Putting it very simply, a feminist should be vegan to avoid being speciesist (and a hypocrite). That's the extremely simple, too long didn't read, version of this post. Before I directly apply feminism to veganism, there are a few concepts I'll briefly touch on that will hopefully explain why it is even relevant to consider applying feminism to non-humans.
Speciesism is very similar to sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, and all of the other nasty -isms rampant in society today. The only difference (between speciesism and all of the other -isms, as well as between all of the other -isms themselves) is who happens to be the favoured subject and who happens to be the discriminated against other. None of these discriminations are acceptable. They are all based on arbitrary characteristics that are highlighted and used as excuses to give one type of person less consideration.
To better illustrate speciesism I will provide you with a short summary of speciesism from a website about Dr. Richard Ryder, the professor who coined the word. This is from the website http://wwww.richardryder.co.uk.
"Speciesism is a term coined by Richard Ryder in 1970. The word refers to the widely held belief that the human species is inherently superior to other species and so has rights or privileges that are denied to other sentient animals. ‘Speciesism’ can also be used to describe the oppressive behaviour, cruelty, prejudice and discrimination that are associated with such a belief. In a more restricted sense, speciesism can refer to such beliefs and behaviours if they are based upon the species-difference alone, as if such a difference is, in itself, a justification."
"Ryder used the term as a deliberate ‘wake-up call’ to challenge the morality of current practices where nonhuman animals are being exploited in research, in farming, domestically and in the wild, and he consciously drew the parallel with the terms racism and sexism. Ryder pointed out that all such prejudices are based upon physical differences that are morally irrelevant. He suggested that the moral implication of Darwinism is that all sentient animals, including humans, should have a similar moral status."
I must also point out that when referencing speciesism, I am suggesting that non-human animals require equity rather than equality. We are not asking, as typical anti-animal rights jokes suggest, that dogs and cats be given the right to vote. We are asking that they be treated with similar, but different, consideration. That means that they would have some of our rights, and if necessary, might even have rights that we don't (because they don't apply to humans). The animal rights movement is specifically asking all animals be given the right to not be considered property. Humans are the only species that currently has this legal right.
The basis of all animal rights arguments usually implies that non-human animals should be considered people. As speciesism suggests, the characteristics that make non-human animals not people are arbitrary. I emphasize the world people because it will be very important when we directly apply feminism to non-humans. Everything that is happening, is happening to a living, breathing, sentient, person that is stuck in that body, often with no ability to understand what is going on.
Applying feminism to non-human animals
Since non-human animals are (or should be considered to be) people, we can apply many feminist quotes to them and read them as if the subject is a nongendered, male, or female, cow, cat, pig, chicken, or any sort of animal, rather than just a human woman.
Here is one example. It is probably not the best example, but it came up in the book I'm reading this week and it's really that simple. You can do this with nearly all feminist texts. This except is from The Newly Born Woman on page 70. Read it as if the subjects Cixous is talking about are non-human animals eaten and used by humans.
“So I am three or four years old and the first thing I see in the street is that the world is divided in half, organized hierarchically, and that it maintains this distribution through violence. I see that there are those who beg, who die of hunger, misery, and despair, and that there are offenders who die of wealth and pride, who stuff themselves, who crush and humiliate. Who kill. And who walk around in a stolen country as if they had had the eyes of their souls put out. Without seeing that the others are alive.”
The violence inflicted on Algerians by the French, that she is referring to in this passage, is historically, symbolically, and physically very similar to the violence that humans inflict on non-human animals. It is not, obviously, the exact same thing. The motives are different. The results were different. The major difference, however, is none of those things that cause us to typically object to linking non-human to human suffering. The major difference is that, in the case of non-human animals, we are all culpable. We are the oppressors, the violators, the guilty. We have done and do this on a daily basis, and I find myself asking... how can any feminist accept this?
All feminists can unite under the idea that there is some form of oppression that we need to get rid of. Many of us have been, and still are, oppressed for being born who we are and for choosing who we want to be. Because of this we often reject the our own ability to be oppressors, but if anything our victimization should lead us to understand how it feels to be oppressed. We should know better. We should know how much it hurts and reject our place in it. We know that (human) privilege comes at a cost and that others are paying for it. We devalue those others for the sole purpose of allowing ourselves to pretend we still have morals when we use them, because if we did not devalue them, if we saw cows as people, we could never do this to them.
Finally, feminists have heard nearly all of the excuses used to justify non-human animal oppression used before to justify other kinds of oppression.
- They aren't intelligent (ableists and sexists)
- We need them for our society to function (racists)
- They're only good for what we use them for (racists)
- This is natural (sexists and heterosexists)
- They should defend themselves (ageists and ableists)
- They don't have interests or reason (ableists and sexists)
- We need to protect them and to do that we have to own them (racists)
We didn't tolerate it then; we shouldn't now. In the inspirational words of Gary Francione:
"If you are not vegan, please go vegan. It is easy and better for your health and for the environment and, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do."