Laura, an UK-based writivist (writer + artist), has a website FemVegArt that is all about promoting feminism/gender equality and veganism/anti-speciesism. Her products are for people who want to raise awareness and proudly express their values in small things that can have great meaning. Her approach is intersectional, which means that she is aware of how all oppression is related and rooted in the same basic cause. Here, Laura reflects among other things, on why is veganism a feminist issue, why did she go vegan, which objects tell stories of women in best way, and why companies producing vegan products are sometimes speciesist and also misogynistic.
Laura, how do you define yourself
I define myself as an artist and a writer (among many other things). It’s a bit difficult to see myself as an activist, though that’s what I aspire to be. It’s difficult because most of the time being an activist is equated with direct group action. Due to my complex trauma, I cannot do this, and there’s some shame around this (also due to C-PTSD). But I guess I am an activist, and more specifically, and artivist. I like that word, because it validates creative forms of activism. Sometimes labels can be very helpful. Maybe there also should be a special term for those who use writing as a form of activism. Writivism.
What is veganism for you?
For me, veganism meant a huge step towards becoming my true self. I had to suppress my values all my life, so when I finally decided to go vegan, it was an act of independence. I’ve been vegan for 6 years now, and I was a vegetarian all my life before that. I’m convinced that I would have become vegan already as a child if I had been raised by a non-abusive family. I always identified with animals, but was stuck in a state of disconnection, ignorance, and lies for so long (like many other people, I think). I became vegan in April 2016 after having had a nightmare. The nightmare was about trying to save a piglet and it ended tragically. It was very upsetting. The next day, I did an internet search about dairy, and as anyone who did something similar will probably understand, I became vegan on the spot. It’s strange to think now that there once was a time when I wasn’t vegan. I think emotionally I always was vegan.
What is feminism for you?
With feminism it’s similar. I always was keenly aware of injustices. On the one hand, I suffered so much injustice myself, and on the other, I think I’m just naturally observant and highly sensitive. This is a gift, but due to my abuse, it always felt like a curse. Animal abuse traumatised me from infancy and so did being forced to watch women being sexually attacked in films and sexually objectified in TV ads and other media. So of course I developed a hyper-awareness of these things, because they became triggers for me. I identified as a feminist already in primary school age, but as I had no one to support and guide me, I got a lot wrong. As a teenager, some of my oppressed anger from abuse materialised in idolising female warrior characters. It’s what I call pseudo-feminism today, when Hollywood wants to sell you “strong” “feminist” characters that are just macho. And of course they are STILL sexually objectified. They just are so while being violent. It’s the opposite of feminism, humanism, and equality. I feel a lot of grief and compassion for my teenage self and other girls who are left alone in this trap of misogyny. It’s a system in which they cannot win. They need someone to support them and help them gain awareness.
But now that I have more awareness, it feels like a burden most of the time, because seeing all of these examples of misogyny around me just re-traumatises me. That’s why I’m trying to find a way to use this awareness for something positive – like creating art or writing about the issue. Feminism, to me, is a human right. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect. It’s a testimony to the abusiveness of our society that we’re still so far from that being a reality.
Why is veganism a feminist issue?
Feminism and veganism are two causes where my heart lies. And veganism is in sore need of feminism and vice versa.
I think everyone is morally required to be vegan. It is a moral obligation because the causing and supporting of practises that cause great suffering is unethical. For feminists (but also for others who oppose oppression and identify as ethical), it is a contradiction to not be vegan, because they contribute to a system that mainly exploits the reproductive system of female animals. And misogyny and speciesism are very, very closely related. We can see this in how there are so many insulting or belittling words for women that refer to a female animal in many languages (like bitch or chick, in English, or in German you can use cow and goat as insults for women) and how most people who directly abuse animals are male (farmers, fishers, hunters, butchers, the people who kill the animals in the slaughterhouses, the drivers of animal transports). Basically, both human women and animals are seen as possessions by the patriarchy. And men are taught to be tough, to not have compassion, to be violent. Therefore, if a feminist is not vegan, they support the patriarchy.
Laura, you are the founder of FemVegArt. What does FemVegArt do, and what were your reasons being establishing the brand?
