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, December 14, 2011

What is a Vegan Feminist?

To begin I would like to explain what I mean when I call myself a vegan feminist. At the very least I hope to give a brief temporary definition of the label. In other words, this definition may not suit me in a year and would probably be explained very differently if you asked someone else. The very idea of a definition seems stagnant and restrictive, but I think with that disclaimer it's safe to continue.

Most people understand the words vegan and feminist separately, but they're complex enough that I think it would be beneficial to go over their definitions.

A vegan is a person who does not consume any animal products, sort of. This could be for emotional, ethical, spiritual, religious, disease, health, physical, or a variety of other reasons. Every person comes to veganism for a different reason and lives veganism differently as a result. That makes it very hard to define what veganism really is, because some use more or less animal products than others based on their reasons for being vegan. For example, a person who is vegan because they think animal proteins are a high health risk might buy products made of leather, whereas a person who is vegan for emotional reasons never would. At the very least veganism is a diet where people never consume meat, eggs, or milk. If someone consumes any of those products they are not vegan. If they restrict other products, well that depends on what type of vegan they are and there are dozens of types. Tricky, isn't it?

A feminist is something I have an even harder time defining because within feminism you find different groups that completely disagree with one another. I think I'm safe in saying that all feminists believe patriarchy exists and that sex and gender are not the same thing. Most people believe feminism is about liberating women, but that's only really true of the first and second waves. We are currently in the third wave of feminism, which I understand to be a period of time when feminists look back on their history, critique it, and try to find liberation for all groups of marginalized people that they accidentally ignored before. Some feminists focus on liberating men from culture, some focus on the woman's right to control over her own body, some on what gender we should have, or what pornography should look like, or what jobs we should do, and the list goes on and on. Feminism is an (usually) open space for differing theories of a future society to come together and discuss how we can liberate everyone.

A vegan feminist is a fusion of both of those ideas in a special way that acknowledges the original meaning of both terms. The order of the term is also very important, but I would argue interchangeable in most settings. A feminist vegan is someone who is a vegan, and the type of vegan they are is feminist. To me that means that they eat a vegan diet and use feminist theories like patriarchy, sex, culture, the panopticon prison, power, knowledge, and so forth to explain why they eat a vegan diet. This is where it gets a bit confusing, as technically a feminist vegan could use radical-cultural feminist theory and liberal feminist theory at the same time and still be a feminist vegan (in a super quick probably totally inaccurate but just to make my point summary, the former tells women to be like women to be liberated and the latter tells women to be like men). I guess you could go even further and add a third label to the mix, which would be a type of feminism, but I think feminist vegan is good enough for me.

So let's swap the term around; a vegan feminist is a feminist whose type is vegan. Vegan theory and diet informs their feminism. When I say I am a vegan feminist I really mean I feel like I am living my feminism to the fullest because I am eating a vegan diet. This allows me to live in a way that restricts the suffering and pain I cause to others. This kind of feminism specifically looks at the subject as oppressor and agent in power and questions how we can change this in our daily interaction with the world. Vegan feminists (or at least me) don't get bogged down with questions like: how much do animals really suffer, but don't they kind of look happy, or biologically I am made to eat meat (which is not true). Instead they look at liberation and freedom for all beings that can suffer and say I am an oppressor in this system and I need to stop. There is no justification for the oppression of others.

I mentioned before that vegan feminist and feminist vegan can be used interchangeably, even though I gave them separate definitions. I hope you've noticed that the definitions are different when you explain them theoretically, but I think a vegan feminist and a feminist vegan would experience these labels in a very similar way out in the world. The one I use changes based on who I'm talking to. If I'm talking to vegans I say feminist vegan to point out that feminism is important too, and when talking to feminists I say vegan feminist. Online I am choosing specifically to use the term vegan feminist because, for the most part, more vegans are feminist than feminists are vegan. My order is a political statement and a call for feminists to be self critical and live their theories to the fullest. This is not to say that non-vegan feminists are wrong, but merely that I hope I inspire them to take a second look at their current ideology.

I think what I've explained is a good patchwork quilt definition of a vegan feminist based on experience. In future blogs I hope to get into vegan feminist theory, look closer at many aspects I quickly glossed over, and discuss vegan feminist issues in today's world that just get under my skin and make me want to type and talk. I hope I haven't deceived you into thinking I have explained vegan feminism in just a few paragraphs. Please think of the above as the briefest of introductions into a very complex topic. The short definition of what vegan feminism is? There isn't one, because to pretend there is would be to eliminate a large part of it. Vegan feminism is a lived experience you can theorize about, just like many things. It does not fit neatly into a dictionary and can not be broken down or studied for an exam. My vegan feminism is different than everyone else's, and that's okay because I can learn about it through writing it down and maybe you can learn about yours (if you want it to exist) from reading an interpretation of mine.

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