Veganism and feminism are inseparable concepts in my life.

This blog is a theoretical interpretation of the lived experiences of a vegan feminist,
and an exploration of what it even means to be one in the first place.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Coming Out Story: On Being Agender

I rarely talk or think about being agender. Most of the time it feels pointless. I will forever be her, reminding myself to turn around when someone has called out a name that is unfamiliar and doesn't belong to me. I can't change that, but my silence feels complicit. I don't want to be an accomplice with a world that refuses me my own gender identification.


Passing is a term in feminist circles meant to suggest that someone of a minority is assumed to be "normal" or what everyone else is. The minority is typically a stigmatized group and by passing as "normal" they will receive preferential treatment. If you saw me on the street you would immediately think she. I pass as female. For the last year my hair was a bubblegum pink curly bob. Now it's aqua and long ocean hair somehow makes me girly. I wear dresses and purple short shorts with yellow flowers. I even regularly hold hands with a person that passes as male, making us pass for a heterosexual couple. This is how I pass, and I do so knowingly.

As an asexual panromantic agender person, passing has been a point of frustration for me. I am assumed female and heterosexual until I prove otherwise. Proving is dangerous though. Telling every person you meet, "please don't refer to me as she", or "just so you know, there is zero chance I will be sexually attracted to you, thought you might like to know", is a social transgression. I could try and look androgynous so I wouldn't have to say it, and I have done this in the past, but can't I wear a dress, menstruate, and not be a woman?

Passing holds a very precarious place in my heart. I love that I can look in the mirror and see someone very femme. But I don't want to be assumed female. I cringe every time someone reads my name (Talia or Natalie) and then immediately after the pronoun she comes into vogue. I also know by passing as female, I am safe from transphobic violence. I am physically safe, but feel like I don't really belong anywhere. Many trans people are male to female or female to male or look androgynous, but that is not where I stand and that is not my story. I live through the benefits and pain of passing.

Coming Out

My agender coming out story practically never happened, which is perhaps why I find it so intriguing. By this point my mother knew that I was a vegan asexual feminist. Her response to all of these labels was she wished I wasn't, I was making my life harder. My mother was driving me somewhere and I was sitting in the front seat of the car. I was talking to her about agender people because one, I find the topic fascinating, and two, I was dipping my feet in. When she hadn't gotten angry yet I quietly said, "Mom, that's what I am." Then she let out this sigh and said, "Of course you are." And the topic changed and that was the end of it. I asked her about it another day and what she had meant was, Talia, you're already all of these weird identities, of course you're another one. It was like she was sighing and saying, just your bad luck. Or, here we go again. Like I said, not much of a story, but it's stuck with me.

I have not repeated my agender coming out often. None of my other family members know I am agender. I go through life being she. I am her, the female, with the boyfriend.

The only exception is online. Almost all of the cisgender (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) male friends I've met through playing online video games have been supportive. They hear my voice over voice chat programs and assume I am female and I will tell them quickly that while I may seem female, and am called female, I do not identify that way. I don't think any of them get it, but they accept it. At worst they forget it, but in a well meaning way because it just doesn't fit into something they can understand. They tried though, they always do. I think it's the distance that makes it safe to out myself. It's also the masculine atmosphere of World of Warcraft that compels me to identify as agender, pointing out I am not a male buddy, and I am not a female conquest either. I am outside of your boundaries and I want you to make space for me. I think they do, or at least they pretend to.

The Fluidity of My Gender

Although I have said I am agender up until this point, it is not that simple. I am not always this nothing beyond a binary system. If I think about it long and hard there is no word for how I feel. It is an experience of nothing, and yet it doesn't feel empty. It is just what it is, complete in its own ineffability.

Other days I will wake up and there are words for it. I can be femme or feminine. On those days I even giggle at being called a princess or being greeted as miss or lady. I know they are meant as terms of endearment and they amuse me because they are not too far off. Not right, but just outside the boundary of the inexplicable I am. Lesbian almost seems appropriate, but in the way Monique Wittig meant it and not in that I'm sexually attracted to women. I am still asexual. On those days I still don't like she. She is always someone else, someone not me. Like being called the wrong name by someone you don't know very well and you sigh, wondering, should I correct you? What will be least uncomfortable for everyone involved? Because there is no way to avoid the discomfort.

I once had someone tell me I think so much, I thought my gender away. I looked and looked for something, and found nothing, so I decided there was nothing. I'm not sure he's wrong. Sometimes I wonder if gender is as much a discourse as Foucault's sexuality and while it is multiplying while everyone else looks for its secrets, I've looked in a different way and found nothing there and been surprised at it all. To say that though would mean a lot. It would mean something about your gender and I don't think I want to go there right now. I'll just speak for myself, but the feeling remains. If Beauvoir said women are made, not born, maybe I am unmaking myself? I can't help but wonder. Which leads me onto my troubles with feminism.

