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liberal opposition to hate crime law

December 7, 2010

Last year an activist approached me on the street and asked if I would sign something to advocate for the inclusion of attacks based on gender identity or sexual orientation as a hate crime.  What this activist was asking for became a reality a little over a year ago with the Federal Hate Crime Act of 2009.  I, however, was not one of the people who helped it get there; I refused to pledge my support that day because I am opposed to all hate crime law. It was a difficult decision because, if there are going to be hate crime laws, I want all groups that suffer from discrimination and who are singled out in acts of hate-based violence to be included, but my opposition to hate crime law in general prevented me.

Though this stand is likely not popular among my peers, I think it is an issue that is important to address and to consider seriously. Though I will never dedicate my energy toward ending hate crime law, I do want to dedicate some time to questioning the basis of the laws and to challenge others to consider if these laws are actually protective of citizens. I fundamentally disagree with the asinine bigoted arguments that are often used against hate crime laws (click here for an example) and I worry that I come to the same conclusions those people do, but nonetheless I have, even if for very different reasons.

My fundamental problem with hate crime laws is that they are punishing an ideology as well as a crime. In the case of crimes based on bias, I find the ideologies behind those crimes classified as hate-crime to be abhorrent. Even so, hate crime laws set a precedent that allows those in power to determine which ideas are bad and which ones are good.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not belittling the very real, extremely serious fact that there are bias motivated crimes. In 2009 there were 8,336 reported hate-crimes. According to FBI statistics,

An analysis of data for victims of single-bias hate crime incidents showed that:

  • 48.8 percent of the victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias against a race.
  • 18.9 percent were victimized because of a bias against a religious belief.
  • 17.8 percent were targeted because of a bias against a particular sexual orientation.
  • 13.3 percent were victimized because of a bias against an ethnicity/national origin.
  • 1.2 percent were targeted because of a bias against a disability.

I am guessing that this is a gross underestimate, as many jurisdictions are likely to under-report, many people might not know they are targeted because their assailants were biased against them for some reason, and the populations that are often targeted may not receive an adequate response from authorities when they report a crime and may be more likely to be distrustful of authorities who may also discriminate against them.

I am not opposed to the very logical idea that hate-based crimes suck and the horrible human beings who assault others for reasons of bias deserve to be punished. What I am opposed to is handing those in power the right to legislate what ideas are and are not appropriate. As our federal government increases repression against those who have ideas that they don’t like, I think we need to be vigilant to understand the root of the problems that have allowed this oppression to function legally and virtually unchallenged.

I see a stark parallel between hate crime law and other repressive legislation; in particular, the Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act (AETA). If you don’t know about AETA, there is some good info here, and here.   One of the things the law does is ratchet up sentencing guidelines for certain crimes if the perpetrator is doing it based on a philosophy of animal rights. In  fact, it allows people to be tried for “animal enterprise terrorism” for trespassing and “property damage.” A brick through a McDonald’s window would typically come with a fine and some community service. However, with AETA in place, it could mean serious jail time for animal activists but not for the vandal who does it with no ideological motivation.

I would like to believe that politicians and legislators and even the general populous has the ability to determine what is and is not moral. However, as much as I want to believe it, I don’t. I think that most people and most institutions, are primarily concerned with protecting and reinforcing their own privilege. When it becomes acceptable to punish thoughts and ideas, the speech of dissenters will always be stifled. In some cases this seems like a good thing. I certainly don’t feel safe around anti-Semites or misogynists, and if I was in a class of people that is systematically the target of violence, I am sure this would be intensified. But I also know that the status quo is dependent on no one dissenting and big change only happens because people bother to stand up and speak out. When we give the government the right to punish certain ideologies we set a precedent that not only allows a different system of punishment for bigots but, at the same time, for those who push for social change.

The proof that the government is bad at deciding right and wrong and establishing laws around morality is evident. That it took until 2009 for the federal government to extend hate crime legislation to include gender and sexuality based crimes is proof that hate crime law itself isn’t objective and is based on the preferences of those in power. Under a homophobic Bush administration anti-gay hate crimes were not acknowledged, but under a slightly less homophobic Obama administration it was eventually included. Government’s bias in judging right from wrong is also evident in laws that target the environmental and animal rights movements.

The bottom line is that we cannot accept an unfair system of law when it privileges our own ideologies, but reject it when it places us in a position of disadvantage. There is a reason the judicial system in this country is painfully (and admittedly problematically) rigid—people will not always act smartly and with good intentions. There need to be some safeguards against assholes. And a good number of those who dictate policy in this country are assholes.

Beating, raping, murdering, harassing, abusing, and many other forms of violence are often hate crimes, and they are always super bad, regardless of why they are done. We should always punish them harshly.  There are also some crimes that should not be punished harshly, but the imperative to punish thoughts as well as actions allow them to be.

Releasing mink from a fur farm should just not be punished as a “terrorist” offense. There is rare occasion to give anyone jail time for trespassing or loitering. However, there are laws that dictate if you do this with certain political or social aims you will be punished more harshly than normal. AETA can make blocking the entrance to a meat packing plant an act of domestic terrorism, but only if you are an animal rights activist. This is unjustifiably biased, and shows the liberty with which those in power will use their ability to punish people for their thoughts.

We need to punish people for what they do, not why they do it. Under this logic we will always punish violent offenses harshly. This means we will punish hate crimes harshly. In my dream world, we would prosecute a random murder of someone on the street, the murder of someone because of their race or religion, and the murder of an innocent animal for food the same. Raping your girlfriend, or a transvestite or a dairy cow is all violent and should get you a hefty jail sentence. Why do we say that it only get a hefty sentence if you get fancy enough law team together to prove it was a biased-based crime? We should also not punish someone who releases minks to jail time or classify him or her as a “domestic terrorist”. The crime just isn’t worthy of the punishment.

