Wednesday, August 21, 2013

If She Didn’t Want to Get Raped, She Wouldn’t Have Been Made Out of Meat: The Language of Taking What is Not Ours

 “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” ~ Audre Lord

There is a consistent mental gymnastics routine people will go through in order to justify the actions they take that don’t quite sit well with them but wish to continue to do anyway. While I don’t believe that the habit of eating animals is usually done to intentionally  inflict suffering and harm, in the language around both sexual violence and consuming animals, there is crossover territory where what rapists take from those they victimize and what omnivores take from animals has a remarkably similar attitude of entitlement encompassing it. We can acclimatize ourselves to repeating some pretty self-serving notions, ones that most people would never accept if even a small detail (such as a female human for a female cow, or dog for chicken) were changed. In both rape and our role in oppressing animals, both can be framed as a birthright (“They were born for me to use as I wish,”) and as what is one’s due (“I spent money and this is what is owed me,”) and also presented in a way that completely belittles the experience of the victim (“Come on, don’t be so melodramatic; it wasn’t that bad.”). Only a sadistic psychopath would use such terms to justify violating another person, but we accept those terms without question on a daily basis involving the animals we consume. Underpinning both rape and eating animals, though, is the conceit that because we can do something, this confers the right to do it, no matter who is harmed or killed in the process.

“Simple: I saw it, I wanted it, so I took it.”

To my mind, eating animals is a feminist issue not only because so many of the horrors visited upon the animals are so often directly intertwined to our control of their reproductive agency – for example, the brutal insemination of dairy cows, hens and other animals – but also because when we adopt this framing of entitlement to another, we reinforce the language and, even more tragically, the mentality of rape. Of all people, shouldn’t feminists intuitively grasp this and make an effort to not be complicit in this fatal acquisition of another, justified by many simply “because I wanted to” and “because I can”? Isn’t this language chillingly rape-like? Don’t we learn as young children that this is not acceptable grounds for guiding our choices?

“I wanted it and that’s the only justification I need.”

As a young, awakening feminist in college, I was told time and time again that I was naive and silly because of my idealism. I am told the same thing today, as someone who is in her forties, someone who should have outgrown that first fervent desire to fix the world for the better long ago. I have always wanted to understand why those who are passionate liberationists at heart would participate in the oppression of another and it doesn’t feel particularly naive to be confused by this behavior. It is a disconnect: why shouldn’t this at least be acknowledged? 

“I want what I want when I want it and I have the right to it.”

Maybe you are at a fundraiser for a progressive feminist organization at a beautiful hotel downtown. As a band plays in the background, you might easily see people spread cheese, something that you know is the product of rape, onto crackers. Instead of nursing from their mothers, the calves were taken from them and fed a factory-made formula. This is a formula designed to make the calves reach maximum growth as quickly as possible and to keep them from getting sick as long as possible so that they can be most profitable to those raising them for consumption. The male calves will be raised to become veal and cheap meat; the females will be born into the same cycle of forced impregnation, birth and lactation until they are less productive and also killed for cheap meat, just like the mothers they didn’t or only briefly suckled. You can be at this fundraiser while the speaker gives a moving speech about oppression, exploitation, violence and liberation, and the well-dressed benefactors may be eating cheese and slices of chicken, of pig and cow, all the while. They may applaud this speech and donate more money. This scenario is not at all uncommon and yet, when the rationalizations are removed, it is as in opposition to the brave, wild, inclusive and radically loving spirit of feminism as I can imagine.

You, as the vegan in the room, may feel farther and farther estranged from business-as-usual feminism as a result.

“If she didn’t want to be raped, she wouldn’t have worn that skirt.”

When I was twenty or so, I was walking home from a party by myself late at night and a stranger grabbed me, just like that. He was walking quickly toward me, a big guy, and I was well aware of him; I instinctively moved a bit to the side so he could pass. Behind me, though, he didn’t keep walking: instead, he grabbed me, twisting one arm behind my back as he put his hand over my mouth. Before I had a chance to react, he pushed me against a car. I thrashed against him, grabbing the handle of the car’s door with my free hand. I kicked and bit and did whatever my animal nature, in complete adrenaline mode, instructed me to do. He pulled me away from the car and I fell onto the grass; he pinned me down. I thrashed and hit - my hands were free now but his hand was still over my mouth (25 or so years later, I can still remember how that felt, the pads of his palm against my teeth) - and he reached up under my skirt and pulled my tights down to my knees. This is it, I thought. At that moment, an unseen door shut somewhere, a dog barked, something alarmed him, and he jumped up, running away. For about a block, insensibly, I chased after him, screaming, swearing, throwing my shoes. Nobody came outside; the people on that block probably thought I was just another drunk college student, fighting with my boyfriend. The next day, still reeling but uninjured and damn thankful for it, a friend took me to task for walking home by myself from a party and in a skirt. Other friends comforted me, sat with me as I filed the police report, talked to me late at night whenever I had an anxiety attack.