I started FemVegArt for two reasons: one is my financial situation. I cannot work due to my complex trauma and therefore also not get benefits (complex trauma doesn’t exist as far as the government is concerned and the benefits system is inherently shaming). I’m dependent on my abusers for money and it’s not enough. So you can imagine that I desperately want to break free. But capitalism is another prison in which we all live. At the moment I just don’t have the emotional stability to work in anything else but a remote job. And also, I don’t want to do any work that doesn’t align with my values. I couldn’t. I want to do more activism. So FemVegArt was my way of combining these different needs. Sadly, it’s not going well, due to a number of factors. It seems impossible to get noticed as a startup these days, because any place on the internet is just over-saturated with people trying to get noticed. If you don’t already have a lot of money and/or a good network, then you just get lost in the midst of it. It also seems like people on Ebay distrust dropshipping. It’s allowed, but only if you own the stock beforehand. So where does Print On Demand fall in that respect? Well, and as Ebay is primarily a place to sell used stuff, people come there in search of a bargain. Not the kind of people who’d pay a fair price for a piece of art that’s supposed to help a starving artist survive. I thought Etsy would be the place for that, but again, I don’t get noticed and the incredibly high fees, especially that insertion fee, mean that I can’t even list a lot, because I already lose money that way. So at the moment I try to focus more on my blog – both as a way to hopefully establish an internet presence and maybe a network, and for my mental health. It helps to write about my struggles, thoughts, and feelings.
What is a Feminist Object? Also, which objects tell stories of women in best way?
I think any object or product that challenges traditional gender norms is feminist. So with this definition, it wouldn’t just be about the stories of women, but also about men who defy toxic masculinity. I think this aspect of how boys are raised to be misogynous and are imprisoned within toxic masculinity needs to become a mainstream area of feminist focus. Maybe the word “feminist” isn’t enough any more and we’d need something else. Because naturally, when you hear “feminism”, you think of women. But if it’s about women and men being equal, then that includes men. If men are machos, then how can women be equal to them? It’s impossible. And this hasn’t been brought into the limelight enough. Boys and men need to be liberated from the corsets of toxic masculinity. Otherwise we’ll never get to equality. Feminism is a humanist (and animalist) issue.
But I also think that we need more stories of women. We have been made mute and thereby invisible. I’m particularly interested in how this happened within folk songs, as I love folk music and singing. Most folk songs are told from the male perspective, just like other narratives. But there are a lot of female singers who sing these songs, even when it’s basically a song about a man sexually harassing a woman (there’s an incredible number of songs that have this narrative). And many don’t change the pronouns in love songs. This is of course not because they are lesbian. It’s because women have been erased so completely in our society that a modern female singer still disappears in favour of a fictional man. It’s awful! There are of course also songs that describe a female perspective, but usually these are love songs. If women had been free to express what’s going on for them, these songs should be about oppression, how awful it is to be treated like a possession, how difficult life is for them. Also, love songs from women are almost always different than male love songs, due to gender stereotypes.
So what I really want is a flood of songs written from an honest female perspective. They don’t all have to be critical and about misogyny, it can be anything that has to do with life as a woman. It could be about raising children or having a job, or both. And when it comes to love songs, I’d love a ton of songs that just talk about the beauty of a man. Because when you’re in love, that’s how you feel, right? And yet this is also a really twisted part of the male privilege – to have the other gender be obsessed with making themselves attractive for them. Not that I want men to do that. But beauty is a human experience. And everyone has the right to partake in the full scale of their humanity. I’ve started writing some of these songs/poems that I want to hear in the world, and it’s an incredibly freeing and empowering experience.
In your opinion: is art inherently political?
No, I don’t think so. Most art I see is not political. Art means different things to different people and they have very different reasons for creating it. I think it’s a pity that not more artists use art as a political medium, because it has such great power. Advertising abuses this power to make money, so it would be great if more individuals used this to share their own values. But expressing your values is very stigmatised in our society.
What do you want your audience to gain, feel and/or do as a result of seeing your dolls, tote bags, etc?
Ideally, I’d like them to have gotten food for thought. If my art could plant a seed – of doubt, curiosity, identification, or compassion – that would be amazing. And if that happens, then they might do some self-reflection or their own research about certain topics, and hopefully gain some new awareness. Or, if they already are vegan and feminist, then I hope that it makes them feel heard and seen, and less isolated.
Lourdes Castro, a Portuguese artist has argued that art should not be seen as having a statute of exception with respect to other aspects of life. And she gave examples of some tribes for whom art was not considered an activity distinct from other everyday ones: art was, for example, the women brushing their hair nicely, or sweeping their patio well. It was, for the warriors, painting their faces following the correct rituals. How would you comment on that?
