Carol J. Adams/Interview

Throughout human history the justification made for not allowing a certain group of human beings to be liberated from oppression or discrimination has usually been that this said group were less than human and undeserving of respect or genuine emancipation. This group were more like the supposed "inferior" animals than the ones holding power.

However, the one movement of social change that first considered the connection with non human animals a positive connection and also pointed out the inherent similarities regarding the oppression of all groups was the modern feminist movement.
The activist and theorist most responsible for this bridge building between oppressions and for connecting feminist thinking with animal rights is the author/activist/theorist Carol J Adams.
Carol is the author of the ground breaking book "The Sexual Politics Of Meat" which transformed both the feminist movement and the animal rights movement over night 20 years ago.

Vegan Sanctuary is honored to have with us for our blog's very first interview--the brilliant, creative, influential thinker and writer--

Carol J. Adams.

Besides advancing scholarship and developing theory in the area of interlocking oppressions, Carol has created a series of books that address the vegetarian/vegan experience: Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian Survival Guide, Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! and The Inner Art of Vegetarianism. Her most recent book is the anthology, The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader, edited with Josephine Donovan. Columbia University Press, 2007.
Carol has been an activist on anti violence issues since the 1970s. Recently she received awards from The Greater Dallas Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and Planned Parenthood of Dallas and North Texas, "for her help in understanding the psychology of the radical right, for her commitment to women and for her brave stance against the tyranny of Operation Rescue.


Carol, thank you so much for taking time to talk about your ideas regarding animal rights and feminist critical thinking with Vegan Sanctuary.
First off... What is the most effective way for an ethical vegan to engage an omnivore when the subject of eating animal products arises?


I don’t think there is one way. The most important thing for an ethical vegan to recognize is that simply by choosing to eat vegan foods, we make omnivores uncomfortable. We remind them that they are making choices. Once they are reminded that what they are doing is a choice, then they often feel distressed. It then becomes easy to blame us for those feelings. In Living Among Meat Eaters I argue that vegans should look at omnivores as blocked vegetarians. Until we enter the room, they may have no notion that they are blocked. But, if they start acting defensively toward us, they are telling us exactly that. Meat eaters want to know if we are at peace with our diet. They won’t ask us directly. They ask, “but don’t you miss meat?” They mean, “Are you at peace with giving up meat?” If you are at peace, maybe they too could be a peace with living without meat. If you are not at peace, why should they try? Are you at peace? If you are, how do you communicate that sense of peace? If you aren’t, what is needed to discover a sense of peace? Meat eaters fear the emotional effort required of being a vegan. When we are at peace, we communicate the ease of being a vegan. When I meet meat eaters, I think, “what are you hiding from yourself.” If I decide it is only the facts about what animals are going through, well then, fine, let’s help them learn that. But, which one of us hasn’t heard, “don’t’ tell me I don’t want to know.” This means, actually, that they already know. If they didn’t know they wouldn’t have any need to stop us. No, they are keeping something from themselves: that they are unable to change. What are they going through? They are going through the painful fact that they cannot bring awareness and action in line with each other. In our actions, we remind them of that. In our veganism, is the sign of their failure to act. I discuss this all at much greater length in Living Among Meat Eaters, which I know some vegans reread yearly.


The massive oppression of farmed animals and this goes for rodeos as well possibly... feels so much more patriarchal than other types of animal slavery. It's not just the term 'animal husbandry' I'm referring to here... but even the most obvious aspects of sport hunting for instance seem a bit less patriarchal than does the using and killing of farmed animals for products. And if this feeling might bear some truth... how is this important to understanding the connection between feminism and animal rights and what it might mean to veganism as well?


