Intersectionality & Ethical Living

Monday, 8 February 2016


Once you’re used to being cruelty free, vegetarian or vegan, it’s easy to feel like it’s the simplest and most accessible lifestyle choice in the world.  Shopping for cruelty free beauty products and preparing delicious vegan meals comes as naturally to me now as brushing my teeth or putting in my contact lenses.  I think we can get a bit ahead of ourselves sometimes though when we apply our own ethical choices to others, and it’s important to remember that what may be easy and possible for ourselves, may not be for everyone else in the world.

For those who don't know, I am an intersectional feminist.  Intersectionality within feminism and social justice is often used to describe the ways in which different types of oppression (ableism, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc.) ‘intersect’, and how members of minority groups all face oppression at varying intensities and in different ways.  For example, as a white, straight-passing woman, I will experience some situations and be afforded certain opportunities that a black, lesbian woman may not.  Both myself and a man of colour will experience oppression, but for different reasons and in different ways – I will have privilege in many situations due to the colour of my skin, but be disadvantaged in others due to my gender, while he will face advantages due to his gender and disadvantages due to his skin colour, and even disadvantages and stereotyping due to the combination of the two.  There are a myriad of ways that these different things can converge, and you can’t look at one intersecting road without examining the others.

Why am I talking about that when I just opened with being cruelty free or not eating meat or animal products?  Well, because I think we often need to consider intersectionality as a concept when judging others for their ethical choices, too.  When something comes so naturally to us, it’s easy to get carried away and say that anyone can do it, or feel frustrated when others seem to deliberately choose not to.  We did it, we found it simple enough, so everyone else who knows of the plight of animals in the livestock industry or the horrors faced by animals in cosmetics testing laboratories must be continuing to eat meat and dairy and buy animal tested cosmetics because they’re lazy and unsympathetic to our furry friends, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  The fact is, we’re all very different people and we’re all from very different backgrounds.  When I think about my personal situation more critically in comparison to others’, it’s easy to see that despite what many think, it’s actually a privilege for me to be able to choose to be cruelty free and meat free.  I live in an area where vegetarian options are plentiful and vegetables, beans and pulses are relatively cheap.  I live with a partner who is supportive of my dietary choices.  I have enough cruelty free brands available to me and knowledge of where to find small brands to stop buying tested products.  I have the money to spend on better cruelty free options instead of settling for lower quality products, and I don’t have problem skin that requires specific care or specific brands.  I have no medical conditions that prevent me from being healthy while eating a vegan diet (if anything, my existing medical conditions are improved by this).

For me, being cruelty free and vegan isn’t the most difficult thing in the world but for others, that may not be the case.  There are those who for one reason or another genuinely cannot be cruelty free, vegetarian or vegan.  It isn’t a matter of opinion either, it’s an actual fact.  I’ve seen posts and articles floating around written by recovering survivors of eating disorders who, for example, had to give up being vegan because constantly having to check ingredients lists and think so carefully about what they were eating was causing them to revert back to self-destructive, disordered ways of thinking about food.  My best friend’s mother has a medical condition that – after many trips to the doctor and a lot of weight loss figuring out the problems and how to solve them – can only easily digest animal products as a source of protein without getting sick, so would either become ill or malnourished if she was a vegetarian.  I’ve read about the odd people who went cruelty free, but due to financial difficulties, issues with their skin or for one reason or another have had to give up purchasing only 100% cruelty free products.

Being able to make compassionate, ethical choices shouldn’t have to be a privilege, but unfortunately for many of us, that seems to be the case.  That isn’t to say that there are people who do continue to buy animal tested products etc. or decide to keep eating meat who do so because they don’t care, don’t see what the big deal is or think that their favourite MAC lipstick and the taste of bacon are more important than the animals sacrificed to product them, because I’m sure that there are.  I’ve seen some very callous and upsetting responses from people who buy animal tested make up when cruelty free alternatives are so much as politely brought up, for example.  But not caring is by no means the only reason why others might not be making the same choices that we are, and rather than jumping to conclusions, harshly judging and making others feel guilty and defensive, we should be considering that they might live in circumstances different to our own and remember that they may not always be afforded them same opportunities to make the same choices that we have.  Not everyone chooses not to be cruelty free, veggie or vegan out of selfishness or heartlessness, and it’s an insult to those people to lump them together with those that actually do.  We should instead be trying to show compassion and understanding, and supporting them in the ethical choices that they are making. 

