising; he was a police officer and father to a twelve-year-old girl. His descriptions were thoughtful and somewhat compatible, until I read his last response to the site's profile prompt: You should message me if . . . to which he replied “you like your porn hardcore.” This retort unnerved and disturbed me. Pornography sexualizes dominance and violence, and reduces women to objects and body parts to be visually consumed. Much the same as the degradation and physical consumption of nonhuman beings, it is viewed as harmless and tolerable. I wondered what his daughter would think about what her dad wrote.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? This phrase, which has been around since at least the seventeenth century and was popular with my grandmother's generation, was often said by women to younger women as a warning not to have sex before marriage or they might find themselves husbandless. The phrase still resonates today—with women in particular—in spite of its overt sexism and speciesism, and its making light of the exploitation and enslavement of other female animals. It's also worth noting that animal husbandry is a field of study taught by many taxpayer-funded state university animal science and agriculture departments in the breeding and keeping of farmed animals for their flesh, milk, and eggs.

I gave up my bras decades ago simply because they were annoying and unnecessary. While they made other people comfortable, they made me uncomfortable. Over time, I saw little need for poisons such as artificial nails, nail polish, and perfume. Later, I rid myself of high heel shoes, one pair at a time until there were none—no more pinched toes or the potential for damaged joints and nerves. “High heels themselves are part of the message of subordination,” wrote Carol J. Adams in The Pornography of Meat. “The message of heels becomes, ‘we will gladly hurt ourselves for you.’ ”

No, I will not.

I further decided to stop shaving for a stretch. Why, I wondered, did I ever start? I was twelve. Advertisers and magazines like Seventeen taught me that shiny, hairless legs were beautiful and desirable. Women are often encouraged to resemble young girls or powerless figurines with shaven legs and disturbingly bare pubic regions—not as mature adults. “Hair is associated with sexual power, with passion. The woman’s sexual passion needs to be minimized so that the spectator may feel that he has the monopoly of such passion," continued Berger. "Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own.”

Being vegan and fighting against speciesist cultural norms and traditions is not very different from battling sexist and patriarchal customs. Together, ethical veganism and feminism counter the fairy tales (Old MacDonald, Prince Charming), the false choices, and the ideas of masculinity and femininity that have brainwashed us—who is consumable . . . tasty chicks with shapely, hairless thighs and large, tender breasts?

“Get Yours!”

That was the slogan on a Rutgers fraternity t-shirt I saw a friend wearing while I was working a dinner shift in the dining hall during my undergraduate studies. The t-shirt featured a large cartoon character of the Tasmanian Devil. The figure held a mug of beer in one hand and in the other, the beer's apparent equivalent—a curvy, busty, bikini-clad woman with long blonde hair. I was incensed and cleverly acquired the phone number of the president of the fraternity. I was able to get him to concede the t-shirts’ offensiveness—not only to women but to those men who neither consider themselves nor want to promote themselves as shallow, beer-guzzling misogynists.

As a child, I was not one of those girls who enjoyed playing dress up or with dolls because I thought it boring. I envied the often casual ease with which boys got to dress—and men today—and have reclaimed my inner tomboy self; however, I can remember a time as a young adult when I was more than willing to turn myself into a living ornament for what I thought was sexy, which usually equated with what men desired.

What some men desire often gets women into trouble, even killed. “Abusive men are the major source of injury to adult women in the United States,” continued Adams. “The World Health Organization, in the first comprehensive documentation of global violence released in October, 2002, found that 40-70 percent of female murder victims in Australia, the United States, Canada, Israel, and South Africa were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. . . . many women realized that their partners were planning to kill them when they killed a dog, a cat, a horse.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), killing, harming, or threatening to harm animals are weapons used by abusers to manipulate victims into silence and to destroy the comfort animals provide. Abuse is not a problem with anger management, but rather a way to establish and maintain control over victims.

The oppression of women and oppression of nonhumans often overlap and reinforce one another. I do not share these statistics and anecdotes as a means to male bashing but to bring awareness and insight. Sadly, these are facts of life that impact women and nonhuman animals every single day. 

As I work for the liberation of other animals, I’m also working for my own liberation. As I educate people about the injustices of the meat, egg, and dairy industries—the incessant rape of nonhuman animals, the hijacking of their reproductive processes to produce more of their milk, eggs, and babies for human consumption—I’m reminded that the way we perceive nonhuman animals is not so different from the way we often view female human animals and vice versa. The manner in which we objectify and violate women and other animals for food and entertainment is analogous. Through advertising and cultural messages, women are visually consumed for their sexualized bodies and body parts right alongside the butchered bodies and body parts of those animals (absent referents) who are physically consumed. (See these fast food commercials)

And sometimes there is no distinction, like when a Tennessee man was charged with dismembering the body of a woman and eating part of her corpse. Or when a New York City cop was arrested for planning to rape, kill, cook, and eat women, including his wife. In his defense, his lawyer claimed they were just—wait for it— fantasies.

For any objectification to happen, someone always becomes something. In our current world order, speciesism and sexism work hand in hand, making it acceptable for humans to reduce nonhuman animals to objects of pleasure to be used, controlled, and consumed if it is pleasing and profitable to consumers and corporations. Even though whole food vegan diets provide better health and nutrition to the human herbivore anatomy, plant consumption has been falsely aligned with inferiority, weakness, and women, while the commodification and consumption of other animals—derived from violence—has been insidiously associated with strength, vitality, and manliness. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that systems of nonhuman exploitation tend to be dominated by men while the animal rights movement is dominated by women.

The personal is political. Men's subjection of women and nonhuman animals reinforces hierarchies of power . . . and so do our diets. What we subscribe to and consent to as individuals and as participants of institutions is as relevant to animal advocacy and social justice as to our very own lives. Every day we have choices to make. We can participate in our own exploitation and suffering and that of countless other beings. Or we can choose to respect our own bodies and the bodies of others. I choose the latter.

How Do I Go Vegan?

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