Book Review: Difficult Women, Roxane Gay (2017)

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Stories about survival; stories we need now more than ever.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.)

There once was a man. There is always some man.

You too have always been popular. I have seen the evidence in your childhood bedroom, meticulously preserved by your mother. Even now, you have packs of men following you, willing to make you their strange god. That is the only thing about you that scares me.

“I want a boy who will bring me a baby arm.”

“Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

Difficult Women brings together twenty-one short stories by Roxane Gay, all of which have previously been published elsewhere (or multiple elsewheres), most in slightly different forms and some under different titles. (I included the TOC at the bottom of this review; alternate titles are listed last, in parentheses.) However, the publications are so varied that it’s unlikely that you’ve seen, read, and/or own them all.

This is actually rather surprising to me, since the stories – published over a span of ~5 years – gel so well together. It really feels like each one was written specifically with this anthology in mind. The collection’s namesake, “Difficult Women,” perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the whole. Like the short story, this is book about loose women and frigid women; difficult women and crazy women; mothers and wives, daughters and dead girls. Women who have faced the unspeakable – rape and sexual assault; miscarriages or the death of a child; abuse and self-harm; alcoholism and alienation – and come out the other side. Not unscathed, but alive. These are stories of survival.

Usually I find anthologies to be somewhat uneven, but not so here. Every story grabs you by the heart and threatens to squeeze until it pops, right there in your chest cavity. Gay’s writing is raw and naked; grim, yet somehow, impossibly, imbued with hope. While some are straight-up contemporary, other tales are a strange, surreal mix of the real and unreal: In “I Am a Knife,” a woman fantasizes about cutting her twin’s fetus out of her body and transferring it to her own, the way she once did with the heart of a drunk driver who collided with their car, nearly killing her sister.

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Book Review: My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki (1998)

Monday, October 27th, 2014

“Meat is the Message”

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for violence against women and animals, including sexual assault and rape.)

When Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job–producing a Japanese television show sponsored by BEEF-EX, an organization promoting the export of U.S. meats–she takes her crew on the road in search of all-American wives cooking all-American meat. Over the course of filming, though, Jane makes a few troubling discoveries about both. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, Akiko Ueno watches My American Wife! and diligently prepares Coca-Cola Roast and Panfried Prairie Oysters for her husband, John, (the ad-agency rep for the show’s sponsor). As Akiko fills out his questionnaires, rating each show on Authenticity, Wholesomeness, and Deliciousness of Meat, certain ominous questions about her own life–and the fact that after each meal she has to go to the bathroom and throw up–begin to surface. A tale of love, global media, and the extraordinary events in the lives of two ordinary women, counterpointed by Sei Shonagon’s vibrant commentary, this first novel by filmmaker Ruth L. Ozeki–as insightful and moving as the novels of Amy Tan, as original as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. or John Irving–is a sparkling and original debut from a major new talent.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. On impulse, I picked up a copy of the original hardcover edition at the dollar store. That was nearly a decade ago; in the intervening years I hemmed and hawed and wondered whether I really wanted to read a fictionalized account of a documentarian hired to promote meat – feed lots, kill floors, and all – after all. (I’m a vegan, and have devoured my fair share of nonfiction books about the animal agriculture industry already. Enough is enough.)

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Book Review: Ash, Malinda Lo (2009)

Friday, April 25th, 2014

A Magical & Subversive Retelling of ‘Cinderella’

four out of five stars

Twelve-year-old Aisling – Ash for short – is having the worst year imaginable. In midsummer, her beloved mother Elinor died suddenly and mysteriously; and, before the last of autumn’s leaves turned brown and blanketed the ground, her merchant father William had remarried. To give Ash a mother, he said.

To the marriage, Lady Isobel Quinn brings two daughters: twelve-year-old Ana and her ten-year-old sister Clara. From the more “cultured” town of West Riding – located just a stone’s throw from the Royal City – Lady Isobel has grand designs for her daughters: they are to marry well and become gentlewomen like their mother. The wild Ash, with her love of books, fascination with fairy tales and magic, and still-fresh grief for Elinor, isn’t much more than a minor annoyance to her new stepmother. She provides neither comfort nor sympathy to the grieving child.

Shortly after the marriage, William falls sick; rather than allow “superstitious” greenwitch Maire Solanya attend to him, Lady Isobel uproots the family and moves them from Ash’s home in Rook Hill to the Quinn House. William dies just two weeks later, and Lady Isobel wastes little time in claiming Ash as a servant – to pay off her father’s (alleged) debts. (I love how Lady Isobel recounts bitterly to Ash how her father spent Lady Isobel’s money to prop up his failing business, while openly admitting that she married William for his money. Hypocrite much?) From orphan to slave in less than six months.

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Book Review: The Edible Woman, Margaret Atwood (1969)

Monday, March 17th, 2014

A Perfectly Atwoodian Anti-Romance

five out of five stars

Ever since her engagement to Peter Wollander, Marian McAlpin has been unable to eat. Not for lack of desire, mind you; rather, her body simply refuses to ingest certain foods under threat of regurgitation. It started with the meats: beef (cows), pork (pigs), poultry (chickens), lambs, and finally seafood (fishes and oysters). Next came eggs, then fruits and vegetables, until even toast and OJ are off-limits. The nearer the date of her wedding, the more ferocious the rebellion brewing in her belly.

