Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cork Vegans, Misogyny in Ireland

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains rape meme and dismissive comments about violence against women.

I have been in Cork, Ireland for the winter, and, since my arrival, I have been absorbing the state of speciesism outside the U.S. and have been checking out the vegan scene as well. Unfortunately, I can't say I'm all that impressed in either regard. The vegan food is awesome, but post-speciesist ideology is probably more intense here in an economically-struggling, romanticized Ireland, and the vegan movement appears to be extremely misogynistic. Specifically, violence against women is taken for granted as acceptable and standard advocacy. Vegan Information Project in Dublin utilized this tactic not long ago, and, subsequently, on my birthday trip to Dublin, we did not feel comfortable making a detour to check out their stall. Here in Cork, the situation is much more dire. Sexist tactics are not only rampant, but the local vegans cling to them unapologetically. My partner and I are both vegan and we have intentionally stayed clear of our local group, Cork Vegans, because of their outright hostility to women and their unapologetic stance on violence against women.

On World Vegan Day, Cork Vegans announced they would use the holiday to promote LUSH by leafleting outside the Cork store, encouraging people to buy their products (sort of like Avon representatives, they would receive a portion of the proceeds). But, LUSH is a non-vegan company that routinely (and intentionally) uses images of violence against women to shame or scare them into buying their expensive soaps and bath bombs. When I raised some concerns with the group's decision to squander a day of peace and non-violence on a non-vegan company that causes violence to both women and other animals, the group administrator responded that it was "women's choice" to participate in sexist demonstrations and that LUSH is worth supporting because they are "kind and generous" (to whom exactly?) and "their products are not animal tested." On World Vegan Day, the last thing I want to do is promote a non-vegan company that hurts women, so we stayed in and I began compiling my social psychology series on vegan outreach. Unfortunately, these essays are probably not of much help to vegan groups that focus their energy on capitalist consumption.

This morning, Cork Vegans posted a crude Vegan Sidekick rape meme that uses violence against women as a metaphor for violence against other animals. Vegan Sidekick is notorious for exploiting the imagery and language of violence against women to discuss Nonhuman Animal rights, completely disregarding the fact that we live in a rape culture and violence against women is a real and lived experience for half the human population. Perhaps this is intentional. Activists and organizations realize that women are considered subhuman--there is no concern in upsetting or triggering them, because women's feelings and experiences simply don't matter under the patriarchy. When the movement endangers women and dismisses women's concerns, but then uses women's experiences to promote their cause, this is known as tokenizing. For more information on the problematic nature of trans-species analogies that tokenize and exploit, what Kim Socha calls "fast food activism," please read my earlier essays, "Rape as an Anti-Speciesism Tactic and the Vegan Male Discourse" and "The Misogyny of Animal Rape Imagery."

Cork Vegans: "I'm not going to apologise for sharing this. If you don't like the posts on this page just 'unlike' the page or remove it from your newsfeed."
Cork Vegans' response?
I'm not going to apologise for sharing this. If you don't like the posts on this page just 'unlike' the page or remove it from your newsfeed.
Let me be clear, when women are told, "If you don't like it, keep it to yourself/don't look/go elsewhere/unlike," the message is clear: your victimization does not matter. When activists say, "I'm not going to apologise" for hurting vulnerable people (rape victims in this case), what they are also saying is: we intend to protect our oppressive structures and don't care who it hurts. Telling survivors to "unlike" violent material in their own community is dismissive. It is also complacent and oppressive.  

It's also a form of victim-blaming. It is though it is women's fault for being exposed to the movement's misogyny. It's women's fault for participating in the movement. It's women's fault for existing. What an unwelcoming position to take. Society already maintains intensely powerful systems of victim-blaming that successfully silence most rape victims. Silencing survivors in our movement as well is nothing short of repulsive. Why would anyone want to join a movement that behaves in such a way to vulnerable people? 

Promoting and abetting violence against women "for the animals" is grossly unethical, dangerous, and it absolutely does not work. If misogyny as a tactic doesn't work, then why engage it? I believe it is because this is behavior that works in tangent with patriarchy. People hate and hurt women because that is what they've been socialized to do; this goes for men and women. Even activists in the service of peace will prey on the vulnerable, because it is a script that we are all taught from infancy. 

Cork Vegan's actions have been extremely triggering for me. As a result, I want nothing to do with the group. I would never feel comfortable being around them, much less supporting them. My experiences with Cork Vegans and other sexist groups in the movement have got me thinking: if I can barely put up with it, how could (and why would) anyone else put up with it? Because my career involves studying and researching in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I cannot disengage, but I can only imagine how many thousands of people the movement turns away with its callous, violent behavior. 

The dismissal of human suffering is a political problem for our movement. It aggravates oppression, and paradoxically so since we claim our goal is to end oppression. It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't work. When groups like Cork Vegan engage this violence and then respond to criticism with "don't look" or "go somewhere else," that is exactly what most people will do.

Update 12/4/2014:  Cork Vegans responded several times to inform me that my colleagues and I are "a bunch of IDIOTS," "CRACKPOTS, and "off our heads." This response indicates that they are unable or unwilling to reflect on the misogyny they facilitate, are intent on aggravating misogyny with more hostility and victim-blaming, and that they are also extremely disableist. I would advise women and other vulnerable groups be wary of this organization and others like it, they can be quite volatile.