I am an agender Feminist

In Gender Trouble Judith Butler said one of the problems with feminism is that it assumes a female subject, constricting the very identity it hopes to liberate. Over twenty years later and this hasn't changed much, from what I've seen. Yes we've got trans feminism and intersex feminism and all kinds of fantastic third wave stuff that makes me squeak with delight, but when it comes down to it I am still sitting in feminist classrooms being taught by women to women who are all feeling pretty damn safe because I am a woman. Put one "man" in the class and it throws the whole vibe off. Once he admits he's gay everyone settles down a little (as occurred in my intro to women's studies class), but everyone is still aware he is there. To be a woman in a woman's studies class is to be in the know, to be included. To be spoken for. The foundation of the theory largely relies on the fact that I am a woman, but I'm not.

So I feel this weird backwards pull, the desire to be a woman amidst feminist. Yes, I menstruate! I want to say. Yes, I understand what it's like to be afraid of the dark at night and to pick my shoes based on how likely I am to be raped based on where I'm going! Through these affirmations I realized I do belong, these theories speak for me, whether I am a woman or not. I am, as some feminists have said, in the class of woman. I belong to the social organization called woman, but I am not a woman. I am something else, I only fit neatly into this patriarchal category we all bond together inside. So this is a liberating thought, when I remember it. If I, an agender person, can be in the class of women, what about men? Is there room for them in here too? Sometimes, although they, like me, need a little wiggle room. We need our own theories, but I'm confident we'll get there safe and sound.

I am an agender vegan

I first thought against writing this post because, what does agender have to do with vegan, and isn't this a vegan feminist blog? But I am a vegan feminist and my life is this complex web of intersections. Being agender and vegan do intersect, or, more importantly, they don't. Being trans or agender is a non-issue in the vegan community. By non-issue, I mean it is not spoken about as far as I have seen. I'm not sure if this is a "don't ask don't tell" policy or similar to their feminist policy, which is generally "if we're vegan for political reasons, we almost certainly accept feminism as important. Not the most important, but important." I suspect the latter, so there isn't much to write, aside for this: lately for me I've grown a little disenchanted by animal rights. We vegans say time and time again that we will not save the world or be at peace by putting humans first. Feminists say this too in a slightly different way. We need to find peace for everyone all at once. We can't leave anyone behind. I especially have begun to feel this way after reading Derrida's The Animal That Therefore I am.

Vegans need to be a little bit more open about saying all rights, for all animals, right now. Not because we'll get some humanists or other people who will say, well we think you hate humans, but because we are all equally important. Our campaign posters should simultaneously say we support animal rights, the end of animals as property, being queer, being trans, and all of those other variations humans can be and are. Yes animal rights is important, but we're all here together. We know we can't just save pigs, we've got to save cows, and chickens, and fish too. Dogs while we're at it. Humans as well. We're animals too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Killing Animals is Environmental Destruction: Why Feminists and Environmentalists Shouldn't Eat Animals

Feminism and the Environment

Feminism and veganism should both be concerned with the environment, but I write should because there are many people who ascribe to these philosophies and do not value or actively participate in environmentalism. An ethic that includes the environment is integral to veganism and feminism.

Feminism, largely focusing on women, has long analyzed the environment because women have been equated with the environment. As far back as Darwin and even much earlier in Aristotle's writing, the female pronoun "she" is used to replace the environment. The environment has been feminized in literature; it has been equated with the female. This is extremely apparent in religions and stories that refer to nature as "mother earth" and bestow life-giving abilities in her. From the womb, the soil, she can make life. Although this is not a trait all women have, women alone have it.

Many feminists, most notably ecofeminists, have embraced this female-nature hybrid. They write that the land, like women, can be raped (read Tong's book Feminist Thought for more on this). Pain is experienced similarly because they are the same, or at the very least have historically been treated by men and patriarchy the same. Women, the land, and nature, have been dominated. This argument says that we should be concerned with the environment, as feminists, because this is a similar oppression to one we already oppose. To some, this is the origins of the oppression of women. Women are oppressed because they, like everything else (including nature) must be subdued. Along with that train of thought comes all sorts of complications (that puts females closest to nature, what about men or trans people?), but my point is only that the environment matters in a feminist discourse. The environment is oppressed in some way that maps onto female oppression and so to oppress the environment is similarly wrong as it is to oppress women.

The Nature/Culture Divide

Western society loves dualisms, especially nature/culture. Nature is set up as everything culture is not and culture as everything nature is not. They are incompatible opposites. There is no gradient and no overlap. The nature/culture dualism means that humans fall under culture (as creators of culture) and are not nature. Humans, and their creations, are not natural. This has led humans to be disconnected from nature. Every time a building is constructed nature is obliterated. Nature is something out there, not here, and our entrance into it often destroys it. One person can enter nature and become a small, insignificant, witness to nature, but if too many people enter it nature is gone. This is a problem because it means humans can never be part of nature, enjoy nature, or want to protect nature just because it is kin (although this is not true for all humans of course).

