Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Everyday Vegan Racism & Sexism: "Spay Yo' Bitch"

UPDATE:  Kudos to Vegan Essentials for removing the offending product within two hours of my posting and sharing this article!

A colleague of mine brought this shirt to my attention tonight.  It has been available on Vegan Essentials (an online vegan grocer) for several years.  It's a classic example of covert racism and sexism in Nonhuman Animal rights.

If the problem is not clear, let me deconstruct it quickly:

1.  This shirt is an obvious play on African American Vernacular English, using their culture to make a "funny" shirt for mostly white patrons.  It is white appropriation of cultures of color; it is making a joke of cultures of color.

2.  It is a reference to ownership over the human female body.  Women are property to be controlled and managed.  This draws on a history of patriarchal ownership of women and male control and entitlement to women's bodies, behaviors, and reproduction. There is also a long history of forced sterilization among poor women, women of color, and women in colonized areas.

3.  It speaks to Nonhuman Animal ownership and is derogatory towards them in using terminology that is generally applied to women as an insult.  Yes, I know that "bitch" is literally a female dog, but this shirt is intending to draw on the misogynistic definition.

4.  I think this would fall under Carol Adams's sexual politics of meat, even though it is a vegan-positive message.  Women are being animalized, animals are being feminized, and this is done for the male gaze.  This a metaphor that makes sense in a patriarchy; it is a joke that is funny under a male supremacy.  This image only works in a culture that degrades Nonhuman Animals and women and thinks nothing of it.

Terrible shirt, but even more terrible comments.  Three commenters noted that the shirt was racist and misogynistic, but many others wrote in its defense.  I especially like Johnnie's very helpful comment that let's us know that feminism makes him laugh until he cries.  I have put some comments in bold for emphasis.
From Ashley of Fraser, Michigan on 12/14/2012.
I like the shirt. The message is NOT to have dogs spayed/neutered. I would think that the sarcasm is obvious when you read, "Zero population saves lives." Am i the only one who understands this? Think about it if you must... 
From Anonymous of Hillsboro, Ohio on 7/16/2011.
I am a female and I find this funny! It is a great way of getting a very important message out. For those offended, a bitch is a female dog, look it up in the dictionary. This should only offend you if you feel it somehow applies to you. I am offended by the 2 to 4 million healthy pets killed in the US each and every year due to overpopulation. I am not offended by any means of stopping the insanity of killing as population control. 
From Anonymous of Morgantown, West Virginia on 7/14/2011.
Wow, to all the people giving this horrible reviews, you are the kind of people who give both vegans and feminists a bad name -- dogmatic, rigid, humorless people who love being offended. This is clearly a joke that is intended to be a conversation starter and get people thinking, which is a good thing! It's taking an offensive stereotype and turning it into a positive message. Get over yourselves. (And btw, I am a woman and a feminist.) 
From Johnnie of Litchfield Park, Arizona on 4/15/2010.
[ . . . ] As for the feminism reviews...are you kidding me?! I laughed so hard I cried. That is so irrelevant and silly. Don't remove this shirt. It's fab!
Notice the white normativity in these comments:  Why should this offend you?  It doesn't offend me.  You must not understand it.  It would only offend you if it applied to you.   If you are offended, you need to get over it, you must hate animals!  There is a complete inability to recognize that the experiences of others may vary from the experiences of the privileged folk who dominate activist spaces.

"Btw" "Anonymous" from West Virginia, nothing about your comment is feminist.