Hate crime laws seem good on the surface, but they bolster a precedent for the persecution and prosecution of ideas. I don’t like the ideas of bigots and I despise the violence that bigotry can lead to, but I don’t trust those in power not to be bigots themselves. That is why I don’t want to set the precedent that they can choose which ideas are valid and which need to be repressed.

a sensitive subject

November 8, 2010

***TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses rape and describes an incident of sexual assault***

I have discussed rape and sexual assault on this blog before and, while the topic always instigates discussion and debate, the most hotly contested statement I have made is that human practices inflicted on nonhuman animals to force reproduction is rape. Because some rape and sexual assault victims are offended by this comparison, I am told it should not be made. However, while many people are offended that I label the actions of forcing male animals to ejaculate or shoving objects into the vaginas of female nonhuman animals rape, I really can’t imagine calling it anything else.

When I call what we do to thousands of nonhuman animals on a daily basis in the name of food production rape I am not belittling human women, nor advancing the experience of the nonhuman animals simply for the sake of hyperbole. I am just identifying what is happening. I understand that if a person believes humans to be more valuable or have more meaningful experiences than nonhumans, then this would be insulting. I, however, do not think the suffering is unequal and so to me this comparison is far from insulting—it just is.

In saying this I do not intend to diminish the feelings and knowledge that any victim or survivor has about his or her own experience. At the same time that I believe rape is rape, regardless of the species, I also believe that each experience of assault is unique and that no one’s voice should be stifled. While some victims and survivors think my perspective diminishes their experiences, other victims and survivors do not.  Though I am not necessarily silent about my own experience of sexual assault I never put it front and center and rarely speak of it in my daily life, but today I want to because of this belief that only victims and survivors can have a voice or an opinion on this matter. I am a survivor, this is my voice and my opinion is strongly informed by my experience of abuse.

I feel that it is in allowing any instance of assault to be normalized that our society reinforces and perpetuates the rape culture and misogyny that has made sexual assault commonplace. Unfortunately, our culture accepts rape

A mainstream ad that glorifies and sexualizes rape

and sexual assault in various ways. We reproduce and glorify it in our advertising and other media, it is an acceptable topic of humor and it remains an unaddressed social problem. And, when it comes to nonhuman animals, we simply ignore it. The act of forcing something into the vagina of a female-bodied individual and impregnating her against her will is NOT something we call rape but it IS something we rely on for the way we choose to produce food. To me this is a problem. And it I this sort of mislabeling that helps to perpetuate rape culture. If as a society we can look at a clear act of rape, but refuse to define it as such, we are allowing rape to be devalued. We are saying that if it is done by those in power to those who are powerless, then it is not rape.

As a culture, we have created a story of a rapist bogyman, a stranger popping out of the dark to attack an unsuspecting woman who dared to walk alone at night. This story, which is only true in a fraction of sexual assault cases, allows us to ignore the very real social problem that sexual assault stems from—the idea that violating the bodies of the women and other minorities is a mechanism of control regularly used in our society. Sexual assault goes under-punished in our society and the dialogue surrounding it is filed with misinformation and a tinge of shame and blame directed toward the victims. This allows rape and sexual assault to remain prevalent. However, if as a society we identified sexual abuse when we saw it and refused to tolerate it on any level, it would cease to be the tool of abuse and control that pathologically invades our culture.

People tell me that that shoving an apparatus into the vagina of an unwilling nonhuman animal is not rape just because that animal is not human. This apparently doesn’t fit the “definition.” But I know that definitions are wrong. What I experienced didn’t fit the definition and so I had no recourse, no way to call for help, no way to say no and for many years no way to heal. No stranger leapt out at unsuspecting me and attacked me. No one ripped off my clothes or forced his penis into my vagina. I never screamed. In fact, what a cow faces on a rape rack is much more similar to the “standard” definition of rape than what I experienced. As a teenager, I took drugs my boyfriend offered me trusting he would not give me too much, though he intentionally did. Once I was incapacitated, he demanded sex. I had very little physical control over my body, so all I could do was say no. My refusals continued and his behavior became more erratic and scary so to protect myself I decided concede to, or at least not to fight, some very unwanted and unenjoyed sexual contact. I felt this was the only way I could avoid vaginal rape or physical harm so I made a decision to be assaulted in one way because I feared being assaulted in another. I know I was assaulted and it was much less cut and dry than what happens to cow on a dairy farm.

Some moments of that night I have worked not to remember. Other things I remember with crisp clarity; it is the things I remember that let me know what happens to anyone who is assaulted or raped (species irrelevant) is important, needs to be named, and must be stopped. For me, the experience of being assaulted does not set me apart from others; it brings me closer. My experience is unique but it is not uncommon. In experiencing what I did I joined an unfortunately large number of women, men and children in this country who have survived sexual violence.

If we lived in a society that refused to allow the bodies of women and minorities to be abused by those in power, I wonder if I would have ever had that experience. When I was told of the intentional overdose that night I tried to throw up the pills, hoping to prevent my total incapacitation. My boyfriend’s friends held me down, refusing to let me throw up, laughing the entire time. If we lived in a world in which our entire food system was not based on rape and violence, would a bunch of teenaged boys have the notion that it was remotely socially acceptable, much less funny, to control my body and physically subdue me?

I know what helplessness is because that night I did not have the capacity to scream for help. I know what fear is because that night I knew if I continued refusing something else unknown and more horrible might happen to me. When I think of the cow or the goat on the dairy farm or the pig on the hog farm I do not think about how much worse what I faced was than what they faced. I do not imagine all the ways my emotional and intellectual life might or might not differ from theirs to make my experience more salient. What I do imagine is how, like me, each one of them must feel scared. I feel empathy through the similarity of our experiences, not supremacy because of the differences.

wasted time: fighting for veg options in fast food joints

October 29, 2010

One of the mistakes that the vegan movement is making today is its push for “vegan options.” I live near Los Angeles, and one of the better formal animal rights organizations we have here spends a majority of its time asking restaurants to add vegan options. The fervor with which the addition of a vegan option at Chipotle was met in LA was nothing short of crazed. Here we have a restaurant that refused for years to accommodate the fair labor requests of the Immokalee workers to receive fair wages by simply purchasing tomatoes from a different producer, but a socially conscientious hoard of vegans in LA flocked to the place when Gardein was introduced. (FYI, in 2009 Chipotle eventually gave in and workers received more than a 50% by getting an extra penny for each pound of tomatoes picked. You do the math…still not that great).

