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sick of the sexism

June 20, 2010

missed connections. part 3.

I was recently invited to the release party for the book Meat is for Pussies by John Joseph. I will not go for the simple fact that I cannot support the book’s use of sexism as a hook. I have not read the book (as it has not been released) and I am not in any way criticizing or supporting the content of the book as I don’t know what it says. I am, however, criticizing the title of this book.

Meat is for Pussies is trying to play off of and debunk the stereotype that vegan men often face: that their rejection of the carnage and murder which goes along with meat is also a rejection of manliness, virility and strength. This is certainly not true. Stereotypes are often off the mark and exist to devalue people and perspectives that threaten the status quo. In this case, protein is available in abundance from non-animal sources, and male vegan body builders like Robert Cheeke and Kenneth Williams demonstrate this clearly; vegan men are less likely to experience impotence as they age; and straight men who date in the vegan community are outnumbered about 3:1 by women so they have an opportunity for very raucous dating lives. And I am sure that Joseph goes into all this in his book.

But why did he have to do this by using the word pussy?

Here is where a lot of you refuse to challenge yourself and try to dismiss me by suggesting I am being to sensitive and that it is, after all, just a word. As I have said before, a word is never just a word:

Language is one of the most important tools we have. Language can liberate and language can oppress. The oppressive force of language is easily observed via the power of the pronoun. Pronouns are often neglected in language when referring to non-human animals, which serves to erase the individual identities of animals. Rather than acknowledging animals as individuals, as “he’s” and “she’s”, individuality is erased by calling each individual only by his or her species name…Language also creates and reinforces racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism and all of the other isms you can think of.

There is clearly an impulse in our movement to use easily recognizable, but nonetheless sexist, claims to promote and foster veganism and animal rights.  Another popular book that bolsters itself on the exploitation of women is Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. I have read this book and think in some places it has a lot of great points about the health benefits of veganism. The authors did some killer research and writing to put that book together. Unfortunately, they also couched it between opening and closing chapters, as well as a cover image, that encourages the devaluation of women’s bodies, by making their bodies the only thing that matters, thereby perpetuating an eating disordered ethos.

And then there is PeTA. I think they might make the greatest number of vegans, which is great. But, unfortunately, they also do this:

How can a movement that so frequently bases claims of animals’ rights on the notion that speciesism is like racism or sexism turn around and embrace sexism? If we support oppression at any level we bolster it at every level and we damn the cause all together.

While the histories and specific experiences of oppression are extremely different for different minority groups, the way that oppression works is the same. One group claims or has been conferred power and they maintain it by engaging in actions and instituting policies and embracing ideas that force the other groups to remain without the resources to change their status.

I generally believe that animal activists should support each other. When activists disagree on tactics they should at least respect one another and not get in each other’s way.  However, when an animal rights activist makes gains for animals by embracing the very system of oppression that created the horror of animal torture and slaughter in the first place, I am forced to speak out. So much of the work we are doing when we embrace a sexist animal rights movement or a speciesist women’s rights movement reinforces oppression. We may change or expand the notion of who “matters,” but we don’t change the system that causes the inequality in the first place. What we need to be fighting for is a world where we cease to draw lines at all between who matters and who doesn’t matter, rather than simply moving the line around so that groups occasionally renegotiate which side of the equation they are on.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

I live in one of the most free, safe and affluent countries in the world. But even here, I do not make as much money as a man for the same work, I know when I teach a college class ¼ of the women in my classroom have been sexually harassed or assaulted, I know that my male friends who are considered “pussies” for non-conformity to masculinity risk physical, psychological and sexual assault on a daily basis. None of this is okay with me. I also know that in the 10 minutes it took you to read this over 3,000 land animals were slaughtered for food, many thousands of animals suffered in laboratories and breeding facilities and hundreds of unwanted companion animals were euthenized. None of this is okay with me either. I want it all to stop but I will not make the world less safe for one group to save the other. If my friends who fight for animals join my friends who fight for women and we all fight against oppression, we can cease to be a minority. By fighting for one cause at the expense of another we do the work of the oppressors for them and we only make ourselves weaker.

