Trigger warning: This article contains themes that may distress some readers, including references to physical violence, sexual abuse and artificial insemination. Reader discretion is advised.
Many people fail to see, or refuse to acknowledge, the connection between two social movements: feminism and veganism. The two, however, are both so fundamentally linked that ignorance can only be excused for so long.
This article will serve as a very brief overview exploring one link (dairy) between two very broad schools of thought.
So how are they connected? How is a vegan lifestyle, in which no animal products are consumed or used, connected to feminism? Of course, it is vital to point out at the outset that “feminism” as a broad movement is divided into many and varying theoretical interpretations and movements encompassing people from differing religious, ethnic, cultural and geographical backgrounds. For the purpose of this article, we will understand feminism as “simply” the movement of equality for the sexes.
In 1986, Marie Shear wrote in her review of A Feminist Dictionary: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Veganism, then, is the radical notion that all animals are people too, albeit non-human. Thus, the first parallel appears.
Just as feminists hold women and men as equals and reject discrimination and oppression based on sex (or gender identification), a vegan rejects the discrimination and oppression of animals, by refusing to participate in speciesist behaviour. A vegan does not pet a cat or dog and eat a chicken with the other hand.
A vegan feminist realises that the exploitation of animals is wrong for several reasons:
1) Needlessly exploiting a sentient, innocent being is never justified
2) Animal products and animal agriculture have been proven to be harmful for the body, the environment, and of course the animals, thus inflicting avoidable harm on all living beings.
3) The abuse of female reproductive power is not something that only occurs in humans.
This third point is most pressing within the context of feminism. Just as human females experience discrimination and the loss of basic rights based on their reproductive roles (for example, when laws make abortion illegal), non-human animals are routinely discriminated against, objectified, abused and exploited for their ability to bear life. Not only is this abuse and exploitation rife within animal agriculture, it is essential to it.
In order for a female mammal to lactate, she must become pregnant. In the dairy industry, artificial insemination (AI) is common. According to the United Nations’ Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture (a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Association), AI is favourable for five reasons:
1) Increased efficiency of bull semen usage
2) Increased potential for genetic selection
3) Decreased costs
4) Increased safety for animals and farmers
5) Reduced disease transmission
The recto-vaginal technique is the most commonly used method to artificially inseminate cattle. This method involves a human massaging the cow’s rectum with a gloved, lubricated hand, then placing their left hand into the cow’s rectum in order to manipulate the reproductive tract. The right hand forms a fist and presses down on the cow’s vulva, spreading the vulva lips allowing clear access to insert the tip of the insemination gun until it touches the vaginal walls. At this stage, with the gun 6 to 8 inches inside the cow’s vagina, an angular motion is used to locate the cervix. The aim is to place the cervix on or over the insemination gun. Further manipulation of the cervix and rectum finally results in the depositing of the semen through the cow’s cervix, just into the uterine body. In this non-consensual, exploitative act, the cow is denied bodily integrity (the right to live with self-determination, and without being physically harmed). In other words, she is raped. The first time will occur shortly after her first birthday, and will continue every 10-12 months. By the time she is four or five, disease and stress will render her body “useless”, so she is sent to slaughter.
Female cows are not the only victims. Bulls and steers (castrated males) are also exploited for their semen and bodies, respectively. Semen collection is a process that requires three people: one to handle the bull, one to collect the semen, and one to handle the steer. Steers are commonly used as a “teaser” and “mount” (in other words, an arousing stand-in for a cow). A teaser is positioned straight in front of the bull for mounting. “False mounts” arouse the bull, who eventually ejaculates into an “artificial vagina”, a lubricated container filled with warm water that uses thermal and mechanical stimulation to stimulate ejaculation. At AI centres, bulls are typically collected two or three times per week, with two or three ejaculates per collection day.
When a cow mother gives birth, just like a human mother, she produces milk for her child. Instead of allowing the child to remain with its mother, the dairy industry steals the baby (if it is male, he becomes veal; if female, she enters the cycle her mother has been enduring) so that her milk can be mechnically sucked from her and consumed by humans.
Just like taking the milk of a human mother for personal use would be wrong (because the mother’s bodily integrity would be stolen from her along with the food of her child), it is wrong to take milk from animals as well – be they cows, goats, camels or any other animal.
To systematically take cows, place them in inescapable harsh environments like factory farms, impregnate them artificially through unspeakable means, rip away their babies, and immediately attach them to machines to steal their milk from them (this will occur two or three times a day as long as the cow lactates) – this is oppression, sexual abuse and exploitation of the highest order. We are hurting them. We are denying them all freedoms. We are inflicting upon them the harshest of treatments that would see perpetrators, if acting upon fellow humans, legally punished.
So why do we allow that which is not only morally abhorrent but also criminal in the human context to continue to occur to millions of cows? Bodily integrity should not only be a human right, but an animal right. Just as the human sexes should be equal, so too should the animal sexes. If one acknowledges all animals are equal, one must grant all animals bodily integrity and boycott all forms of animal exploitation – including the production and consumption of dairy: a product borne of rape, pain and torture.
“Hooked up to milk machines” by farmsanctuary1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Peaceful Prairie – Don’t Kill My Baby (front)” by smiteme is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“140604-N-IL267-074” by us7thfleet is licensed under CC BY 2.0