Around the age of 20 I formally banned fast food restaurants from my life. I don’t remember clearly how this happened, but I think it must be some combination of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a book about the myriad problems with the fast food industry, and George Ritzer’s theories of routinization and the “McDonaldization” of society. I have not eaten in one in almost a decade and I only enter them if I intend to use free resources, such as using to the bathroom or taking water from the soda fountain.  I believe fast food restaurants are bad for myriad reasons: poor labor practices, public health issues, the propagation of capitalist enterprise, the degradation of health and foodways in other nations, and (of course) encouraging and bolstering factory farming.

Fast food restaurants in the United States support a system of inequality that is reliant on government food subsidies, the exploitation of human labor and the factory farming of animals for their flesh.  I feel that my public health and anti-capitalism arguments are important, but they stand apart from my basic argument that fast food restaurants generate and promote abuses to human and non-human animals on a grand scale, so I will not detail them in this post. I also love Ritzer’s work on the routinization of society. You will never stand in a line at a fast food restaurant and feel like anything other than a putz again, but in this post I am only going to address the animal issues.

Many have explained the push for vegan incorporation into fast food restaurants to me as a way to “mainstream” the movement. The thought is it will make veganism appear less freakish to the masses, people will be educated as to what veganism is, and with options available people will be more open to becoming vegan. I disagree that any of these things will happen on a large scale. I know plenty of “exposed” people who still belittle veganism and its goals and I have yet to meet a vegan who said they wouldn’t be vegan if it proved to be inconvenient. But just knowing that there are vegan options does not a vegan make. It might encourage an occasional vegan meal, but certainly not a vegan nation. And, unfortunately, a few vegan meals is not doing much to save animals’ lives. At best some necrovores will have a veg burger here or there but unless this happens en mass (which is likely not going to happen with this tactic) it will not change the production demands of factory farms. (Read: Even if people buy the veg option, the same number of animals will be slaughtered, regardless). At worst, and what I feel is more likely, this will have very real negative effects that will be detrimental to veganism and, more importantly, to animals.

One way in which I think this will be detrimental to vegans is by creating yet another disgusting, unhealthy vegan food. One of the benefits of veganism is health. It is a fortunate side effect of our diet that gives us a little more bargaining power when arguing with the selfish. For those who cannot concede that it is not okay to confine, torture and murder other living creatures, we can at least say, “Hey, it can help save*your* life.” I am guessing McDonalds vegan burgers will not be healthy and, because the ingredients will not be heavily subsidized—as are so many steps in the meat production process—I have to guess they will not make the dollar menu (again, needlessly blocking access of veg food to the poor). People don’t understand that their tax dollars subsidize cheap meat, and so to most a cost disparity between the vegan option and the murderous meat option may reinforce the erroneous idea that a vegan lifestyle is expensive and out of reach.

Most importantly though, any support of fast food restaurants in America supports the factory farming system which is responsible for billions of deaths of non-human animals every year in addition to being one of the most dangerous and exploitative industries for North American human laborers. The Human Rights Watch has deemed slaughterhouse jobs the most dangerous in America. I have previously discussed the human issue on this blog, so let me return to the nonhuman animals.

The economic push for fast meat cheaply is driven by places like McDonalds, Kentucky Fired Chicken, Jack in the Box and others. According to a recent PBS interview with Eric Schlosser the fast-food industry has driven much of the way that the meatpacking industry is organized:

[T]he fast-food chains played a major, major role in pushing centralization and industrialization of meatpacking. These chains want a huge amount of product that’s uniform in consistency, so they’re not buying from little suppliers anymore… So this had the impact of creating bigger and bigger meatpacking companies to supply the fast-food chains…today, the top four [meat packing] firms control about 85 percent of the market. So we’ve gotten bigger slaughterhouses, bigger processing facilities, and really, really big meatpacking companies.

Veganizing the fast food joints in the US will not do much to foster a vegan society. It might make life a little more convenient for those vegans who prefer to slide comfortably into the confines of a normal America by eating with necrovores without contention and quickly scooping up food at the drive-through, but that is all it will do. I might argue that it could actually forward animal exploitation by increasing the revenues these evil businesses bring in, but the vegan market just isn’t big enough to really create a bump in sales for these companies. Veganizing fast food does nothing more than encourage the few of us who were forced to avoid these exploitative enterprises out of necessity, to spend our money in support of the oppressive, disease-causing, labor exploiting, environmentally degrading, murderous machine that is the fast food industry.

the only vegan sausage i eat is tofurky

October 4, 2010

This is a reposting of a Facebook post I received from Allan Yaxon. Allan has taught me a lot in the past couple of years about issues of equality and intersectionality. I think that this post is important and insightful and I am thankful Allan granted permission to let me share this on Vegina. Enjoy!

________

The only vegan sausage I eat is Tofurky

By Allan Yaxon

Funny, right? Unfortunately it’s not so much fun sometimes. If any of you know me really well, you’ve probably sat through some of my boy rants (that vary from size, with only a few of you getting the full on, depressing ones). If you ever sat through some of these rants, I personally thank you, because I honestly could not survive without so many caring people listening to my experiences as a queer vegan. I joked with a friend a few weeks ago, that if I decided to pursue post-graduate studies, my dissertation would be called : A psychological perspective of queer, vegan feminist men and the social implications it has on their dating life. I guess you can think of this as a mini dissertation. Actually, just think of it as an angry, annoyed, but informative rant.

Like many ethical vegans, I see veganism as a lifestyle and not just a dietary choice. I believe animals exist for their own reasons and think their oppression is comparable to the oppression of wimmin, people of color, and of course, queer people. Just like most people wouldn’t date a racist, sexist, or homophobe, I believe it is a valid decision not to want to date someone who isn’t vegan. And, if you’re heterosexual (or at least attracted to the opposite sex), this might not be a difficult feat to accomplish. Being queer (and liking mostly the same sex), however, comes with different choices (or lack of) that may lead to frustration. I don’t wish to speak for every queer vegan out there, but I’m writing from my own experience.  If you’re queer and vegan, please respond with your own experiences to see if there is some sort of commonality.

