Unravel the Past and Craft the Future

By Charlotte Eure

The day before I woke to the nightmare of the post-election world, I finished reading a graphic novel about a different human disaster. Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking, written by Anne Elizabeth Moore in collaboration with six different comic artists, offers a beautifully simple way of communicating extensive information about a very complex web of exploitation and oppression. In four chapters, Moore explores connections between the garment industry, fashion, sex work, and anti-trafficking NGOs. For me, the book served as part of the constant and necessary reminder that there is so much I don’t know and so much history lying beneath seemingly innocuous aspects of our lives.

While reading Threadbare, I saw many similarities to our culture’s animal use. We buy final products ready to cook, ready to wear. We don’t ever have to see the violent and exploitative processes that lead to their placement in stores for our convenience. Our consumerism is often the epitome of ignorant bliss, and oppressive systems encourage us to remain oblivious, an unfortunately easy task in an image-obsessed and superficial culture. Most of us really don’t like it when someone drudges up all the nasty shit at the core of our choices. Especially in a time when even a lot of social justice rhetoric centers personal choice and individualism, challenges to dearly held personal expression are typically unwelcome. The refrain often goes, “If something makes me feel good, how can it be wrong? I know everything is terrible. You don’t need to remind me. Just let me enjoy my bacon and H&M dress in peace. Let me hold on to my bigotry and prejudice. I’m not hurting anybody!”

But of course pleasure doesn’t exist in a vacuum even if it might feel that way in the moment, and even though pleasure matters, which it does – we are not here to just suffer and survive.

Our role as consumers is also only part of the design. Marginalized communities experience limitations that further complicate notions of choice. Dressing a certain way is often a key to accessing resources. Food deserts create disparities, and authorities may spread misinformation around nutrition and health. Connections exist amongst the animal agriculture industry and the medical industry as they do amongst the garment industry and NGOs. Corporations build factories overseas and move slaughterhouses and CAFOs to rural areas of the US in part to keep them hidden from the majority of white, middle and upper class consumers. This is painfully obvious in the rerouting of the Dakota Access Pipeline from a predominantly white neighborhood through sacred Native land at Standing Rock.

4.jpeg

It can all feel overwhelmingly hopeless, as though we are powerless against an unstoppable force. And we need to forgive ourselves when we’re exhausted, when we’re scared, when we need time and space to heal and regain strength. But still, what we do matters, and it matters that we stretch ourselves to make imperative connections. Most of us don’t have to think about women in the garment industry, just as we don’t have to think about slaughterhouse workers or CAFO and dairy farm workers, but we can and we must.

The pain and suffering we are willing to allow others to experience for a singular momentary pleasure is one of the most heinous human traits. And the farther removed we are from each other, the more easily this exchange occurs. It doesn’t just take physical distance. We distance ourselves psychologically and emotionally with all kinds of mental gymnastics, often going so far as to acknowledge intellectually the harm we are doing yet refusing to empathize and imagine different ways of being and doing.

Empathy and imagination are crucial to not only our survival but to our ability to thrive. With Donald Trump’s election and a Republican majority, life is looking very bleak. But if there is one small sliver of comfort I take, it’s that more of us than ever are admitting this. The world of Donald Trump as president is one where horrors are revealed. Where once a postracial lens seemed to pacify so many (and will frustratingly continue to for some), I hope we heed this message in all its importance: we can’t keep ignoring our collective nightmares. We can’t keep pretending that all is well simply because so many of us don’t have to see where and when it is most certainly not. We have to confront our waste, our terrors, our injustice.

We may look for ways to alleviate the guilt that may come with admitting our complicity by placing the blame elsewhere or by justifying our behavior with desperate clinging to harmful traditions, just as Trump looks back to the past with the haze of nostalgia that it somehow used to be better, when we know it has been bad, it was never not bad. Resist guilt and instead take responsibility. As upsetting as it is to face the horrors of fast fashion or animal use or white supremacist patriarchy, it is also liberating. It is then we can begin to create a life otherwise.