So we've got this nature/culture divide with humans on the side of culture, and I believe it it this divide that is to blame for our inability to realize that killing animals is environmental destruction. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals are "made" by humans. We breed their parents (forcibly, we rape them with instruments or we arrange for their rape), we raise them, and if we don't like what we have, we selectively breed them so as to produce certain offspring. The farmed animals are part of culture because they are objects made by us, so we think. This ideology extends to all animals we kill eventually. The deer we hunt or the geese we shoot are not nature. We have allowed them to live in a land controlled by humans, their death only the inevitable end. We already owned them in our minds and thus, when they do die, we are merely ending the lives of our property and not nature. If they were their own free agents it would be a crime to kill them... but I get ahead of myself. All animals that humans kill are part of culture because as the creators of culture, we own them because we have the right to kill them. Humans feel as if we govern all animals.

The whole dualism is problematic, but the most troubling part is that animals are placed under culture and human dominion because it allows us to kill them without seeing this as killing a living being (a part of nature).

Killing Animals is Environmental Destruction

It's very interesting to define the environment; the first image I get in my mind is a bunch of trees. Then I remember that there are ecosystems and insects and mice and all sorts of animals that make up this system. Trees, on their own, are not really an environment. They are not a nature... right? Cutting down a forest because it is just trees is environmental destruction because the trees are the environment. It's interesting then that killing a deer is not environmental destruction. Why not? It has memory, sensation, and life... to take those things away is very destructive, and it is just as much part of the environment as the trees. The trees are nature, the environment, because they are out there. So are deer, but they are only dragged down by the illusion that we own them, but property rights is a human invention. It really has nothing to do with deer. Similarly, cows are part of the environment. We only fail to realize this because out contact seems to have contaminated them. They are, at their core, natural beings. If we had a field of cows, not owned by humans, this would be nature. Our sense of ownership is the only thing that gets in the way, but this sense is a human cultural fiction made up to allow us to continue using and killing animals without moral calamity.

When we return animals to the side of nature, it becomes destruction to kill them. Killing a cow is just as much an end to nature as cutting down a tree. No matter how many water bottles you recycle, you still participate in environmental destruction by eating cow flesh for lunch. The cow, an environment in itself, is destroyed. This is the relationship of dead animals with oppressor. A life, so much more active than a tree's, has been ended. It is wrong for feminists and environmentalists to eat animals because to do so is to participate in the oppression, and destruction, of the environment. The environment is not just trees.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What to do When you Find a Wasp or Bee in your House: Compassion, Humane Treatment, Peace, and Not Killing Insects

Why Bees and Wasps

We need to read and write about bees and wasps to create a space that legitimizes them. Like many other animals (especially insects), bees and wasps are objectified by our culture in a way that allows us to treat them with absolute disrespect.

If we care about issues of oppression or any non-human animal at all, we need to radically rethink bees and wasps because oppressions are interconnected, uphold one another, and it is our moral obligation to protect victims. I certainly don't know if this is the best way to radically rethink bees and wasps, but it is hopefully one of many attempts.

This blog post will:

  • first expose the cultural lies and what they allow us to do
  • move on to highlighting what our culture does know about bees and wasps but is not common knowledge
  • an overview of bees and honey
  • how to deal with wasp and bee nests (or should we "deal" with them at all?)
  • the moral dilemma of interacting with wasps and bees as humans while trying to not undermine their rights
  • how to help bees and wasps if you want to and they get into your home.

Cultural Stories About Bees and Wasps

Bees are objectified because of their instrumental use to humans. Like all animals (except perhaps those that are legally recognized as protected species), bees can be treated as objects. Being treated like an object means your well being can be traded off for economic profit. We can gas bees, relocate them, kill them at the end of the season, squish them by mistake, and perform scientific experiments on them.

I almost had a panic attack when I read the article "Ecologies of Empire" by Jake Kosek. The article explains that bees have been used as disposable cartridges and living experiments to check for toxic residue in the environment. Seriously, just... WHAT? There is no such thing as a "humane" relationship with bees when we have legal rights and they are afforded no such protections.

"Wild" (really free, read the article "Liberate Your Language" for more on this) bees are denigrated to the position of wasps. Wasps are demonized rather than objectified. They are culturally viewed as inherently antagonistic to humans, aggressive, and senseless. They are robotic drones that are alive enough to see as our opponents posing a legitimate challenge (which gives us a reason to incite war against them), but not alive enough to merit our consideration when we destroy their homes, poison them with chemicals, or drown them in traps. They are the dehumanized never human.

Meeting Bees and Wasps on Their Own Terms

The following information on bees and wasps has been taken from Kosek's "Ecologies of Empire", a lecture by Gail Fraser at York University, and Wikipedia.

To begin, there are 20,000 known species of bees. Considering the vastness of the bee species, it's fascinating how small and narrow the information on bees is. Most information about bees is concerned with honey bees because of their use to humans. Few other bees produce honey. To put it bluntly, we know very little about bees and we don't really care. That doesn't mean we're not getting involved. Killer bees were actually created by humans in scientific experiments. Kerr crossed the aggressive and active tendencies of African honey bees with the successful pollen collecting capabilities of European honey bees. According to Kosek we've shortened their lifestyles, selected out guard bees, made them more docile, and in some cases completely removed their natural hibernation. We're also misinformed about how bees always act. Kosek writes about hives with multiple queens and hives that do not throw their drones out in the winter. There are many exceptions to our scientific rules.