Through all my ranting, I have noticed there are some pretty standard responses that I get from heterosexual vegans that trivialize my experiences such as:

  1. When I briefly decided that I wanted to date meat eaters to explore my sexuality (since I grew up very repressed), one common response I got was “You should just wait for the right person. Relationships aren’t that big of a deal anyway”. I also re-call another time when I told a few friends that I’ve never been on a real date to which I was responded “First dates are overrated anyway”. Though well intentioned, these responses did not take into account of what it feels like to grow up repressed in a homophobic society. It may be easy for heterosexuals to “wait” for the right person or to make relationships sound like a trivial thing, but that is because these things are easy for heterosexuals to do. If your sexuality was inhibited for most of your life, things like just being with a person you’re attracted to become important. It isn’t something you overlook because it is something you have been prohibited from becoming involved in your whole life. IT IS a big deal (at least for me).
  1. Apart from being told that I should just ‘wait’, my experiences as a queer vegan have also been trivialized in the past whenever heterosexual vegans tell me that they ‘have it just as bad’. Though it is true that dating sucks in general, especially when you’re vegan, by trying to compare my experiences (which are completely different) to their experiences, they make it seem like I am being overly dramatic or that my hardships are just as hard as theirs. First of all, last time I checked, we live in a society that privileges heterosexuality, so my experiences and a heterosexual’s experiences are not the same. Also, not being able to find a suitable partner might be more attributed to personal factors (like personality) for heterosexuals rather than having a small, almost non-existent dating pool to choose from. When it comes to liking someone without having those feelings reciprocated back, the reason for rejection for a heterosexual will most likely not be because of their gender. A heterosexual will not walk into an event, potluck, festival, or other social gathering without, in theory, finding someone that they are attracted to that is also attracted to them.  And finally, the likelihood for a heterosexual vegan to develop feelings for a person that is queer is not likely to happen. So no, experiences are not the same. At least for me, developing crushes on heterosexual vegan men is sometimes almost inevitable. The hardships that come from liking someone who will never like you because of your gender/sex are difficult and include, at least for me: Low self-esteem, body issues, frustration, hate for one’s genitals/gender expression, and depression. Though, like I said before, heterosexual vegans might go through this, the likelihood of it happening is not as big, and the likelihood of it CONSTANTLY happening is not as big, either. So once again, heterosexual vegans don’t have it ‘just as bad’.

Now, I don’t want to seem like I have something against heterosexuals, because I don’t. I hang out with heterosexuals all the time, and my experiences in the social/dating realm are not their fault. What I would like, however, would be a better understanding of my experiences. No, I’m not ‘too boy crazy’ and no I don’t need to ‘just get laid’. These frustrations have real implication for my life and they aren’t something trivial. The lack of queer vegan men to explore my sexuality with has left me feeling like I’m still closeted regardless of how open I am about my sexuality. It makes me feel like the ‘background gay’ for having an almost one-dimensional, simplified identity (by seeing others explore their sexual identities without being able to explore/develop mine) . It makes me feel left out (especially with events such as vegan speed-dating that are extremely heteronormative/hetero-focused).

I came out around the same time I went vegan, thinking my life would pick up after I would no longer be oppressing animals and would no longer be oppressed, but all the annoying hardships I have gone through since I went vegan and came out have only left me jaded. And it isn’t my fault. If there’s anything worth noting in this little rant, I think it’s the fact that I believe the animal rights movement has done a shit job in doing outreach in other communities. The lack of queer people (as well as people of color) demonstrates how much animal rights has concentrated itself in a specific group of people. If we want to have a more powerful movement, we should try to open up to more communities because a revolution will not be accomplished in the direction we’re headed. And if it gets me a date in the process, then even better!

/end of rant.

family matters

October 1, 2010

Today is “show your V day” on Facebook for World Vegetarian Day. I am lucky to have a friend who shared her very talented design work with me and made me an awesome logo for my profile that combines the V theme with the purple Animal Cruelty Awareness theme. The logo she designed says “Vegan & Proud.” I love the logo, but it has me questioning how much pride I am displaying.

As I celebrate my vegan pride in cyberspace, I am visiting my parents and am not exactly brandishing my ethical choices. I am in a house of necrovores and for the most part I am muted and soft spoken about my veganism (though they might disagree). It was not always this way, and my initial attempts to convince my family of my perspective has probably caused irreparable discomfort among us. The fact that this is my family complicates matters for two reasons. First, because these are the people I most want to see become vegan. Second, because these are the only necrovores with whom I am adamant about maintaining a relationship.

The ability to remain silent (or as silent as I can be) has taken years to master, and I am sure they would prefer more of it.  My greatest struggle on this visit has been the refrigerator. There was no attempt to carve out carnage free space for me and there was no shame on their part regarding the animals they were eating. They have what I guess is a typical U.S. refrigerator (or at least it is typical to me since it is what I grew up with). Just on a glance I saw something like 6 blocks/bags of various cheeses, a half gallon of milk, two cartons of eggs, a drawer full of meat (which my veggie sausage was later placed in), tubs of prepackaged microwaveable meat dishes, and one lamb’s shank bone, drying out and being preserved for a far-away Passover ceremony. And this doesn’t even touch the freezer. I will let you see the picture below and try to count all of the Omaha Steak boxes.

Amidst this environment, I don’t know if my behavior reflects someone who is “vegan & proud.” Is my silence reflective of pride? However, are my occasional comments or attempts at discussion (which have the potential to be arguments) helpful for the cause? Or does the pain in my voice give my family the idea I am “too emotional” and so my cause isn’t rational?

I started out a few years ago by being forceful for the above-mentioned reason that, as my family, these are the people I most want to see become vegan. I want this for several reasons. First, I want them to be more ethical for the animals whose lives they sacrifice for their own little pleasures. Second, I want them to be more ethical for the fact that I simply do not want the scar of their crimes. People concerned with social equality among humans don’t want their family members to be bigots or sexists just as vegans don’t want their families to be meat-mouths or speciesists. I feel this is an especially frantic way in regard to my father, who funded all of the advantages I was given in life with a career built on the broken and tortured bodies of mice and rats, many of whom had the misfortune of being the subjects of his experiments. His atonement through veganism would assuage the complex and confusing feelings I have at having so much love for someone who has willingly engaged in so much torture and murder.

