“Until We Are All Free”: International Women’s Day
Posted Mar 08 2010 7:41am
Glad we’ve got some interest in the wheatgrass juicer ! I’m sure it’ll end up in good hands. I forgot to put an end date on that contest, so let’s just say that I’ll announce the winner one week from today, on March 15th.
For those of you who didn’t know, today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day . In honor of the occasion, I’ve decided to devote this entire week to posts that celebrate feminism. These will range from the ideological (today’s post) to the practical (a post on my top tips for women’s health).
Choosing Raw is, naturally, a blog about food and nutrition, and for the most part I like to keep it that way. But it is also a blog that’s born of my own passions. Feminism is a passion of mine, and, as we’ll see in a moment, it’s closely intertwined with my veganism. It’s impossible to write about one without at least touching upon the other.
Many other bloggers have touched upon the link between animal rights and women’s rights, but few with the same passion as my friend Tasha, over at the Voracious Vegan . Tasha will be posting a number of women’s themed posts this week, but it’ll hardly be a departure for her, since Tasha’s posts are always mindful of the struggles that women endure around the world, and the grievances that befall animals in captivity. Tasha often links to articles of special interest to women, for which I’m grateful: just last week, she sent me over to Jessica Valenti’s latest reminder that feminism is ongoing.
A few weeks ago, as I emailed Tasha to tell her that I was planning on reading The Sexual Politics of Meat , and she responded with enthusiasm. It occured to me that she might be just the person to say a few words to my readers about the link between feminism and veganism–a link that’s obvious once you’ve considered it, but may be a little elusive until you do. In many ways, this link is metaphorical, but I believe that metaphors, images, and language have real social and psychological consequences. To point out, then, that women and animals are both commodified in advertising, or to point out that many deragatory names for women are often animal names, is no abstract observation: these comparisons have a very real impact on human attitudes, and it’s from those attitudes that action, policy, and law are formed.
Changes in attitude mean changes in the treatment of all sentient beings. Let’s start changing our attitudes now. On that note, I’ll turn it over to Tasha.
None of Us are Free, Until We are All Free
Thank you, Gena, for asking me to do a guest post about one of my favorite topics: the connection between veganism and feminism. This subject is very close to my heart: if I were asked to describe myself, two of the first terms I would use are feminist and vegan. These two words describe so much of who I am, from the way I view the world to the career path that I have taken. Unfortunately, these days feminism is seen as either irrelevant, or as the exclusive provenance of hairy legged man haters. But this stereotype is just as ridiculous as thinking that all vegans are pale weaklings who exist on nothing more than wilted lettuce. The fact that feminism can be seen as irrelevant in a world where 1 out of 3 women will be raped in her lifetime, where we earn 25% less than men do for performing the same job, where we grow 70% of all the world’s food but own less than 2% of its land, and where we are still nowhere near adequately represented in any of the world’s governments, is truly shocking to me.
I have been a feminist since the day I was born, but I have only been a vegan for about 3 years now. My husband and I took the vegan plunge immediately after watching the film Meet Your Meat, and we haven’t looked back since. As I became more involved in animal rights activism and being a vegan advocate, I found that the philosophy of my new beliefs sprung easily and directly from my much loved feminist principles. I quickly realized that the current economic and socio-political system that benefits from the oppression of women, also benefits from the oppression of animals. The connection between the two philosophies is staggering to me now in its clarity, but it wasn’t always, and it isn’t always to most people, so today I’d like to share it with you all as I now understand it.
As I see things, the same mindset that allows men to objectify, abuse, and exploit women is the same mindset that allows human beings to objectify, abuse, and exploit animals. Both are founded on a capacity to objectify and dehumanize a sentient being. Both serve human–specifically male–consumption, either literal or figurative. Beyond that, there are some very actual similarities in visuals and marketing aids that depict women and slaughterhouse animals to the world at large. Thing about magazine adds for lingerie, male cologne, or even certain foods; now think about food ads. Women’s bodies are constantly broken down into their various parts–breasts, flat stomach, legs–to be admired or used or “consumed” (figuratively); animal parts are likewise often pictured as things to be broken down and consumed (literally this time). Given nicknames like chicks, bitches, cougars, cows, or bunnies, women are frequently compared to animals in a way that is meant to be dehumanizing. Just like animals, women have historically been seen as property. And just like animals, we are often seen as not being smart enough to take care of ourselves, and in need of constant guidance and protection. This, in turn, leads to us being used without our consent, and to be treated as creatures unworthy of a voice, an opinion, or control of our own lives.