There are over 100,000 species of wasps. Most are parasitic and eat other insects. Others eat pollen and fruit. Some live in social hive settings whereas others are solitary. Some wasps are aquatic. Only female wasps have stingers. There isn't really as much information about wasps compared to bees, and I'd chalk this up to our real lack of interest in them. There is however a great deal of speculation about if wasps feel pain... which I suggest you do not look up if you want to keep your faith in humanity for much longer. At the very least wasps have a neural response to harm. They don't want to be harmed so don't do it.

Should we be Eating Honey?

Any discussion of bees without mentioning honey is purposely excluding something. If we come at this from a vegan perspective, you're not vegan if you're consuming honey. You're not even eating a vegan diet. Veganism, at the very least, includes not consuming any animal products. Bees are animals and honey is an animal product. I don't care how healthy you think it is, how nice you think bees are treated, or whatever other excuse you want to use, it's not vegan. I used to be a "vegan" that ate honey and luckily a stranger on a bus had a very long rant at me and embarrassed me so much I never considered touching it again. Thanks Ian, this section of my post is inspired by you.

If you're not vegan and are still reading this, I'll use a vegan ethic to explain why you shouldn't be eating honey anyways (and then maybe you can try moving on to eliminating other not so animal friendly products haha).

Let's dispel some honey myths. Myth number one is that keeping bees in hives is taking care of them and saving them from colony collapse disorder. Bees have been around for at least 100 million years. They don't need our help, especially if our "help" is keeping them in specialized nests that let us take their honey. If we actually wanted to "help" them, we would create safe spaces that let them do their own bee things and not take anything from them. "Helping bees" is an advertising scheme that tries to cover up the real economic agenda. They're just there to make money.

As property bees are accidentally squished, gassed, and killed at the end of the season all the time. Not true at this one nice farm you visited? They are still property. No matter how long the chains are, they are still there.

Remember how many species of bees I said there were? Bee farming only helps one of them. In fact, it even gives an unfair advantage to one species of bee. Bee farming creates human supported invasive species. Where there was once a variety of natural bee species, we have introduced competitors that we have specifically designed to beat out the competition. If anything, bee farming is awful for ecological diversity and natural systems. We are controlling and helping out one species at the expense of all others.

How to Humanely or Peacefully Deal with Bee or Wasp Nests

The first step to peacefully dealing with bee or wasp nests is to anticipate the arrival of these insects. Plug all holes outdoors. Cover them with wood or shove plastic in them. Wasps specifically will make nests under patio decks, in pots, in patio chairs, in signposts, or in holes in the caulking of your house. If you could get a dime into the hole, a wasp will want to go in and at least have a look around. Being proactive is one of the best methods of discouraging wasps.

There are also some other proactive methods that have varying levels of success. You can buy fake wasp nests at stores like Home Depot or the dollar store. I find the paper ones are most effective (but they do need to be removed or covered when it rains if they are very flimsy). Buy multiples even though it says just one is good enough. Put one fake wasp nest in every area where another one isn't in sight. They are supposed to act as deterrents because wasps are territorial, but I've had wasps build a nest in my front porch when I put one in the backyard and seem to be unsuccessful when spaced too far apart. Encourage predators that would bother wasps by putting out nuts for squirrels or bird seed for birds. The worst case scenario is you have a bunch of lovely sparrows visiting your house.

If you already have wasps or bees, don't immediately decide you must destroy the nest. Observe them. What are they doing? If they're out of the way (like in a sign post) put a sign up that says wasps here, stay away. Control where they go by planting bee friendly flowers or leaving fruit out for your wasps. You won't be bringing in more wasps, because they are territorial, but you will be directing their flying routes. Maybe you're even causing them. The old street I lived on had dozens of pear trees. Every summer all the fruit would fall to the ground and we would get hundreds of wasps for months. Pick up fruit after it falls or be proactive and pick ripe fruit. If it is not edible please compost it.

I am going to bring it up again because it is so important, observe your insect neighbors. I'm sure it's extremely worrisome and unpleasant to have them so close to you, but are they actually a danger? I've had wasps actually live in the caulking between my front door and the porch ceiling for two years because I forgot to seal up the holes. In two years no one in my family received any wasp stings and we had three wasps come into the house accidentally. If any get inside turn off the lights, shine a flashlight on the wall, and catch your wasp that should be attracted to the light (I learned this trick when one refused to leave the lamp unless it was turned off). Our wasps had a very sophisticated system. They used one hole as an exit and one as an entrance. Neither hole went in the direction of my front door and even though they were 2 feet away from the door itself, they never tried to get in. In fact they were a joy to watch because every once in a while one would use the wrong hole and cause a wasp traffic jam.

Want to hear the best news about wasp nests? They don't come back. The colony will die out by next year and since the queen will only live long enough to lay eggs, you can seal up that area and even if you don't you won't get any of your same wasps back. The same goes for bees. I only got wasps in the same area twice (but not the same hole, it was three feet away) and that was because it was a great spot.