I also want them to be vegan for their own health. A recent health crisis in the family seemed a perfect time to me for them to transition to veganism, a sure route to improved health in this situation. However, they all persist in the consumption of dead animals and let rotten flesh eat away at their health in a strange karmic dance in which, through deteriorating health, they slowly pay the price for their moral indiscretions regarding animals.

This issue of love is the second reason I think that people try so hard to convince their families to be veg’n; I know it is for me. Having the people who you love most make the choices and engage in behavior you find morally reprehensible is difficult to manage. No matter your choice of allegiance there will be pain, there will be confusion, and there will be frustration.

I think that vegans try harder and care more when I comes to their families than with anyone else because we love them and many of us feel we need them in our lives. Even though the battle may be futile, may strain or end relationships, and may be an ineffective use of time (time that might be better spent teaching more receptive individuals about animal cruelty and the need for veganism) I pushed more fervently, as do many vegans, when it came to my family.

But for the first time in a long time, on the very day I am supposed to be “vegan & proud” I remain as silent as I know how to be. I do this for the same reason I used to push so hard. I love my family and I can’t bear the thought of loosing them. As my engagement in family holidays have become a thing of the past and visits home become more and more assaulting to me, I become more acutely aware that my ethical choice simply pisses people off, makes them feel uncomfortable and may make them not want to be around me or me them.

Let me be clear, my choices are accepted and acknowledged in a non-hostile manner. My family accepts the reasons behind my choice not to engage in holiday celebrations, they find restaurants I can eat at, and my mom still takes her adult daughter shopping and goes the extra length of finding cruelty free clothes. They do this at the same time that I am guilty of the same type of impoliteness as are they. My brother, who is sober, always offers to be my designated driver and accepts my choice to drink when we go out in a way I don’t accept his choice to eat meat. As a vegan, I believe these are very different scenarios, but as a necrovore he doesn’t, so I know my behavior must to him seem inconsistent and odd.

Unlike my brother who accepts my choice to drink, I do not and will not ever accept their choices to eat and wear animals. However, I am trying to learn to remain silent. I do this because I want to maintain relationships with the people I love. But I don’t know if my silence is silencing the animals I want so desperately to help.

Today I will be vegan and proud online but silent and conflicted in the “real” world. I don’t know if this is a good decision or a moral decision or simply one of those decisions you make when there is no good option to choose from.

Your thoughts?…

not a joking matter

September 13, 2010

WARNING: This post and the accompanying attachment may be a trigger for some people. No actual instances of sexual assault will be described in detail but the act of assault will be discussed.

Names have been changed in this post, but all other text is in the original.

V V V V V V V V V V V V

I have written on Vegina before about interesting Facebook posts and conversations.  I am at it again. However, this time the conversation isn’t interesting. It is sad and sick and has no place in the vegan community. You can read the exchange about which I am speaking here. I have not embedded it as text since some people may not feel comfortable reading it, as it is fraught with fat-phobia, gendered insults, rape jokes and feminist bashing.

There is a book’s worth of issues brought up by this post that elicits discussion. Some issues that I hope to discuss in future posts are fat-phobia and the government’s role in the politics of ingestion. In this post I am focusing on the rape “jokes” and sexist humor. I am going to discuss the manner in which these insults were initiated (with gender bashing “humor”), the propagation of this violence through humor premised on sexual assault and rape, and the “justification” of behavior eventually advanced by the perpetrators that the people who oppose their comments just like being angry and have no sense of humor.

Much of what happened in this post is violating and disgusting but I somehow felt even more violated that this conversation came from within the vegan community. It is my flawed expectation that vegans truly understand oppression and abuse and the marginalization of those who stand up for what is ethical.  Because of these expectations, I was shocked and hurt on a deeper, more personal level than I am usually accustomed.

V V V V V V V V V V V V

Gender bashing

This post quickly turned from fat-phobia and commentary on government regulation of ingestion to sexist humor and gender bashing. Two individuals bantered back and forth with gendered insults. Boy insults girl by saying she has male genitals. Girl insults boy by saying he is feminine:

Rose You Dodger loving son of a bitch.

Rose Henry is quite fem.

Henry And rose has a cock.

Rose I paid good money for us to be at this game. Watch it, bitch.

This sort of teasing is premised on the belief that gender categories are binary and inflexible. In a movement that is supposed to support difference and progressive anti-oppressive ideologies, this simplistic banter is out of place and inconsistent with the basis of veganism and the goals of the animal rights movement. Vegans have no business enforcing stereotypical social norms that serve only to forward discriminations. Gender enforcement of this sort leads to the narrow ideals of boy/girl, man /woman and feminine/masculine that allow restrictive gender categories. Restrictive and inflexible notions of gender in turn lead to and allow for sexism and homophobia to be prevalent in our society. The way that this sort of gender enforcement leads to sexism is clearly demonstrated in this post. After the gender bashing ensues, and a sexist environment is established, the space for an extremely violent, sexist remark is created. This comment follows:

Ugo like rape, sure one or two a night is within a healthy range, but more than that, is pushing the libido and power struggle limit! Although, it is how I keep the lights on!

Someone stands up against this violence. Rather than react responsibly and apologize, Ugo and supporters immediately attack all dissenters on a personal level and the rape jokes gain more speed:

Ginny That’s not very funny.

Ugo it was meant to be informative not funny kiddo! 😉

Ginny That’s disgusting. I really hope you and I are never in the same place at the same time, “kiddo.”

Ugo Just stay away from dark allies, hell in your case stay away from well lit areas too, I don’t want to contract a fcd! And this comment was an inside joke for Henry, silly fembot!

Future posts continue with the rape jokes:

Ugo Here Here and HareHare Krisna to that! Also, my point was to use humor to get me through the rape I experienced last Wednesday, which happens to be the day I met Henry and thought “what a cool compassionate guy”, wait a darn minute, my attacker had poodle like hair and a giraffe like tongue, you didn’t happen to rape me in a dark alley-way, did you Henry, see rape can be funny, it tickled me girlfriends!