By all accounts, her soon-to-be husband is a fine specimen: handsome, educated, well-dressed with impeccable manners, a real up-and-coming lawyer. Any woman should be thrilled with such a catch. So why does Marian find herself drawn to Duncan, a sullen and self-absorbed grad student who professes not to care for her – almost as vociferously as she claims her own disinterest in him?

The Edible Woman is a sort of anti-romance, written in Atwood’s distinctive style. (There’s no shortage of dry humor here.) It’s obvious that Marian and Peter are ill-matched from the start; and when the two become engaged (during an especially alarming fight/flight), their relationship continues to unravel. For Marian, anyway; her fiance couldn’t be more content with the retro arrangement. (The Edible Woman was originally published in 1969, and it shows in the archaic attitudes towards gender roles and marriage. Attitudes that persist today: for example, did you know that 50% of Americans think it should be illegal for a woman to keep her last name after marriage? I guess lesbians are just supposed to swap last names then?)

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Book Review: Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering, Mark Hawthorne (2013)

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

They Shoot Narwhals, Don’t They?

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation. Also, trigger warning for discussions of violence, including that of a sexual nature.)

“Hierarchies feed oppression because it allows for valuation: those at the top are more valued than those at the bottom. Oppressors like hierarchies that keep animals at the bottom because then you can do to humans what you do to animals if you say that the humans are like the animals. So it feeds oppression to have animal objectification.” – Carol J. Adams (page 492)

“Change is hard, but not changing is just as hard.” – Carol J. Adams (page 487)

“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” – Franz Kafka (quoted on page 490)

In Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering, author-activist and longtime vegan Mark Hawthorne examines some of the effects of these human hierarchies, which universally place nonhuman animals – an estimated three to thirty million species, comprised of trillions upon trillions of individuals – at the bottom of the proverbial shit pile. (That such categories even exist – human animals, and all the “others” – is itself a testament to the self-centeredness of the human species.)

While I was expecting an encyclopedic, A-to-Z look at animal suffering, Bleating Hearts is something much different; Hawthorne shines a light on practices that, for whatever reason, don’t garner as much attention in animal activist circles: Balut eggs, an Asian delicacy that involves boiling developing duck embryos alive. The plight of the ever-popular slow lorises (please don’t forward those YouTube videos, people, no matter how cute they seem!). Dolphin-assisted therapy (cruel, and a scam). Horse fighting (which often ends in the serial rape of a mare, positioned in the ring to induce the stallions to compete). Rogue taxidermy. If you think you know all there is to know about animal exploitation, think again. Even the most seasoned activist will discover something new within these pages.

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"The Hungry and the Hunted"

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

A Facebook acquaintance (is it terribly rude of me not to say friend?) posted this video some time back (try a year plus! I know, I’m the worst.) and I’ve been meaning to share it ever since. The clip’s from a short-lived show called Sports Night, which ran on ABC from 1998-2000. A comedy/drama created by Aaron Sorkin, Sports Night follows the production of a fictional sports news show (also called Sports Night).

The third episode of the first season (“The Hungry and The Hunted“) deals with newbie Jeremy’s reaction when, upon being tasked to produce a hunting segment for the show, he witnesses a deer being shot and killed right in front of him. As someone who’s never desired to kill animals for fun or “sport,” Jeremy is so horrified by the doe’s murder that he becomes physically ill and has to be rushed to the hospital.

Especially notable is the language Jeremy uses to describe the incident; as he transitions from the hunters’ perspective to his own, the deer ceases being just a thing, an “it,” and instead is recognized as a living creature – a she. From something to someone – and then to no one, an empty shell. A corpse. And for no reason, or at least not one discernible to the narrator:

Jeremy: (pauses) Yeah. Bob and Eddie were using the IR 50 Recon by Bushcomber. It’s got a 16 inch microgroove barrel with .30-.30 mags, side scope mount, wire cutter sheath, quick release bolt, mag catches and a 3 pound trigger. So I figured we must be going after a pretty dangerous duck.

Isaac: You can wiseass all you want. You’re gonna tell me what happened.

Jeremy: We shot a deer! In the woods by Lake Matatuck on the second day. There was a special vest they had me wear so they could distinguish me from things they wanted to shoot, so I was pretty grateful for that. Almost the whole day had gone by, and we hadn’t gotten anything. Eddie was getting frustrated and Bob Shoemaker was getting embarrassed. My camera guy needed to reload so I told everyone to take a 10 minute break. There was a stream near by and I walked over with this care package Natalie made me. Sat down. When I looked up I saw three of them: small, bigger, biggest. Recognizable to any species on the planet as a child, a mother and a father.

Now the trick with shooting deer is that you have to get them out in the open, and it’s tough with deer ’cause these are clever cagey animals with an intuitive sense of danger. You know what you have to do to get a deer out into the open? You hold out a Twinkie. That animal clopped up to me like we were at a party. She seemed to be pretty interested in the Twinkie, so I gave it to her. Looking back, she’d have been better off if I’d given her the damn vest. And Bob kind of screamed at me and whispered, ‘Move away!’ The camera had been reloaded and it looked like the day wasn’t going to be a washout after all. So I back away. A couple of steps at a time. And I closed my eyes when I heard the shot.