The Moral Dilemma of Insects in Your House

If you find a bee or wasp in your house move it outside. You can catch the insect with a net or if you're very brave a cup. If you don't have a net you can use a large tupperwear container. Wasps specifically are attracted to light and you can turn off the lights and use a flashlight to get them on the wall so they can be caught easily and safely.

What do you do if you can't move your bee or wasp outside because they'll die? Many insects come into your house in Fall or Winter to avoid the cold. Putting them outside means they will freeze to death. Here is the moral dilemma. If you keep your wasp or bee safe inside until Spring, they won't make it. You've likely found a drone that will have a naturally short lifespan. I have no idea what queens look like so I have no way to tell you if you have a queen, but if you do have one they will live until Spring. Even if the insect could live until Spring, you have a social insect without a hive. They may be adopted into another hive, but this is very very unlikely as far as I know. So, is it kinder to perform prolonged euthanasia by leaving the insect outside (similar to pulling the plug and waiting for the patient to die), to kill them quickly, or to keep them inside? I really can't tell you.

This is a debate you have to have with yourself and there is no "right" answer. Some would argue that you should follow the natural system and leave the insect outside... but you wouldn't do this if you had found a chipmunk or a cat. You would call the local humane society or wild life services. You might say a wasp or bee should die if they can't have the social society they evolved with, but we don't euthanize dogs and cats just because they won't be adopted (and many of us are outraged when kill shelters do just this because of over population). Leaving your wasp warm and alive means more suffering, but don't kid yourself into thinking leaving them outside will let them fall asleep peacefully. Freezing to death is not peaceful. It is painful. Make any decision you want, but make sure you are doing it because you believe in this decision and not just because "it's a wasp" or "it's a bee" and thus deserves less moral consideration than any other animal.

How to Take Care of Bees and Wasps if you Decide to

If you do decide to keep a wasp or bee in your house (because they cannot go outside! If they can go outside and they won't freeze to death, as in it's well above freezing, go put them outside immediately! Keeping a social animal in your home is horribly cruel and unnecessary) hopefully my experience can shed a little light on your situation.

I found a wasp or bee stuck behind my curtains in my den a few weeks ago. It was the night of the first snowfall. After much research online I still have no idea if this was a wasp or bee and it doesn't really matter (I'll explain why later). I will refer to my insect friend as a wee.

The wee could not even stand up. I put the wee in a tupperware container and every thirty seconds would have to prod the wee with a piece of paper to help them stand up again because the wee had fallen onto their back and was buzzing loudly. After about five minutes I only needed to upright the wee every minute. Then, about ten minutes after I was positive my wee would not live the night, the wee decided to fly around the room and land in my bonsai.

I put my wee in a glass vase (with a sieve over the top) and later moved my wee to an aquarium. My wee lived for five days before eventually dying. My wee was going to the bathroom and I believe my wee was eating. I still don't know if it was morally right to keep my wee or not, but here are some tips if you happen to be trying to help out a wee:

  • Don't name your wee. They will die. You can if you want to, but be prepared that they will die. You are only helping them live a little longer.
  • Put plants in with your wee. Mine liked hanging out on my bonsai. They also enjoy old branches to sit on.
  • Keep a damp paper towel at all times at the bottom of the cage. If you have any significant water, your wee may fall over, get wet, and be unable to get back up or out and will drown. It is very very easy for this to happen.
  • Put a teaspoon of agave in the cage or add sugar to the water (if you don't know what agave is, google it, buy it, and use it instead of honey in everything from now on. Maple syrup would probably work too). This works for bees and wasps, which is why it is unnecessary to identify the species. If you think you have a wasp, put in some fruit, but change it regularly because it will start to smell fast.
  • Make sure your cage is big enough for your wee to fly around in comfortably. Have lots of open space to stick your hand in and get it out quickly. Also, most importantly, make sure there are air holes that let air in but don't let the wee out!
  • Learn the rhythms of your wee friend. When mine was angry they would buzz around for a while and make a ruckus. I also knew when they were not going to fly around and I could open the whole cage, move things around, and have them completely ignore me. I had my wee for five days and even though I moved things around in the cage with my bare hands regularly, I was never at risk of being bitten or stung.

Further Reading on my Vegan Feminist Position on Insects

If you want information about gardening peacefully, check out this post I wrote here.

If you want information about dealing with aphids and other insects peacefully, check out this post I wrote here.

If you are having problems with ants and would like to get rid of them without killing them, check out this post I wrote on my old blog here.

If you are having problems with ladybugs in your house, check out this post I wrote here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What is a Rape Rack?: Why Feminism Applies to Cows

What a Rape Rack is

Rape rack is the industry term, or nickname for, the device used to artificially inseminate female cows so that they become pregnant and can eventually produce milk for human consumption. Rape racks are also used on other animals such as monkeys to breed them for scientific experiments.

Why do I have to use the term rape rack? It describes reality.

Rape rack is a term that makes no apologies. Rape rack is graphic, horrifying, and violent. Rape rack calls to mind the life mutilating experience of being raped. All of these definitions are true and I will always use the word rape rack because I want to imply these meanings and others of similar gut wrenching quality.

