Saturday, August 1, 2015

Do yourself a favor

and go read this. If you're vegan you probably have struggled with just the same sorts of language difficulties that So I'm Thinking of Going Vegan addresses in her delightful post. (Thank you HGV)

Not only is the phenomenon she struggles with in her writing one that repeatedly causes difficulty for vegans...it also contributes to problematical issues for all manner of folks who are attempting to address socially constructed identities and ways of conceptualizing relationships and interactions that eschew oppression and oppressive hierarchies and binary categorizings and on and on.

When we we try to deconstruct or opt out of oppressive thinking and doing and speaking it just may be that our difficulties in doing such are compounded by the fact that we are using a language...English (not that other languages don't have some of the same issues going on...they do)...which was pretty much constructed and created and enforced by guess who? White penis bearing folks who were interested in maintaining and enforcing a white centered patriarchal worldview wherein white men (and their "civilizations") were situated as the end all and be all of how it should be. One where humans (especially white possessors of penises) were the superior beings and all life was somehow subordinate to this ultimate manifestation of a living being. Jeez.

Audre Lorde exquisitely observed that we cannot dismantle the master's house using the master's tools.

I would urge anyone interested in learning more about these kinds of problems to consult Dr. Julia Penelope's book: Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Lies of the Father's Tongues.

There you can learn more about some of the confusings inherent in trying to move beyond thinking and speaking in oppressive terms or language using a language that was designed and created by oppressors. English was, according to Dr. Penelope, constructed to be sexist and racist (and many other structurings of oppression are built into its use and rules) and...by extension we can infer that it was also constructed to be supportive of speciesism.

So...next time you are...as I do all the time...fumbling around with how to refer to beings, without being demeaning and/or patronizing, who aren't you and also don't wear tennis shoes or drive cars or speak human languages...maybe part of the problem isn't just your deficiencies in conceptualizing and expressing yourself...it may be that the language tools you are using (English) are not well designed for the task because the jerks who created the tools were wanting to support and maintain oppression and weren't interested too much in genuine equality and respect and freedom.

Think of how often "man" or "mankind" is used as reference to all humans...neatly centering penis folks as the norm and relegating all other manifestations and configurations to "other". Gimme a break...does such goofiness suggest a major overevaluation of themselves by men or what?

I remember clearly the furor that erupted when feminist thinking and critiquing had become influential enough to bring heat to bear on the common practice of using the pronoun "he", as used in writing and speaking, as meaning to refer to both females and males. Why not use "she" to refer to everyone? Well...that wasn't what the good old boys wanted who set up the language and rules for usage. They were out to dominate...not share equally.

Rules of usage, available vocabulary and common usage practices can all serve to support and exemplify and maintain hierarchies and oppressive thinking. And...make no mistake...when these everyday demeanings are pointed out there are many people (mostly white men) who get upset about them and object to anyone protesting them. The upset is part of how the demeanings retain their power and stay in place.

So, give yourself a break...it may not all be that you're drenched in oppressive thinking...it also may be that you're trying to use the masters tools do dismantle his edifices of oppression. Disclaimer...I'm a white male so who knows what kind of inadvertent and overlooked oppressions I stuck into the blog post. For every one that slipped in...piss on me...I am working hard on this.

7 comments:

Have Gone Vegan said...

Thanks for the link veganelder! :)

Yes, why not she? It clearly includes he, so what's the problem? I mean, it even looks more inclusive than "man" or "mankind" or even "hu[man]" for example, so I say we go for it! Well, I guess that'll never happen, snort.

I recently ran across the term "womxn", which I kinda liked as I never really got into "womyn" as a replacement for wo[man]. Being a prefix always felt like being an appendage, but there were bigger battles to fight...

Was doing some more writing on privilege and ran across this site for men who label themselves men's rights activists (A Voice for Men -- I guess they feel that men have no voice in our society?) and the general gist is that it's women (and feminists in particular) who are doing all the oppressing, not men. Well, guess I've gotten it wrong all this time, double snort. Even more depressing though was one of the pages on their site containing YouTube videos by women supporters claiming that they're absolutely right. Yikes.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Power is the problem. I sometimes think the apparently increasing incidence of raggedy looking armed white men showing up at various places of unrest...ostensibly to keep the "peace"...are indicative of the unconscious awareness that a social regime change is coming. And the day of the hegemony of white men is ending...thankfully.

Men's rights? That's sort of the equivalent of the perpetrator of an attack on a woman screaming "she made me do it". My presumption is that since white men wielded power poorly and unjustly...their demise will be just as unsightly and ugly as was their time of ascendance.

Internal oppression is common enough that women claiming support for "men's rights" is no surprise. Historically there always have been a small number of any oppressed group who have sided with their oppressors. Some Native Americans assisted the U.S.American government against other Native Americans, some with Jewish ancestry assisted the Nazis...strangely enough. And we all are familiar with Clarence Thomas. You have to look at what the average member of an oppressed group is doing, not the exceptions or the few. Examples of tokenization can always be found.

