Veganism & Masculinity Reconsidered

UPDATE: Thanks for also posting this piece over on Vegansaurus!


As of late, conversations about masculinity and meat eating have re-emerged, partially in response to this book and also from a segment on NPR about veganism and masculinity. But this conversation around masculinity and veganism has left a lot to be desired from many vegans, especially feminists.

It’s great to see traditional assumptions about masculinity challenged by veganism, but we can do better. I date a butch lesbian vegan who is training for a marathon, lifts weights, is masculine and also happens to have a pussy. Below are five of the most frustrating aspects of the conversation.

 Photo credit: Veg News


1. Hardcore veganism is feminist.

The idea that there is a real man or that one type of man is a “pussy”* and another is more masculine is a) homophobic and b) misogynist. There is nothing hardcore about reclaiming traditional patriarchal language and behavior in the name of an ethical movement. And remember: If you aren’t sure how to do better please ask a vegan feminist. We would love to help!


2. Ethical veganism is not a diet or about controlling your body.

All people who are vegan eat a plant-based diet and strive to live a compassionate life towards human and non-human animals alike. This extends to varying degrees into all consumer products, as well as different practices one supports. There’s plenty of debate about how veganism extends beyond the plate.

One thing that is not up for debate, however, is that ethical veganism is not about restricting food as a diet or about controlling your body. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on proving vegan diets can also provide for the nutritional needs of those who run ultra marathons and body-build, the conversation seems to have become confused. As the NPR segment argues, men are generally the face of this misconception.


3. Veganism doesn's need to be saved from feminity.

A lot of this conversation about masculinity and veganism is people reacting to being bullied for being too feminine or behaving like a girl (or a “pussy”)  for being a vegan. The basic premise that this is something to tolerate or build a defense against is offensive in its own right.

Eating plants is not an inherently feminine behavior, nor is eating meat an inherently masculine behavior. Anything that encourages either side of this argument is essentialist and tired. This is not to say that being treated as an outcast or ostracized for making an ethical choice many people consider weird is not difficult, just that it’s part of the patriarchy, man. Making ethical vegan choices is something to be proud of for no reason other than the inherent virtue of making the right ethical decision and this has nothing to do with your gender.


4. Veganism shouldn't need a mainstream male stamp of approval to be taken seriously.

But if you’re going to get media attention for being male and vegan, please say something feminist and mention some of the inspiring feminist vegans who you know and love!


5. Where are my male feminist allies?

It’s very annoying to see instances of misogynistic language promoting veganism get the seal of approval by prominent male vegans. Those in the position to hold the microphone with the most amplification have a responsibility to say something and push our movement to be less homophobic, and more feminist.  And if you aren’t sure how, please pass that microphone on to a #feministvegan who does. 


What does masculine veganism look like to you? Please share in the comments or tweet your pics and thoughts to me @jamiejhagen.


*Similar to queer, the word pussy has been reclaimed by some feminists, probably most notably the feminist Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Read more about that here. 




Gendered Memories of War & Political Violence Conference Wrap-Up

My trip to Istanbul marked a lot of firsts for me: first time to speak about my individual academic work at a conference, first time to travel abroad alone, first time at a binlngual conference, first time to represent my doctoral program and also speak with colleques about their work and their experiences in their departments.

The Gendered Memories of War and Political Violence conference was entirely organized by graduate students - quite impressive! With three full days of panels and four panels a day, there was no shortage of engaging presentations and conversation. The opening panel featured Arelene Avakian who spoke about the transmission of trauma and silences within the history of genocide. Avakian is the author of Lion Woman's Legacy: an American-Armenian Memoir, perhaps the only memoir addressing the Armenian genocide by a woman. Her presentation about her mother's memory of the genocide was quite powerful, even more so as an American citizen- a country that still does not recognize the Armenian genocide. Avakian also happens to be the founder of the Women and Gender Studies program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

My presentation was part of the "Whose Justice, Whose Peace?" panel on the first day. I presented my paper, "The Danger of the 'Women, Peace and Security' Framework: Absent LGBTQI Voices in the Gender Based Violence Conversation." While I've been thinking about the need for inclusion of LGBTQI voices in UN SCR 1325 indicators for some time, this was my first time to present my ideas to other scholars and as part of a panel.

