By Melissa Campbell
As came to light recently, PETA is opening up a porn site. PETA.xxx (for real) is, according to PETA spokespeople, going to help viewers “question the status quo.” Because of course, nothing says “questioning the status quo” quite like making women’s bodies the objects of mass consumption. How brilliantly radical of you, PETA! Nobody has ever thought to sell women’s bodies in the name of a cause or a product!
Except, oh wait, that happens every day all the time.
Problem is, PETA’s reliance on objectification and misogyny to make their point isn’t really limited to them. There’s so much sexism within many radical vegan movements that frankly it’s a wonder that PETA’s the only one catching flack.
I don’t really care about anyone’s personal eating habits; what you do or don’t put into your body isn’t my concern. What is my concern is being told that I should stop drinking milk because cows and I happen to have “two ears, two eyes, two ovaries” in common. There are lots of great reasons to be a vegan or a vegetarian, but I have a hard time swallowing (no pun intended) a theory of animal rights that’s built on the comparison of human women and female animals, especially one that reduces womanhood to the possession of various reproductive organs.
This is not an uncommon trope; this otherwise excellent piece from a group of abolitionist vegan feminists argues that “animals exploited specifically for their milk and eggs are, it should be obvious, females being exploited for their reproductive cycles,” and I have seen more times that I can count this image claiming racism, sexism, and specieism as equal oppressions.
Are women’s rights and animal rights connected? Yes, almost certainly, in the way that sexism and racism are connected and the way that patriarchal notions of ownership inform almost everything we do. But just as sexism and racism are different, animal rights and women’s rights are not the same. To suggest that they are isn’t just offensive, it’s playing into a system that constantly benefits from the vision of girls and women as subhuman.
Millions of women every day are victims of sexual slavery; women of color in particular have a still-continuing history of being regarded as exotic, animal-like creatures not quite human; and media of all stripes (including PETA) continuously view women as commodities to be bought, sold, and enjoyed. Women worldwide are victims of rape, trafficking, domestic abuse, slave labor, and other atrocities daily. These things happen specifically because women and girls are viewed as less than human, and comparing these heinous crimes to consumption of meat is no different than PETA caging naked pregnant women on Mother’s Day or comparing animal slaughter to the Holocaust—overwrought, offensive, and reproducing oppressions that they claim to be fighting against.
If your argument for veganism is that non-human animals deserve human rights, which is a difficult but worthy argument to make in a meat-heavy culture, then make that argument. I want to hear it. What I don’t want to hear is you half-assing it by telling me that my ovaries, my breasts, or my reproductive abilities should make me feel an identity with animals—women get more than enough of that already.