Vegans calling dairy farmers "rapists" is nothing new. However, since the end of Veganuary and an apparent uptick in farms and abattoirs being targeted by animal rights activists both online and off, the number of "rapist" accusations have supposedly shot up. Farmers have told media they are regularly being accused of raping cows, while this morning vegan campaigner Joey Carbstrong accused a dairy farmer of "rape" on live television.
I've read The Sexual Politics of Meat. I get it. This infamous (in vegan and academic feminist circles) reading of the meat industry suggests that male dominance and animals' oppression are essentially linked by the way in which women and animals are treated. Ergo, eating vegan is an easy way to say "fuck you" to the patriarchy. This is the philosophy from which the "rapist" charges stem, but really it was PETA that, in 2016, popularised the idea with their gross rapist ad.
Still confused? Here's an explainer:
Why are vegans calling farmers rapists?
Cows produce milk to feed their young, so to make dairy cows produce as much milk as possible, farmers frequently artificially-inseminate them. Farms typically impregnate cows using a device some call a "rape rack". You might have heard of (or seen graphic PETA videos of) farmers ramming their arm far up the cow's bum to locate the uterus, before forcing an instrument into her vagina. Obviously, the cow cannot do anything to protest this treatment.
It happens with other animals, too. Turkeys don’t breed quickly enough, for example, so are sometimes artificially inseminated. Central to this "artificial insemination as rape" argument is that, clearly, animals can't and aren't consenting to the practice.
What are the farmers saying in response to being called rapists?
They aren't huge fans of it, tbh. One farmer went on ITV's This Morning to say, "I find that really offensive. The word rapist, to use that word for inseminating a cow, I feel is wrong." Another, who spoke to the Sun after being accused online of being a rapist, disagreed with the label. He said: "We artificially inseminate the herd… it's the most efficient way to get a cow and a calf, and it's a lot kinder on the cow. I’m being called a rapist because of that. I find it really disgusting, to be honest."
He's probably not wrong about cow-fisting being the most kind and efficient method of impregnation; bulls spread venereal diseases and can be a dangerous presence on farms for animals and humans.
An alternative way around this whole issue would be to inject the cows with hormones to keep them milking – but this option presents its own problems.
What's odd is that vegan activists are bothering to target the farmers for their practices rather than educate consumers.
Is comparing artificial insemination of animals to rape actually helpful?
PETA – despite often controversial tactics that have inspired mockery and negative press – does in fact have a history of effecting change. By being loud and sometimes offensive they have managed to get plenty of press coverage, and companies have subsequently stopped selling certain types of leather; major airlines have stopped shipping monkeys to laboratories; and the US military stopped using monkeys for its chemical-attack training course, among other wins. I might entirely disagree with and distance myself from their campaigns and methods, but would struggle to argue with the fact that, technically, they have been fairly successful in their aims.
One recent and definitely controversial campaign was a 2016 advert which compared rape victims to animals. When criticised about the ad, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk doubled down. "It is rape when someone sticks their hand into a vagina or rectum without permission," she told the Huffington Post. "Every decent person abhors and denounces sexual abuse of women, but we cannot blithely accept the sexual abuse of other females who happen not to be human but have the same vulnerability to pain."
Language is provocative, and it's entirely understandable that people were furious about this ad, and continue to be furious about being called rapists for artificially-inseminating cows. Human women – cis women, trans women, women of colour – are raped and killed every year, and yet you don’t see vegan men campaigning for an end of this violence.
Some vegans defending the use of this word are looking at official definitions of rape to justify their usage. But dictionary definitions aren't helpful here; using the word "rape" is grossly offensive to human rape victims and doesn't help to humanise animals whatsoever. In fact, while this whole media storm might have drawn awareness to the issue of artificial insemination and associated issues with dairy farming, it's also just made vegans look like aggressive, insensitive idiots who care more about animals than humans. Which isn't helping anyone.
Basically, vegans calling farmers rapists: at this point, you're essentially an MRA lad arguing about semantics on Reddit. Which, as we know, is a bad look. You've also reduced all farmers to the level of this pensioner fisting a cow for sexual pleasure. No one is a winner here.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.