Rape Culture in Veganism

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Rape Culture in Veganism

I can clearly remember the first time I heard the word rape.  I was standing outside near my mother and father in our suburban backyard having a barbeque.  My father was talking about the news he had heard earlier in the day.  That’s when I heard him mention that a rape had occurred.  I vividly remember feeling immediately uncomfortable even though I had no idea what rape meant.  When I asked both my parents about it- shocked I had overheard, they told me it was an adult conversation and that I should go play.  I was 10.

I would find out later what it meant and, at age 18, I would find out what it was like to be violated in that manner.

Everyday billions of female non-humans are exploited for their reproductive capabilities.  They are enslaved, manipulated, tortured, and eventually slaughtered for human profit.  They are, in fact, victimized.  Not only is this a vegan issue it is, on a larger scale, a feminist issue.  Some feminists say that there is a interconnectedness between the exploitation of non-human females and rape culture in humans.

Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  It is the manipulation of emotions and abuse of power used to maintain dominance over others.  From Transforming a Rape Culture:

A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.

The term rape is frequently used by activists to describe the process of artificially inseminating animals- most commonly, cows.  This dairy is rape analogy makes me cringe every time I read it.  That’s the point.  It is used to paint a violent and horrifying picture of violation- one so gut-wrenching that it alters the way someone thinks about consuming dairy.

But let me ask, is using the dairy-rape analogy dismissive of what rape really is and does it actually promote rape culture?  Using rape analogies to further the vegan agenda uses the suffering of rape victims

[survivors] to manipulate the emotions of non-vegans for a desired outcome [to become vegan].  It’s using the violent suffering of humans as an anecdote to bring about emotional distress in the name of furthering compassion.

Listen, I am passionate about educating people about the hidden truths in animal agribusiness.  I believe that most people would reject animal products if they truly knew how they were manufactured.  But is using the suffering of others the best way to go about it?

Some might say yes.  I’m not so sure.

Further complicating the matter, the dairy industry uses restraint-type devices to impregnate cows, which is commonly referred to as “rape racks.” Make no mistake, these devices are barbaric.  No animal- human or otherwise, should be forced to conceive a child and my research on these devices left me feeling more than a little sick to my stomach.  But using a device, no matter how heinous, to impregnate a cow is very different to the rape of a human.

There are activists that disagree:

Why do I have to use the term rape rack? It describes reality.  Rape rack is a term that makes no apologies. Rape rack is graphic, horrifying, and violent. Rape rack calls to mind the life mutilating experience of being raped. All of these definitions are true and I will always use the word rape rack because I want to imply these meanings and others of similar gut wrenching quality.

As Carol J. Adams’ wrote in The Sexual Politics of Meat, we must not use words that mask the reality of how non-human animals are treated. We must liberate our language. Saying a cow is artificially inseminated provides no anecdote or explanation of exactly what happened; artificial insemination could be anything from a little needle to a human hand inserted into the vagina. A rape rack implies that an object was used, the device was violently inserted into the vagina, and that the animal was violated.

This is not co-opting a term that only applies to humans. Rape happened. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes people squirm in their seats or call you a hysteric. It should make us squirm; it’s absolutely disgusting that anyone would impregnate any animal against their will and the rape rack specifically violates right of personhood and autonomy. That is rape.

But it’s not rape.  Human rape is not about sex, it is about dominance.  And while the case could be made that artificially inseminating a cow qualifies as human dominance over animals, more accurately it is about financial gain.  The human isn’t interested in dominating a cow for the sake of dominating a cow- they are solely interested in the profit from creating more cows.  Human rape isn’t about creating pregnancy- which is what artificial insemination does and is intended to do.**

Let me be clear: I am not saying that cows and other animals are not being exploited by humans.  They are the faceless victims of egregious and heinous crimes on a mind-blowing scale.  I’m not even questioning whether we, as advocates for animals, should be using the term rape rack.  The mere fact that the industry calls an impregnation device rape rack is, in and of itself, rape culture.

