Ashley Maier – Violence Against Women and Animal Rights

Full video with closed captioning available here

As my presentation opens up I will thank you again for all of the great contributions to this conference and for putting on a conference that allows a space like this to be here. I think it is something that is definitely needed. I’m going to talk about violence against women and animal rights and making what I call the highly unpopular connection. And, of course, I have to give a big trigger warning: this is about violence against women (VAW). I have done my best not to use pictures that portray a lot of VAW but there are some and, of course, that we will be discussing inherently has to do with violence and could be triggering.

Why am I calling this highly unpopular? That is something that is important to talk about. I’ve been all over, so this is really an applied presentation because I have done applied work. This is from the perspective of someone doing the work in the United States in a number of different states, and I now work for a statewide sexual assault coalition doing national prevention work. And I have to be very clear that I am not in any way speaking on behalf of my organization in which I am employed. I’m speaking on my own behalf here.

What is interesting is we talk so much in the prevention world about going beyond brochures and that is exactly what really made me aware of and make these connections. The “Why Vegan?” brochure from Vegan Outreach turned me into a defiant daughter. So you may be aware, you may not, of this book Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals and the Sexual Politics of Meat, that is really about how Carol J. Adams’ Sexual Politics of Meat really impacted our lives and our work. I talk about this transition and I was doing work against violence and when I became vegan I saw the connections and I faced a lot of resistance. Things maybe a lot of us have heard and been told this is a very elitist position to be able to be a vegan, that it is really unfortunate that there are more shelters for animals than there are for women, and things like that. There really is a lot of resistance.

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Before we get into that, let’s talk about what VAW. What I am talking about talking about when we talk about VAW and the movement? I will keep talking about the movement against VAW. You talk about many behaviors and labels and a big point is that they really go beyond just physical: we tend to think and see a lot of images of physical violence when talking about violence against women. But definitely psychological, emotional – there is a lot. We use a lot of different terms and it is important that we focus on the fact that VAW, which I often refer to as gendered violence to challenge gender binaries we can tend to use – I may be using both terms in this presentation.

When talking about gendered violence or VAW, we also are talking about things like street harassment, we’re talking about state violence against women, and we have to recognize that while women are disproportionately affected by things like intimate partner violence and sexual violence and stalking, there is no one monolithic group of women. Our intersecting identities really impact our experiences with violence. And just so you know that our latest statistics here in the United States that we have are from the Centre for Disease Control from Prevention, the national intimate partner and sexual violence survey.

Most in the movement against VAW agree that oppression is a root cause of gendered violence and VAW and that is where we will see a connection between animal rights and anti-VAW work. I really want us to look at expanding our notion of gendered violence and I have done some work about this. We have already had great presentations by Carol J Adams and Daniel talking about this as well, but many of us who are on right now, we can look at things like cartons of eggs at a grocery store and we can see and know that product is itself gendered. gv

We can also know that it is a product of and really replicates gendered violence. We have female chickens, or hens, who really, if you go back to the very beginning, have been completely manipulated so they have been bred to have these reproductive systems that never were supposed to be producing the way they are. But also they are in these battery cages. They are extremely physically malnourished and they cannot move. They experience all sorts of physical negative consequences that of course, also lead to psychologically negative consequences. This is gendered violence.

For me, something that was really powerful and had me making the connections when I was serving as an advocate for women who experience domestic violence in a hospital-based setting, was when I learned about dairy. m Those of us who are on this web conference we can probably look at this picture of what it is supposed to be a gallon of cow’s milk and we can see that is a gendered product. It is based on manipulation of reproductive systems. So as Carol J Adams says it is a feminized protein. We know that when we look at it even further in how it is produced, and this is something that my colleagues are often shocked to learn about and I often say “how can any industry that uses something called a rape rack to forcibly impregnate the animals that are producing the commodity, how can that not be gendered violence?” With things that are a little bit more obvious, we definitely see gendered violence behind them and inherent in them. pThis is a contraption used to breed dogs and so female dogs are put in this contraption, they are physically confined and then impregnated and on the site where I found this picture it said “Don’t wait till she’s in heat to try to order”. That is gendered violence.

