Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why Speciesism Should be Our Focus

The Buzz

There's been a lot of buzz this past week about an article by Victoria Dawson Hoff, published on Elle magazine's website. Hoff's article on Elle is called  "On Being a Vegan Who Wears Fur and Leather".  She also writes articles for One Green Planet and has a blog called The Pursuit of Hippieness, which her One Green Planet bio describes as being "devoted to vegan recipes, a healthy lifestyle, and daily inspiration". What it leaves out is mentioning the number of posts on her blog devoted to promoting animal-derived clothing. Most My Face Is on Fire readers would roll their eyes and shake their heads at this point, not even needing to click on the link to read Hoff's article. I could probably stop right here and not write another single word.

All Roads Don't Lead to Rome

I say "most" readers because when I posted a link to the article on the "My Face Is on Fire" Facebook page, it became apparent to me that some -- too many -- vegans conflate the shuffling out of this or that animal product with being just-around-the-corner-from-going-vegan. This confusion occurs even if the subject of the speculation states clearly that he or she is only on a short-term plant-based diet, is personally satisfied with "being 95% vegan [sic]"or is "OMG-too-in-love-with-cute-purses" to ever be able to give up using the skin of a slaughtered being as a fashion accessory. It seems that this is the case with Hoff. What complicates things, however, is that she insists on continuing to refer to herself as a vegan even while admitting that her pride in her wardrobe justifies the use and killing of others.

"Mother Theresa to the Animal Kingdom"

It seems that Hoff was recently taken to task by a few of her own readers for having used a photo of herself in a fashion-related article in which she wore silk and fur. She was called a hypocrite for doing so, self-described "vegan" that she is. This purportedly hurt her, she claims in this piece for Elle, since it's a criticism she "struggles [s] with every day -- from  [her]self". She then proceeds to provide her back-story, asserting that she's "been vegan for more than three years" and that part of the reasons for her supposedly being so are ethical. She then explains that it was the horrors of factory farming and food production that led her to change her diet. Then a few years into her so-called "veganism", Hoff claims that she also decided to overhaul her assortment of  beauty products to eliminate those which aren't "cruelty-free", but she goes on to talk about animal testing and doesn't really specify that her beauty products are in fact free of animal ingredients.  All this seems done to build an image of her  -- of her intentions -- with which her readers might sympathize, but it then leads up to the real focus of her article, which is her bizarre attempt to defend her continued participation in animal exploitation.

Excuses, Excuses, Oh My!

Hoff is fairly clear in stating her position when it comes to her own use and exploitation of other animals. Ain't nothin' cryptic to decipher here.
"Full disclosure: I love leather. I like fur, too. I have no good reasons or justifications other than the fact that I think they look good. It sucks that I think this; I get it. Trust me. I am lucky to have evaded face-to-face criticism (aside from teasing jibes from my brothers), simply because I really have no way to defend myself other than an embarrassed shrug."
There's no reading between the lines to be done. She fetishizes the skin and hair of others and feels that they accentuate her own attractiveness and this fetishism trumps all else. She tries to make light of it by referring to the "teasing jibes" of loved ones, but in the end? A shrug. Her vanity, she admits, trumps the interests of others.

"I'm a Good Girl, I Am!"

And so she side-steps having to make an actual case to defend her actions. Instead, she shifts the focus back to building up her persona -- to convincing her readers that she's a "good person" and so should be absolved of what she seems to view as a harshly-judged indiscretion. Taking her to task for her wearing silk, fur and leather is unfair, she suggests. It's "not an accurate reflection of [her] character", she insists. It's a deflecting tactic, plain and simple. It misses the point. To say "Hey, wearing silk, leather and fur isn't vegan" isn't tantamount to saying: "You're a bad, bad girl!" but is simply pointing out the fact that she isn't vegan. As for cruelty and hypocrisy? She readily admits to both, herself.  Self-identifying as a hypocrite doesn't change the fact that you're a hypocrite. It's not a "get out of jail free" card to absolve you of actually having to take steps to correct what you're doing. 

On Conflating Shrugs with Steps

A few My Face Is on Fire readers who read Hoff's article argued that her admitting that she's a hypocrite -- that she's engaging in behaviour she admits is problematic -- is a sign that she's ready to change that behaviour. The thing is that this isn't AA, folks. Admitting that you have a problem may indeed be a first step in your resolution of a problem if denial has been an obstacle, but in Hoff's case, she tosses the word hypocrite out with a shrug, as if to do so shields her from further criticism. That said, she sandwiches the word between building herself up to be a Compassionate and Concerned Consumer and then proceeding to try to defend why she has no intention of actually taking other animals' rights seriously enough to stop providing demand for their exploitation.

She does use the word "transition" at one point, but seems more interested in clinging to her label than she is in actually completing any sort of transition to veganism in earnest. She brings up her "progress" by identifying how many articles of vintage fur clothing she owns and how she beautiful she finds it draped on a human animal's body, but that she won't buy any "new" fur and then mentions the positive sustainable aspects of thrifting, leaving one to speculate that she's not opposed to buying used fur clothing. Whether old or new, demand is still generated as she continues to consume it. As for leather? Although she gushes over some of the new vegan-friendly fashion designers who are currently trendy, her emphasis seems to be that fake leather isn't realistic enough for her to give up wearing the actual skin of another animal. It's the fashion industry's fault for not giving her options that satisfy her fetish.

The Emphatic Parting Raspberry

It's this mention of apparently improving fake leather design which, I think, left a very few of the people with whom I've discussed this article "hopeful" that she was communicating some sort of interest in walking away from using the real thing. She yanks a "holier-than-thou" comment about judging out of the ether, though, saying that just as she doesn't judge vegans or non-vegans for whatever they choose to eat (this extends, presumably, to those who choose to eat animals), she expects not to be judged for whom she chooses to wear. She ends with the following parting "nyah-nyah" (which also includes a link to an article on leather boots for good measure):
"at the end of the day, I will be the first to tell you that I am wrong, a hypocrite—
and yes, even cruel. But I’ll do it while wearing my favorite pair of leather boots."
Although I've not read more than a few of the comments left in response to her article, her first reply to a reader was to assert that same old "veganism isn't perfection" bunk, comparing herself to "vegans who eat honey" and insisting that it's a label she wants. She claims to be a "work in progress" even though throughout the latter part of her article, she makes it quite clear that she's happy with her continued animal use and doesn't care that this use involves the torture and slaughter of others. Like the overwhelming majority of those around us, Hoff is speciesist and is confused about what it is that we owe other animals.

Speciesism Is Speciesism

To Hoff, the word "vegan" is as much a fashion accessory as are her leather boots or her fur fringe. To talk to her about "going vegan" is pointless, since to her, "vegan" means following a strict vegetarian diet (plus or minus honey) and otherwise doing your own thing. This is why in all of our advocacy, we need to be wary of promoting and applauding token gestures involving the shuffling out of this or that animal product -- Meatless Monday, for example. We need to shift our focus to addressing the underlying issue in all of this, which is speciesism. We need to be unequivocal when we explain that other animals aren't ours to use, whether we want to eat them, wear them, watch them skip and dance or languish behind bars. There's no such thing as ''95% vegan''. That 5% of deliberate self-indulgent and easily avoidable animal exploitation is as unethical as the the other 95%. By promoting half-hearted measures which fall short of of clarifying to others that using other animals for our selfish pleasure is wrong  and that there are lives at stake with each and every incidence of use, we create more confusion. In applauding measures which promote the shuffling out of this or that animal product but which fall short of emphasizing that veganism needs to be the moral baseline? We create more Hoffs.