As Carol J. Adams' wrote in The Sexual Politics of Meat, we must not use words that mask the reality of how non-human animals are treated. We must liberate our language. Saying a cow is artificially inseminated provides no anecdote or explanation of exactly what happened; artificial insemination could be anything from a little needle to a human hand inserted into the vagina. A rape rack implies that an object was used, the device was violently inserted into the vagina, and that the animal was violated.

This is not co-opting a term that only applies to humans. Rape happened. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes people squirm in their seats or call you a hysteric. It should make us squirm; it's absolutely disgusting that anyone would impregnate any animal against their will and the rape rack specifically violates right of personhood and autonomy. That is rape.

How Milk is Produced

I want to pause for a moment and return to my original definition of rape rack as "the device used to artificially inseminate female cows so that they become pregnant and can eventually produce milk for human consumption". I worded that very carefully because I want to stress how milk is produced, which surprisingly few people know. My parents, over 50 years old each, had no clue. I didn't know about it until after I went vegan. This is the birds and the bees and people flat out just don't know. It's nothing to be ashamed of; we are not taught about how milk is made on purpose because it's basically awful and I'd like to now give the space to have that discussion.

Humans are the only mammals (and thus animals) that can produce milk for their whole lives after only being pregnant once. If you keep taking the milk, humans will keep making it. I'm sure there are exceptions and maybe this isn't as natural as I'm led to believe, but it does explain our basic ignorance of how other animals work because the rest of them don't work like this. Non-human animals only produce enough milk for the baby or babies they just had. Female cows produce milk for one year after being impregnated.

Want cow milk? This is how you do it:
Step 1) Impregnate female cow with rape rack, human hand, or male cow (in descending order of likeliness, as I understand it).
Step 2) Female cow gives birth and you take the baby cow away in 24 hours to 7 days. Some farms wait longer, but who gives a damn? You are taking the baby away. That's not humane or acceptable. If the baby is male he will usually become a veal cow (yes even love to convince you they are awesome, organic, and humane farms do this, I've asked them when I still thought you could use animals nicely) and be shipped to another farm. Girl babies became dairy cows like mom.
Step 3) Milk cow for 1 year.
Step 4) Return to step 1 and repeat because she has now stopped producing milk. Repeat again and again until female cow stops producing optimum milk, usually at 3-4 years old. Then kill her. Put her in a hamburger, as if the rest wasn't insult to injury already.

Tadah you have milk! And the reason why vegetarianism doesn't help cows. And a really messed up situation that makes me want to scream every time someone brings a milk carton into lecture.

Why Cows and This Whole Thing Matters to Feminism

The simplest reason why this matters is because you can take almost any feminist theory and apply it to cows and you can convince yourself why drinking milk is really oppressive. Let's practice with rape myths! I'll throw a few out for you. If you aren't familiar with rape myths they are basically myths a society uses to not take rape seriously and blame the victim. They also blame the victim when it comes to cows. Here they are, and trigger warning because these are unpleasant.

Rape Myths for Humans and Non-Humans:
- They like it (aren't there pictures of happy cows everywhere?).
- They are naturally like this.
- They don't deserve any better.
- They are just animals.
- They asked for it.
- They should have protected themselves better.
- It's not really that bad.
- They're lying, it never happened (which you might be saying about me right now).

Another way to look at it is just because we are oppressed, does not mean we have no power. We oppress others and we have the power to stop. Many feminists don't care about going vegan because there are more important issues to worry about. No, this is all part of the same issue. Violence is violence. I am against using and abusing humans and non-humans. They are not so very different, just extend your circle of care. If you don't, you end up sounding as ridiculous as a feminist professor of mine who told me she's not vegan because her brother is a butcher. So if your brother was a rapist, would you not be feminist either?

The line between humans and non-humans is arbitrary. They feel pain and they suffer just as we do. Want to get postmodern? Challenge the category of the human just like feminists challenged sex and gender. This is all constructed to keep some group in power and it's disturbing to realize we have the power in this case and we are the ones with privilege.

Openly saying rape rack when I talk about cows is one of the most vegan feminist acts I can participate in; I look across an arbitrary boundary and I refuse the suffering of my sisters. Even if they are not your sisters, know that they were violated. Refuse to let anyone think anything less.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Applying Feminism to Veganism: Why Should Feminists be Vegan?

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

"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."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why do we still need feminism?

We're in a strange place; you can turn on the television and watch a woman saying we don't need feminism and because of it men are suffering, or somehow on the exact same planet you can go to a university and take a PhD in Women's Studies and devote 10 years of your life to feminism.

So which is it; is feminism dead or alive, and who is it for?


Simone de Beauvoir answered these questions 63 years ago in her book The Second Sex. Beauvoir wrote that feminism is necessary for men and women; everyone is oppressed by our current system, just in very different ways.

To be clear, not all feminism can be boiled down to Beauvoir. She is but one of many influential feminists and I'm using her to make my point. Someone else could use Foucalt, Butler, Irigaray, Harraway, and so forth and make the case for feminism in a very different way.

