Got Milk-Drinking Feminism? Nope: Why the Dairy Industry is Incompatible with Feminism

Women’s rights, including that of their reproductive systems, have come a long way.  Waves of feminism have come through history, beginning with the Suffragettes.  Ecofeminism, in the 1980s, was the first to identify with the oppression of farmed animals. It wasn’t until 1991 that rape within a marriage was considered so, as opposed to implied consent. Celebrated activist Carol J. Adams, whose most famous book is The Sexual Politics of Meat, put it this way: “I am a vegan feminist because I am one animal among many, and I don’t wish to impose a hierarchy of consumption upon this relationship.”

I proffer that dairy cows are the most abused females on the planet. Annually, they are forcibly impregnated – the industry uses what they themselves have termed “rape racks” – only to have their offspring taken away from them, typically within moments.  Male calves are sent away to become veal, an inherent byproduct of this process.  Female calves are destined to the same fate as their mothers. Regardless, families are ripped apart as the breastmilk meant for the mothers’ babies are stolen instead for human consumption.  The endless cycle of pregnancy and lactation, with various methods for maximizing production, causes mastitis and other health ailments; it inevitably ends with a premature death, as once the cows are economically “spent” and their profitability declines, typically at one quarter of their life span, they themselves are sent to slaughter.

Essentially, milk is the product of a grieving mother. Other commodifications of this species-specific breastmilk include cheese, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, ice cream, whey, casein, and ironically, human infant formula (all of which have plant-based options). It is worth mentioning the lack of nutritional need for the milk of another species. All mammals wean off the breast at a young age. The calcium found in dairy products is there because the cows receive supplements; there are myriad other sources. And while osteoporosis is an ill-touted consequence of omitting dairy from one’s diet, the United States has among the highest rates, while it is parts of the world where dairy consumption is lowest, e.g. Asia, with the lowest rates of osteoporosis. Further, casein, the protein component of cows’ milk (which occurs in a higher concentration than human milk) has been found to trigger certain cancers.

Collectively, it is normal for humans to make assumptions about other animals’ intelligence and purpose, which is translated to an assignment of their worth. While animals used in agriculture have surprising levels of intelligence being validated through more and more studies in recent times, even this does not matter when judging someone’s worth; if this were the case, we would be disposing of people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses as unproductive members of society, but that is certainly not the case. The Cambridge Declaration also presents a scientific consensus of nonhuman animals’ sentience: their ability to feel, form relationships, and value their life. Assigning different moral values or rights on individuals based on species is speciesism, a societal system of oppression like any other.

Cows owned by the dairy industry don’t only have their reproductive rights revoked, which invoke sexism. Their oppression holds similarities to racism and slavery as well. As Alice Walker so astutely pointed out, “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.” And to be sure, all oppression is linked. A lack of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, regardless of species, is linked to patriarchy and capitalism.

Females are being exploited for profit.

Motherhood is being exploited for profit.

While I learned about this oppressive process and eliminated animal products from my life years ago, becoming a mother last year allowed me to appreciate the violence towards and sorrow of dairy cows even further. The mother-child bond is sacred, and knowing that any animal – human or nonhuman – is having that simultaneously forced and denied causes me to grieve alongside them. Indeed, all animal farming involves forced reproduction and destruction of families, but the dairy industry best illustrates this with the denial of nursing by the calf … only to commodify it for humans.

Stand up for all females!

From the International Women’s Day Issue of The Socialist:

Out Now! Click to download a copy.

Lauren Kozlow

joined SPUSA over a decade ago. She appreciates the intersection of socialism with the other facets of her life: animal rights, public libraries, and The Episcopal Church. She holds a BA from Boston University and a MLIS from Rutgers University. She works at Enoch Pratt Free Library and is an organizer with Direct Action Everywhere. She is married with two cats, Patience and Fortitude (named for the lions of the NYPL), and one human daughter.

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