I made so many new connections while in Istanbul, both intellectually as well as personally.  For example, for the first time I heard panelist Agnieszka Weseli talk about the forced prostituion in concentration camps and how this has become a part of a conversation about the forced labor of sex work during political conflicts. I also learned from my fellow panelist Ellen Gorris about the move to reconsider gender based violence as a form of torture as a way of reframing the conversation. I was fortunate enough to speak with one of the conference organizers, Ayse Gul Altinay, who was encouraging about my initial research.

It's no small pleasure to meet  scholars a continent away and still be able to discuss feminist international relations theory through the same texts we've all read! While I know the feminist security studies world is a small one, I was reassured of this when spending time with Lydia Cole and discussing our research together.

I look forward to the opportunity to attend conferences of this nature in the future. Next year's ISA in New Orleans seems like a very promosing opprotunity to network internationaly with fellow feminist academics.

I should note I simply wouldn't have been able to attend this conference without the substantial financial contribution to my travel fees from the University of Massachusetts Boston Office of International and Transnational Affairs so I'm forever greatful for the opportunity their grant afforded me as a first doctoral year student.

To read abstracts from the presentations as well as view the conference schedule, visit the conference website. For more photos from my trip to Istanbul visit my Flickr album.


Hear Me Podcast About My Love Of The Diva Cup

Do you use The Diva Cup?

I'm a huge fan of The Diva Cup. Because I'm such a fan, it's not uncommon for me to share my love of the reusable menstrual product with basically everyone whenver possible. Because of this, at one point during our hang session while at Vida Vegan Con in Portland last year the topic came up and we realized we are both members of the Diva Cup Mutual Admiration Society.

And this month Laura Yaz invited me on her show Big Fat Vegan Radio to talk with her about them as well as Luna Pads and other reusable menstrual products! I learned so many new things about them so I recommend you give it a listen if you use them, are afraid to use them, and especially if you have no idea what this whole conversation is all about.

We've already heard back from listeners who are going to give The Diva Cup a try and have questions. Tell us what you think!

Ps: I love podcasts so it's awesome to finally be on one! 


I'm my own "GOTCHA" Vegan

I've been thinking about how to write this piece for awhile. Honestly, I drafted this post last winter and didn't touch it until I re-read it this month and realized I still feel it's important to share. I also spoke to the issue of ethics beyond the plate on a panel at Vida Vegan Con last year and it's something I still remain curious to engage with more deeply.  

I agree veganism is about more than food, as Piper Hoffman importantly points out over at Our Hen House.  After reading James McWilliams' piece on the "gotcha" vegan last year it solidified my feelings that aiming to avoid all animal products in your food, clothing, cleaning products, and body care products is an ongoing everchanging journey.


Girl Goes Vegan

I've been vegan for ethical reasons for over 9 years, and was vegetarian a few years before that after reading the liner notes in a Moby CD I checked out from the library in high school. I became vegan while a student at Hunter College around the time I saw Earthlings. I wanted to show that movie to literally everyone. I did my best to do so while in the halls of Hunter, screening the film with a TV in the hallway and handing out Vegan Outreach pamphlets several days a week during several semesters with the help of one or two other people. I met some amazing vegan activists during those early years of veganism, some who remain some of my best friends.

And then I took a break from activism within the animal rights community. I felt tired and angry and wasn't sure what I was truly meant to do as an activist. I felt like I didn't want to "just" be a animal rights activist and that there were other movements I needed to more fully engage with in ways I had yet to push myself to do.

I was personally drawn to veganism for ethical reasons encompassing human rights, animal rights and environmentalism. After years mostly focusing on animal rights activism I became concerned I might be getting a bit blinded to other perspectives and losing my ability to connect with people who weren't vegan. 