And then this:

Ugo I wish facebook had a RAPE button!

Chad LOL! Classic. Agreed.

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Rape Is Never Funny

I thought it would go without saying that some things just aren’t laughing matters. This Facebook exchange, however, revealed to me that even the vegan community needs help seeing oppression and violence for what it is. This is especially true of violence directed at women. In a misogynistic society, women will always be under attack and will always be asked to accept abuse with a smile. In a second post on this matter, a survivor of a sexual assault outs herself for the sake of asking Ginny to “learn to laugh” a little, but it is this flippant attitude that allows so much violence to remain masked.

Three major issues these people did not consider (or care about once informed) are that this sort of talk (1) is definitely being read by survivors of sexual assault, (2) can be very offensive and harmful to these women and their supporters (or any nonviolent person), and (3) can serve as a “trigger” for victims of sexual assault.

In 2007, there were 248,300 victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault over the age of 12. (US Department of Justice, 2007 statistics). ~RAINN

“A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.” To ignore that this is a very real possible consequence of these posts was an added layer of abuse that the perpetrators in this dialogue were enacting. Henry (the person on whose FB page this was all posted) most certainly has friends that have experienced being sexually assaulted. In fact, two clearly stated such.

Sexual assault is a very real issue in our society. One in 4 women are likely assaulted by an intimate partner in their lifetime[1] and 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18.[2] I can keep rattling off facts about the prevalence of sexual violence (follow this link for more information) but it is indisputable that sexual assault is a very real social problem that can destroy lives by creating mental, social and physical health problems for survivors.

Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. ~RAINN

As I mentioned in my Facebook comments on the attached post, sexual abuse is a tool that societies across space and throughout time have used to systematically oppress and subdue women, children, sexual minorities and gender “non-conformists.” We have no reason to continue forwarding this abusive behavior.  As vegans, we are people who claim to be concerned with the plight of the abused and marginalized and so we have a duty to actively reject this abuse. Just as there is no valid reason to poke fun at something as unnecessary and violent as caging, abusing, and murdering sentient beings, there is no excuse for perpetuating the violence and abuse of rape.

In an attempt to silence the objections to the rape jokes, posts were made that directly attack those who stood up to the abusive commentators and that identified their behavior as overly rigid.

Those who asked publicly for this post to stop (Ginny and myself) were personally attacked. A veiled fat joke came to Ginny from Ugo: “I don’t want to contract a fcd!” (I assume that is a play on STD and means Fat Contracted Disease, though I can be wrong). And the attempt to shut me down was made as well with a “joke” that tried to suggest I am too PC for my own good.

Ugo I got some good 9 eleven and hyrpes cinplex 12 jokes, but that might trigger a painful memory causing global meltdown of epic proportions! Tell Vegina to never watch tv, listen to the radio, read magazines, open a penny saver or go to a Lisa lampanelli show!

When these didn’t silence us an additional post was made from Ugo on Henry’s page that played a remix of a recent video that has gone viral on Youtube. The video features a woman and her brother being interviewed after the brother prevented his sister’s rape mid-attack.

(I don’t find this video funny, but if you want to watch it, here it is.)

At this point the objection to this humor was met not with logic but a definitive statement that we are simply angry people who want to be angry:

Frank Some people just enjoy being offended, Ugo. No use in trying to please them. Do what you want. Say what you want. Take advantage of free speech before the PC nazis take that away from us too.

First, I am disgusted whenever anyone speaking up for justice is compared to a Nazi. This comparison is inappropriate as power relations are totally inverted in this situation. It is insulting when an oppressed group fighting against repression is compared to a powerful group violently enforcing repression. Vegans should be particularly sensitive to this, as our pleas for justice for animals are almost always marginalized.

There were 248,300 sexual assaults in 2007 (from U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey). ~RAINN

As people who reject society’s notions of the role of animals in society, our selves and our ideas are often rejected as “overly sensitive” or “touchy.” Once a valid perspective is deemed invalid by calling it irrational (because in our society we erroneously treat emotion as if it is invalid and irrational), the speaker of that perspective is effectively silenced and delegitimized. To use this same flippant unintelligent trick to silence those within the vegan community who challenge us to reject other oppressions is a betrayal.

The Facebook posts that I address here reveals the level of misogyny present in our society. When we spoke out against rape jokes we were personally attacked. When we stood our ground we were dismissed as people incapable of anything but anger. The rape jokes were violent and forwarded oppression. They were based in misogyny that has become so common and veiled in our society it often goes unnoticed—to the point where a group of people comfortably banter on a Facebook page about how funny rape can be.  Nothing said to combat this violence was out of anger. It was out of compassion for victims of sexual assault and a hope for a society, or at least a vegan community, that rejects violence on all levels.


[1] World Health Report Fact Sheet on Sexual Violence, 2002; cited by the National Sexual Assault Resource Center.

[2] Finkelhor, David, et al. “Sexual Abuse in a National Survey of Adult Men and Women: Prevalence, Characteristics and Risk Factors,” Child Abuse and Neglect, 1990; cited by the National Sexual Assault Resource Center.

why activist support is necessary for animal liberation

August 5, 2010

A recent arrest in Southern California has been added to the list of repressive arrests. It inspired me to write this post.

Please read and consider donating to help this activist, Bryan Monell. (Read his bio on this page to see the sort of dedication we should all aspire to). And most importantly, don’t forget the punchline: WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT STOP YOUR WORK. DO NOT BE SILENCED. THE ACTIVISTS & ANIMALS NEED YOU.
It is imperative that activists support other activists. If we don’t support each other in times of need our movement will die… and if our movement dies the animals have no hope.

Intimidation tactics, false arrests, harsh sentences and the genesis of laws that violate the first amendment are all attempts to silence activists. If our voices are silenced, the goals we have can never be met. We must, as a movement, combat this repression. (See Will Potter’s journalism  to get caught up on repression of the environmental and animal rights movements).We cannot react by silencing ourselves. When our compatriots are harassed or imprisoned we need to be pro-active and support them with all we’ve got.

The repression we face can be scary, but we cannot let fear override the work we need to do. By creating a supportive community in which we all know that, no matter how bad it gets, our community will love us and support us, we can all bravely move forward.