What I am questioning, specifically, is the use of the term rape and whether or not it should be used when discussing the process of impregnating non-humans.

Ultimately the decision is each of ours to make.  Do we use suffering of humans to evoke feelings of despair to prevent the suffering of non-humans?  Perhaps it’s my own violent past that curbs me from doing so, I don’t know.  What I do know is that if I am promoting compassion towards all, then I must extend that to compassion to rape survivors and not use their stories as mere brutal anecdotes to change the hearts and minds of many.

To me, to do otherwise seems antithetical to my compassionate position.

As I’ve spent countless hours researching this topic, I know there are many sides to this issue.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of how feminism and veganism relate, it’s a huge topic.  I want to start the conversation, one that I hope you will chime in on.  I don’t have all the answers, or even most of them.  What I have is an uneasy feeling.  Am I the only one?  Let me know your thoughts.

For more reading on rape culture read: Shakersville: Rape Culture 101 and The Master’s Tool Will Never Dismantle the Rape Rack: Feminism & Animal Rights

** Update 3/21:  To clarify: I am not claiming that the suffering of a human is more or less that of a cow.  Nor am I disputing that these animals are violated.  I find the definition of rape to be an important factor when discussing rape culture. While motive is unimportant in the act of rape, it becomes important when we use the term rape as an analogy to evoke emotion.  I am specifically questioning whether using the suffering of humans to promote compassion towards non-humans is the best way to advocate our position.  Or is there a better way to do it?  I find using the terror a rape victim [survivor] feels as a mere anecdote to promote compassion antithetical to my position that we should be compassionate.  My question is, do you? **

March 21st, 2013|Op-Ed|

About the Author:

Founder & Creator of Your Daily Vegan. Twitter: @YourDailyVegan

19 Comments

  1. Anon May 15, 2017 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    I am too a rape survivor. And a long term vegan. But u don’t hold the monopoly over the word rape. To mess with a females body and violate a female and force ably impregnate her is rape. I never thought of comparing the suffering of animals to rape. But its true. They are violated, they are degraded. In the same way human rape victims are. You don’t own the term rape. It applies to these poor suffering animals too. And people are scared to use the term rape as it is a shocking term to hear. Or maybe they don’t want to hear their food is the product of rape. But it is. I do really empathise with your suffering and am sorry it offends u so much to use the term rape. But u really need to get over yourself. Animals are raped and violated too. It may look different to your idea of being raped or violated. But it still is. I am glad I read your article as I never thought to use the term rape to talk about animal suffering but I will be in future.

  2. Robb April 14, 2017 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    “But to me, this is different than rape. Human on human rape contains a sexual element to it that artificial insemination does not. We cannot and should not ignore this component. It is an important aspect of human on human rape”

    Does this mean that penetrating a woman with a stick of sperm non-consensually is not an act of “rape” either? If not, why do you make a species distinction here and how is this not speciesist?

  3. […] PETA has frequently been accused of (negatively) tapping into this intersection in their campaigns, as well as Lush. If you’d like a good solid feminism 101, try giving bell hooks a read. For some critical discussion about whether it’s actually ok to describe dairy as ‘rape’ please see this link. […]

  4. […] PETA has frequently been accused of (negatively) tapping into this intersection in their campaigns, as well as Lush. If you’d like a good solid feminism 101, try giving bell hooks a read. For some critical discussion about whether it’s actually ok to describe dairy as ‘rape’ please see this link. […]

  5. […] —– The links between veganism and feminism have long been discussed. The bible here is Carol J Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat. Adams argues that the frameworks of oppression within our society that seek to dominate women intersect with those that dominate and use animals. To tackle one is to tackle the other, and indeed to tackle other forms of oppression too. PETA has frequently been accused of (negatively) tapping into this intersection in their campaigns, as well as Lush. If you’d like a good solid feminism 101, try giving bell hooks a read. For some critical discussion about whether it’s actually ok to describe dairy as ‘rape’ please see this link. […]

  6. Robert Roose April 7, 2015 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    This is my take on the issue: http://www.carobcherub.com/vegans-meat-eaters-rapists/

    I can understand people’s hesitation to use the word “rape.” It has a lot of emotional baggage.