A Queer Vegan Feminist Steps Out

FRIENDS!So then I got my MA in Political Science at Brooklyn College. I studied gender and feminism. I studied international relations and worked with non-profits on women,peace and security politics. I began to write. I never stopped being vegan. Oh also, I came out of the closet and met some feminists and damn was all of that awesome!

It's important to note that during that break from animal rights activism I saw more vegan activists become vocal in ways I find compassionate and far more supportive and sustainable than some of the activism I was engaged with in my early twenties.  I think an intersection of feminist and animal rights ethics is in no small way responsible for some of the most important progress here and can certainly point to some amazing women for being at the core of that welcoming energy that brought me back to animal rights activism personally.

I've come to understand it can make the most sense to choose to focus mainly on one form of activism while also actively working to engage with other movements in a meaningful way. I think it's a totally valid decision to focus the majority of your activism energy on abortion access or addressing homelessness among queer youth while also being an ethical vegan, for example.

I came back to animal rights activism by way of co-hosting vegan book swaps, have long term vegan friends and still am evolving in how I address situations like this in my life. But I have a nagging feeling I'm not alone in the anxiety I've experienced in being my own "gotcha" vegan.

(That said, There are 5 tips I've found to live more ethically, easily at the bottom of this post and I welcome more in the comments!)


"I thrifted it!" and Other Claims to Fame

She probs thrifted this blazerI want to brag. I'm a thrifting genius. I thrifted basically everything in my life besides my cat and girlfriend. I thrift clothes and shoes because it is cheaper and in many ways more sustainable than buying new shoes that wear out. Sometimes those shoes, belts, coats aren't vegan. Usually they are! Is that wrong? What about hand me downs? Yes, we can say no thank you and we don't wear animal products and explain why we don't. Maybe that's the only right thing to do always. I'm not sure. 

But something that's often overlooked by activists in many movements is the role of class (read: privilege) and economics in our choices or what we assume about the choices of others. I think it's only fair to say a person's economic circumstances plays into how realistic it is to make certain ethical choices. (The only time I see this brought up is the whole ridiculousness about ethical veganism being expensive because of the cost of fruits and vegetables and PLEASE DON'T EVEN because I can't.) Keep in mind this is not just about how much products cost, it is also about access and the time people have to put into either making their own products or shopping for them.

To that point, here are two other examples of ethical dilemmas that have gone down in my internal monalogue while striving to live an ethical and politically intersectional life:


  • THE COMMUNAL SINK SOAP DILEMMA: I go to do the dishes in my apartment with two other roommates (or ten if you're in the Food Not Bombs house, for example) and the dish soap is from the Dollar Store.  Is it tested on animals? Is it reasonable to expect my roommates to only use vegan dish soap? Should I buy/make all the kitchen products to avoid this?I could only live with vegans! What about the dish soap in the communal kitchen at work? 
  • THE FEMINIST VEGAN MANICURE CONNUNDRUM: Is it even ethical to get a manicure? What if I bring my own vegan nail polish? That's an opportunity to talk about vegan nail polish to someone who may not know about animal testing after all! But like, what about all the lotion they use during the manicure? Should I even be wasting any time talking about nail polish because why does that even matter when there are billions of animals being tested on? Should I only get a manicure if I can be sure they use vegan products?


These ethical dilemmas are real and intentionally random and somewhat small potatoes because they are the kind of ones we face as everyday vegans. In order to sleep at night I think we all set our personal boundries, find brands we can consistently buy, bring our own soap in the case of James McWilliams.

Maybe you think an argument can be made that everyone has the time to shop for or make only products that are animal free in all aspects of their life and it's completely affordable always. I don't find it hard to eat vegan and really enjoy it after having a lot of practice with it at this point, but being vegan in aspects of my life beyond the food I eat has taken me years to learn and is still ever-changing. I think there is room for a conversation about ethics that isn't just a judgement waiting for an agreement with only vegan options for an answer for everyone always. As frustrating and challenging as this type of dialogue may be, I think embracing it  may be the space where we find the most important conversations about vegan ethics, especially with those who don't identify with our community. 

