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? **