[PS- I was very much inspired to write this post by a great Facebook note I read from a fellow feminist vegan rabblerouser. Thanks!]

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2010 1:09 am

    In the interest of being fair, here is Joseph’s response to criticisms like mine, which a concerned friend sent to me:

    “The title, “MEAT IS FOR PUSSIES… See More” has nothing to do with a woman’s body. It was conceived after I heard a meat-eating gym rat say that ALL VEGANS look like skinny little pussies. Well, after I schooled him, we decided to break the wimpy vegan stereotype and throw it back in their faces. It’s a play on words, its a NYC street-slang term and me being someone who was raised on the streets of NYC I know full well that shock brings attention, and as my target audience are those kinds of people, the title makes perfect sense. Much like the title “SKINNY BITCH” our title is to get attention and make people focus on the issues of health and animal cruelty. I don’t hate or degrade women in any way in the book, or in my personal life, as a matter of fact I praise women for being more bad ass and conscious than the guys on this planet. I think being someone who has made thousands of vegans and vegetarians through my music in the last 29 years with the Cro-Mags, and in my every day life, considering the fact I am dealing with my target audience: AGGRESSIVE CLOSE-MINDED MEN, the end justifies the means.”

    Alright, I appreciate that he is not a flagrant sexist and may even be in many cases a feminist, but if this is anything more than an ad hoc response, I would have thought a clever guy like this might have come up with a more creative, less abusive way to spread his message.

  2. June 21, 2010 2:04 pm

    Hm…well, I’ll leave my two cents.

    I understand how the title (though hopefully not the content) is considered sexist. I also do my best not to incorporate sexist/racist/speciesist comments in my daily language. It’s difficult because I curse like a sailor but I still try anyway.

    I’m actually reading “Skinny Bitch” right now and I really love this book. I mean, I don’t like the terms they use – calling people “bitches” or using other sexist remarks. But I truly love how tough they are…because sometimes I really want to yell at people myself and go “Get off of your fat ass and stop drinking soda all the time you moron!!” But I don’t because people get offended. (Though I can’t tell you how many times people comment on how “skinny I am”; you know because you can rag on skinny people but not fat people because it’s “offensive”.)

    And while no one should focus solely on their body, this book -is- about your physical health, not your mental health. So of course it’s gonna focus on doing positive things to keep yourself in shape and healthy. And sometimes it takes a smack in the face to get people to realize what they are doing. Of course I’m against hating people just because of their weight (be they fat or thin) but sometimes, it really does take a few harsh words.

    Anyway, I am probably going to read this book eventually just to see what its content is. And like “Skinny Bitches” I’m sure it’s going to have some good content. But that’s just me fore-seeing things.

    As for PETA, GOD I HATE THEIR ADVERTISING. Uuugh it just drives me psycho.

    • meerkat permalink
      July 17, 2010 4:55 am

      >you know because you can rag on skinny people but not fat people because it’s “offensive”.

      And your solution would be to make ragging on fat people acceptable too? It sucks that people rag on you for being skinny, but it also sucks that people get ragged on for being fat (which they do, even if you avoid doing it yourself).

  3. Julia permalink
    June 21, 2010 9:16 pm

    Great blog post. Very well put. I completely agree 100%. I’m so sick of the sexism in our movement, and this “the ends justify the means” attitude. No, they don’t. Degrading or exploiting one group to help another is not okay. And I hate that other vegans make me feel like I can’t express these kinds of views because it somehow means that I don’t care about the animals enough. Very frustrating indeed.
    Again, thanks for putting these views into such eloquent words. I will share this on Facebook.

