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.

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.


  1. Your blog is very insightful and I like how both the articles are structured in themselves and in relation to each other.

  2. Thank you for your blog. It's really well written and interesting.

  3. fellow vegan feministNovember 18, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    i like your writing! and now i've got propaghandi stuck in my head.

  4. Superbly written. Haunting, factual, challenging. From one vegan feminist to another: Thank you, sister.

  5. Thank you for opening my eyes. I read the term "rape rack" for the first time yesterday, and decided to Google it today. This is how I found your blog. Know that I gave up meat entirely a year ago. So I am a vegetarian, but only a wannabe-vegan; I'm not there yet, since I crave cheese and use milk in my coffee. I know there are alternatives, and I want to thank you for reinforcing my commitment. This is a long process, it goes deep inside us I guess. I want to be able to say that I AM VEGAN, fuck, I should do better than this. I wish I could hug a cow right now. Of fuck, I had chocolate all day because Easter is around the corner, and chocolate is everywhere in my office (co-workers, our lunch room, my boss distributing them!). For sure there is milk in that. I'm so sad right now. And disgusted at myself. I hope to come back and write a comment soon again here on your blog, and be proud to write that milk and all animal-food is OUT OF MY LIFE. Thanks. Josée

  6. Thank you for this wonderful blog, Talia! I too didn't know where milk and cheese really came from until I became a vegan. And Josée, don't worry -- you're on the right track! When I first went vegan I was really obsessed with term and I was overly critical of myself. Then,I think as a result, I "fell off the wagon." But the second time around, I did it more gradually, did more research, and that worked for me. Really, the best thing you can do is keep reading blogs like this, watch the videos, and empathize with the animals. That will keep you strong and steadfast. And yes, of course, explore the wonderful non-dairy options available to you! I believe you can do it. ~ Wendy

  7. I really like the link you're making in this article, but it just bugs me too much when people are using wrong facts. Milk production in female mammals is related to the activation of hormones in the brain which tell the body to produce milk. This mostly happens due to childbirth, but it could happen to a female who wants to take care of baby's who aren't her own as well. This doesn't only happen to humans but to lots of mammal species. In elephant families for example it's not uncommon for the aunt to help her sister nurse her baby.

    This being said, it's of course no excuse for industrial milking of cows, which is terrible for many reasons you've stated. But I think it's important to convince people with correct arguments.

  8. I have read that if you rescue a dairy cow and her calf (like if you live in the country), that there is excess milk because the dairy cow has been given drugs to produce excess milk. I don't really have an issue with people who take in a rescued cow and consume the excess milk (more than the calf needs). And I don't have issues with people who consume eggs from rescued chickens (although by that time, they produce fewer eggs), but in general I would say the women's movement and the animal rights movement should work more closely together.

    I buy eggs from someone who has rescued chickens - the eggs don't taste very good, but they are safe to eat.

    PETA does degrade women and euthanizes animals, so I don't support them. But the women's movement still needs to become more sympathic to animals.

  9. Talia, I couldn't agree more with this blog post. I also think it's extremely important to include this analysis in feminist discourse, as it is severely lacking. I'm gong to send you a personal email!


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