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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Vegetarianism a Feminist Issue?

I have been a vegetarian my whole life. I have always thought (or liked to think) that it was a quirky personality trait (I don't like the taste/texture of meat) as opposed to a political statement. But recently, the past four years to be exact, while I was at college, I started to think more about what it meant to eat meat and to not eat meat. I have friends who are vegetarians as a political statement and those who are vegetarians to promote a healthy diet.

As a feminist, I started to think about how being a vegetarian was not only a political statement, but how it could also be a feminist one. Part of vegetarianism is protesting the unethical treatment of animals in order to serve human purposes. Part of feminism is about protesting the oppression of women in order to serve white male purposes and about the interlocking forms of oppression. You can see the connection here. The unethical treatment of animals and the oppression of women can be linked in connection to the privilege of (white) males.

The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams (which I haven't read, but it is definitely going on the list) is all about this connection. The Amazon.com description of the book says...

Building upon these observations, feminist activist Adams detects intimate links between the slaughter of animals and violence directed against women. She ties the prevalence of a carnivorous diet to patriarchal attitudes, such as the idea that the end justifies the means, and the objectification of others.
By connecting the oppression of women to the oppression of animals, we can then see the connection between the slaughter of animals and violence against women. The unethical treatment of animals by (white) males due to the patriarchal society is also linked to violence against women due to the patriarchal society.

And no one shows the connection between slaughtering animals and violence against women (by promoting violence against women) like PETA. The PETA ads are old news, but still relevant. Using women as a way to promote animal rights activism, PETA equates slaughtering animals to violence against women, but not in a good way. These ads are sexist and rather than stopping the unethical treatment of animals (like I'm assuming its intention is), it is making women a piece of meat, ready to be consumed by men.

PETA has been creating these kinds of ads for while, but nothing seems to change despite outcry from feminist communities. You would think that PETA would be more sensitive to the oppression of women because of the connection between vegetarianism and feminism. But PETA is all too aware of this connection, but does not use it productively. PETA uses this connection to further their cause at the expense of women.

So, is vegetarianism a feminist issue? Yes. Should all feminists be vegetarians? No. Being a vegetarian is a personal choice. And what is feminism all about? The freedom for women to make their own decisions about their life, their body, and what they do to or put into their body. I chose to be a vegetarian. Well, chose out of personal preference, but if I liked meat today, I would probably still choose to be a vegetarian. But not everyone has to be. It's all about the personal decision. While I do believe in the connection of these forms of oppression (as with all forms of oppression), being a vegetarian is such a personal decision that I believe that whatever someone decides to do, it is the right decision for them.

2 comments:

dieselsandwich said...

I was a little confused at first, as the connection between the oppression of women and the maltreatment of animals was pretty tenuous and vague. Especially since objectification of others and Machiavellian reasoning exists in other oppression systems (not just the patriarchy), so directly linking the plight of animals and women seems iffy (based on attributing the mistreatment of animals to the patriarchy).

But I agree on one linkage, in that vegetarianism is a bodily personal choice and preserving our capacity to make unfettered bodily choices is a cardinal requirement of feminism. So that helped clarify things a bit. Was that what you were getting at originally?

nataliecottrell said...

It's so interesting that you raise this issue because I, too, am a vegetarian for many years and consider myself a feminist long before I understood what that meant. I have owned The Sexual Politics of Meat since high school, but have still yet to crack the spine. When I saw the title of your blog, my thoughts immediately went to this book lingering so patiently on my bookshelf. Thank you for the reminder to deleve back into this!

I am assuming you've read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. If not, I highly recommend it. It's about the beauty industry and how images of beauty are used against women. Most of it is pretty intuitive, but I love it as an introduction to the feminist perspective, especially to those who don't understand what all the fuss is about. It has been a great tool for me to share with women who want to participate in discussions about more complex issues, such as the one you brought up here, but aren't quite sure how it all fits together.

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