Look I know these are animals and they don’t play bridge or go to the prom, but you can’t tell me that little one didn’t know who his mother was. That’s got to mean something. And later at the hospital, Bob Shoemaker was telling me about the nobility and tradition of hunting, and how it was related to the Native American Indians and I nodded and said that was interesting, while I was thinking about what a load of crap it was! Hunting was part of Indian culture. It was food and it was clothes and it was shelter. They sang and danced and they offered prayers to the gods for a successful hunt so that they could survive one more unimaginably brutal winter. The things that they killed held the highest place of respect for them and to kill for fun was a sin. And they knew the gods wouldn’t be so generous next time. What we did wasn’t food and it wasn’t shelter and it wasn’t sports! It was just mean!

Also of interest is how Jeremy calls out the hunters for appropriating Native culture in order to justify their needless killing sprees. That said, death is still death, no matter how much you “respect” or “revere” the animal whose life you’re about to end. She has her own interests, and I’m pretty sure they don’t include being digested in your gullet.

Of course, context would most likely make this exchange less impressive; for example, I highly doubt that the Jeremy character has a sudden epiphany and goes vegan (or better still, is already vegan). I can’t say, since I haven’t seen the show – but it seems rather improbable, no? Even so, given the show’s likely demographic – youngish-adult-to-middle-aged dudes who enjoy sports, sports shows, and comedies about fictional sports shows – such a compassionate message is a nice surprise.

After the jump: the full transcript for those who can’t view the video.

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Pitch Bitch your vegan feminist article ideas! *

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

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Calling all vegan feminists!

Bitch magazine recently announced its next five issue themes – Habit(at), Pulp, Micro/Macro, Gray, and Food – for which it’s currently accepting submissions. Habit(at) and Food (Winter 2012 and Winter 2014, respectively) seem especially ripe for vegan discourse … but I bet you crafty people can work a little vegan magic into any one of these topics, don’t you think?

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 26: Milk Thieves, Body Hair, and the Cannibals Within

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

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Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary: A Powerful Statement

This stunning sculpture by Liu Qiang is an accurate depiction of humanity’s use of, and utter dependence on other animals and, in particular, the savage and bizarre habit of consuming the breast milk from mothers of other species-milk that these mothers have produced for their own babies, babies that we forced them to become pregnant with only to kill shortly after birth so that we can take the bereft mother’s milk, milk that we drink as though we were the children that we murdered.

Live vegan. There is no excuse not to.

Learn about non-violent living
Learn who is spared when you live vegan…
…and who suffers when you choose not to:
Milk Comes from a Grieving Mother
Dairy is a Death Sentence
The “Humane” Animal Farming Myth

29h59’59 by Liu Qiang is on exhibition at the 798 Art District in Beijing, China
Photo by Ng Han Guan

VegNews: June Twitter Chat, Wednesday, June 20 @ 6pm PT/9pm ET

In honor of LGBT Pride Month, we’ll be talking with prominent gay animal-rights activists about the connection between both movements. Never participated in a Twitter Chat before? Don’t worry. We have a handy guide to explain it all. Join us at the hashtag #VegNewsChat. You don’t even need to have a Twitter account to enjoy the discussion.

Kaili Joy Gray @ Daily Kos: Safeway’s general counsel tells hilarious sexist joke at annual shareholder meeting

You can listen to the audio at the link above, but here’s a transcript for the a/v averse:

You know, this is the season when companies and other institutions are interested in enhancing their reputation and their image for the general public, and one of the institutions that’s doing this is the Secret Service, particularly after the calamity in Colombia. And among the instructions given to the Secret Service agents was to try to agree with the president more and support his decisions. And that led to this exchange that took place last week, when the president flew into the White House lawn and an agent greeted him at the helicopter.

The president was carrying two pigs under his arms and the Secret Service agents said, “Nice pigs, sir.”

And the president said, “These are not ordinary pigs, these are genuine Arkansas razorback hogs. I got one for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and one for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”

And the Secret Service agent said, “Excellent trade, sir.”

Women as livestock. Nonhuman animals as items of trade. Sexism and speciesism, the stuff of high comedy. TAKE MY LAWYER, PLEASE!

Fat Girl Posing: Vegans.. I need to talk to you..

This is a year-old piece about fat shaming in the vegan community that recently recirculated on Facebook. h/t to Emelda (I think).

The whole piece is worth a read, but here’s the excerpt I posted on FB:

So here’s your strategy, right? Animal products are full of fat and calories and, therefore, if you stop eating them you’ll lose weight.. so, market veganism as a diet or “lifestyle change” will bring more people to the movement by preying on their low self esteem and body hatred. While the strategy may work initially what do you intend to do when all the newbie veg’s don’t lose weight? Or when they lose it but then gain it back? As a diet, it fails, just like any other, and you’ve lost your pull. More so, you’ve become part of an industry which is cruel to animals.. specifically the human animal.

Word.

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I thought you were a bitch.