This is an interesting concept, but I disagree, at least to a certain extent. If I had to define art, I’d say there has to be an intention – to create something, to be creative. And being creative is a form of playfulness – being curious, exploring, observing, attributing meaning, symbolising, abstracting, expressing. Even if you recreate the art that’s originally from someone else – like singing a song or copying a painting – you’re still doing your own version, your own exploration, and hopefully partake in the joy of the beauty and/or meaning of that piece of art. If I’m sweeping the floor and my only goal is to do it well, that is, to clean it, then how is that art? However, if, while sweeping, I’m starting to intentionally create little circles in the dust or dirt, or other shapes, just for fun, then I think we see how art begins.
I don’t know what tribes the above examples are from, but it is provoking that they sound very sexist. I wonder whether terming these things art is/was a form of rewarding people for following social rules. For the women, it sounds like it was seen to be their job to look nice and to do housework, while the men are supposed to be warriors. That’s pretty much the same as it was, not too long ago, in the western world, and still is in so many countries. As feminists, we’re still dealing with the problems that these roles create, because they still exist in people’s heads.
So, it makes me quite angry to think that filling out gender roles is considered art. That’s not art, that’s brainwash. But maybe I’m interpreting it wrong, and it is something that the women and men came up with themselves, sort of to make their restricted lot more bearable to themselves. I don’t know. In any case, it sounds just like doing what society told you to do, because of your sex. That couldn’t be further from art. It’s not about individual exploration, there is no freedom or playfulness. It’s about doing it nicely, well, or correct. That’s just mind control. Art is the opposite of that.
What needs to happen to improve the rights of non-human persons?
Humans need to realise and admit that they aren’t the only persons. The thing is, people already know that animals feel pain and that they have their own characters. They just don’t connect emotionally to that knowledge, and they don’t connect that knowledge to what they eat or what products they buy. Subconsciously, they choose to stay as ignorant and disconnected as possible, because they probably fear or guess (rightly) that the impact of feeling the truth will be incredibly painful and overwhelming. It’s what is called dissociation in psychology – disconnecting from your emotions and/or physical sensations to protect yourself. It’s a natural defence instinct.
But of course the real problem is that they were (indirectly) taught to do this as children, because their parents and all of society around them treat dead animals as food, so of course they don’t question that. It’s really unethical to deceive children like that. Because children love animals and they feel strongly about justice. If children were told the truth in nursery or school, the world would go vegan within one generation.
So what we need is that those people who managed to gain awareness create a mass movement to demand animal rights to be acknowledged and protected, and that they try to spread awareness. It’s what Animal Rebellion has started to do two years ago and I think they got the right approach, because they practise non-violent civil disobedience. Historically, those are the movements that were successful in achieving legal rights for women, black people, or Indian independence, for example. And to get more people to join and support that movement, we need more vegan outreach.
What non-human persons can teach us?
This is a difficult question, as they can’t teach us anything directly, it’s more about what we associate with them, what’s already in our heads. I think it’s about remembering that we are animals too. We all should be able to look at animals and see ourselves. At some point in human history we started to see ourselves as something else, something superior. We really need to return to our human, that is, our human animal nature. Everything that makes us unique – our hyper-adaptation to using social grouping as a form of survival, our cognitive abilities, our abilities of empathy – all of this comes, of course, from our animal roots. We aren’t the only ones who use these forms of intelligence and there are many other forms of intelligence. Anything that helps an organism to survive is intelligent.
When we connect to our animality, then we also connect to what we need. Love, physical and emotional safety, physical and mental movement, being in nature, healthy food, self-care, deep social contacts – all of these things that are so chronically neglected in our society are basic human needs that we have, because we are animals. We aren’t robots or money-making machines. We are, authentically, something organic, vulnerable, and imperfect.
Why is intersectionality so important to you?
Because all forms of oppression have the same historical roots. When humans started to enslave animals some 10 000 years ago – things went downhill from there, for all of us. Because this was when people started to settle down and amass possessions (this included animals for them), the population grew (because agriculture can sustain more people than hunting-gathering), so there was a need for more organisation, and everywhere these oppressive, extremely stratified societies came up. Examples include the Sumerians, Egyptians, the Olmecs, or the first Chinese kingdoms. It’s a world-wide phenomenon, where agriculture somehow lead to the sickness of greed that has brought us to mass extinction, the climate crisis, industrialised animal mass murder/exploitation, and the destruction of the environment.