In Threadbare, Moore writes, “Usually, an enforced culture of silence shrouds abuse and coercion.” To stop the cycle of abuse against our planet and each other, we must begin by acknowledging and speaking on the atrocities of the past – and I mean the past as recent as minutes ago. Be vigilant in this. Don’t let your fleeting pleasure and comfort excuse another’s oppression. Don’t let your ignorance fuel injustice. Move closer to empathy, to compassion, to movement and growth. If ever there was a time for us to learn and build new paths forward together, now is that time. If history has shown us anything, it’s that now has always been that time.

 

 

Advertisements

The Hypocrisy of a Butcher’s “Vulnerability”

14992006_122370998240133_989500338311050861_n

By Charlotte Eure, with Justin Van Kleeck

I recently read an article about the latest butcher/hunter being oh-so vulnerable by killing a defenseless being, talking about how super spiritual it is to murder someone as long as that someone is a different species and is culturally acceptable to cut up and eat.

I’ll share my favorite puke-inducing section from that article, and let me preface with a big LOL and some sobbing at the idea of respecting life as you rob someone of it but anyway:

“Both on paper and in person, Leigh’s respect for life and for the land shines through—as does, somewhat unexpectedly, her vulnerability. In her book, for instance, she includes a scene in which she prepares to slaughter a lamb named Hercules at a friend’s farm. ‘I drove all the way there with my troubles thick upon my back,’ she writes, and then describes the smell of hay in the barn, the look of the lamb’s eyes, and the mountains rising up in front of them as the lamb dies.”

Murder really heightens the senses, apparently. I’m pretty sure serial killers are on that shtick too. But who knew that as long as you choose the right victims, you can turn your sadism into vulnerability? The mental gymnastics! Humans are amazing.

People in positions of domination who exercise authority and power to enact violence often co-opt the language of vulnerability. This hurts me more than it hurts you. I do this because I love you. Lies. Domination is the rejection of vulnerability. Domination embraces power. It works to rationalize and excuse unnecessary violence as though it is in the best interest of everyone. It’s egoism. It’s how humans can make the slaughter of actual vulnerable beings all about their own feelings. “Ah, I’m so connected with the Earth now that I’ve denied someone else their connection to it. Especially now that the lamb is finally not screaming anymore, I can really take in all this beautiful scenery!”

A million myths exist to perpetuate our use of animals. One of the nastiest is that our hierarchical and exploitative relationship with them is naturally beautiful, spiritual, and loving. The idea that loving someone means violently killing them because we want to – for whatever reason – perverts the very meaning of the concept. Leigh saw “the look in the lamb’s eyes” like it was just another part of the scenery. What was that look? Why no mention of the inevitable struggle that ensued? Why no mention of the way in which Leigh killed the lamb? Instead the lamb passively died? Of course. In this story, as is often the case when the humane myth is at work, the horrific act of slaughtering an animal who wants to live becomes a mutual decision in honor of nature, one in which the victim participates willfully and in which the violence is somehow an act of respect and happens peacefully.

The only vulnerable person in the moment during which Leigh slaughtered a lamb was the lamb. Leigh, however, is eager to co-opt that experience and make it about herself and her anxiety surrounding her decisions to inflict violence and death upon the vulnerable, a despicably typical rationale for abuse of power. In this way, she clouds the hierarchical relationship that exists. She complicates her dominant position and her abusive behavior. She tells us, “It’s hard for me too!” Yet she emerges from that moment unscathed. In fact, she emerges with a prize! She now has parts to sell and to consume. Meanwhile, we’ll never fully know what the lamb experienced as they realized they were in danger, as they felt blade pierce their flesh, as they bled to death in the shadow of a killer who took solace in the beauty of the mountainside. (I mean, really??)

In another interview, Leigh fills out the sketch of her transition from vegan to “ethical butcher” (yes, you read that right). “High school exposure to horrific slaughterhouses, corporate domination, and empathy for fellow her fellow earthlings had turned her off meat. But everything changed after a trip to the third world—where she witnessed a population whose lives and livelihoods depended on animal protein (every last bit of it).” Confronting the very real fact of “third world” [sic] hunger and poverty, Leigh responds by seeking “ethics” in the American food system by booting living beings out of her field of ethical consideration and into the limbo of the absent referent.

We see the slipping away of living individuals for Leigh as she recalls asking herself, “We have hungry people in our country and we’re not going to eat something because we’re afraid to? Or because of regulation? Or because of whatever our culture has deemed normal?”