  7. […] and my sisters of other species, is obvious. I could go on and on, about forced prostitution, rape, about the right to choose, about genital manipulation, about dairy factory farming, about male baby chicks thrown in the trash, about piglets and their insane mommas who can not lift […]

  8. Lila October 11, 2013 at 10:14 am - Reply

    You need to read Eternal Treblinka, then you may feel differently. Then you will understand where other vegans are coming from.

    I am a rape survivor also, and have no problem with comparing human rape to cow rape. It’s not a competition of who has it worse. Humans do not have the monopoly on suffering. In fact, I consider what a dairy cow goes through much worse than what happened to me, I was able to talk about it for one thing. And rape isn’t always about power! So sick of this stupid meme. Inserting anything into a living being without consent is rape. There was a case in the UK recently where a woman forcibly impregnated her 14 year old daughter, that is rape. There was nothing sexual about it, but she violated her daughters body so that she could carry the baby that the mother could not conceive herself. It was not a ‘violent sexual act’ but it’s still rape.

    A guy forces himself onto a drunk woman (this is what happened to me) because he doesn’t care about her feelings, that is rape. The idea that rape is about power alienates those of us who weren’t raped for that reason. ‘Rape is power’ promotes rape culture because those of us who didn’t experience it that way don’t understand what happened to us.

    This explains it perfectly
    http://glpiggy.net/2010/03/19/why-does-rape-have-to-be-about-power/

    I totally agree with what Eduardo says. Rape can be for financial gain too. And not only are the cows raped, they have their babies taken away from them, repeatedly, and their milk is used for profit. That’s just mind-blowingly barbaric. How many humans will go through that?

    I don’t use ‘rape’ to evoke human emotion, I use it because I believe that is what happens. And if you believe it degrades your own experience, then you are angry at the wrong people. I think the way you say that some vegan use ‘the terror a rape victim feels’ to further their cause is a horrible accusation.

    And many who use that term are also rape survivors and that is part of the reason they care so much about it.

  9. Steve August 9, 2013 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    I don’t use the term ‘rape’ in the context of the dairy industry to shock people and make them change their minds (in fact, hearing the word gives many people a good cue to stop listening). I use the term because it accurately describes what artificial insemination of non-consenting beings is. Referring to it as ‘artificial insemination’ is really, when you look at it, the equivalent of using the term ‘enhanced interrogation’ to describe torture.

    I disagree with your statement about the causes of rape, and about the idea of rape culture in general, but I have to emphasize that I very much appreciate the tone of this post, and the question it raises is certainly an important one.

    • KD Traegner August 24, 2013 at 8:14 am - Reply

      Hi Steve, I appreciate the thoughtful comment and your contribution to the conversation.

  10. Eduardo Pazos May 10, 2013 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Hello KD. Thank you for a very interesting blog entry. I understand the idea that it can be counterproductive, and hurtful to survivors, to invoke rape and the holocaust when describing the exploitation of non-human animals, especially when they do not see non-human animals as having rights or any kind of personhood, they will inevitably see the comparison as degrading, as a survivor might feel they are being degraded to a sub-human status.

    However, there are a few things I find disturbing in your blog. The first is that you seem to be saying that if the motivation behind an act of non-consensual sexual violence is NOT power and dominance, then it is not rape. I know that the motivation for most human-on-human non-consensual sexual violence is power, domination, humiliation, etc, but that doesn’t mean that if the motivation is financial, or anything else, it is not rape.

    Secondly, I disagree with your description of the use of rape imagery in vegan messaging as being a part of rape culture. By that logic, discussing rape in any context is part of rape culture. Talking about rape culture is perpetuating rape culture. Rape culture is the normalization and (often tacit or implicit) endorsement of sexual violence, and the revictimization of survivors by placing the blame of their shoulders. The dairy industry IS part of rape culture. Accurately describing the dairy industry’s methods of objectification and commodification of sentient beings capable of subjectively experiencing pain and suffering, IS NOT rape culture.