Part of working in solidarity means we leave no one behind, alone or without support. When an activist arrest happens, we need to help by donating/and or raising funds for good legal council, by writing letters to judges on their behalf, by refusing any coercive techniques, such as grand jury testimonies, and by keeping up with our activism. When activists are in jail we need to hold vigil by writing to them, keeping financial support coming their way, and giving them all the support they need when they are released.

Another way to be pro-active is to be prepared. Though you may never do anything illegal there is always a chance you can be arrested or questioned by authorities. Check out The Informed Activist for a 411 on how you can protect yourself and your fellow activists.

Please don’t let down the movement or the animals by giving up and letting tactics of repression win out over doing what is morally correct.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT STOP YOUR WORK. DO NOT BE SILENCED.

THE ACTIVISTS & ANIMALS NEED YOU.

when we fight we let them win

August 2, 2010

“Fox pens” are outdoor enclosures that imprison foxes and coyotes, originally captured with leg hold traps, for the sake of hunters training dogs by setting a pack of dogs on one coyote or fox. Hunters often bet on whether the pack of dogs will catch (and maybe kill) the coyote.   The practice is much more cruel than I just described and you can learn more about it here. The vile and cruel nature of this practice is obvious, so I am going to skip that part. (And if you don’t see why this is cruel you are clearly too far-gone to help at this point).

Outside of the torture implicit in this practice, a part of this practice that is resonating with me is the way that humans pit one nonhuman animal against another. Humans inflict cruelty on one animal by trapping and then imprisoning him or her. They inflict cruelty on others by training the good nature out of them and aggressiveness into them (most likely through deprivation of food and physical affection and/or by inflicting physical abuse). Then for entertainment, the human abuser watches as the latter torments and often viciously kills the former. The same sort of process occurs with dog fighting and cock fighting.

The human perpetrators get nonhuman animal victims to abuse each other. This makes their work of animal abuse easier on them. They don’t have to feel culpable or psychotic when they don’t physically commit the act of torture or murder in its most vile moments, as the coyote or fox is being hunted or torn to shreds. By having one animal do it to the other, these sadists get away with murder, without ever getting their own hands dirty.

This is the same sort of logic that makes all oppression and subjugation successful. Those in power maintain their power by getting those without power to turn on each other. The oppressed are so busy fighting each other they forget to look up and see the real villain. Social justice movements often work against each other; they see a limited pool of resources (membership, volunteers, donations, media attention) and begin to feel as if they need to fight against other social movement organizations to get these resources.[1] Animal rights activists are used to this; we often have activists for human justice movements argue that we need to take care of women’s rights or racism or “starving children in Africa” before we take care of nonhuman animals.  As a feminist who begs for vegan events and a vegan who wishes that we could make our point without turning to sexist hooks, I have had enough with this intra-movement conflict.

I have had enough with inter-movement conflict as well. I see this process, where the oppressor gets the oppressed to turn on each other, replicated in the very movement that is supposed to help the foxes and coyotes and dogs in the fox pens. On multiple occasions I have experienced activists blaming each other for being falsely arrested during protests, when the police are the only ones who should be blamed. I have heard of groups taking credit for the activist activities of other organizations, fund raising events carelessly planned on the same day and distracting fights then ensuing when the double booking was unintentional. This all gets topped off with interpersonal friendship and dating drama. This is all is tolerable at the potlucks but not in organizational meetings or at protest events.

When we think of fox pens we can see the real villain is the human that supports and pays for it to happen. We do not look at the dogs and blame them for being vicious, we know the hunters did that. We do not look at the coyotes or foxes being attacked and think they should fight harder, we know it is the hunters’ fault they are attacked. We can see the big picture in regard to the fox pens. We need to see the big picture when it comes to our movement as well. And unlike the foxes and the coyotes and the dogs in fox pens who were forced into these positions, we do have a choice and it is our own fault. Until we stop letting those that maintain the institutions that oppress and dominate pull the strings, we will never have enough momentum or strength or focus to end fox pens or any other injustice.

Every time we deny that other social movement struggles are important, or try to rank order importance, we defeat ourselves. If we don’t leave room for all oppression to matter, we accept that compassion has limits. But the premise of the animal rights movement is that love and compassion is limitless. Every time we fight each other, we solidify the labels and boundaries that define our oppressions.  But an important teaching of feminism is that the boundaries established by those in power exist only so that they can maintain power.  When we turn on each other and fight we waste time and we get weaker, all the while doing nothing to weaken those who oppress us. If we turn to each other in solidarity and act together against oppressions, we will have a much better chance of defeating this system, or at least at making fox pens illegal.


[1] There is sociological literature galore on inter-organizational resource competition among and between social movements. If you want some citations email me: vegina.mail@gmail.com.

we are not extreme, but the rhetoric is

July 21, 2010

Check out this power point from the US State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Board:

us-state-dept-animal-rights-extremists-power-point

(FYI, I covered the faces of all activists since they did not give their consent to be in this slide show; otherwise it is in the original). This presentation is geared toward corporations that rely on or support animal exploitation. This power point was first released publicly on GreenIsTheNewRed.com.  Will Potter does an excellent job of covering the important political issues surrounding this issue, so check it out.

The logic and rhetoric demonstrated here is absurd. Be sure to download the slide show and read the “notes” section for the full “WTF” effect.  Some of the most ridiculous parts of this slideshow include a fallacious link between SHAC and the ALF and highlighting the mainstream U.S. Animal Rights conference as a place where “extremists” gather.

And then there is their description of the “extreme” tactics of the animal rights movement:

Site demonstrations have long been a tactic of extremists. However, mobilizing several hundred supporters is difficult for the extremists. Therefore, their tactics have evolved to include only 6-10 hardcore individuals who rent cars and travel in a pseudo-convoy from one targeted site to the next and on to the next, all in one day. At each stop, they splatter the location with leaflets, bang drums, shout and chant into a bullhorn, and often attempt to intimidate the employees of the company

Last time I checked, this was called carpooling to a protest.

I am sick of this bullshit. The terrorism and extremism rhetoric must stop.