It’s strange to see that the same thing happened everywhere. Fighting for power is something you see in all animal social groups, it’s an inevitable result of the limitation of resources. But empathy, social bonding, and self-reflection is also our heritage. So why do we see an abuse of power wherever it was possible? It’s like the whole species of humanity has undiagnosed complex trauma and just passes on the cycle of abuse from one generation to the next. Where did it all begin? Maybe there’s something inherently traumatising in being human. In being intensely aware of how vulnerable and mortal we are. Or maybe our innate instincts of fighting for power simply weren’t kept in check enough any more by the pressure of survival (which would draw us to working together more), when agriculture made the amassing of wealth possible.
The point is that all of these oppressive social systems (in which we still live) are based on patriarchy and toxic masculinity. So the oppression of human groups cannot be separated from the oppression of animals and nature.
What are the main ways anyone can contribute to animal rights and well-being (in addition to becoming vegan)?
Well, becoming vegan really is the single biggest thing you can do. But other than that, I think becoming anti-speciesist is really important. Because sadly I found that these two terms aren’t necessarily synonymous. When you look at vegan products, there’s a lot of speciesism. Certainly some of these products are designed by non-vegans, but if an all-vegan company calls their brand “The Dirty Cow”, then that is not only speciesist, but also misogynous. Or all of the variations of “No moo” or “No udder” that you can find. It’s incredible just how much cows are being objectified, even sexually objectified. And just the fact that topics like zoos, honey, horse-riding, or pets are still controversial among vegans. They should not be controversial. Either you oppose the exploitation of animals, or you don’t. If you have a vegan diet but go to zoos, then you’re not vegan. You’re plant-based.
But the problem is that it’s harder for people to see how imprisoning animals for entertainment or keeping them as tools or companions is exploitation. It’s all about objectification and inequality. And yes, the enslavement and breeding of animals is a really difficult thing to get out of, because all of the individuals of those species that were created by humans are dependent on human care, they can’t just be released into the wild. So someone’s got to take care of the shelter dogs and cats. Even though it still means to keep a slave. The least thing you can do is to be aware of that and do your best to make others aware of this too. Become an activist of any form, in any way you can, if you are are at all able to do that, because we need people who tell the truth. So becoming aware of just how pervasive speciesism is, to become aware of your own speciesism (because no one is free of that), and then to try to dismantle that and spread awareness to others, that’s hugely important.
Laura, you have said that it’s very important that children learn compassion, both for themselves and others. Why and how is it important?
I think Charlie Chaplin said it perfectly, when he said: “We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity; more than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.”
Without compassion, we aren’t human. Or mammal, for that matter. A society needs compassion, because otherwise there’s abuse of those who are most vulnerable. A few will get fat on the oppression of many. So you see, that’s very much what has always been lacking in human society. It’s what’s destroying the world. Moreover, a person cannot ever be happy or content without compassion, because there can be no true connection to others.
If a child receives no compassion from their caregivers, then they won’t learn it. So they won’t have compassion for themselves or others, because how could they? Children are born with very undeveloped brains and they need a secure attachment to their primary caregivers to fully develop. If the attachment is not secure because the caregivers neglect or mistreat the child, then they don’t grow emotionally. It’s called developmental arrest.
Basically, that’s what causes anti-social or immature behaviour in people. The most immature people that exist are narcissists. They are incapable of feeling genuine empathy. Studies show aneglected/abused from birth onward, so they could not develop the most basic emotional and rsocial skills. These people see themselves as the centre of the world (like a baby) and they riterproject their feelings of shame and worthlessness (from the abandonment/abuse) onto other people, because they literally don’t have the capacity to feel their own feelings, not even for a moment. These are the Donald Trump and other dictators of the world – whether they actually rule a country or not, they harm and abuse everyone they get into contact with, because they are sadist.
So, that’s why compassion is the most essential thing for a child to experience, and thereby to learn. Of course, teaching a child universal compassion takes a bit more in this world than to just treat them with compassion. You’ve got to make them aware of the injustices of the world, of how women are treated with less compassion, people of colour, disabled people, animals, etc. That’s widening and nurturing their compassion. But in general I think what our society needs is to value compassion as the most important skill. Replace “cool” with compassionate. A society that rewards compassion would be the best prevention and protection against abusers, because it would make it very rare that they’d be created in the first place.
Etsy: ebay.co.uk/usr/femvegart (UK shipping only) Vegana (Vegan Artisan Marketplace): veganamarketplace.com/pages/seller-profile/femvegart (UK shipping only)