  4. June 22, 2010 7:51 am

    When I heard (and smelled) my neighbors barbequing, getting drunk and watching the basketball game a few nights ago, shouting and reveling in their orgy of meat and mass media, I felt like someone from another planet. How can I ever relate to these people? If I have a message of compassion, how can I deliver it? Is the answer to appeal to those objectionable qualities – e.g., their objectifying of women and/or animals – that make these people uncompassionate in the first place? This approach has definitely worked for Rory Freedman (Skinny Bitch author) and PETA. I would guess that Peter Singer, a utilitarian, would approve of their approach because he would say the ends justify the means. And isn’t that the same rationale advanced by animal activists, including feminists, who engage in militant direct action?

    To slightly misquote a great poem by Galway Kinnell (http://cafephilos.wordpress.com/2007/12/24/when-one-has-lived-a-long-time-alone/), these vulgar messages from marginalized vegans are like a “life line flung from reality.” The drowning, unconscious meat-eaters won’t see it unless it’s presented in a form they recognize.

    Disadvantaged people at least have a voice. Animals have none. Only $0.01 of every donated dollar goes to helping animals and the environment; the other $0.99 goes to helping people. So personally, I am in favor of doing whatever it takes to help animals, even if that means in some cases offending our sensibilities about what is right for people. You gotta do what you gotta do.

    • June 22, 2010 11:03 am

      Thanks, Dave for a well reasoned response. However, I disagree becasue I think that if ANY oppression is embraced, the system which oppresses becomes stronger. We can spend forever picking groups to fight for and defend OR we can go to the root and fight an ideology of oppression adn exploitation. By oppressing and exploiting the system never changes and someone will always be oppressed. I would never be okay with a women’s group abusing animals to make a point. That is why I stopped attending Planned Parenthood dinner fundraisers; they always serve animal carcasses as food. I remember an instance when an environmental group threw live chickens into someone’s office to make a point. AR people were rightfully up in arms. How can someone abuse an animal to save the earth? I am asking, how can someone contribute to a social system of exploitation based on gender to try to change a social system of exploitation based on species? It just makes no sense. Don’t we need to reject the idea that exploitation is acceptable in order to create real change?

    • Nicoal permalink
      June 26, 2010 5:38 pm

      The position of utilitarianism is an extremely privileged perspective. Dave, not to sound rude, but you are in that privileged position. It is “acceptable” for one to use sexism in order to “advance” animal rights because you don’t feel the direct effects of it — being that you are not categorized as a “woman” in society.

      Women (wimmin) are held to unattainable standards and degraded simultaneously to say that they aren’t worth more than just a “money shot” or that they are an object of another’s “desires”. Their bodies become the focal point of their existence instead of existing for their own reasons. Animals are seen and represented in the same way – their bodies exist to pleasure someone else, rather than belonging to themselves. Just as Alice Walker states “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons, they were not created for men anymore than black people were created for whites or women for men.”

      Sexism, speciesism, classism and racism are all systemic ways of silencing those consider “less than”. They are interlocking oppression and animals cannot be free unless wimmin are free and wimmin cannot be free unless animals are free.

      As for militant direct action, those tactics and actions do not operate underneath the guise of oppression. They are liberatory (since animals are usually physically taken from places of enslavement) and as far as my knowledge, are consistently non-violent. Buildings have no ability to feel or do not matter (in the case of arson or economic sabotage). Comparing such “means” (arson, etc.) to that of utilizing sexism is offensive. Sexism can never be positive and is always cluttered with violence against someone who does feel.

      I find it annoying that Carol and I as well as other feminists in the animal rights movement have to continue arguing this point until we are blue in the face. Oppression is always going to perpetuate oppression, and it cannot be called something else (or we are seriously kidding ourselves).

      • June 27, 2010 8:14 pm

        Carol and Nicoal, thanks for your comments.

        I don’t believe that one can simply choose to have “zero tolerance” for a particular brand of objectionable behavior. Human life is too complex for most moral decisions to work that way. We’re all utilitarians in the sense that every day, we engage in certain objectionable behavior because we believe it’s outweighed by the value of an important, desirable result. Thus, we might oppose global warming and environmental degradation, yet contribute to the problem by driving 50 miles to a protest or animal rights event. We might oppose the exploitation of animals, yet shop in places like Mother’s or Whole Foods that sell animal products, and thus support the very behavior we oppose. We might oppose killing animals, yet support euthanasia in certain circumstances. We might oppose killing humans, yet believe that if someone tries to kill us, we have the right to kill first in self-defense.