Friday, June 8th, 2012

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On the season finale of 30 Rock, Kenneth Parcell redefined the term “bitch” in a way that tickled my vegan feminist funny bone. (Yes, vegans and feminists have funny bones too!)

“And to think I thought Hazel was a bitch. Friendly and loyal, like a well-trained female dog. She isn’t a bitch. She’s a meanie pants.”

30 Rock, “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” (Season 6, episode 22)

The part about being “well-trained” aside – ambitious and outspoken, bitches are anything but – I’d say that this is pretty spot on. Given that the observation comes from the “backward hick” character – famous for his nonsensical, fundamentalist Christian / quaint agrarian brand of “wisdom” – I’m not sure whether the audience is supposed agree. Whatever. Some of my best friends are bitches. Exhibit A: Mags, above, sunbathing on a copy of Bitch magazine.

On related note, this little tidbit from Texts from Last Night – re-purposed for Texts from the X-Files – also made me smile.

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For those who can’t view the image, it’s still of Dana Scully speaking to another woman; her back is turned to the camera, so I can’t identify her, but she’s a tallish brunette. The texts reads, “(716): I’d call her a cunt, but she doesn’t seem to have the depth or warmth.”

The moral of the story? Bitches and cunts are awesome.

Book Review: Good Bones and Simple Murders, Margaret Atwood (1994)

Monday, May 7th, 2012

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Look who dropped in during my reading of “Cold-Blooded”!
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“The good bones are in here.”

four out of five stars

I snagged a used copy of Good Bones and Simple Murders (Margaret Atwood, 1994) on Amazon, whilst shopping around for some of Atwood’s older novels. A slim collection of short stories and poetry, Good Bones is an eclectic mix, with illustrations by the author peppered throughout. The stories cover a little bit of everything: fantasy, mystery, science fiction, speculative fiction, feminism, rape culture, gender wars, dating, death – you name it.

Many of the pieces are hit and miss; my favorites are the scifi stories that hinge on an environmental or animal-friendly theme:

– “Cold-Blooded” – An alien race of matriarchal moth people visit planet earth – or as they call it, “The Planet of the Moths,” a nickname owing to the fact that their moth cousins outnumber us by billions – and find humans sorely lacking in both culture and intelligence;

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“To my sisters, the Iridescent Ones, the Egg-Bearers, the Many-Faceted, greetings from the Planet of the Moths.” A page from “Cold-Blooded,” which also appears in In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011).
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– “My Life As a Bat” – A series of reflections on the narrator’s past life as a bat, including a disturbing (and, as it just so happens, true) anecdote about WWII-era experiments in which bats were made into unwitting suicide bombers;

– “Hardball” – A piece of dystopian speculative fiction in which humans, having decimated their environment, have retreated to live under a giant dome. Since space is limited, the population must be kept in check: for every birth, one person is chosen to die via a lottery. Care to guess what becomes of the remains?

Also enjoyable are those stories which reimagine classic literature: “Gertrude Talks Back” gives voice to Hamlet’s long-suffering mother, and “Unpopular Gals” and “Let Us Now Praise Stupid Women” celebrates those villains and “airheads” without which fairy tales would not exist.

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“He’s a carnivore, you’re a vegetarian. That’s what you have to get over.”
– page 84, “Liking Men”
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While at times difficult to read, “Liking Men” is another standout; this is the piece that deals with sexual assault, vis à vis a woman’s journey back to coping with – and even loving – men (or rather, one man in particular) again after her rape.

A must for fans of Margaret Atwood!

(Is there a nickname for us, like HDM’s Sraffies? Atwolytes, maybe? Mad Adams and Angry Eves?)

PS – Dear Margaret: Fishes are indeed animals.

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“My eyes are situated in my head, which also possesses two small holes for the entrance and exit of air, the invisible fluid we swim in, and one larger hole, equipped with bony protuberances called teeth, by means of which I destroy and assimilate certain parts of my surroundings and change them into my self. This is called eating. The things I eat include roots, berries, nuts, fruits, leaves, and the muscle tissues of various animals and fish. Sometimes I eat their brains and glands as well. I do not as a rule eat insects, grubs, eyeballs, or the snouts of pigs [what, no hotdogs? – ed.], though these are eaten with relish in other countries.” – page 133, “Homelanding”
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Can we please stop pretending otherwise? xoxo – A vegan feminist fan.

(Crossposted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote me helpful if you think it so!)

furkid friday: dogs and books (and books about dogs)

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Today we have an extra-special furkid friday/Shout Out two-fer! (Dogs and books, books and dogs; throw in pizza and netflix, and that’s all you really need in life, amirite folks?) I even redesigned the old Colbert Report SHOUT OUT! graphic for the occasion!

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Animated gifs, they’re all the rage. Alas, I was lazy and in a hurry and only used four frames for this one, so it’s a bit choppy. But still, animated Stephen! Times two!