    If I have misunderstood you, I’m sorry, but this was the impression I got from your words.

    • KD Traegner May 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm - Reply

      Hi Eduardo, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’d like to respond. First, please understand that I am speaking from a survivors point of view. I am vegan and do not see myself any more or less than that of a non-human- each of us are individuals who matter. Comparing my situation to that of a dairy cow doesn’t make me feel degraded as if I am sub-human.

      I agree with you that regardless of motivation, human-on-human non-consensual sexual violence is rape- please do not misunderstand me. But we’re not really talking about motivation for human-on-human rape- or we are, but only insofar as to decide whether or not it can apply to artificially inseminating a dairy cow. I mentioned this in the comments as well, however, I find the motivation for rape important in this context as I find the two very different for very different reasons.

      I disagree that the dairy industry is part of rape culture, though I do see the feminist connection to the objectification and commodification of females for their reproductive systems. But to me, this is different than rape. Human on human rape contains a sexual element to it that artificial insemination does not. We cannot and should not ignore this component. It is an important aspect of human on human rape- a demoralizing, humiliating, painful (among other things) aspect that is very important to the people to whom it’s happened. To do so dismisses the feelings of the survivors have of having to endure a violation of their sexual being. This is not to say that a dairy cow isn’t violated, isn’t abused- I’m not saying that humans are better than non-humans- but there isn’t the same sexual component as there is with human on human rape. And I think that part is important.

      As a survivor, I don’t agree that we have to use the violence that happens to rape victims as mere brutal anecdotes to change the hearts and minds of many. Rape is a violent sexual act. I don’t agree that it’s necessary to use violence to teach compassion. I do agree, however, that we need to talk about the truths about what happens in animal agribusiness. I believe we can do that with empathy for rape survivors as well as the animals.

      Of course, I don’t have all the answers- this is the reason I wrote the post in the first place. Thank you for taking the time to weigh in, I appreciate the discussion.

  11. Mark March 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Very interesting and thoughtful discussion.

    Perhaps the distinction is also related to the experience of the victim, i.e., the human victim’s emotional reaction may be of a different kind from that of the nonhuman animal in this case. In contrast, there may be a closer similarity between, for example, the experience of a human having her baby taken away, and the experience of a nonhuman animal under the same circumstances.

    It also makes sense that, as you mention, there is a distinction between the motives. However, with regard to the motive for human rape, I do want to note that, although the notion that it’s about dominance rather than sex is very prevalent, there are many reasons to believe that it is very often motivated by sex. Date rape, for example. There’s a good discussion of this in The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, excerpted in this blog post: http://robertwiblin.com/2010/05/25/steven-pinker-on-the-motivations-for-violence/

  12. mary March 22, 2013 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    “Rape rack” is a term that comes from inside animal agribusiness, not from vegan advocates, and therefore it is a window into the collective psychology and ideology of animal agribusiness. This should give us a lot to think about. Vegans aren’t just trying to be sensationalist when they refer to rape racks, they are trying to get at an entire psychology/ideology, to ask the question, why do we manipulate bodies the way we do? More specifically, why do we manipulate female bodies and reproductive systems the way we do? There are undoubtedly connections between the ways we treat animals and the ways we treat women and reproduction in general, and to make those connections does not have to mean we are degrading either group. As a survivor I am upset and confused and angry *because* we are so scared of making this connection. I am a vegan because I understand first-hand what rape means. I recommend the essay you linked for a more nuanced, less black and white view on this connection.

    • KD Traegner March 23, 2013 at 8:52 am - Reply

      @Mary, Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your story. I want to reiterate that my post is not about whether we should be using the term rape rack. Aside from the fact that this term is, in and of itself, rape culture- I understand why it’s used and why advocates choose to use it. I clearly addressed that point, as well as the tie between the exploitation of the female reproductive system to feminism.

