‘Vegan’ apparently doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean

It’s just short of my seventh anniversary as a vegan. And I have decided to stop identifying as such. Henceforth, I will identify as vegetarian ecofeminist except in restaurants where the term ‘vegan’ is more often understood.

I’ve previously observed that a great many vegans lack the consciousness that makes the ethics of their views coherent. I left Facebook vegan singles groups that tolerated sexism and seemed entirely too much like “meat markets.” Someone identifying himself (yes, he identifies as male) as veganelder responded by suggesting a Vegan Feminists group.[1]

This was indeed a considerable improvement. There are some people there, including at least one moderator, who seem to understand about multiple and tiered oppressions. Then there were those who don’t, who seem to think that any time a white male speaks, it is an oppression against them, that privilege reduces to white males over everyone else (and with animals seemingly entirely forgotten), who think ad hominem arguments are legitimate against white males, and who thus seek to reproduce the oppressions they (and I) have suffered.

This just isn’t my thing. In my coursework at Saybrook, I’ve done a significant amount of reading in critical theory—which includes feminist theory. I wouldn’t call myself an expert. Even to the extent I am, I am profoundly limited by my social location, which is as a poor, but highly educated heterosexual white male. Speaking for others is a problem. And that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it also doesn’t mean, comments in that group notwithstanding, that I can’t advocate for social change.[2]

But my dissertation research (I’m writing it now) employed a critical theory method[3] and I’m a little past the “Feminism 101” level that some people in that group seem to think I need. And in any “Feminism 101” class I would teach, the issues of multiple and tiered oppressions would most definitely be covered. Because you know what? It just doesn’t take all that long to cover male privilege. And standpoint theory[4] doesn’t take all that much longer. Certainly not a whole semester or even a quarter.

There are certain ways in which anarchism and feminism—at least insofar as feminism is more than simply a movement to help women under capitalism get ahead—seem to me to have a telling affinity. Though the two movements have quite different histories, arriving at their positions through different routes, certain basic analogies between them hold up. Anarchism by definition, and radical feminism as it has evolved, are both fundamentally and deeply anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian. Both operate through loose, voluntary social organization from the bottom up, relying on collective activity by small groups, forming for example, day care centers, battered-women shelters, anti-rape squads, consciousness-raising groups, rather than, say, large political parties; and both favor direct action to promote change. As the anarcho-feminist Lynn Farrow wrote a few years ago, “Feminism practices what Anarchism preaches.”[5]

When I turned vegan, on May 5, 2008, I understood it as a logical extension of anarchism, recognizing that I do not have a right to nonhuman animal bodies any more than I do to other human bodies and that I have a duty to respect the autonomy of nonhuman animals just as I do humans. Being already anti-capitalist, it didn’t even occur to me to question that other animals, human or not, would not have similar duties toward me. Animal liberation activists clearly recognize all this.[6] As do vegetarian ecofeminists.[7] But clearly, too many self-identified vegans lack that understanding.

And I’m just not going to spend my entire life trying to educate people who insist on targeting me personally with their resentment and ignorance.

Related, May 13, 2015: In succumbing to the politics of exclusion, some feminists recreate the very structure that oppresses them

Related, June 5, 2015: On pedagogy, controversy, and the unintentional road to revolution

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Yes, ‘vegan’ is a useful word. Here’s why I might stop identifying as such,” So I’m Vegetarian Ecofeminist… Now, What? October 19, 2014, https://vegan.parts-unknown.org/?p=200
  2. [2]Linda Martín Alcott, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” in Who Can Speak? Authority and Critical Identity, Judith Roof and Robyn Wiegman, eds. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1995).
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Dissertation Proposal: Conservative Views on Undocumented Migrants,” November 10, 2014, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2014/11/10/dissertation-proposal-conservative-views-on-undocumented-migrants/
  4. [4]Virginia L. Oleson, “Early Millennial Feminist Qualitative Research: Challenges and Contours,” in Landscape of Qualitative Research, eds. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 311-370.
  5. [5]Alix Kates Shulman, “Emma Goldman’s Feminism: A Reappraisal,” in Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, ed. Alix Kates Shulman, 3rd ed. (Amherst, NY: Humanity, 1998), 16-17.
  6. [6]Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella, II, eds. Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (New York: Lantern, 2004).
  7. [7]Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146.

One thought on “‘Vegan’ apparently doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.