Beauvoir believed that people of the female sex are made into "women" and that this is to our detriment. She explained that young girls are forced to wear dresses they can't move in, not allowed to climb trees, forbidden to fight and learn to defend themselves like their male peers do, encouraged to play with dolls, told that they should be married and be a mother, and taught to cook and clean. The upbringing of a girl makes her into a defenceless home keeper, or even worse a working mom who does the 9-5 job then comes home to cook and clean. This is further emphasized in her adult life when she is encouraged to become a mother and wear clothes that keep her defenceless (try running as successfully in a ball gown and heels as a man in his suit!). Beauvoir argues that boys are raised to be humans that work towards their goals whereas girls are raised to be parasites. We can see this clearly in her quote on page 749:

“Women are “clinging,” they are a dead weight, and they suffer for it; the point is that their situation is like that of a parasite sucking the living strength of another organism. Let them be provided with the living strength of their own, let them have the means to attack the world and wrest from it their own subsistence, and their dependence will be abolished – that of man also. There is no doubt that both men and women will profit greatly from the new situation.”

Ultimately, Beauvoir argues, there is nothing wrong with "women" naturally but the problem lies in how we are raised by our society to be women. If we raise girls to be human beings that can defend themselves and have actual choices then women will be able to be independent and men will be free of the parasite we've been trained to be.

So, according to Beauvoir, all we need to do is raise girls differently and give them choices. This is where it gets tricky. Antifeminists believe women have enough or too many choices. Feminists believe that although women have come a long way, we really don't have many choices. What seems to be choice is, if you look closer, not a choice at all.


“The girl's choice is usually quite limited; and it could not be really free unless she felt free also not to marry.” Simone de Beauvoir "The Second Sex", p 433
Beauvoir and I would similarly argue that the choice women are said to have is an illusion. In many areas of their life, women are not able to say no. Thus, they are not free and have no choice. While they could physically say no, saying no comes with consequences that can range from stigma to physical assault. When there is any negative consequence that comes from saying no, saying no is not a free choice. I will illustrate this with several examples and personal experiences.

Having Children: Since women can have children, it is often assumed that it is their biological destiny to procreate. Even with obvious problems of overpopulation, women are still expected to become pregnant and have their own children. This is so pervasive that women who don't want children are seen as abnormal. I have known since grade 5 that I would never have human children. I have received a range of responses including: "You'll change your mind.", "You'll regret it if you don't.", "Don't you want to be a grandparent?", "What if your husband wants them?", and "Who will take care of you when you get old?". All of these responses assume that the person talking to me knows more about my body than I do, which is funny, as I've had it for 21 years thank you very much. It also assigns a stigma that would not exist if I had children at the appropriate age with the appropriate person. There is no choice, only societal hell to pay if I want to fight to keep my body child free.

Getting Married: In high school I decided that I'd never meet the right guy and never get married. Even though I have, we're still not getting married because I disagree with the institution of marriage. This results in the stigmatized questions of: "Don't you want to buy a wedding dress?", "But he'll always be your boyfriend.", "Don't you want a big wedding?", "What about a wedding ring?", and "You'll regret it." Once again, this is not a choice. There are clearly values assigned to one side over the other. If it were a choice, no one would have any say or comment on what I did with my future.

Having Sex: There is a remarkably appropriate amount of sex to have, which I think is ridiculous. If someone thinks you have too little, you get responses like I do such as "Your boyfriend will leave you" and "I feel sorry for your boyfriend" (both of these came from people very very close to me). If you have too much, you're a slut. The reason this occurs is because women are expected to have a certain amount of sex. Too little and we're not fulfilling our "biological role" as women. Too much and we're spoiled goods, which is ridiculous considering women are not property! The idea of the slut is a herald back to a time when women were property and men didn't want to share. We're no longer property under the law, but we still are when it comes to sex. When we can specify any amount of partners we want without any shame, then it will be a choice we make as free individuals.

Shaving: Like your grass lawn, women are expected to be shaved. There are a lot of good reasons not to shave. Some of them include: not looking like a prepubescent girl and because it grows back so it's a waste of your very important time (read a book instead!). I shave every once in a while because of the awful stigma that comes from not shaving. Clementine Cannibal, an amazing person I was lucky enough to have a class with, tells a story on her blog about being beaten up at a show because she didn't shave her armpits. We have no choice in this matter, it's shave or get ready to defend yourself. That is not the choice of a free individual.

Wearing a bra: Women have breasts and are thus expected to wear bras, even if they are uncomfortable for some of us. The amount of stares or indecent comments a women can get simply because she is not wearing a bra is surprising. I remember a friend once called my professor a "hippie" and was disgusted that she wasn't wearing a bra. This brilliant woman with her PhD in a field I could never even get through because it would take so much math had suddenly become nothing more important than a woman without a bra. Every accomplishment in her life was reduced to nothing because she failed to put on a bra that day. It is not a choice.

There are countless examples of women not having a choice when society claims that we do. The "choice" we have is really only one option that society values and we must face the wrath of society if we do not pick it. Women should be free to look however we want, sleep with whoever we want, and do whatever we want, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else in the process. Until we can, we still need feminism. Men need it too. We know they are not free either.