Whatever reasons Leigh has crafted to explain her decision to dominate, the least she can do is stop pretending that she is somehow vulnerable in that decision. The least she can do is acknowledge that the moment she willfully slaughters another being, she is fully in power. She is dominating. She wields a knife against the actual defenseless, vulnerable being.

Perhaps the most disturbing horror of Leigh’s “ethical” worldview is that her conscience can simultaneously feel a desire to care for and to treat “humanely” other beings, while also always already seeing them as dead bodies, as cuts of meat and grist for the gustatory mill. This sort of moral dysphoria takes for granted that other animals exist for us, and any nod towards individualizing them (and their concomitant “welfare”) becomes arguably the greatest betrayal imaginable—they each are equally someone and no one, a fragile life and a heap of carrion on the table.

This hypocrisy of perspective and narrative is enacted more and more, becoming normalized to the point of fetish in modern food culture: for example, a food co-op in Durham, North Carolina is celebrating community with a “farm to feast” lamb roast…but don’t worry, vegans, there’ll be vegan options too!

Leigh wields her power by the domination of true vulnerability, but through the logical twists of the humane myth, she can become an icon of compassion while committing murder. There is nothing vulnerable in her position…

And don’t even get me started on the nightmares experienced by oppressed groups coerced by capitalism into slaughterhouse jobs NOR on women trying to empower themselves by enacting traditionally masculine violence against other marginalized, vulnerable bodies. J/K, please get me started.

 

 

 

 

Nonhuman Animals Are Others: On Learning to Judge and the Limits of Choice

By Charlotte Eure

biophoto

Everyday Feminism recently published a video that asks, “Does Feminism Require Vegetarianism or Veganism?” The editors introduce vlogger Celia Edell as “a feminist vegetarian who doesn’t apply her choice to others.”

So you know you’re in for a slimy ride into the more tender parts of hell: those rotten sections of our culture where we feel like everything is cool and totally a choice and all about personal preference. In those special caverns, we find endless excuses for our complicity in oppressive systems. We get there and love to say, “You know what? You do you. I can’t judge!” Which is especially funny when moments earlier we were banging the gavel to shut down fundamentally the same garbage we now find ourselves swimming in like it’s a private pool on a hot summer day.

If the video stuck to a discussion about why feminists are not required to be vegan, I likely wouldn’t have a problem with it. Unfortunately, Edell gets into the idea that being vegan/vegetarian (two entirely different concepts, by the way) boils down to personal choice. In fact, she says, some people can’t be vegan, so. …So what? So we just shouldn’t care about the horrific injustices of animal use? We shouldn’t care, for instance, that cows are impregnated over and over to continue producing milk until they can’t stand any longer, at which point they are killed? That the dangerous practices of slaughtering vulnerable animals and stealing babies from their mothers has serious psychological effects on workers, who are often demonized for abuses inherent to the work? We shouldn’t examine why someone might struggle to be vegan?

Institutions and ideologies exist which constrain our choices and teach us to engage in oppressive behavior, and the powerful often thrive on limiting our access to knowledge and alternative resources. Animal use doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is part of the foundation of the exploitation and oppression of those marked as other. Vegans, including those with eating disorders and limited access to resources – vegans completely erased by the rhetoric in this video – have grappled with these issues and contributed to a complex conversation about power, privilege, and ethics that is absent from Edell’s video. Instead, we get a disappointing moral relativism and frustrating refusal to accept accountability.

When we speak on issues of injustice from a place of ignorance as though we are an informed source, we are more likely to reinforce oppression than to challenge it, especially when we occupy spaces of privilege and try to speak for people outside those spaces. A paltry discussion of animal rights is not necessary to make the point that feminists can be disengaged from movements for nonhuman justice and still be feminists. To leap from that point to one that minimizes nonhuman oppression and erases already marginalized members of the vegan community reveals a lack of care to truly understand the subject from more relevant perspectives and histories not the vlogger’s own, which is why her argument ends up being about opinions instead of systems.