We can look at things like hormones. At least in the United States, something like Premarin is an example of what we can use that’s again predicated on the control of female animal’s reproductive systems: forced impregnation, physical constraint and lack of bodily autonomy to collect – in this case urine – in a very negative and uncomfortable way where mares (female horses) are restricted from having enough water. They’re kept dehydrated so their urine can be even more concentrated to produce this hormone pill.

furThis is a picture of a faux fur coat, so I just want to be clear with that, but even when we look at things like fur, we can see again the whole industry is predicated on reproduction and we can really make connections about. In this case, there is anal and vaginal electrocution to create this product and that is often sold in a very sexualized way, which I’ll talk about in a little bit. There are so many more and I really do want to encourage you to comment – it seems like there are people on this conference who do have a lot of expertise and experience around gendered violence, so I want to be encourage you to use the text chat to add to what I am saying because we can talk about this for weeks and weeks. Please do if you have any comments or additions go ahead and use the text chat to add that in.

What we have tended to do is we’ve made links, but they are pretty limited. So what I have seen, I don’t want to do a false academy here, I both celebrate it and I want us to go further. We have made a connection to things like pet abuse. We have, since I have begun this work way back in the late ’90s, we have started focusing on the fact that people who abuse pets or abuse animals tend to become abusers of people too. We have started doing things like really fighting for legislation and have passed legislation that includes pets – but are usually listed as property in orders of protection for people who have experienced domestic violence. We have done a lot of work around the fact that pets are abused. We have done the work around human-animal bond, but something I would like us to do is go further and look at how we can go further.

When doing this prevention work there is a lot of concepts or connections. One of those has already been talked about a few times here. So whether we are looking at one of the original books, Transforming a Rape Culture, that really specifically looks at rape culture. Or a newer book, The Macho Paradox, when talking about rape culture. These books tend to define them as cultures that glorify and sexualize male power and dominance. Jaclyn Friedman – who is well known in the United States at least for this work against VAW – she runs Women, Action and the Media or WAM as they call it. And she calls rape culture a culture that gives license to rapists. A lot of us tend to just refer to it as a culture that allows for rape. Or we can extend it to VAW: It allows for and promotes VAW. It creates conditions in which violence against women can occur. Carol, I think, did a wonderful job talking about rape culture and illustrating the connections in the sexual politics of meat. I want to look at it from the way in this prevention work and what I am doing now in the field, the movement or whatever you want to call it, and how we are talking about this.

One of the things we may do is we tend to look at what’s the foundation. So, we talk about a lot of times what’s at the core, and so we might look at a “house”, and say an industry promotes norms that are left in unspoken standards of behavior, that lead to those behaviors. And we may look at something like the music industry, and say certain types of music promotes entitlement of women and that perpetuates sexual violence. The culture we’re talking about here is full of these “houses”. So, rape culture is full of the industries and the norms that are perpetuating and allowing VAW to occur. But I really encourage us to look at what other “houses” are there. There are a lot of ways we can make the connections by looking further and taking a deeper look at norms.

And the Prevention Institute offers norms that they say contributes to VAW and the culture that allows VAW to occur – I’m not sure if anyone can see the screen but I will read those: One is limited roles for women. And there is traditional masculinity. Violence. Silence. And power. If we think about animal industries – whether entertainment or agriculture – we can really see how, we’ve seen already, limited roles for women, while female animals are the reproductive conduit to get what we need. For traditional masculinity, we can look beyond that to some of the jobs in these industries and how they promote hegemonic and traditional aggressive masculinity. Violence of course. And silence, I don’t have to say anything more than “Ag-gag”. And power to me is really important because – and I am not sure if you can see the screen – but for the domestic violence we talk about power and control being at the core of the behaviour, and to me that translates into this idea of entitlement which we see everywhere: “might makes right” – I can, because I have the power. We see that in both sides, in how we treat animals and how we treat women. And power is one that is really, really important and it’s powerful when we talk about these connections. This is the power and control chart and those of you who do this work, you know this has been changed and modified and there are many versions. I just put the original one up to show.

When we talk about domestic violence in particular, or intimate partner violence – we a lot of different terms – we really talk about the core being power and control. And to me that lends itself well to the idea of entitlement, which in my work we talk about all the time. We talk about it like, we use the term, “might makes right”, and this idea of who has a right to use power? And how do they use power? And what is socially sanctioned? And what is not socially sanctioned?