They call us terrorists. But what is terrorism? Terrorism is valuing artificial borders over life. It is killing civilians in the name of “war.” It is killing anyone in the name of “war.” It is flying planes into buildings, no matter what country the perpetrator is from. Terrorism is using rape as a tool for war. Terrorism is tearing down rainforests, stripping the land of entire species of animals and plant life for the sake of capitalist gain. Terrorism is raping animals, kidnapping and imprisoning their babies just to force them to grow up in overcrowded conditions and have their body parts (like beaks, tails and talons) cut off, only to haul them off to a scary painful slaughter.

This is terrorism

Animal rights activists are not terrorists. Terror means fear but we fight for life.

They call us extreme, but what is extreme? Extreme is over 350 animals being slaughtered for food in the United States every single second of every single day. Extreme is the high rate of heart disease in the U.S. Extreme is labeling legal protest activity terrorism. It is allowing a person to die from lack of shelter or healthcare because they are poor or lack the appropriate citizenship status. Extreme is imprisoning people and not charging them with any crimes, then holding them without legal representation.   It is rich pharmaceutical companies refusing to provide HIV medications to AIDS ravaged countries.  It is dairy ads claiming, “milk does a body good,” when it actually leeches calcium from bones. Extreme is the fact that Monsanto was actually allowed to patent and “own” food seeds. Factory farming is extreme. Murdering animals to take their fur is extreme. Beating animals so they will perform “cute” tricks is extreme.

This is extreme

Animal rights activists are not extreme. Rejecting violence is anything but extreme. It is simply logical. Extreme means irrational, but we fight for love and against exploitation; these are the most loving, rational and basic things a person can fight for.

This is love

Animal rights activists fight for equality and the right for everyone to live a life free of exploitation and pain. We are not terrorists and we are not extremists. No matter how many times it is said, no matter how many laws are passed, no matter how many activists are imprisoned, we will never be terrorists and we are not extreme. Animal rights activists choose life over death and compassion over violence. Artificial borders, be they between nations or ethnicities or genders or species, are never justification for exploitation or murder. Rejection of these things in favor of life is not terror and it is not extreme, it is simply love.

playing to the paparazzi

July 19, 2010

Animal rights activists utilize a variety of tactics to try to stop the torture and exploitation of nonhuman animals. Activists do everything from civil disobedience to letter writing campaigns to try to stop animal exploitation. One component of most activist campaigns is outreach and education. In trying to spread our message to a wider audience we often try to garner media attention and while media coverage can assist in achieving our goals, it can be a damaging distraction for activists.

Vegina in a cage, hoping to get the media out and convince passers-by to stop and learn about vivisection

I am in no way suggesting any focus on media is bad. I have participated in and supported media stunts myself (the photo of me  in this post is a testament to that). However, too much concern over the media can distract us from helping animals. It is one thing to do something to get the media to show up to a protest, it is quite another to allow their presence to distract from the business of protesting. This became salient for me at a circus protest last week.  The plan was to have “the largest circus protest in history” with the goal of dissuading people from attending the circus and to send Ringling Brothers the message that until the circus stops imprisoning, beating and torturing animals, activists will be there. This protest had over 250 activists; a couple large groups decided not to go in and a couple of children convinced their families to turn in their tickets and attend. The protest was a clear success in so many ways but in some ways we also failed.

A celebrity appearance was arranged for the protest. Activists were not told who was coming but it was requested we not do any chanting until she arrived because she was “sensitive to that sort of thing.” We complied out of respect to the organizers, specifically PeTA who had made the request and arranged the celebrity appearance. The celebrity was Olivia Munn and she arrived about 45 minutes prior to the start of the circus. To start with, Olivia Munn is a questionable celebrity spokesperson. She is inarticulate about the issue, says questionably racist things like “I just have an extra special place in my heart for elephants because of my Chinese history,” and has recently done a horse racing themed magazine promo. While these are all important reasons to critique PeTA’s choice to utilize a naked Munn on their anti-circus ads and to have her make appearances at the circus protest, in this post I focus on my concern over the way that the protest deteriorated for the sake of photo ops with Munn.

Check out this video of the protest. Complete with an interview with Munn.

The half hour preceding the start of the circus, the most crucial moments when the heaviest influx of potential patrons was arriving, people were posing for photo shoots with Munn. The entire troupe of activists was asked to pose for a barrage of photos in one big group-shot just 15 minutes before the start of the circus. We were asked to silence ourselves for the sake of a celebrity’s presence because the organizers felt that the potential media attention was more important than our efforts to turn people away from the circus. We were expected to halt outreach efforts and pose for the sake of a potential news story in the most crucial and valuable moments we had.

Protesters Posing with Munn

Angry tears welled in my eyes as I stood for group photos. I felt frustrated and trapped, but I complied with the request to pose. I don’t know why I just stood there and why it took me so long to break free from the crowd and begin chanting. When the chanting started those of us who were loud raised our voices, those of us who were good conversationalists talked to passers-by and potential patrons. In the last moments a family decided not to go. We did our job.

I understand why media matters to a degree, but as activists the attention should never be on us. We are fighting for animals and they need to be our focus every moment. Large organizations can focus on systemic routes to change, but systems of exploitation and oppression will not change until individuals demand it. As grassroots activists our power lies in focusing on change at the individual level. We need to focus on saving individual animals and changing the minds and hearts of individual people.

We need to stop trying to get attention and get to work because we have a lot of work to do. Fuck the media; what we need to do is to free animals from imprisonment, torture and exploitation. Saving one animal means more than any news story ever written. We need to make it clear to specific individuals and business that exploit animals that we will be in their face until they stop torturing and murdering animals. Convincing one vivisector to quit his job will save countless animals and redirect millions of dollars away from animal exploitation. Closing down a single furrier will guarantee that hundreds of animals will not suffer for vanity. We need to convince individual people to refuse to partake in the annihilation and exploitation of animals. Every vegan prevents the murders of 90 individual animals each year. Every time an individual refuses to wear skins, purchase companion animals from breeding mills, use animals as a form or entertainment or to eat dead flesh, there is a little more hope for a world in which compassion trumps violence.

Bottom line: we need to fight for animals not for notoriety or media attention.object>