Respect ALL women, nonhuman women too

Women 24 journalist (sic) Lili Radloff recently penned this response to PETA’s latest in a string of controversial ad campaigns. In response to criticism of that article, she tweeted that she “f%&%^& hates vegans”. When taken on on that, she asserted “everyone hates vegans, grow a pair”. (Ed's note: Lili actually said "Vegans are like gingers. Everybody hates them. Grow a pair.)

While Women24 should probably take a better look at the quality of their journalists, their ability to remain objective and unbiased and to respect the Constitution, which protects diverse groups against hate speech, I’d like to take a closer look at Radloff’s response.

PETA are notorious for using shock tactics to garner attention. This is something that has created much debate, and even resulted in groups of “vegans against PETA”.

I am, personally, not a fan of PETAs tactics. I am vegan. I am a woman. I am sex-positive. I am not single-issued.

As with any activist issue, it is very important not to conflate the qualities and characteristics of its proponents with the merits of their cause.

Let’s look at some flaws in Radloff’s article:

The title.

The title divides two issues which are not that far apart (addressed later). It makes the reader feel like we must pick a side – either respect animals more, or women’s more. We cannot perceivably respect both equally. This division is re-enforced early on with her statement “Now while I love kittens and bunnies just as much as the next chick, I happen to respect women more.” (And as one astute reader notices, she uses a potentially derogatory term – “chick” to get her point across about how much respects women. I’ll deal with the issue of language a bit later).

It is very dangerous to separate fundamental issues facing us as a society.

"Victims of oppression cannot advance by oppressing and victimizing others." - Steve Best

I realise that Radloff interpreted the advert in question as doing just this, so lets turn to that interpretation.

The (mis)interpretation of the latest advert.

Radloff totally misunderstands the advert. She confuses it with being hateful towards women. I personally agree that the advert is not clear, and not well executed.

Here is a description of the advert from someone who clearly enjoyed it:
“The protagonist is a nerd with vegan-derived sexual superpowers, that his girlfriend clearly appreciates, hence the bag of veg. It’s humorously persuasive, engaging, provokes discussion, and enrages prudes. What’s not to like?!”

Another sees this way:
“I understood her injury to be accidentally, rather than intentionally, inflicted: a by-product of her beau’s new-found potency, hence his sheepish tone at the end. Accidents can happen during any physical activity, sex included. Maybe one sees what one wants to see.”

I would personally say that there is certainly room to argue that the footage and language used creates a link between good sex and painful sex. This alone, though, is not enough for me to get angry over – some good sex is painful sex. It’s quite demeaning to assume no woman would ever enjoy anything other than gentle love making, and it is dangerous to attempt to draw lines at what kind of sex it is ok to consent to, and what kinds are not.

So what is the add saying – or trying to say? It is saying that vegans have higher libidos (studies have shown that a healthy diet increases libido, that a plant-based diet improves *eh-hem* our taste and smell, and that vegetarians are more likely to enjoy oral sex). Sure, there are many other, arguably more scientifically sound, reasons to live vegan that PETA can, and has, advertised. But sex sells. And, apparently, rough sex sells particularly well. There are feminist arguments that PETA and others should not use sex to sell ideas, but these arguments inherently assume that women are necessarily exploited by sex – a notion that potentially limits womens’ ownership of their own sexuality and their right to sell it if they choose. 

Why PETA chose to use rough sex to get this message across I was not exactly sure of, initially. It is most likely because they knew it was most likely to get a big response and draw attention. More response than, say, this campaign, where two vegans passionately made out in public under the same premise of a plant based diet being good for your sex life.  This stunt didn’t attract nearly as much criticism, which seems to indicate that the issue is with rough sex, not just sex or veganism, necessarily.

While Radloff seems to take issue with men who have higher libido’s using the negative term “sex fiend” to describe this, she seems to be more concerned with women participating in rough sex. She goes on an entirely sex-negative tirade against women who consensually engage in rough sex- she describes them as “victims who would come back for more abuse”.