“If God didn’t want us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them out of meat.”

The animals we eat, whose value is only their worth to us, simply had to be born with flesh to be consumed, digested, forgotten. Their “products” the same. 

They have no friends or loved ones to comfort them. They have no police reports to file. They are blamed with a wink and a nudge for being “made out of meat.” Maybe, as they reach the end of the line, the hot smell of blood and terror everywhere, screams and bellows surrounding them, they think the same thing to themselves as I did before I was almost raped: This is it.

Eating animals is not a feminist act. In fact, it is deeply antithetical to the spirit of feminism. The beauty of it, though, is that within the promise of feminism, we have our solution: we can become the best we can be through the brave and bold practice of radical self-honesty. 

Taking what doesn't belong to us is never kind, never progressive, never trail-blazing. Veganism is a profoundly feminist act.


  1. Great insight into the similarity between rape and factory farming. I know that some animals (turkeys,for instance,) are artificially inseminated.

  2. Thank you, Marla. Sorry for what you went through.

  3. Thank you for this excellent comparison you've drawn between veganism and feminism.

  4. Terrifying...thanks for posting. I will share.

  5. Love your writing Marla! Exactly my thoughts! Violence creates violence. And as vegans we ought to reject all violence. I always think the same how can feminists not see the connection between violence to a woman and violence to an animal.
    Thank you!!

  6. The artificial insemination of "livestock"... They call it "husbandry", as if there's some kind of mutual, "privilege of marriage" contract. And for sure when women are raped many have excused the act as boys "sowing their oats". We females just happened to be the sex with the most available and useful vulnerabilities. Ah... It must be gOd's plan for sure.

    Great post Marla - Thanks for drawing the lines of comparative injustices so succinctly. (As usual!)

  7. I want to share this with many more people, but I'm not sure how, or if they'd even be reading the same things as I did.

    I can picture a non-vegan saying that, while they can appreciate that you'd draw the connections you did, that they don't make the same connections. That their personal experience, even if it has significant overlap with yours, led them to a totally different view, and that they don't see their idea of what feminism is, or what social justice is, changing to include veganism any time soon.

    My non-vegan friends and I both understand that cows are impregnated without their consent. But they don't see it as rape, as a violation of that cow's will. To them, it's just something that happens, and if the cow is treated 'nicely', given good food and good shelter and space to move around, then it's an acceptable tradeoff, or at least an ambiguous one. The idea of a cow that has best friends, favored children, cries for its loved ones, ect... is just too difficult for them to believe, even if they saw it with their own eyes. It's not in them to grant another animal that depth of emotion.

    Most people don't see other animals as having complex emotions or inner lives. If I'm vegan, they see it as an example of /my/ rich inner life, not basic respect for others. And for the same reason, most analogies between humans' and other animals' feelings fall flat on them.

    To be clear, I don't subscribe to these views. I'm just trying to think through why so many sensitive, intelligent, well-informed people haven't made the same kinds of connections.

  8. Bea, thank you. I always appreciate your insights...

  9. Thank you, Anonymous. I just had a discussion with someone along these same lines. If the bottom line is that we do not ascribe the same value and worth to human animals and those that are not human, it is a very difficult to get beyond. Keep talking, though. I know that people who started out giving my thoughts on the topic no credence eventually came around. :)

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  11. Hi Anonymous - Just because a being can't comprehend the complexity of what death is, doesn't mean they're not aware of their lives, or that their lives don't have pinnacle importance to them. They are very much conscious of themselves. So say leading neuroscientists and experts at the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness in Nonhuman Animals: "Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness."

    But one doesn't need to be a scholar to know that our cats and dogs are no different than cows or pigs, and each has their own unique personalities and a desire to live. And if a cow has a drive to mate... It is to do so with another one of her species - Not a rancher's plastic-coated arm! You read a lot into her "willingness" because it's profitable to do so. I assure you, thinking like a cow - This would NOT be her preference.

    The Auroch went extinct due to the domestication and breeding of cattle. That doesn't make your position as a livestock supporter any more valid, only more treacherous. If cows were on the brink of near "extinction" the planet would only heal from the negative impacts of their extreme numbers... Since cows are not "natural" to the eco-system, liberating them from a certain future of unending exploitation would only be a good thing.

    I believe cows, like pigs, dogs, frogs, zebras and man exist for their own purpose.

    Thank you Marla for letting me use your space to speak my mind.

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  13. Hi Marla,
    I loved this article and am linking to it on the blog I write for, While reading I couldn't help but think of the Carl's Jr. ads that are on TV way too often (once is too often) which are highly exploitative of both women and animals. I wanted to see if I could get your insight on those ads and post your response on my blog? Feel free to email me

    Thank you!

  14. Damn interesting. But this hasn't have to be the reason for eating meat. God don't want us to eat animal.


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