Women and female animals of any species are often valued only for their reproductive capabilities, and thus they’re often discarded or marginalized as soon as their productivity declines. While all animals, male and female, suffer in animal agriculture, the females of the species usually suffer the most severe and protracted abuse because they can reproduce. Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated (with a piece of farm equipment known as a ‘rape-rack’) at a sickening rate to keep them perpetually pregnant so they can produce milk. They are never allowed to nurture or love their newborn babies, because the calves are typically sent to veal farms within hours of birth. When the dairy cow’s bodies inevitably give out, exhausted by the constant cycle of birth and grief, they are sent to the slaughterhouse to be killed. Laying hens (even those labeled with the marketing myth ‘free-range’ or ‘cage-free’) spend their entire lives in cages less than 2 feet wide. They are put through a torturous cycle of starvation and perpetual darkness to artificially augment their egg-laying cycles. After one short year, their bodies are so broken down that they are sent to the slaughterhouse. Female pigs are confined to gestation crates immediately after giving birth, where they are permanently separated from their children by metal bars and only allowed to nurse for a few weeks. While their babies are then taken away to be slaughtered, the mothers are impregnated again, to start the cycle of pain and loss once more. All of these animals are treated so cruelly because of their capacity to give birth and sustain life. As a woman and a feminist, I demand the right to protect my body from reproductive exploitation, and I want the same for all the females on earth, no matter what the species.
Another core part of my feminist beliefs–but also a part of my general humanity and compassion–is that I advocate for food justice for everyone. I see a healthy, adequate diet as an inalienable right for every human being. This egalitarian distribution of food will never be possible until we move away from eating meat and shift our focus to a plant based diet. Converting farmed animals into food for humans to eat is an extremely inefficient use of our planet’s resources. When millions around the world struggle to find enough food just to survive, this seems almost criminal. 70% of those living in absolute poverty are women, and when we are using 70% of our planet’s agricultural land to grow food to feed to livestock, it is a ghastly misuse of our resources. While food for a vegan can be produced on only 1/6 of an acre of land, it takes 3 and 1/4 acres of land to produce enough food for a meat-eater. If you add up all the arable land on the planet and divided it equally, every human would get 2/3 of an acre—more than enough to sustain a vegan diet, but not nearly enough to sustain a meat based one. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh. Imagine how many people could be fed if we would eat the grain directly instead of funneling it through animals first.
And of course, I can’t overlook the fact that eating animals also contributes to some early deaths of both men and women. A diet high in animal products has been conclusively linked to heart disease, many types of cancer, and stroke, which are the top 3 killers in the developed world. A high rate of dairy consumption has been linked to osteoporosis and breast cancer, diseases that rob many women of years of their lives. These illnesses have also been shown to be in great part preventable, and in many cases, reversible, with the adoption of a plant based diet. I view my health as a valuable resource in the exhausting struggle towards female equality, and I need all the strength I can get to fight the good fight. If most of us women are dying from easily preventable illnesses, where is the liberation in that?
Whenever we see another animal, human or not, as unworthy of our compassion and respect, we can then begin to use them and abuse them without a second thought. This lack of connection to other living creatures, the denial of their basic right to live a life of their own choosing, creates a vicious cycle of anger and violence. When we sit down to meals based on the exploitation and abuse of other living creatures, it deadens the compassionate part of our nature, and allows us to more easily overlook violence, degradation and oppression among our own species. For women worldwide, these abuses still include rape culture, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, the feminization of poverty, gender apartheid, and the denial of reproductive justice and bodily autonomy.
Each of our actions represents a choice made, and I want all of my choices to be consistent. I would never want someone to have control over my life or my body, or that of any of my fellow sisters (or brothers). I fight the notion that I am not as smart or as capable as a man, or that I am less deserving of pay, respect, or justice. The fact that I am a woman should not lower my inherent human value, or cause me to be used as a piece of property. That’s why I call myself a feminist.
And if I desire this freedom and respect for myself, then isn’t it natural to feel that, on some level, every living creature desires the same thing? Isn’t the will to live what drives all of us on this planet, human and animal alike? And shouldn’t the encouragement of life be our goal? That is why I call myself a vegan. Feminism and veganism are two interconnected pieces of one unifying belief: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” (Emma Lazarus)
Natasha Burge is a lifelong expat and globe-trotting political scientist currently living in Saudi Arabia with her 4 dogs, 2 cats, 1 horse, and 1 husband . She is passionate about animals, veganism, politics, feminism, and chocolate. Natasha works as a women’s rights educator, writer, and renegade vegan baker.
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Thank you so much, Tasha, for that inspiring and very passionate post. I hope that, regardless of how you choose to eat and how you choose to relate to feminism, this post gives you some interesting food for thought. If you’re keen on reading more of Tasha’s work, please check out her blog; today, she happens to have posted a short film called Why Feminism? that helps cover the basics of why feminism and women’s rights are still so necessary to her (and to me).
Expect more celebration of women’s rights for the week to come, along with some food, of course. For now, I wish you all a fabulous start to your Mondays!