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That all contributes to an underlying foundation allowing for animal exploitation or VAW. If we are wanting to end both of these, we need to get to the core. I tend to use the “house” analogy more – we talk a lot about pulling up trees from the roots and I don’t really like that. It’s easier to talk about maybe knocking a house down or something like that. We really need to look at those shared connections there and the foundations that are allowing all of this to occur, and how those manifestations of oppression really feed each other.

There is so much more — this is where I, on my website, ashleyjomaier.com, with the blog I intentionally left out my last post from January, because I have an essay on there about comprehensive violence prevention that goes through these terms and concepts that I currently use in my work and are very popular right now in work to prevent VAW and gendered violence. And I ask questions like, we’re talking about “comprehensive prevention” but what do we mean by comprehensive? What do  we mean by “society and community” and who are we leaving out there? Bodily autonomy is something I of course always link back to Carol J Adams’ work, and something we really value when we are talking about creating healthy sexuality, and having healthy relationships and promoting what we are for and not just talking about what we are against. We’re for bodily autonomy. What other industries are promoting a lack of bodily autonomy? I think we often leave that out.

False dichotomies, either/or, human or animal – we really need to challenge those and also these ideas of worth. These hierarchies of worth that I think we do accept – I will say that is a little scary but we accept it in the work to end gendered violence and especially animal rights work – we accept these false dichotomies and these hierarchies of worth. It is one of the most frustrating things for me to talk about intersectionality so often and about no one monolithic women. We all have intersecting, different identities, impacting experiences, and we are so strong with intersectionality – but yet we stop. We limit ourselves and only go to a certain point and then we stop and this is where I think those movements really need each other to really expand our notions of what we’re talking about when talking about gendered violence.

And then consent, of course, is something that I do a lot of work in VAW. About promoting consent, and there are all these new-ish ways of talking about it – enthusiastic consent. Just a lot of ways to talk about it. When you look at any kind of animal exploitation how clearly is there a lack of consent there. My friend and I, who are both vegan and have done work about violence, talk about sitting at a table at this conference where there is a speaker talking about some consent campaign, while everyone around us is being served the body of non-consenting animal.

femThe resistance – I’ll go through this really quickly – there is the obvious: the shaming of women’s bodies, calling pubic hair fur and fur is not sexy, and that kind of stuff.  There’s using and commodifying women’s bodies to promote our agenda, exploiting women’s bodies.

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And co-opting not only the language of the VAW movement – and that is something I hear a lot – but I can tell you campaigns. And the recent campaign look just like this one, except for it in the end, ends up it’s talking about the abuse of lab rats and their experience, are seen as being completely co-opted. So this one that I have on screen right now is projectunbreakable.tumblr.com, and I think it was started at a university. And it’s where women or people who have experienced rape and sexual violence, hold a sign saying what people said to them, what their rapist said to them. obv

And this campaign about lab rats, that some of you might have seen, was seen as just completely copying that. No matter how much we know there doesn’t have to be an either/or here, this is about the experience of lab rats, and the experience of women, and people who have experienced sexual violence are both horrific. They both have value in addressing and trying to end. But campaigns like this face a lot of resistance and make our work a lot harder because they are really seen truly as co-opting the work of movement to end VAW. This comes from my undergraduate campus: we had a lot of painted on sidewalks that say “a rape happened here”. It would be on there in red.

So, basically I think that when I’m at an animal rights conference, it’s hard for me because, I just want to point out that I know this is that stranger-rape thing, and we know that a lot of the sexual violence occurs by people who are known to the person experiencing it. It does happen in places like this, on sidewalks and stuff too. So I think about it as though we have an approach in animal rights like, “This does not happen here. Not in my town!” I have a hard time going to conferences because when people find out what I do, I am suddenly an advocate. I’m asked to be an advocate. I’m hearing people stories, their pointing out what happens, and “That man over there is stalking me” and “I need you to sit with me and be with me throughout the entire conference”. So just to point out: it’s happening in our movement and we absolutely have to address it. I’ve had a lot of conversations about that.

Revisiting the five norms from the Prevention Institute, let’s look at how our own work from animal rights perspective may be perpetuating those norms – which only undermines the work that we are trying to do. So I wrote in a blog for Masculinities 101, which is from the State University of New York, I think on Long Island. They have a Centre for Men and Masculinities, and I wrote about these masculinities and showed that, unfortunately, one of the responses that we have had has been we are going to say vegetarianism and veganism is manly, as well. So we use the same norms to try to sell veganism, and we don’t need to be saying things like “meat is for pussies” and how that is really perpetuating norms of traditional masculinity. And that is undermining the work we are trying do.