If someone can’t buy exclusively cruelty free cosmetics but donates to animal rescue charities, or someone can’t be vegetarian but still campaigns for animal welfare, if they aren’t vegan but still spread the word about cruelty to animals, then we can see that they’re still trying to do what they can to make a difference in their own way.  To some, living like that will sound hypocritical, and I understand that to a certain extent, especially when you’ve been cruelty free or veggie/vegan for a long time.  But, while someone may not be taking the same steps that we are, we still need to promote positivity and encourage what they are doing, because at the end of the day we’re all fighting the same fight and we all want to see change, and together all of these small acts and the support and encouragement we give them can still make huge difference in the long run.

18 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I want to frame it, that's how on point it is. I remember reading in a Facebook comment thread (FB comments are the WORST sometimes) that people who don't buy vegan and in season are traitors to the planet. Gee, thanks. Everybody has limits, and they're not (always) laziness or not wanting to step out of their comfort zone, and we as a community need to respect that.

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    1. Thank you, I'm really glad you liked it! Oh wow, that's pretty extreme. Rightly so - honestly, I'm of the opinion that unless you live in your own wooden shack in the woods and grow your own food and make your own clothes and are totally self-sustaining, you have no right to pass such harsh judgement on others for not living ~ethically enough~. Not everyone can go the whole hog, but it doesn't make small efforts any less worthwhile or worthy of respect!

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  2. This is exactly my way of thinking and thank you for writing this and for having the strength to post it. Everybody is fighting for the same thing and sometimes that just escapes people. Like the comment above me, I once read an article about the wildlife vets at the clinic I used to volunteer at and although they practically sacrifice their lives for animals someone still wrote in the comments - I hope they don't save animals and then go home and eat meat. Like come on lady...

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    1. Thank you! Ugh that's a pain; FB comments are the worst. :/ I've even seen some people saying things like 'why bother even trying to be cruelty free if you're not vegan too' as though the better option if you can't do both is to just do neither - how does that help anyone?!

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  3. Yes! This is such a good post! I'm a firm believer in small actions making big differences and no one should be shamed for trying. Having a welcoming community is so much nicer (and more productive!), for everyone involved :) Thank you!

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    1. Thank you! I totally agree, and although I'd be one of the first to say that people have a right to get angry about political, ethical and social issues, when it comes to diet and lifestyle changes I've found that being positive and welcoming goes a LONG way to getting people curious and feeling like they'll have support if they try to do more.

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  4. I LOVE this. I wrote a post a while back about healthy eating being inaccessible (petticoatsandpatriarchy.com/healthy-eating-is-hard/) but this post sums up everything I was trying to say in a very nuanced and eloquent way. Great job!

    On a personal level I really resonate with the point about small changes making a difference. Although I eat vegetarian about 90% of the time, I'm reluctant to label myself as such because I have a history of disordered and restrictive eating. I find that when I label certain things as 'off limits' I find myself slipping back into dangerous habits and becoming really restrictive with my eating again. For me, it's all about being fluid. I try to make ethical choices more and more, but I don't beat myself up about it when I don't.

    Liv xx
    petticoatsandpatriarchy.com

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    1. I read that the other day actually and thought it was a fantastic post on a topic that not nearly enough people talk about! Thanks, glad you thought so! :)

      That's a great way to live, and ultimately if you have physical or mental health concerns you always need to look after yourself before you even think about trying to take steps towards ethical living; there are always alternative things you can do try to make a difference instead. Every little helps. ♥

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  5. Oh my goodness I love you for this post - it's something I've been wanting to articulate for a long time but whenever I try I feel like it doesn't come out right. It is so, so important for all of us to remember this as a way to start demanding better standards from companies until it no longer is a privilege to be cruelty free or vegan.

    I know when I first went vegan I struggled quite a bit with eating on the go because there are so few vegan options where I work and my schedule sometimes means I barely have time to cook one meal when I'm at home, let alone a weeks worth. I live in a small village and my best resources are Asda and their growing vegan range - but it's important to remember some people don't even have that.

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    1. Yay, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

      Exactly! Eating on the go is SUCH a challenge (even in London, which you'd expect to be easier, I couldn't find a vegan meal or sandwich or something in the area I was when I was last there) and not everyone is able to either track down vegan food when they're out and about, or just not eat until later altogether. And at home, if we couldn't have Tesco deliveries all we would have is the world's crappiest Asda that doesn't even have basic omnivore foods let alone good vegetarian or vegan alternatives. :/

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  6. Thank you for writing this! It sums up exactly how i feel. Some people just simply don't have the resources; physically, emotionally, or in terms of time and that is okay. ✨

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    1. Exactly! Thanks for reading, I'm glad you liked it. ♥

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  7. This is a wonderful post which make so much sense. I'm vegetarian and have been due to my own recovery but I never thought of how previlage can impact on those choices. But it's so very true. Great writing :) xx

    Viicreative.co.uk

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    1. Thanks so much, glad you liked! :D ♥

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