The challenge for recognizing the oppression of farmed animals is that industrialized farming depends on domesticated female animals’ reproductive labor. Consumption of domesticated animals cannot exist without the enslavement of female animals to reproductive labor. To control fertility one must have absolute access to the female of the species. Cows, sows, chickens, and female sheep are exploited in ways that merge their reproductive and productive labor. Their bodies must be reproduced so that there will be “meat” for humans, so that there will be cow’s milk for humans, so that there will be eggs for humans. Through this oppression, female animals become viewed as not worthy of respect. Their importance is what they do—reproduce—rather than who they are—individual animals. They become a what. There is no who. The status of the female of the species meanwhile establishes the status of the male domesticated animals. The slang use of species names such as cow, sow, chick demonstrates the unworthiness of that species and anyone to whom the name is appended. All domesticated animals carry the “taint” of this exploitation of female reproductivity; it is one reason that animals are seen as always already replaceable (there will always be more animals because of the slavery of female animals). Farmed animals’ unworthiness becomes associated with their species as such, which in turn is associated with or defined through the demeaned status of its females. Deprived of any recognizably “human” (read male) characteristic, like reason, which might redeem them as subjects and lift them out of their lowly status, male domesticated animals become merged with femaleness.
establishes that female animals matter. This is much more of a breakthrough than people realize; we recognize and acknowledge individual animals; we refuse to group them together, to belittle them, to ignore their suffering.


The fight for animal rights is so much more dominated by women on the front lines yet most of the main voices from the animal rights world seem to be men. Is this a problem or is this actually a good thing or... maybe is this paradox just completely a mirror of the rest of our world?


It’s a problem precisely because it is a mirror! In making veganism a political decision, animal activists rightly draw attention to the relationship between the personal and the political. However, the movement has remained extraordinarily indifferent to the ways in which the seemingly impersonal structures of patriarchy introduce patterns of sexual dominance and submission within the movement itself, patterns which inevitably play out in workplace conditions and interpersonal relations. One of the challenges for the animal movement is getting men to give up male-identified power over other beings (the sexual politics of meat). If the animal movement leaves the definition of “manhood” undisturbed it cannot accomplish its goals of liberating animals since, by definition, manhood involves use of and killing of animals, as well as the promotion of a “warrior” ethos that reproduces the values of aggression and masculine heroism of a patriarchal order.


Yes. If you look at all of the macho aggressive masculine posturing about doing violence against people and physical threats against those who use animals in scientific research for instance, it really seems to counter everything that animal rights activists stand for. It also launches animal activism backwards by years in the same way that using naked women (sexism) to sell veganism does.

In "The Sexual Politics of Meat" you point out the fact that Mary Shelly's Frankenstein was a vegetarian (probably vegan as well) and what that says about the obvious idea that so much silencing about non meat eating themes throughout literature and history in general has taken place. A type of censorship of the "gentle diet" or the animal free diet has taken place.


Yes, it happens all the time. People may not even be conscious that they are doing this; they don’t notice vegetarianism in novels or biographies because it just isn’t (or wasn’t) on their radar.


Also interesting is that the "creature" Frankenstein was made up of body parts from a slaughterhouse as well a human graveyard. Why do you think that aspect has been left out of modern film versions of the story?


What does it mean that the Monster was vegetarian? That the Monster had a vision of creating a peaceful life with a partner? While the answer to that is not complex, reconciling this peaceful vision with the Monster's murders is complex, and films would have to devote more time to this theme than it was probably thought warranted. Films tend to simplify stories, and if anyone is multidimensional (and not just because of the source of its body), it's the Monster.


Thank you so much Carol for sharing your wisdom on living vegan and what that means from a feminist perspective. Thank you for allowing Vegan Sanctuary to talk with you and we're very much looking forward to part 2 of our interview with you.

The bodies of human women are still seen as objects in nearly every culture and society on this planet.
The animals who are killed and eaten by humans are objectified – their suffering, their lives and their deaths become insignificant as they are only objects for our consumption. We ignore the fact they are actually individuals with a life to be lived and exist as an end to themselves.
Carol has over the years made the important connection on how women’s bodies are objectified along with animals bodies. It is an observation with far reaching consequences and should not go unnoticed and made irrelevant by animal activists.
All oppression is connected and as animal rights advocates we need to take notice. We must acknowledge and care about every issue where justice and the rights of others are rejected.

Eat rice have faith in women.

Become a sanctuary for others.

Go Vegan.

Unity Of Oppression: a music video

For more information on Carol J Adams work please visit...

1 comment:

  1. "Become a sanctuary for others. Go vegan." I love that. We can make our bodies into a sanctuary for animals by not eating them.