A lot of times we say if they only just knew about speciesism, then everything’s going to change. I can tell you through doing a lot of behaviour change work, research is that: a lot of times we see that awareness and knowledge does not translate into behaviour changes and action. Speciesism especially – I have found that when I bring that up or when I’ve see others bring it up, it just gets laughter. It shouldn’t and I don’t think you should, but it does. What I am hoping when we talk about moving forward and making the connection between VAW and animal rights is that we really focus on intentionality and acceptability. I sometimes don’t even use what I train others to do, which is: to get to know your audience. I have had people say, and people who have power over me say, those people who feel like XY and Z about animals, so those people who think animals are just like children, those people are insane. I have an immediate reaction of I am one of those people, and the reaction I get back is: well then you’re insane.

I just really encourage thinking about who our audience is and the best ways that we can really get people to listen and take us seriously. It is unfortunate that we may have to be a little strategic, but I think we will get further in the long run. One of the ways I think it is easy when talking about VAW and animal rights, the VAW movement or movement against gendered violence really is a feminist movement and is a place you can make those connections. And I found this very easy to show and start with how products, how animal products and feminized proteins are sexualized and how much sexism exists just in the selling of these products. That gets people thinking about the product differently, and once that thinking begins it kind of continues on and that has been a successful strategy for me. We have different areas of expertise and for those of you who know about public health, if you are doing work on health equity you will see there has been a lot of talk about food justice and food deserts. And that is the place where you can get people started thinking about animal agriculture, and food, and environmental racism, and things that. I think both the Vegan Project and the Food Empowerment Project do very well in making those connections. When I tweet about Food Empowerment Project’s Ethical Vegan Chocolate List, that’s what gets most retweeted by my colleagues in working against VAW.

Also let’s recognize and pursue opportunities. For me, being so deeply enmeshed in the movement to end gendered violence, I have been able to slowly and intentionally start making some of these connections and having these talks. This is from a workshop when I was working in the Pacific Northwest in the Washington Coalition Against Sexual Assault Programs at their annual conference. And with the experience I’ve had, I was able to craft and present a workshop that looked at some stuff we’re talking about today, which is expanding our lens on rape culture. I encourage everyone to think about where you can help make those connections and where you would have the credibility to get in there and start talking. When I was in St. Louis, Missouri around the time the US started the Iraq war, we had a lot of war in Iraq “not in my name” signs that were all over the place. war I found that to be very helpful to say “I know that organization just put out a really problematic campaign and guess what, there is a whole bunch of us who are not on board with that”. To show and to share things like the Sexual Politics of Meat, Sistah Vegan and everything else that makes the connection. Let’s show that other people get it too and this “not in my name” mentality is helpful at times.

Also just live it. I liken this to a longer time ago that a national huge feminist conference, there was one other vegan standing around and we both decided, when we were all being served pizza, we asked for a nonviolent pizza. It did not go over so well. Years later, I was in the car and my boss was in the same car telling my coworker, “Ashley’s a great vegan, she just listens, and does not try to shove it down our throat”. But it was helpful to hear because she then went vegan, so I think that is something to consider.

Finally build our community. Spaces like this are absolutely essential. Every time I find someone that makes connections, which is more and more every day, and I am so thankful for it as the years progress. I know how lonely this work is and I’m feeling less and less alone. Let’s continue to build our community and you can connect contact me at ashleyjomaier.com.
I have a contact form, you can just click on that and it will send me an email, and I will correspond with you.

Thank you again.

Full video with closed captioning available here

Ashley Maier has worked in the movement to end gendered violence for well over a decade. She is currently employed at a state sexual assault coalition where she primarily conducts national sexual and domestic violence prevention work. A preventionist at heart, Ms. Maier has also managed a state’s Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) program and grantees, coordinated pediatric residency training programs in community health and family violence, served as an advocate and support group therapist for women experiencing domestic and sexual violence, worked as Psychology faculty, and more.

She holds an MSW from Washington University in St. Louis with an individualized concentration in violence against women and will obtain an MPA this May. Ms. Maier is a contributing author to Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and The Sexual Politics of Meat and co-authored Links between sisters’ sexual and dating victimization: The roles of neighborhood crime and parental controls in the Journal of Family Psychology.

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