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The props go to Columbia University Press, which kindly sent me a copy of Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film by Anat Pick, a senior lecturer in film and program leader for film and video: theory and practice at the University of East London. From the book’s back cover:

Exploring the “logic of flesh” and the use of the body to mark species identity, Anat Pick reimagines a poetics that begins with the vulnerability of bodies, not the omnipotence of thought. Pick proposes a “creaturely” approach based on the shared embodiedness of humans and animals and a postsecular perspective on human-animal relations. She turns to literature, film, and other cultural texts, challenging the familiar inventory of the human: consciousness, language, morality, and dignity. Elaborating on such themes as witnessing, commemoration, and collective memory, Pick identifies the animal within all humans, emphasizing the corporeal and its issues of power and freedom. Through her poetics of the creaturely, powerlessness is the point at which aesthetic and ethical thinking must begin.

This looks like an interesting read for those concerned with how portrayals of nonhumans in pop culture – literature, film, television – both reflect and inform societal attitudes and ethics towards our fellow sentient beings. (In other words, me!) If you’d like to learn more, check out the book’s listing on Columbia University Press.

I tried my best to snap a photo of Peedee and/or O-Ren with Creaturely Poetics – mock reading it, or some such other cutesy silliness – but neither was feeling very cooperative. (Too hot!)

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That’s okay, though; truth be told, I wasn’t trying that hard anyway. (TOO HOT! Seriously, have I mentioned how hot it’s been lately? We’re looking at a week of 90 degree weather with 70%+ humidity. Ick!)

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Tweeting Mother’s Day (Again!)

Monday, May 9th, 2011

A vegan vanilla cupcake topped with vanilla buttercream and
shredded coconut. Staked in the middle is a cute, pink and yellow sign
wishing the nom-er a Happy Mother’s Day!
CC image via flickr user mishl982.
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In honor of Mother’s Day, I spent much of yesterday tweeting about veganism, motherhood, and the exploitation of female bodies in animal industries (with an obvious emphasis on agriculture). In fact, those of you who follow me on twitter probably saw your feeds flooded by my steady stream of tweets! (Sorry for that, y’all!) In comparison to last year, I planned ahead this time: the day prior, I queued up a bunch of tweets using Hoot Suite, so that they’d begin posting while I was still snuggled up, all warm and cozy in bed (under a dog pile several layers deep, no doubt). Once I awoke and was reassured that it was working correctly, I scheduled the rest of the day, with a tweet going out every five or ten minutes until nearly 11PM. Way easier and more consistent than doing it by hand throughout the day! (Also, possibly less obnoxious, though only slightly so.)

After the jump you’ll find a digest of all of yesterday’s tweets (minus the ones for which I used twitter’s built-in RT feature. For some silly reason, those don’t make it into the list. Sigh.) If you compare this to last year’s round-up – which I totally don’t expect anyone to do! – you’ll find that I recycled many of 2010’s tweets, but also added quite a few new ones as well. This is partially due to laziness on my end, I admit. But also, when I went over last year’s list, I had a hard time trimming it down: so many of the posts, articles, photos, pamphlets, etc. were that compelling. I hope you agree!

I’m already working on a list of resources for Father’s Day (June 19) so if you have a blog, post, idea or theme you’d like to suggest, I’m all eyes!

Smooch!

“Smooch!: Both Tommy (left) and Freedom (right) were rescued from slaughter. Tommy is an Angus, raised for meat consumption. Freedom is a male Jersey, a dairy breed. Male dairy calves are unwanted and sent to auction and raised for veal or backyard slaughter. Now both live at Animal Place and obviously Freedom loves Tommy!”
CC image via Marji Beach on flickr.
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Bittersweet Mother’s Day Kisses & Vegan Birthday Wishes, Redux

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

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This morning, I woke to vomit in the bed. Kaylee vomit, to be exact, which makes the situation slightly less bad than it might otherwise have been. (Also, it helps that it wasn’t on my pillow. Yes, that has happened. To Shane! Muahahaha….)

“What’s the diff?” you’re probably wondering; “Puke is puke, is it not?” Actually, there’s a 50-50 chance that I can match a pile of vomit to a dog – or at least one of my dog-kids – based on its content: Peedee likes to steal and nom on my earplugs, Ralphie is a grass and dirt eater, and during the spring and summer months Kaylee turns into a decidedly non-vegan bug hunter – but that’s beside the point. Kaylee vomit – and mishaps involving bodily fluids – is different ’cause it comes from Kaylee. Sweet, sweet Kaylee, who’s suffered so much in her short life – yet harbors not one resentful cell in her entire being – and with whom it’s impossible to become angry. At least, not for more than a split second at a time.

It’s difficult to celebrate Mother’s Day without also mourning for the billions of nonhuman animals whose reproductive systems and maternal instincts we exploit for our own gain: “laying” hens, “dairy” cows, “breeding” sows, and so on. For many vegans, it’s those females farmed for food who have come to symbolize motherhood hijacked and corrupted on Mother’s Day. But for me – a vegan who’s only visited a handful of farmed animal sanctuaries, and has yet to befriend and know a cow, hen or sow on a personal level – Kaylee is the representation of motherhood subverted.

Today I’d like to republish a piece I wrote for her last Mother’s Day. Every word rings as true now as it did then. More so, even: during the last two years, I’ve been struggling with some minor but chronic health issues. Whereas the other dogs – as much as I love and adore them – oftentimes add to the stress with their constant demands for attention and occasional doggy outbursts (bark! bark! bark!), to the point that I sometimes have to hand them off to Shane … not Kaylee.

