Checked your human privilege lately?
Amy Clare // 29 March 2010
My name is Amy Clare, and I am a vegan feminist. (Or should that be veg*n fem*nist?) For my last post as one of this month’s guest bloggers, I’d like to talk about speciesism and human privilege.
For those unfamiliar with the term, speciesism means discrimination against another being on the grounds of species; simply, the oppression of non-humans by humans. The moral arguments for the granting of rights to animals are somewhat beyond the scope of this post, however they are summarised here and here. Simply put – if you accept that non-human animals can suffer, then the only conclusion to be drawn from observing our world is that their suffering is largely seen to be unimportant on the grounds that they are not human; hence, they are victims of speciesism.
As feminists, we can see very plainly how oppression works when it relates to gender, but as human beings it is much more difficult to accept oppression as it relates to species. This is because our human privilege blinds us just as male privilege blinds many men.
Some have likened becoming a feminist to taking one of the pills in The Matrix – suddenly, you can see the world as it really is. You become aware of every instance of oppression, and when others then dismiss this oppression, it is unbelievably infuriating. I feel the same whenever the topic of animal rights comes up in conversation, and omnivores shrug their shoulders at me and declare that they enjoy meat, so why should they stop eating it? For me, this is the same as hearing a man say that he enjoys rape porn, so why should he stop watching it?
Human beings are very adept at ignoring their privilege. We have created a world where the use of other species as means to our ends is seen as normal, natural and desirable. Anyone sticking up for the rights of non-human species is quickly dismissed as a bit ‘weird’, a killjoy, or just ‘oversensitive’ – sound familiar? Many human beings, when confronted about their privilege, react angrily – again, ring any bells?
The sheer scale of our human privilege is in fact staggering. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the food industry. As it is possible for the vast majority of people, at least in rich countries like the UK, to eat a healthy and delicious plant-based diet, the consumption of animal products is primarily about desire. Non-humans’ lives are seen as so worthless that they are exploited and slaughtered in their billions for the fulfilment of this desire. When we saunter down to Tesco of an evening, we can pick from a huge variety of different packages of their flesh or secretions, all laid out for us in vast fridges and freezers, some of which lingers in our mouths for micro-seconds, and much of which ends up in the bin, either the supermarket’s or the customer’s. Thus is the worth of a non-human animal: to be hurt and killed just so that a sufficiently large choice of dinner could be offered to a human. What is that, if not human privilege?
Where sexism and speciesism intersect, the result is a grim life for many female animals. Women may feel as though they are treated like baby-making machines; billions of female non-humans literally are. The reproductive organs of cows, hens, sows and ewes are seen as nothing more than factories providing products for human beings’ consumption, whether that’s milk, eggs, or baby animals for the meat trade. They are restrained, artificially inseminated without their consent and made to endure forced pregnancy after forced pregnancy, eventually being killed as their ‘productivity’ wanes – if this happened to a woman or girl we would call it torture, rape and murder, and we would be utterly horrified by it. Why is it different for another species?
Women being used and abused for the pleasure and convenience of the patriarchy is something we fight against every day. We can recognise our own oppression, organise and speak for ourselves; without our work, male privilege would go unchallenged and unchanged. Non-humans, however, can’t speak the language of the beings in charge; they can’t organise protests or lobby parliament. It is therefore up to human beings to recognise our privilege and realise that the dominant position we enjoy over other species causes unimaginable suffering. This is why I now take pains to ensure that my life is as cruelty-free as possible, and why as long as I am a feminist, I will also be a vegan.
*Animal Rights & Anti-oppression, a vegan feminist blog;
*A blog post from L.O.V.E. about veganism and transphobia;
Picture by me!