        When we engage in this kind of decision-making, we choose one path over another not because we believe the rejected path is unimportant, but because we believe the chosen path is more important. We live in a world where it’s not practical to ride our bikes everywhere or grow our own food, so we make moral compromises, choose our battles, and go after the things that we consider the most important. Is it possible to support both animals and the environment by only attending animal rights protests within biking or walking distance? Or by never distributing paper leaflets, but instead directing people to a web site? Of course, both are possible, but both diminish the protester’s efficacy.

        As Carol points out, thousands of animals are dying every few minutes. Millions are suffering right now, waiting in darkness, squalor and misery for their imminent deaths. What kind of moral compromises are we willing to make to end or alleviate their misery? Drive somewhere? Distribute paper leaflets? Burn down a building? Pose in a bikini? The answer is different for each of us. But I believe the question isn’t about whether we will make moral compromises, rather, it’s about where we will draw the line.

        Of course, it is wrong to exploit women or any other group for any purpose. However, just as it is less wrong to kill in some situations than in others, I believe it is less wrong to engage in exploitative behavior in some situations than in others. If you insist on a policy of zero tolerance for exploitative behavior, then shouldn’t you also insist on zero tolerance for other objectionable behavior, such as killing? If that is the case, you must be prepared to allow yourself to be killed without fighting back against a rapist or burglar, or allow a downed animal to suffer for days until its natural death. On the other hand, if you accept that you must tolerate some level of exploitative behavior in order to function effectively in a morally complex world, then I believe the question is whether alleviating the suffering of millions of sentient beings is one of the few goals that warrant this kind of objectionable behavior.

        Nicoal, I understand why you might think my views on this subject are biased because I’m male. However, I believe the point is valid regardless who makes it. Many women feel the way I do, including Ingrid Newkirk.

        Moreover, I feel the way I do because I think it’s right, not because I’m male. I also support PETA’s controversial ads comparing factory farms to the Holocaust, although I lost ancestral relatives in brutal pogroms against Russian Jews.

        However, I also admit that the issue is complex, and the facts of each situation are important in deciding what’s right. The lines are blurry. We each have our own level of tolerance for objectionable language, images or behavior. For example, is the term “Vegina” sexually-exploitative because it trades on men’s fascination with sex and female genitalia?

        Regardless of the answer, I value the forum and the chance to discuss this issue. Thank you, Carol, for providing it.

      • July 6, 2010 6:12 pm

        @All: I think deontology IS equally “privileged”; to wit, this one individual’s “right” trumps the overall negative consequences for these 100 individual’s. But this talk of “privilege” is a red herring.

        @Dave: Using sexism to highlight the exploitation of nonhuman animals is NOT comparable to the Holocaust analogy. The latter is well-grounded, and the challenges to the analogy are generally founded on speciesism. (If there was an ongoing human genocide and we used the Holocaust as a method to bring attention to it, would people be offended?) While using sexism is all-together different: it isn’t an analogy at all but using an existing exploitative system for some other end. (By analogy, it would be like the NAACP using anti-hispanic rhetoric to garner support for black Americans.)

        Now, on consequentalist grounds, I suppose using sexism for this end may be justifiable. However, I’m dubious.

  5. June 22, 2010 1:25 pm

    Really well thought out post. I agree with your overall thesis that exploiting one group to improve another group is harmful, if not dangerous. One of my complaints about the AR movement is that we focus so much on making veganism fit into our culture. Our culture is sick. Why would we want to take something like veganism and mold it into a culture that worships materialism, competition, violence, greed and oppression?