While I long to comfort, coddle, pamper her – as a down payment on the debt humanity owes her for the pain she and so many like her have endured at our hands – so often, too often, it’s she who takes care of me. Rarely does she ask; never does she take. Most times, she is content to lay beside me, graciously accepting strokes and kisses; laments whispered. She is unflappable in her devotion and, despite all that she’s been through, manages to exude a sense of calmness. Of peace and pleasure, long delayed.

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Always soft but steady in her presence … my rock, made from marshmallows. She keeps me sane.

Happy mother’s day to all the moms in the world: human and non, biological and adoptive, same and cross-species, of all genders, ages and orientations. I hope you have a compassionate and peaceful day! And to those who are separated or estranged from your mother(s), my heart is with you.

P.S. My birthday is tomorrow, but my wish remains the same: live vegan, or at least as vegan as your life circumstances will allow.

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furkid friday: happy mother’s day

Friday, May 6th, 2011

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Scenes of compassion, consideration and love from my own life.
Counterclockwise, from top-left: the family of geese who shared “my” pond last year,
and who have returned again this season (no goslings yet though!);
my sister Michelle and brother Mike cuddle and comfort our canine sibling Shadow
shortly after surgery to repair her shattered back leg;
Ralphie and I share a moment during a sentimental visit to
our old neighborhood in Fairport, NY; and
a mother cow licks her baby clean.
Sadly, both were the property of our former landlords, and are most likely ground beef by now. It was a privilege to live next to such lovely creatures – but one constantly clouded by sadness and despair, given their near-certain fate. The knowing can be painful; but the not knowing is far, far worse. Go vegan, for you and for them.
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One does not need to be human to feel the deep-seated instinct to protect her babies, to seek the warmth of one’s mother. When animal advocates point out the obvious – that mothers and their babies suffer profoundly when they are separated, that harming one’s baby causes emotional trauma to the mother – we are accused of anthropomorphizing. We are portrayed as having centers as squishy as marshmallows, as having naive, sentimental, childish minds. In fact, it is a cold biological imperative, not just an emotional one, that drives a mother to want to nurture and protect her young: entire species would be wiped out if not for a mother’s instinct to defend her babies. I think, though, that it’s highly arrogant and self-serving to presume that humans alone have an emotional stake in their babies’ livelihoods. […]

One also doesn’t need to be a mother to be deeply driven to protect another. Long before I ever had a baby, I felt the same kind of adrenaline surge when someone intentionally whipped a hard rubber ball at my dog as I would have if he had done that same thing years later to my son. I chased that guy down the beach, screaming at him, and he ran away as if his life depended on it. Maybe it did. I’m a non-violent person, but you don’t mess with the ones I love.

For Mother’s Day, I propose that we honor this natural drive within all of us to protect the ones we love, the ones who depend on our consideration, by not consuming the products of exploitation and cruelty. This common thread of wanting our babies to thrive is natural and noble, a key part of our essential being. Whether we are men or women, children or adults, human or hen, that universal mother is in all of us. Let’s celebrate without exploiting another innocent mother who had not only the autonomy of her body but also her babies stolen from her for our appetites. Let’s connect to that profound mothering spirit that links us together. She wants her babies to be well and protected from harm. I think we can understand.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone.

….with extra special hugs and kisses (and a few odd few bitter tears) to Miss Kaylee, of course.*

2007-02-04 - Harassing the Dogs, PM ed. - 0005

* Usually I stick with the status-neutral “Ms.,” but Kaylee prefers “Miss.” It makes her feel young, yo!

** The quote is excerpted from The Universal Mother… by Marla Rose, the one and only Vegan Feminist Agitator. Read and share, please and thanks.

Consuming Women, No. 6: blender? He hardly knew her!*

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Trigger warning for violent imagery, some of which involves female nudity, under the jump.**

A subsidiary of the department store Beymen, blender bills itself as a “concept store.” (Caution: meat-loving hipsters ahead!) The “concept” (scare quotes because the whole concept of a concept store is way too fucking pretentious for this thrift store shopper to stand), as you may have already surmised, involves the pairing of fashion with misogyny, the conflation of sex and violence, and the linkage of women and nonhuman animals: consumable objects, unite!

With several locations in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey, blender doesn’t just sell clothing and assorted shiny baubles; oh no! Nor are body dysmorphia and low self-esteem its only wares. Ever the hipster-catering douchebags, each blender store is also home to a butcher shop! Because nothing accents a $500 white angora scarf quite like ghastly blood smear stain. (No, really!)

Curiously, blender attempts to sell its audience on this concept by treating at least half of them like pieces of meat, too!

(More below the fold…)

"I’ll make them love it."

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

I WANT What You’ve GOT by Shell123ey on YouTube
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Trigger warning: while the picture primarily rests on the narrator’s face, there are a few brief flashes of disturbing images, including a “downed” cow and a “dairy” cow suffering from mastitis. You can listen to the audio alone if this is likely to upset you.

——————————

This video made the rounds on Facebook a few weeks back, and – while I meant to post it right away – I wanted to transcribe the audio first, so that those who can’t view the vid can at least get its gist. So if I seem late out of the gate, that’s why.

