Many times I have caught myself justifying my ethics to someone else, as in to justify that, despite doing what I consider the right thing, I am still “one of the cool kids”.
Let me illustrate.
Being a feminist should no longer be considered swimming against the current. Right? Well… Being a “feminist” is still considered by many as being the “naggy” type of woman who hates men and fun. When we look at how feminists have been depicted throughout history (witches, baby-eating women, men-hating women, ugly, lesbians, hysterical) it is all pretty delusional, to say the least. Just have a look at some old examples:
What happens is that a century after women’s right to vote (in the UK and Ireland that is, New Zealand was first, and many other western countries only “allowed it” decades later) sexism is still very much today’s problem. The fact that “we have come a long way” and that “things have improved tremendously in the last century for women” are no excuses to stop progress now: women still face gender equality barriers and prejudice, on top of gender-related violence expressed as sexual harassment, domestic violence and everyday sexism.
I have a confession to make: I did not always call myself “a feminist”. Growing up I was lucky enough to have two amazing role-models as parents, that held a truly egalitarian household and that were tolerant beyond their generation. Me and my siblings were treated as individuals according to our personalities and needs, not making any differences based on gender but rather based on what each of us needed of them – attention, expression of love, advice, encouragement… In this household, and mainly encouraged by my father, I never felt any less than any boy. Obviously, I never felt any more than any boy just for being a girl either: that’s what feminism is about – and what my feminist father always taught us. However, he also gave poignant advice when I decided to study and work on a man-dominated field: I would face many more barriers than my male classmates and colleagues would, and I needed to emotionally and psychologically prepare for it.
I was already in my mid-twenties when I revised my thoughts about feminism. I did think I was beyond it. I thought my parents needed to be feminists, in order to give the next generation (us) the right and privilege to no longer need feminism. But I quickly realised that feminism was, unfortunately, not a struggle of the past but a very current one.
I still got sexually harassed at work. I still got sexually harassed in the streets. I still need to be careful walking at night. I still got followed by a stranger in the street. I did also experience being sexually assaulted by “friends” at parties. I have also been groped in public transport. I have also been interrupted when speaking at a meeting by a man – who did not do the same for a male colleague – who was my junior. I have had to fight off a potential rapist from an acquainted girl that was too drunk to defend herself. I have covered with my hand every one of the drinks I had in clubs and never left them unattended. I could go on, and so could any women in western culture.
(I am avoiding ranting about the struggle of women across the world because the picture gets much darker; after all, we are the “privileged women that should stop complaining already because things are equal now”).
So when I say “yes I am a feminist, but I am not ONE OF THOSE FEMINISTS”, what I am truly saying is that I accept, agree and support the demonisation of women’s rights activists, very much as it was done in the late 18th century and early 19th century, those “extremists” that demanded TOO MUCH and in the wrong way. When I realised what I was doing, I was horrified. And this happens with many other moral stands, as in with ecology.
ON VEGETARIANISM / VEGANISM
Very much as it happened with feminism, I lived in a vegetarian denial for a long time. I had learnt to see vegetarians and vegans as this cult-like social tribe, uncool and preachy, unhealthy and imposing, unnatural and unhappy. In a way, this is how popular culture depicts them in series, “funny” YouTube videos, etc. People that want to show you videos of slaughters to make you stop eating your delicious beef burger or your heartwarming roast lamb.
My process into vegetarianism was practical, economical and ethical, all at once. Coming from a heavy meat and fish-eating background, I always liked food rich in dead animals – that’s how I choose to phrase it today. I thought vegetarian meals were dull and boring, and honestly as a child I never quite enjoyed eating my veggies. I always loved animals and I grew up in a small family farm surrounded by many species – which was the perfect upbringing for a child in my opinion. However my “pet” animals would become dinner very often, and I had to face eating my bunny “Bounce” and my lamb “Snowflake” and many other of my furry/feathery friends. I was privileged to know what animal farming is, where meat comes from, how animals live and die, and how things work in a small, sustainable family farm. I remember my granddad giving me a choice: “you can eat veggies instead”, and child-me choosing to eat that chicken (or duck or bunny or lamb) instead, despite tears running through my face every now and then.
At 20 when I emancipated I quickly realised the cost of quality meat and fish, though. Sustainable farming is not cheap, and industrial meat is extremely so. Living in the US I became quite adverse to supermarket meat, and my poor student status would not allow me to buy good quality meat from the University farm every day. It was then that I decided to eat good meat once a week, and eat veggies (with rice and pasta and all your typical cheap but filling food) the rest of the week. I learnt to cook veggies, and to do it right. This worked out so well that sometimes I would forget to go to the butcher to buy meat. I became what today is called a flexitarian, although I did not know then.
As I got used to my new diet (in which I always ate whatever I felt like, I never felt “deprived” by the lack of meat because I could go and buy it if I wanted to), my sense of coherence improved as an ecologist, as I was aware of the pollution generated by the meat industry in the world. I started to feel physically better too. I had always felt bad about killing animals without an actual need, and I was finally off the burden. My meals with meat and fish became so rare that I would only eat animals when being invited to someone’s house, or at my parents’. This quickly turned into a 3 or 4 times-a-year routine, and at some point the environment surrounding me got used to me not eating meat, and quickly adapted without me asking for it. I found my father trying out vegetarian recipes when I would visit, and my friends saying “nah it’s good for me to eat a vegetarian meal too” when they would invite me over. And after many years I ended up accepting that I was indeed a vegetarian.
Now, being a vegetarian for many people still meant that I was like a religious fundamentalist, that I was judging others at every meal, that I wouldn’t be friends with anyone who wouldn’t do the same, that I could not “fail” in front of others (but might eat meat in private, because come on). It is quite sad, but because that was the view of many I did defend myself using the phrase “but I am not one of those extreme vegetarians, or even worse, a vegan“. This meant “I am still cool, I just very casually decide not to eat animals but you do you, look how cool I am”. And shitting on vegans is a way vegetarians get away with being “different” from the norm. Because AT LEAST they do eat animal products.
“I hate vegetarians”, I heard more than a friend say.
“I hate vegans”, I heard MANY friends say.
So I chose where I wanted to be in that scale. The scale of shame for doing something “good”, at least for you.
One of the claims to justify this aversion towards vegetarians and vegans is that they preach all the time and make people feel bad about their choices. Honestly, looking at the state of the world and the fact that humans have single-handedly killed 60% of the world’s animal population in just 50 years, maybe we SHOULD feel bad. I know I feel bad. Knowing how much meat is produced (using large sums of water and crops) and then gone to waste, while there is starvation in the world, maybe we SHOULD feel bad. Knowing how animals are treated so cruelly that we need to convince ourselves, against all scientific logic, that they do not feel or think in order to be able to sleep, well if you do not feel bad maybe you should doubt your own humanity. We are fucking up the world, and vegetarianism may not be the answer but it is a step in the right direction.
Global flexiterianism could be ideal, in my mind; ensuring that people eat meat and fish when available from sustainable sources and not in exceeding amounts.
But since that’s far from our anthropocentric-hetero-patriarchal society, for now I have at least stopped shitting on vegans in order to assert my coolness. And I have also stopped demonising other feminists in order to look “cool” in front of men.
Real cool men and women do not need to shit on others. They simply live by their values without stepping on other beings with their actions or words.