I'm not saying a broader ethical veganism is too hard so only talk about vegan food but I think there is room to honestly address how time consuming and stressful the current paradigm of avoiding animal products in all aspects of one's life can be for those of us looking to cause the least amount of harm to animals possible and still engage in intersectional politics, self-care, have a family, have friends, travel, pursue a career, and care for companion animals.


5 Tips From My Near Decade of Veganism To Take Or Also Leave

1. Bring a mug and/or water bottle with you!

As someone who uses public transit and also makes frequest visits to coffee houses I've found bringing my own mug is a surprisingly frequent conversation starter. Also: It saves money, can be a great way to share logos for campaigns you care about and avoids all sorts of waste! 

2. Little By Slow

The idea here is that you're going to be vegan for awhile! You don't have to know everything, change everything tonight. Be kind to yourself. Learn what shampoo and conditioner isn't tested on animals and where to get it and where you can find it to purchase most affordably this shopping trip. Maybe next time focus on the floor cleaner. (See tip 3 for my suggestion as to how to make this easier.)

3. Hang out with fellow vegans, feminists, queers!

Having vegan friends is like basically the best way to learn about what to eat, where to shop, how to cook and how to respond to questions about your choices if you so choose. And if you don't know any, find us on twitter #vegan #feminist #queer. We love you and want to chat!

4. Stay inspired

Maybe this means listening to a weekly podcast, getting yourself to an animal sanctuary or making sure you make one fanstatic new dish from Isa Does It a week but part of self-care is staying inspired for why we take the time to make ethical choices in the first place.

5. Do Some Sort of Activism That Makes you Happy!

A lot of activism is emotionally taxing and we do it because we care (or are angry or are being the change we want to see in the world).  But it's important we also create the kind of activism we love. I do this by hosting vegan book swaps and writing. In the past I've done it by walking dogs at animal shelters. How do you do it?


The Boston Doula Project is off and running!

In January I was fortunate to attend the first Boston Doula Project abortion doula training. I wrote about the experience in a piece for RH Reality Check, Reproductive Justice Through the Eyes of an Abortion Doula. 

For the story I interviewed several amazing women, including co-director of the Boston Doula Project Sarah Whedon, Poonam Dreyfus-Pai from the Bay Area Doula Project, and the executive director of ACCESS Women's Health Justice Samara Azam also out of California. 

It's incredibly encouraging and motiviating to be in a room full of people dedicated to this work sharing stories of working as birth doulas, abortion doulas, midwives and across the spectrum of reproductive health and policy care. During the weekend I also learned about the innovative Repeal Hyde Art Project through Poonam's tattoo, "a project from artist Megan Smith aiming to raise awareness of and increase dialogue about the Hyde Amendment." 

It's so exciting to see the growing network of full-spectrum doulas who recognize the value of working within the reproductive justice framework to provide support to pregnant people! It was especially exciting to see the cross-country partnership between the Bay Area Doula Project trainers and the co-directors of our new Boston Doula Project. 

Since the initial training we've had a second training among those of us who are interested  and able to continue to work in the Boston area and provide medical abortion doula support. The Boston Doula Project is currently working to network with area clinics and get the word out about our services.

I attended the training with my friend Brenda Hernandez (and Outreach Coordinator for Hollaback!Boston who I met as a volunteer for the group) who reminded me to sign up for the training after we learned about it at the New England Women's Center Conference. I was actually on the waiting list for the training and I'm very thrilled I was able to attend at all! Addressing self-care was an important part of the training and it's amazing to be able to share and decompress about this work with a friend. With this in mind, we learned in our training each doula will have an on-call doula to reach out to with questions and for support when working with a client. 

As part of my volunteer work with this energetic group, I've joined the communications team to build our presence online through networking and outreach. This week we launched our twitter feed and I'm happy to report that within 48 hours we have 64 followers and counting! Here's hoping we can get 100 followers by the end of the weekend. Join us!