We still need feminism because both men and women are not free. You cannot save half of society and expect everything to turn out fine. Feminism is a means to liberate us all. There is dissension in feminism about how exactly we should go about gaining our freedom, which results in many different types of feminism, but I am pretty confident in saying that a feminist ethic of some kind is absolutely essential. We need it if we want to get out of this mess.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to Get Rid of Aphids and Other Garden Bugs Without Killing Them


Gardening is plagued by a speciesist fallacy that I would summarize as a "Don't like it? Kill it" approach. This approach encourages a lack of empathy, values aesthetics over suffering and death, and ultimately contradicts why many of us garden to begin with. We garden because we actually like nature and how we treat it should reflect that. This blog post is intended to speak out against the typical gardening approach that values human pleasure over all else. If you found it, likely because you don't want to kill aphids or other bugs to remove them, hopefully you agree.

One of the first steps to wanting to remove aphids and other insects peacefully is turning them from objects into subjects. We should view them as if they were another person. At the very least, we should consider them to be similar to a cat or dog in what moral obligations we have towards them. This is a huge step up from seeing them as a pest or as no more worthy of our consideration than dirt. One way we can do that is by trying to understand aphids on their own terms.


Aphids are fascinating animals. I will admit that their number of legs creeps me out a little, but theoretically they are just beautiful. There are roughly 4 400 species of aphids; only about 250 of these are considered "pests" by humans. They come in many colours and can be green, black, pink, or brown.

Some aphids are even "farmed" by ants where the ants will protect them from predators, bring their eggs into the nest over the winter, and stroke them for honeydew. The relationship seems alright, but just like us humans, the ants often take advantage of the aphids. If the aphid herds get too big the ants start to eat them. Finally, aphids can reproduce sexually and asexually.

In the Winter female aphids change from sexual to asexual reproduction and they make female aphid offspring by themselves. Hypothetically, female aphids could continue to carry on the species without males!


The best way to make sure that you don't have to struggle with aphids or other insects is to plan ahead. You can always buy a plant for aphids to encourage them to eat that one instead of eating your precious lettuce. Aphids are attracted to the colour yellow so you could plant or buy potted yellow plants. Sunflowers are a great option if you have the room because they will also provide a food source for birds and squirrels that might be otherwise tempted to eat your other plants as well!

If you are growing plants indoors, start them from seed when possible. If you buy potted plants, keep them in a room without other plants for at least a month. They may have insects or insect eggs on them and it's best to isolate any insects so that they don't spread to all of your other plants. Only buy new potted plants when it is warm outside, in case you do happen to get insects.

If you are growing your plants outdoors, go for plant variety. If you do happen to get aphids, you'll find that they are only interested in some of your plants. If I had only grown lettuce this year, I would have been much more upset when I found some green aphids living on my lettuce plants. It wasn't that big a deal though because I was also growing basil, eggplant, parsley, chives, mint, strawberries and rhubarb that the aphids hadn't touched.

If your garden is outdoors, encourage nature to take care of the aphids on their own. Insects are only a problem when they have an unlimited food source and no predators. If you let nature do its own thing, predators will quickly notice that you have lots of aphids and take care of that for you. You can attract predators by buying plants that ladybugs are attracted to or by making a hidey hole for a frog. If you don't want to add additional plants or build specific habitats, one simple method is to just stop cutting your grass. As soon as I did this my backyard became a home to snakes, burrowing spiders, frogs, praying mantises, and a walking stick.


Most gardening websites encourage getting rid of aphids or other insects with alcohol or soapy water. This is extremely cruel and unnecessary. The aphids won't kill you or even your plants, but you will kill them by doing this. It's an overreaction.

If you have aphids inside your house, move any plants with aphids into a room by themselves. Whether the plants are outdoors or indoors, the first step should be to physically remove the aphids. Snip off any leaves that they are sitting on. If you caught it early enough, you'll lose less than 1/4 of the plant this way. You must take the whole leaf because you may not be able to see eggs that were laid. Put these leaves outside. If you haven't been cutting your grass, you'll have plenty of new food options for your aphids to choose from. You may have to do this for several days in a row, but in a week your plants should be aphid free. I have tried this method myself with no problems.

If you don't have yellow flowers, go buy some. Scroll back up and read plan ahead if you don't know why. You can use the yellow flowers as a transport system to attract aphids, then remove them outside.

Just wait. I had little aphids all over my lettuce and didn't know how to get them out because they were all stuck in between the curled leaves. After the next rainfall, they just vanished.

If, for some reason, you cannot get rid of your aphids, take a deep breath and slow down. Aphids are definitely frustrating, but we all know that it's not acceptable to kill something because it's in your way or frustrating. Sometimes you may lose a plant or two. Life goes on. It won't for them if you decide to take it personally and kill them.


If you want more information about gardening peacefully, check out this post I wrote here.

If you are having problems with ants and would like to get rid of them without killing them, check out this post I wrote on my old blog here.

If you are having problems with ladybugs in your house, check out this post I wrote here.