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I said earlier this week that I was going to write about intersectional veganism. It’s a touchy subject. It’s drawing a dividing line between vegans, which is not good. But it raises important questions about the dynamics of oppression that deserve frequent discussion.
To simplify it almost to the point of oversimplifying, intersectionality, a fundamental concept in sociology, states that all systems of oppression – for example, sexism, racism, classism, and carnism – are all connected at the source.
They function not independently of each other, but as a kind of codependent axis of evil: to subdue, oppress, torture, rape, and kill one group of sentient beings facilitates whatever psychological dynamics required to be able to, mindlessly and automatically, do the same to other groups of sentient beings. To be inured to the dignity and rights of some is to be inured to the dignity and rights of others.
I hope that makes sense. The bottom line of the critical theory of intersectionality, whether it’s adopted by vegans, feminists, social justice activists, or whomever, is that systems of power and oppression are interconnected. There is no such thing as a legitimate, single-issue cause.
Vegans are at war over it. There are those who believe that veganism is not about animals only, and that the anguish that animals suffer at the hands of humans is part of an axis of oppression that includes all victims of the power system. And by power system, they mean those who have the greatest leverage in society as we know it – white-skinned, financially privileged, middle-and-upper-class men.
Other vegans remain focused on animal safety and well-being (animals-only veganism). They see no intersection between those who, for instance, are in denial about climate change, objectify women’s bodies, fear, hate, and persecute and kill members of other races, and kill and eat animals.
I entered the vegan community for animal suffering reasons. I had already, for many years, been a feminist. My honors and both masters’ theses were based on feminist theory. I had for years been an activist who participated in public protests, consciousness-raising groups, and political campaigns. I had always cared about outcomes, and about reducing suffering.
It strikes me as strange today that in the many years that I was an active feminist, none of my mentors, professors, thesis advisors, or colleagues ever introduced me to the idea of veganism. Because now, I see perfectly clearly how deeply connected all of our social ills are.
I believe it’s a mistake to choose a cause – like civil rights, environmentalism, feminism, or veganism - and then stay in your lane. I’ve seen and studied and concluded that there’s a correlation between all forms of oppression – how they appear on the scene, how they thrive and grow, how they’re defended – and that the mind that sanctions animal agony is the same mind that will also tend to turn the face away from human suffering and exploitation of the Earth.
If I, for instance, can desensitize myself enough to kill (and eat the body of) another sentient being through corporate animal agriculture, then I’ve made it simpler to deaden my mind further in order to participate in other forms of oppression. We are multi-dimensional beings, and creatures of habit.
But I don’t get involved in the current public brawl over who is right and wrong about intersectionality. If a vegan wants to be an animal-only activist, that’s great. Animal-only activists are sorely needed. Because if we could quantify suffering, there’s no doubt that animals have and continue to suffer more than any beings ever have or are. Their anguish at the hands of humans leaves one speechless. No one needs to be redeemed more than animals.
Intersectional vegans (also called social justice vegans) like myself take on the imposing task of trying to fix everything that’s ailing under these connected systems and structures of power. Do I think we’ll ever succeed? Not anytime soon, but maybe, if these systems and structures capsize, a new society will be born, based on compassion instead of profit.
We can get started by transforming our relationships with those we oppress. Some of the most celebrated change-makers and social activists in history were vegan. They understood the connection between animal torture and human rights abuses. They remained focused, but they acknowledged and responded to the bigger picture.
I solemnly believe that veganism is about the animals, and my focus is always on changing the ways we think about their place in the world – not viewing them as a food source, a means of entertainment, financial profit, or as sexual objects. But as a woman who has been working class all her life, I see the parallels between the systems that keep animals, women, and the ‘rank and file’ in their prescribed places in society. There are deep connections there.
Looking back on what I just wrote, some of it reads like an academic paper, and that wasn’t my intention. But intersectionality is a very complex issue. It’s also one that’s, tragically, losing traction under our current political reform.
I’ll always stand first for animals, because their profound suffering - just the sheer numbers of animals who anguish at each moment – completely eclipses, in terms of vastness, the suffering of others. I see no distinction between animals’ experiences of suffering and ours. The magnitude of it is mind bending. And I believe that going vegan is the most powerful personal way to respond.
Live in peace.