You're right though...yikes...it's sad.

Christine said...

I read the article you recommend with interest, I also never know what is the best way to refer to the others species with which we share this world. Usually I say as above the other species, or other animals or non human animals with people of like mind but consider when speaking with others who are non vegan about veganism or animal rights using such terminology just confuses the issue and depending on the person concerned you might be led off on a tangent. I can’t see anything wrong with term non-human animals, though I prefer other animals.

Another difficulty for me is using the word pet and replacing with companion animal, while some people understand this straight the way and think it is a better way to refer to their animal companion others think of guide dogs or service dogs if the animal in question is a dog. Also now it is more correct for vegans and supporters of animal rights to say we adopted our rabbit, cat or dog or we are the animal’s guardian but at the end of the day whether he or she is a pet companion animal, adopted animal or we are their guardian they do not have any choice in the matter.

Concerning animals I have never liked referring to them as “it” rather than or she as this reduces them to an object rather than a sentient being.


It can get difficult, as you say the English language doesn't really provide suitable words and is sexist and racist, though until recent years I didn’t think of it that way. Trying to change the use of the pronoun he when referring to both male and female and using he or she can get difficult particularly if you are not an experienced writer, replacing it with “they” sounds awkward and odd. I agree terminology has the affect of perpetuating discrimination but it will take more than a change of vocabulary, though it is a good beginning, in fact concerning racism the situation in the world is getting worse.

I think though if we settled on one term for referring to other animals it would become more common place and less strange to those who are not vegan

Christine said...

I hope you are not getting duplicates of this message, this is my third attempt to post it.

I read the article you recommend with interest, I also never know what is the best way to refer to the others species with which we share this world. Usually I say as above the other species, or other animals or non human animals with people of like mind but consider when speaking with others who are non vegan about veganism or animal rights using such terminology just confuses the issue and depending on the person concerned you might be led off on a tangent. I can’t see anything wrong with non-human animals, though I refer other animals.

Another difficulty for me is using the word pet and replacing with companion animals, while some people understand this straight the way and think it is a better way to refer to their animal companion others think of guide dogs or service dogs if the animal in question is a dog. Also now it is more correct for vegans and supporters of animal rights to say we adopted our rabbit, cat or dog or we are the animal’s guardian but at the end of the day whether he or she is a pet companion animal, adopted animal or we are their guardian they do not have any choice in the matter.

Concerning animals I have never liked referring to them as “it” rather than or she as this reduces them to an object rather than a sentient being.


It can get difficult, as you say the English language doesn't really provide suitable words and is sexist and racist, though until recent years I didn’t think of it that way. Trying to change the use of the pronoun he when referring to both male and female and using he or she can get difficult particularly if you are not an experienced writer, replacing it with “they” sounds awkward and odd. I agree terminology has the affect of perpetuating discrimination but it will take more than a change of vocabulary, though it is a good beginning, in fact concerning racism the situation in the world is getting worse.

I think though if we settled on one term for referring to other animals it would become more common place and less strange to those who are not vegan

Have Gone Vegan said...

Hi Christine, you're so right that at the end of the day whatever we call the furry, feathered or finned beings living with us and however we refer to our role, they don't have a choice, and we still have all the power. Changing vocabulary can only do so much, although I'm hopeful that it can reflect the actual changes we're trying to make.

As for using "them" and "they", I'm seeing it more and more often (especially as used by those who identify as transgendered), and it doesn't feel so odd anymore. :)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. Your points about areas of confusion when trying to communicate with those who aren't vegan about veganism while also trying to effectuate a vocabulary change are quite accurate. One of the quickest ways for me to fall into a swamp of misunderstandings is to attempt to present too many new and unfamiliar concepts all at once.

Part of the struggle for me is to keep in mind how English sort of forces me into referencing living beings who aren't human as if being human is the center of Earthlingness (I made up that word). We humans aren't that center but we have a strong predisposition to think about and talk about these topics as if we were.

This automatic and unthinking centering also goes on in terms of putting males at the center of being human. And that's gotta change.

We humans tend to center ourselves when trying to talk about living beings, about the environment and even about mother Earth herself. And I think that automatic and often unthinking centering is harmful and misleading.

Awkward is to be expected when we engage in trying to shift perspectives and to see and think and talk about things in new ways. In fact...if it isn't awkward it may be that nothing new is going on. So...while it may feel clunky and clumsy to cast around for new ways to arrange words...I suspect that's part and parcel of what's a good and necessary thing.

Have Gone Vegan said...

Note: After posting my comment to Christine above, I found out that the term "transgendered" is actually considered offensive to many in the community, so I apologize for using it. Here's a link outlining why the word transgender is a better alternative:

http://time.com/3630965/transgender-transgendered/

Language is always tricky, and the general rule of thumb should be that members of a group or community get to decide what terms are appropriate, not those outside of a group. Always learning... :)