      But let us remember, rape doesn’t just happen to women- men are victims (survivors) of rape too.

      Rape is more than just a feminist issue. It’s a human issue. As a survivor, I don’t agree that we have to use it as a tool to create emotions in people. Rape is a violent sexual act. I don’t agree that it’s necessary to use violence to teach compassion. I do agree, however, that we need to talk about the truths about what happens in animal agribusiness. I believe we can do that with empathy for rape survivors as well as the animals.

  13. Daria Zeoli March 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    I think this is an important discussion to have and I hope that others will weigh in as well. As someone who has called the oppression of non-human animals slavery and the death of billions of them each year a holocaust, I can see why activists use the word “rape” when describing what happens to female animals during impregnation. My intent has never been to use human suffering to evoke feelings about the the suffering of non-humans, but KD has clearly and eloquently pointed out that words mean things and we should always think about our words when we are advocating. This vegan evolution is an ongoing journey and compassion is always at the heart of it. I am forever thankful for the reminder that compassion must extend behind the non-human animals we speak for every day and for the reminder to stop and truly think about why we say and do what we do and the culture that has been built around us like a wall. We’re still breaking that wall down. It’s important that we don’t discount the very valid feelings of those who have been through these horrific events when trying to make our case.

  14. B aka creativespirits from Twitter March 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    I’m curious as to what activism (a link to an example would be great) that you find offensive to human rape survivors? I don’t think merely calling the physical act of inserting a object into a cows vagina without her consent, rape, is offensive. It is what most humans doing to other humans would consider an act of rape.

    • KD Traegner March 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      @B – Thank you for bringing your comments here from Twitter for further discussion. I’ll reference the link above in the post where the author uses rape rack to “call to mind the life mutilating experience of being raped.” This is using suffering (the life mutilating experience of being raped) as an analogy to promote compassion (pro-vegan message) towards non-humans. I am questioning whether this tactic is appropriate and respectful to rape survivors because it uses their stories, their situations, as a mere anecdote to evoke emotion with little regard to how it makes a survivor feel. If we are to have compassion, if we are to teach it, then shouldn’t we also find a way to talk about this issue while respecting both the non-human and the human?

      I don’t agree that rape is the same as impregnating a cow. The literal definition of rape is a violent sexual act committed by unwilling humans towards each other. There is a figural definition as well, but for the purpose of my post I’m using the literal definition. I am not saying that the cow isn’t violated, exploited, assaulted, and victimized- they absolutely are. What I am saying is that impregnating a cow is not a sexual act, or it is, but only insofar as it produces offspring.

      Does motive for rape matter? No. But the definition of rape matters when discussing using it as an analogy as in the example above. The author was using the brutalization of sexual rape to bring powerful (and horrifying) images to one’s mind to demonstrate how a cow might feel being impregnated by a human.

      I’m not saying I have the right answer on this. Indeed, I’m asking these questions because I don’t. Which brings me to my original question, should we discount the suffering of humans to eliminate the suffering of non-humans? Or is there a better way?

  15. Allyson Dwyer March 21, 2013 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    I think this was really poignant and a well written response to a topic which is often hard to unravel. I used to be one of those vegans which thought rape was the appropriate trade-off word for how cows are treated (similar to calling animal agriculture a holocaust). While, yes, this comparisons can be apt and bring about the appropriate, immediate visionary gut reactionary, it takes little into account how actual, human sufferers/victims feel about those word choices. I notice sometimes really hard-core vegans get defensive about continuing the word choice, but why can’t words just be off limits sometimes? Is it worth it to have a short-cut phrase that, while may work at first, is actually very harmful to real victims? We should be able to protect both animals and humans, especially those who are victims of horrendous pasts. We should be back to talk without having to create an unsafe environment for victims, especially those who are rape victims. Overall, veganism should be mindful and inclusive, and know when to listen, and not just always speak.

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