    That being said, please allow me to contradict myself. I try to look at the larger picture when it comes to animal rights. The need for change is immediate. When I look at PETA, I see a lot that I don’t like and a lot that I do like. Their videos and research are fantastic, as an example. I know quite a few people that went vegan after reading “Skinny Bitch” and are now active in the community. I can appreciate the audience that John Jospeh is going after, because a lot of us don’t go out to that audience.

    I appreciate that you are holding us to a higher standard. It becomes clearer and clearer to me every day that we need to be much more respectful to women and to people of color and to be much more inclusive.

    I guess my question to you is how do we reach out to an uneducated and apathetic audience with the idea of veganism and compassion?

  6. June 23, 2010 3:50 am

    The obvious concern is that John Joseph is making the claim that meat (dead animal flesh) is negative and then he states (it) “meat” is for pussies (sissies).
    So, therefore he is making a negative also when he claims the association with meat as being ‘for’ pussies. Really? Is that what pussies are for….meat?
    Men’s identity with meat vs being considered a pussy does not seem like a logical way either to forward on an ethical message about going vegan. Nope. It’s not going to have that effect.
    The author also is turning both meat and pussy into sexual innuendos which are so cliche it becomes actually quite tragic… in a very juvenile way of course.
    I’m sure there are 12 year old boys who might giggle at the title.
    It should be of particular concern that to anyone who realizes this type of childish, sexist, language makes for almost no possibility of taking the issue seriously. I mean it’s not even at all… a funny title… unless… you are an immature boy in grade school. Then maybe.
    But then where are we? In elementry school.
    Maybe that’s his demo…Is Mr Joseph implying his personal meat is for pussies?
    Is that his final statement? Is that all pussies are meant for Mr Joseph?
    Are men who eat meat supposedly just merely male vaginas?
    To sum it up….I believe Mr Joseph feels that the connotation with the word pussy is plenty enough insult to humiliate all flesh eaters away from this object and move toward more plant based objects.
    Tofu Is For Cock…
    I guess….This must be the brilliant conclusion of this fine work.

  7. David Rutan permalink
    July 8, 2010 8:23 am

    In addition to the previous arguments, I think that the following statistics should be kept in mind:

    In the United States, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Every 2 minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted. Approximately 73% of rape victims know their assailants. One of every four rapes take place in a public area or in a parking garage. Only 6% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. In 47% of rapes, the victim sustained injuries other than rape injuries. 75% of female rape victims require medical care after the attack.

    Not to sensationalize, it can be argued that the objectification of women promotes or at least does not diminish the real threat that non-consensual sex poses to women. Unfortunately there will always be some level of rape in this country and in the world just as there will be some level of homocide. But to know such life-altering rapes occur so frequently and to still use women’s sexuality to sell messages and thus endorse the idea that women are no more than sexual objects to be used as we wish borders on criminal negligence.

    As an alternate thought, why not use advertising responsibly? We would frown upon the use of people with physical abnormalities in order to sell products because of the perceived discrimination that that would endorse. Why not extend such an idea to the sexualization of women, especially given the violence that occurs every 2 minutes in this country? As MLK once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Or even more to the point, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

    I am not beholden to any argument presented so far but wanted to add this for your scrutiny and comments.

  8. July 9, 2010 1:54 am

    Hi Vegina (and All)

    New visitor to your blog and could not help but be drawn to this post and its comments that debate an issue that most (?all) animal advocates/ activists face at some time – if not daily. Where do we draw the line? Dave has already posed a multitude of difficult-to-answer questions but here are a few more: Knowing the environmental devastation that feral cats cause, will you join the shooting party? Or trap and euthanise them? Do your vegan boots, once well and truly used, degrade underground as rapidly as leather, or do they (like mine) pollute the soil for a very long time? Will you refuse an opportunity to rid the world of animal exploitation because it threatens to knock you off your moral high ground?