It’s hard to discern at times when we might do more harm than good by speaking when we know the dangers of silence, but there is so much potential for growth in learning to recognize those spaces where we should listen before we speak. Before you feel you have to add to a conversation, you might find that others have already spoken on the topic with much more grace, nuance, and experience than you could have. And that should be a good thing! Our world needs more people willing to seek out the critical and creative voices who have devoted their time and energy to movements for social change than act like everything’s relative so they can stay comfy in complicity.

 

A White Man Informed By White Supremacy Murdered Three Muslim Students

In a Google search for news of the horrific shooting that took place yesterday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Muslim identity of the three victims is named many times, but the whiteness of the murderer is apparently not headline news.

It should be.

Whiteness must be made visible, and white people must be the ones to make it so. We have to learn the history – the real history, not the fictitious narrative – of whiteness: imperialism, colonialism, genocide, scientific and commodity racism, domination, assimilation. Anti-blackness is white supremacy. Islamantagonism is white supremacy. Each manifestation of this ideology is its own twisted system requiring specific address, but we have to stop placing the entire focus on the oppressed and start naming the oppressor. Yes, three Muslim students were killed. But this is only half the story, and it is framed in a way that erases the perpetrator. A white man killed three Muslim students. White supremacist thought manifested in an act of white power.

The Chapel Hill Police have a vested interest, conscious or not, to maintain the illusion that white supremacy no longer exists, and their story of a dispute over a parking space fits that narrative. I have heard white people hope aloud that this crime wasn’t racially motivated, a hope invested in keeping whiteness invisible. Of course this crime was racially motivated. It was motivated by white supremacy.

We have to acknowledge the reality that led a white man to execute three Muslim individuals, but white people don’t want to do the work of deconstructing a historical fiction of liberty and entrepreneurship that paints us as heroes. That story is comfortable for us, for obvious reasons. We like to leave out white supremacy entirely, but that was a foundational principle in the creation of the United States, and it has survived in silence and secret thanks to our unwillingness to name it as we benefit from the privilege it grants us.

In a town that claims to cherish diversity and liberal thinking, protests recently around the many memorials to white supremacists on the UNC campus, most notably Saunders Hall named for a former Grand Dragon of the KKK, have been met with indifference from administration. The murderous intent of whiteness is benign to white people who fancy themselves progressive, tolerant, loving, post-racial. Thus, when a white man murders a black man, his whiteness is not up for discussion. When a white man murders a Muslim, his whiteness isn’t an issue. No, instead the identities of the victims are the focus, and this only reinforces white supremacy.

Every time a white person engages in a terrorist act, an excuse is made. The rhetoric favors them. They are troubled or “mentally ill” (ableism is always a convenient crutch to support white supremacy), and we all see it time and again – loners. They do not speak for the white race, because there is no white race. This is the problem. This has been the problem.

The story may be framed in ways that tempt you to believe that the murderer’s motivations were not deeply rooted in white supremacy. He might not even see that himself. But we must see it. We must name it. We must stop wishing that this horrifying reality is non-existent. We must stop looking for a way to sweep it under the rug. We must expose the brutal reality of whiteness.

We Need To Admit That Broad City Blew It

Humor is a powerful tool that can make pain more manageable, but it is a tool that requires care and specificity. The humor I use to cope with trauma I have experienced may be horrifying to someone else who has experienced similar trauma, because humor as a coping mechanism isn’t going to work the same for everyone. This is especially apparent when we are talking about sexual trauma and violence. And so, many of us who celebrated the return of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s Broad City this week were met with intense disappointment as our beloved BFFs chose to joke about rape.

Rape and rape culture are significantly different. The realities of rape culture are absurd, from the ways in which rape is normalized to the ways in which gender is constructed in the performance of domination. The system in place should be revealed for its real and dangerous absurdity, and we have to collectively confront rape culture as part of deconstructing and dismantling it. Rape, however, is a singular event – one that haunts and terrorizes long after the fact. Discussing the lived experience of rape can be harrowing. The only scenario in which some people feel safe talking about it may be with their most trusted friend, or never at all. How a person processes trauma and learns to live with it is extremely personal. Broad City’s casual storytelling of rape has alienated many fans who trusted the show to be a safe space from a painful trigger.