This denial of a woman’s freedom to choose to engage in rough sex is, ironically, not very feminist. It is a denial of that woman’s particularly sexuality and her right to enjoy it. She attempts to justify this with a sum “do the math” – more women are, supposedly, abused than the number of women who willingly engage in BDSM. How Radloff knows exactly how many women are into rough sex is beyond me, but that’s not the point. Even if just one women wants to have rough sex, it is her right to do so.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the idea that women are capable of consenting to whatever they choose to, or not, underpins women’s freedom movements.

Radloff also says we shouldn’t joke about violence against women. I agree whole heartedly. But I am not sure how this advert does that. Apparently, an advert using BDSM is the same as joking about violence against women. So no more consensual acts of rough sex in the media now. You got that ladies? Doesn’t matter what you’re into consensually, if it can offend another feminist, its not ok. Got it? Good.

One Struggle
Oddly, the vegans Radloff claims to “f5%%^& hate”, hosted a one day conference on the 18th February 2012 dealing with a host of interrelated issues, including gender issues and women’s rights. Perhaps if someone from Women24 had bothered to attend, they’d understand that the issues are not so separate, that one can most certainly be respectful of both animals and women, and that many vegans are actively involved in both areas. (Ed's note: If One Struggle had bothered to invite us we would have attended.)

One Struggle 2012 included talks on gender issues, animal rights, human rights, ecological rights and more.

So what is the connection between women’s rights and animal rights? Peter Singer has written extensively about the connection in his 1975 book Animal Liberation.

1)    The nature of oppression. Both patriarchy and carnism are established on systems of hierarchy, of othering, of ownership and entitlement. Women were (and still are in some places) denied basic rights, dignity and protection. Women had to fight for their rights by “proving” that they were not lesser-than men. In the same way, animal rights activists must fight on behalf on animals to show that they are not lesser-than on any logically consistent measure – we have all evolved to function in our environments, in some measures certain species perform better than humans, in many cases the animals we have selected for routine enslavement and murder perform better than those we have chosen to conserve and protect (a pig is as intelligent as a 3 year old child, a chicken outperforms cats on cognition tests, etc). All have the ability to experience pain, fear, suffering, loss and abandonment. None give their freedom or their lives willingly.

2)    The language of oppressors. Terms like “beef cow” disconnect one from the animal, the being, by associating it with a purpose – its not a sentient being, its there for beef.  There are many other examples. The most basic example of this in feminism is the word “female” – the women as something other than “male”. Male is the standard, female is derived therefrom. Again, there are many other examples.  There are also a number of terms that are equally degrading to both animals and women – “swamp donkey”, “chick”, “loose goose”, “bitch” , “mutton dressed as lamb” etc.

3)    Institutionalised oppression. The self-same institutions that oppressed black people, women and homosexuals oppress animals. For example the state determines legislature which gives rights to certain animals, but not those deemed arbitrarily as “farm animals” (nothing biological to distinguish them, just a random assignment of certain species for our domination and use, based on nothing more than tradition).

4)    The treatment of female animals in particular. Nonhuman mothers are routinely brutalised by the BILLIONS - mother cows inseminated in what industry calls "rape cages", have their babies removed from them at great stress to both so that you can drink the milk intended for their young, and then killed while only a teenager because they are no longer of value. Mother hens kept in dark, tight spaces so that you can eat their discarded periods, all the while their sons murdered at one day old as they hold no value to the egg industry.

There are many more parallels that can be drawn. Perhaps next time, Radloff will attend the conference instead of spending her time hating on an advert that, while admittedly poorly executed, she just did not understand. To again quote Steve Best:

“Animal liberation is the culmination of a vast historical learning process whereby human beings gradually realize that arguments justifying hierarchy, inequality, and discrimination of any kind are arbitrary, baseless, and fallacious. Animal liberation builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances human beings have made in the last 200 years and carries them to their logical conclusions. It takes the struggle for rights, equality, and nonviolence to the next level, beyond the artificial moral and legal boundaries of humanism, in order to challenge all prejudices and hierarchies, including speciesism”
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