    I, like others that have commented here, am a privileged, white, english-speaking male. Yet I was appalled when I first realised that Skinny Bitch was a book promoting veganism. (Meat for Pussies brings up the same disgust.) Not only does the word reek of sexism but it also has strong overtones of violence. And since both sexism and violence repulse the core of almost every vegan I know how could a book with a title suggestive of both have within its pages the desire to create vegans? But that was narrow-minded me standing on my moral high ground.

    Education, intent and outcome are the keys. And as animal advocates we strive for education of the masses, pure intent at all times, and an outcome of no animal exploitation. If the intent of these books (as clearly stated by John Joseph for MifP) is not sexism and violence, if they educate a significant proportion of people that we on the moral high ground stand too high to reach, and if the outcome is one of converting people to a life that has respect for ALL animals and not just human animals, without converting non-sexist, non-violent people to sexist and violent unwanteds, are they so bad? For we know that inherent in converting carnivores to vegans is the crushing of sexism and violence. Sexism (and violence) are not being “embraced” by these authors and by PETA, they are being used for a greater good that will ultimately cleverly dismantle them.

  9. July 15, 2010 11:11 pm

    This isn’t 100% on topic but somewhat related. I recently read the book “Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters” and in the section about differences between men and women it claimed that when you compare men and women in the same profession women make $.99 for every $1 a man makes rather than the usual $.70. It suggested that the difference was because women often chose “pink collar” careers such as nursing and teaching and men more often chose to pursue careers to further heights because they do not typically place as much value in the well being of their families/personal lives as women. The book wasn’t sexist by any means, mostly statistics and theories on evolutionary psychology.

    Personally the “Meat is for Pussies” thing doesn’t strike me as any more sexist than me calling someone a “dick” for behaving in a rude manner. I guess I’m being sexist when I use the word dick as an insult. It’s unfortunate that vegans feel the need to resort to profanity to sell veganism. I would want to note that “pussy” can be used in two ways and I’ve never really thought that when someone called someone else a pussy as an insult that they really meant to call them a vagina. It’s the type of thing that wouldn’t bother me if a friend did it once but would bother me if a friend made it a habit. It’s pretty hard for people to not pick up on the language that is popular with their age group/friends (which is why gay and retarded as insults are going to die hard).

  10. Daryl Seybold permalink
    July 30, 2010 1:11 am

    I don’t think comparing self-defense to exploitation is acceptable. I think zero-tolerance is the only way to view anything activity that is harmful to another person, demeans them in any way whether for race, creed, sex, sexual persuasion etc. If you open the door to less than people will find excuses to circumvent these principles. I am almost and atheist but I think the second great commandment says it all. Love your neighbor as yourself ie..treat others as you wish to be treated.

    Americans, the rich, men, beautiful people, and cats have a sense of entitlement that they deserve to be treated better than other people. Even some vegans think they are better than others because of their beliefs. We all know that members of each religious sect feel that their way is the only way and that everyone should be forced to believe like they do. This starts a good percentage of wars. So does America’s idea that they have a right to destroy other nations to protect our corporate interests. And neither corporations or people have the right to exploit another person. That be notes ownership of another person, a form of slavery.

    We have to get outside ourselves and actually walk a mile in others shoes and realize that they have a right to live their life their way if, as the Wiccians say ‘So long as you do no harm’. And I believe that people have a right to protect themselves whether having to kill another person to save their own life or protect themselves from assault, to prosecute when exploited, and to stand up for their rights if attacked for prejudice of any kind. And we have a duty to protect those who can’t protect themselves while their are still predators among us whether they are children, women, or animals.

    Yes, animals, I have heard Christians say that the Bible says that God gave man dominion over the land and the animals to use for his benefit. What a crock to justify trashing the earth, and cause most non-eatable animals to be on the endangered list. That is like letting a psycho trash your home. As for justifying the eating of our co-inhabitants of this earth even beings of the same phylum ( mammals) is sickening for me or any compassionate person.

    We need to teach our children that we don’t own the earth and the inhabitants but that we are the caretakers of the earth and our animal brethren and we should strive to create a paradise for all it’s inhabitants to live in peace.

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