In addition to harming many viewers with its careless approach to a traumatic event, Broad City’s episode “In Heat” works to perpetuate rape culture rather than subvert it. Ilana’s nonsensical riff on rape culture at Lincoln’s dinner party only serves to delegitimize the idea of rape culture rather than reveal the absurdities of its very real yet illogical horrors. The nonchalance with which the rape of an unconscious person is handled confuses the concept of consent, which is a crucial issue that requires clarity to combat rape culture. Seth Rogen’s character, Stacey, suffers from heatstroke in the midst of having sex with Abbi, and rather than caring for him, Abbi continues to pleasure herself with his unconscious body. Some have argued that Stacey was clearly consenting up until that point, but even Ilana does not support that argument. Humans are incapable of consent while unconscious. Stacey’s enthusiasm while conscious does not transfer to his unconscious body.

Abbi eventually realizes this to some degree and shows remorse, but her remorse is supposed to be funny. She raped someone, and she’s a monster now – hilarious! Defense of the humor surrounding rape in this episode is defense of the idea that rapists can be funny and sympathetic. They just made a mistake! They feel bad, and they should focus on making themselves feel better. Turning Abbi into a lovable rapist is a toxic joke that laughs not with victims but at them, as oftentimes rapists hold powerful positions in their communities, and their behavior is excused as they attempt to solicit sympathy and understanding.

“It’s reverse rapism. You are raping rape culture,” Ilana tells Abbi. Ilana is supposed to be ridiculous. We are not supposed to take her seriously. But here she is not talking about weed or consensual sex. She is talking about rape, and rape doesn’t stop being serious in the mouth of a fool. We know Abbi did not rape rape culture. We know she raped a person, and it is a little bewildering, to say the least, that I feel the need to point out that this should not be comedic fodder in any context.

When Daniel Tosh joked about the gang rape of a woman in his audience, a critical discussion arose around rape jokes. But Broad City is beloved, and even the most avid critics have given them a halfhearted pass, while others have earnestly defended them. This is not to say that Jacobson and Glazer are operating on the level of Tosh, but it is to point out that we are less willing to criticize those we love, and that is a big problem.

Women can rape men, and Broad City at least acknowledged this fact. Unfortunately, beyond that, it led us to believe that women raping men just isn’t a big deal, which feeds into broader narratives that rape isn’t such a big deal, at least not always. In certain scenarios it’s just a goof – like if you’re a woman, and your partner passes out, it’s not really a big deal to continue having sex with his unconscious body. Just feel bad about it for a minute and go on with your day. This is the message I got from Broad City, and it is a message that works to support rape culture.

Many writers argue that Broad City’s embodiment of a kind of gender role reversal makes the humor acceptable. But this argument relies on a binary that reinforces the power dynamics of rape culture. Men and women aren’t monolithic categories, each encompassing a singular experience of gender. Of course, even taking into account the wide spectrum of gender identity and expression, women-identified folks experience far more sexual violence than men. But although our culture privileges men, rape is not an experience unique to women. Especially when we acknowledge the sexual violence experienced by men and women in the prison industrial complex, and we take into account the racism inherent in that system, the oblivious privilege behind broad generalizations about gender-swapping being an acceptable way to make light of rape is revealed. A joke about raping someone is oppressive no matter who tells it.

I am reminded here of the recent sweeping defense of Charlie Hebdo: people just don’t get that it’s apparently anti-racist satire to publish a racist depiction of a black woman as long as you place a lot of context around it making clear how anti-racist your publication really is. Broad City is a feminist show and therefore must have been cleverly satirizing rape culture. Sure, Abbi realizes she raped someone and immediately goes to have fun at Bed Bath & Beyond. No, we never see her talk to Stacey or tell him what happened. Yes, Ilana exposes people who talk about rape culture as silly fools. And okay, the episode spends more time commenting on the disgusting heat of summer in the city than it does on rape culture. But what they must have meant is that it’s wrong to rape, and that rape culture is real and in need of serious deconstruction.

We stretch for our idols in the hopes that they will remain flawless. I was rooting for Broad City. But they did not use humor to cope with pain or to point out the absurdity of an oppressive ideology. They were just being silly. They were being Abbi and Ilana. Unfortunately, neither Abbi nor Ilana is equipped to handle a topic like rape with the care that it requires, and Jacobson and Glazer should have known that. Our faves perpetuated rape culture, and it’s really not funny.