The 5th Vegan Conference in Israel, organized by the NGO Vegan Friendly, opens this year on the same day that the world celebrates International Women’s Day. The overlapping of these two events is a good opportunity to discuss the powerful connection between the feminist struggle and the fight for animal rights, in Israel and elsewhere.
“Common practices can certailnly be seen between the oppression of animals and patriarchal oppression,” says Shira Hertzano, legal adviser and spokeswoman for the group Anonymous for Animal Rights. “For example, objectification, seeing the other not as a creature with desires and liberties, but as a tool, an object. The woman is measured by the value the man gets out of her, the animal is measured according to the value humans get out of it.”
Moreover, Hertzano says the meat industry constantly makes use of sexism. "Animals are often depicted in ads with female characteristics, like lipstick and curled eyelashes,” she notes. “Advertisers want to blur the boundaries of the consumer’s desire and create a complete mixture of one carnal desire and another. A feminist can see this as degradation of women. An animal-rights activist will see this as violence toward animals. I and many like me see it as exploitation and objectification of both.”
According to Hertzano, the market for diet products is also an excellent example of this. “In many cases, milk products are produced by imprisoning cows, placing them in cycles of forced pregnancy, abducting the calves and intensive milking, and the products are marketed to us by insulting our body image and sometimes even idealizing eating disorders,” she said.
Another example is the meat industry, which “dismembers the animal in the most physical sense – tongue, thigh, breast.” Patriarchy also dismembers women, she says, “sometimes metaphorically, for example, men’s magazines that put together ‘the perfect woman’ from body parts of different models and actresses, or ads that show women’s body parts and not whole women.”
Hertzano also finds the link between the two forms of oppression in what she calls control over reproduction. “Women throughout the world are still fighting for access to pregnancy termination. In the case of animals, control over their reproductive systems is an essential part of the meat industry – the whole process of reproduction is forced and not natural, and exploitation of the potential for motherhood is the basis for the milk and egg industry,” she said.
Do you find a similarity between the types of struggle, the #metoo campaign and the fight for animal rights?
“The unique aspect of the #metoo movement is the personal way in which each woman can attest to the sexual violence she experienced. This is the essential difference between the feminist struggle and the fight for animal rights – as women, we fight for ourselves. But in our struggle for animal rights, our testimony to the violence they experience will always be second-hand, testimony as observers."
“But it’s clear that parallels can be found, first of all in exposing the injustice, on the one hand the sexual violence we have experienced, and on the other, the violence animals have experienced. For example, investigations by Anonymous show that abattoir workers beat calves or throw chickens with their throats cut to die slowly. There is also a parallel in the day-to-day nature of the two types of violence: It’s not an extraordinary phenomenon but rather part of our existence.”
What came first for you – feminism or recognition of animal rights?
“My radical feminist approach developed out of my veganism and recognition of animal rights. The ability to look critically at a thing that people take for granted, like eating animals, the ability to see an ad and realize what they are trying to sell me and who gets hurt by it. I realized that I can release myself from limitations of thinking and chose not to eat animals and choose not to submit to patriarchal brainwashing. Of course, it’s an ongoing process, it’s hard to let go completely of patriarchal thought patterns, when patriarchal thinking has been taught to us from age zero. And then we can invoke another important feminist value that is of course relevant to both struggles – compassion. Toward ourselves as well, because compassion is a nonperishable resource.”
Does this connection between the two types of oppression explain the centrality of women in organizations for animal rights?
“There is a strong and leading presence of women in the animal rights movement in Israel and the world. Women come from different emotional places: some out of identification as a group that has suffered from oppression, some are motivated by a motherly place of concern for the helpless, for the weak. Animals in many ways are like children in their need for protection. As women we know how to show strength and power that don’t come at the expense of compassion, inclusion and tenderness. These are important qualities in the fight for animal rights.”
What is your greatest achievement as a feminist and activist with Anonymous?
“I don’t know if it’s my greatest achievement, but an action that is very identified with me is one I initiated about two and a half years ago, and the film that documented it became the most viral one Anonymous has. It was translated into English, Spanish and Portuguese and was seen in many countries. In this activity we proposed that people in the street taste a new product – “Mama’s Milk,” which we presented as human milk from surrogates from Nepal. This action challenged the way people think about cow’s milk; after all, a cow is a mother too.”