This is a short but powerful piece; whereas one vegan described it as

Angry and strident, but well-done and packs a wallop.

and, in the same breath,

Likely counterproductive for viewers over, say, age 20, but perfect for pissed off teens.

(let head-scratching commence), this 32-year-old begs to differ. Angry and strident, yes; but also a heart-wrenching appeal to our shared kinship with nonhuman animals – who, like us, love and care for their families; experience a wellspring of emotions, including pain, fear, joy and empathy; and are traumatized by the unceasing bodily violations to which they are subjected in the name of convenience and privilege. A mother is a mother is a mother. Sisters, us all.

In my estimation, this is a message that only becomes more powerful and potent with age.

###

You’ve got something that I want. And do you know what I’m going to do to get it?

I’m going to confine you in a rape rack and I’m going to forcibly impregnate you. I’ll likely confine you afterwards.

Then, when your baby’s born, I’m gonna kill it. Then I’m gonna take what I wanted from you.

I’m going to hook you up to a machine that’s going to suck your secretions from you until you bleed. You’ll likely get infections. Your body will swell with puss from where the machines have been sucking you. And after a while, you’ll be so sore that you won’t be able to walk.

Then I’m going to market your secretions as a “product.”

I’m going to tell everyone that if they want to be healthy and strong, they must drink your secretions.

I’m going to put posters up in schools.

I’m going to tell parents that if they want their children to grow up big and strong, then they must feed your secretions to them.

I’m going to make your secretions part of the standard food pyramid, so that everyone will accept that drinking your bloody, puss-filled secretions is healthy for them.

I’ll add addictive flavors and sugars to make people drink more and more of your secretions.

I’ll make them love it.

I’m going to make it so ingrained into their culture that anyone who argues that drinking your secretions isn’t healthy is deemed as “crazy.”

You know that this is blatant violation of your rights to your own body – but I’m going to call it “farming.” “Dairy farming.”

And you know why I’ll get away with it?

Because you look different from me.

And you can only moo.

###

Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 25: Vegan nomz & Bowl-a-thons!

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Vegan cookies are distributed

Vegan cookies are distributed at a Prop 8 rally in Riverside, CA, circa 2008.
CC image via Flickr user lierne.

For this edition of Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, let’s start with some shiny happy news for a change, shall we? Namely, cross-movement bridge-building with vegan nomz and bowl-a-thons!

(Take note, carnists and defensive omnivores: vegans are not, in point o’ facts, all single-minded activists who prioritize nonhuman over human animals. Also: we are quite capable of multitasking, thankyouverymuch.)

Vegan Protest Fuel: Feeding the protesters in Madison, WI

Vegan Protest Fuel is the first of two projects I’d like to share with y’all (and, if you happen to have a little extra scratch laying around, encourage you to contribute to). Started just last week in response to the ongoing protests in Wisconsin, the good folks at Vegan Protest Fuel deliver vegan food to peaceful protesters defending their rights – because “Everyone Needs to Eat.” Naturally, their first campaign is feeding “the tenacious heroes in Madison, WI, who are fighting to preserve their precious collective bargaining rights and for economic justice in their state against a radical conservative governor and assembly.” Over time, they hope to expand their program throughout the United States and, possibly, the world.

Powered by tofu: it’s not just a slogan on a tee, yo.

See also: Food Not Bombs, Food for Life Global, HIPPO, A Well-Fed World and Ample Harvest.

Team Vegan Vixens: Bowling for abortions in the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon!

Team Vegan Vixens needs your support in the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon! Held throughout the month of April,

The Bowl-a-Thon is a nationwide series of local events that allow community members (you!) to captain your own bowling team, participate in a kickass national event – and raise money to help women and girls pay for abortions they couldn’t otherwise afford.

Abortion Funds are local, grassroots groups that work tirelessly to help low-income and disadvantaged women who want an abortion and do not have enough money to pay for it. Abortion Funds help women pay for their abortions, help them buy bus or plane tickets, and even offer women a place to stay when they have to travel for an abortion. Abortion Funds make a difference in women’s lives…and you can join them!

With $236 raised so far, Team Vegan Vixens is currently the top fundraiser for the Chicago Abortion Fund, which ranks #8 overall. Help Team Vegan (Vixens!) represent by pledging your support. Or sign up to participate your own bad self!

Fuck yeah, pro-choice vegans.

(More below the fold…)

Speciesism-Denying Humans

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

is the name of a new vegan meme / tumblr blog by @VeganMudblood, which you should totes check out. Also: like (favorite? friend? I’m not down with the tumblr speak.*), share, add to, etc., etc., etc.

Here’s my submission. The first of many, no doubt. (Expect a slew to appear the next time I’m feeling particularly lazy, aimless, or in need of a good procrastinating.)

null

To be fair, the speciesism-denying human pictured above never actually proffered this defense on her own behalf – though at least one commenter on her popular feminist blog did. (No, really!) And yes, it is in point o’ facts a square in the upcoming Speciesist Feminist Bingo II.

* Speaking of which, I tried to create a tumblr account so I could follow Speciesism-Denying Humans, but my both of my blog names are already taken! Looks like I’m gonna have to think on this for a bit. URLs are a weighty decision, you know.

Updated to add: I blame the kyriarchy. IBTK, for short.

"PETA is about as feminist as it gets."

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Over the weekend, PETA’s Bruce Friedrich was the featured guest on ARZone’s weekly live guest chat. (You can find a full chat transcript here.) While the primary focus was on veganism and welfare reforms, a few participants dared question PETA’s feminist cred – specifically vis à vis its sexual objectification of women – with, ahem, interesting results. Case in point: Friedrich’s assertion that “PETA is about as feminist as it gets.”

My initial instinct, of course, was to pen a 10,000 word, line-by-line rebuttal of Friedrich’s statements, but just the thought damn near gave me an aneurysm. So not worth the stress! Instead, I decided to pop the vegan maraschino cherry on my Anti-Feminist Vegetarian Bingo card.

The game? It’s on like Donkey Kong, bitches!*

Bingo Card (Anti-Feminist Vegetarian Bingo 1) - Bruce Friedrich's AR Zone chat

Anti-Feminist Vegetarian Bingo: Bruce Friedrich/ARZone Live Chat ed.
FYI: A plain-text version of this card, complete with links to refutations and debunkings, is available here.
——————————

SO CLOSE! We were SO CLOSE to scoring a big fat sexist bingo! Next time, maybe. Probably. Most definitely.

Anyway, let’s take a look at of some of the “feminist” nuggets Friedrich dropped during the chat. The “hits” are labeled with the appropriate square; the non-hits, to be incorporated into v.2!

Square B-1: “Sex sells.”

Regarding our use of sex in our campaigns:

[…]

2) Sex sells and isn’t offensive to most people. That’s the super-brief reply to that question.

Oh, the old “sex sells” cliché! Such a classic, that one.

99.9% of the time, when people say that “sex sells,” what they really mean is that women’s sexualized, dehumanized, objectified, dismembered, and all-around pornified bodies sell. Or, put more succinctly: “sexism sells.”

Speaking of GQ magazine’s recent Glee spread, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency breaks down the difference between “erotic or sexual images, stories, and video of people engaging in healthy sexual lives and experiences” and “the patriarchal objectification and sexualization of womens’ bodies.” (Transcript here.)

The images in which PETA trades don’t commonly involve healthy depictions of female agency and sexuality, but rather women posed and performing for the male gaze; usually invisible or implied, but sometimes – as with PETA’s 2011 soft-core porno/Super Bowl ad, which is discussed in more detail later on in the chat – fully present, leering, sneering and degrading. Almost all of PETA’s naked women ads are suggestive of mainstream pornography, what with their emphasis on thin, white, conventionally attractive models, bent and contorted into submissive postures, vulnerable, vacant, and ready for a good fuckin’. Bonus points for faux lesbianism for het male enjoyment!

(More below the fold…)

Consuming Women, No. 5: Il Corpo delle Donne, Il Corpo delle Animali *

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Best known outside of Italy for his role as prime minister – or, more accurately, the many sex scandals surrounding his prime ministership – Silvio Berlusconi is also “a successful entrepreneur” (as Wiki so nicely puts it). In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked him the 74th richest man in the world (and the 3rd richest in Italy), with a net worth of $9 billion. While he started out in construction, much of Berlusconi’s wealth comes from his vast media holdings, which encompass “television, newspapers, publishing, cinema, finance, banking, insurance, and even sport.”

Not surprisingly – given both his own conduct, as well as the media culture in which we live – much of what Berlusconi trades in is women. Young, white, conventionally attractive, eminently fuckable, and oftentimes objectified and humiliated women. Italian television has a reputation for routine sexism and misogyny – most commonly expressed in its gratuitous displays of women’s naked or scantily clad bodies – and the programming on Berlusconi’s channels is no exception. (In fact, Berlusconi acts as a lightning rod for much of this criticism. Just today, for example, Italians saw anti-Berlusconi protests in Milan.)

Writes Tom Kington in a piece appearing in The Guardian, circa September 2009:

After a summer of sleaze in which Berlusconi has been variously accused of “frequenting minors”, sleeping with an escort girl and holding debauched parties at his Sardinian villa, a feminist backlash is gaining momentum. The target is not only Berlusconi but the wider culture of a country in which a prime minister could survive such allegations.

According to Chiara Volpato, an academic at Milan’s Bicocca University, matters hit rock bottom when Berlusconi’s lawyer said his client would never pay for sex with an escort because the prime minister is merely an “end user” of women: “The choice of language really summed up how far we have sunk.”

This summer a group of academics, including Volpato, persuaded 15,000 people to sign a petition asking the wives of world leaders to boycott the G8 conference in Italy in protest at the plight of women in Berlusconi’s Italy.

The most recent sex scandal – involving the exchange of money for sex, most notably with a then 17-year-old girl – served as a reminder that I’d yet to blog about Il Corpo delle Donne (“Women’s Bodies” or “The Body of Women”; embedded at the top of the post), a short indie feminist documentary about sexism in Italian television. In it, director Lorella Zanardo narrates a veritable clip show of misogyny, all of which appeared on daytime and prime time Italian television:

(More below the fold…)