Language choices when engaging in vegan activism often involve using metaphors of human oppression to explain nonhuman oppression. This is insensitive to those experiencing forms of human oppression. Nonhumans have not consented to be represented in this way. It is ironic that what is said to have no comparison (what nonhuman animals endure) is reduced to a comparison. Tori Lion notes that, “If what nonhuman animals endure is supposedly so awful that it is incomparable to any human suffering, it follows that these comparisons are made purely for attention/shock value (and without any genuine underlying commitment to anti-racist, feminist, etc. values).”
As previously noted, comparisons should not be used by those that are not affected by them in an attempt to invoke interest in nonhuman oppression, especially when one is not even working against the oppressions behind the human comparisons. These conversations should absolutely not be reduced to simplified images or memes shared on social media and should absolutely not be invoked or these conversations led by those not affected by them, such as the case of slavery.
Don’t use oppressive language.
Don’t use speciesist language. This might be obvious, but don’t call nonhumans “its.” Instead of saying “that bird is flapping its wings,” you could say “that bird is flapping their wings.”
Don’t use racist language. When people (especially people of color) are called “savages,” “barbarians,” “brutal,” “subhuman”, or similar terms, we are replicating a history of colonialism, violence, and often genocide towards racialized groups. This history is still impacting the way people of color are treated.
Don’t use human oppressions to draw attention to nonhuman animal suffering if you are not a human impacted by the oppressions or oppressive history. Using references to “slavery” or the “Holocaust” as a stepping stone to get people to embrace veganism is not OK, especially if it is not part of your history. These comparisons should be left to people who have ties to them if they choose to make them. Using other oppressions to draw attention to nonhuman suffering is most often counterproductive. Veganism (and Animal Rights) is valid and justified as a social justice movement on its own. We must also be careful that our arguments do not remain anthropocentric since nonhumans have their own experiences. We do not have to make them human-like in order for them to merit our respect.
Don’t use misogynist language such as “cunt,” (fragmenting women into our body parts). Another common phrase that vegans use is that eggs are “chicken periods.” Aside from being scientifically inaccurate (a period is when a mammal sheds their uterine lining), this phrase associates periods (and by extension those who have periods) with being repulsive.
Don’t use ableist language. Don’t presume everyone is equitably positioned to be activists in the ways you are an activist. Don’t accuse anyone of “blindness” to animal suffering (or any kind of suffering), or of “moral schizophrenia” (a sanist term). Don’t describe animal abusers with slurs used for mad/psychiatrized people (e.g. “animal abusers are insane”). We also have to recognize how the “argument from marginal cases” (popularized in some animal rights and animal liberation writings) is ableist against intellectually/developmentally disabled people and is oppressive toward disabled people because it describes them as “marginal cases. Do read Sunaura Taylor’s Beast of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation. A full list of ableist terms and alternatives for those can be found here and here.
Don’t use homophobic, biphobic, polyphobic, interphobic, or transphobic language; be aware that both the sex binary and the gender binary are constructs. Members of countless nonhuman animal species also are intersex, change their sex/reproductive functions, and engage in same-sex sexual behaviour and relationships, so homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc. in the animal rights movement is also anthropocentric and disparaging of the ways nonhuman animals live their lives and love each other.
Here are some resources that address the links between queerness and animal liberation:
A Privileged Vegan discusses this topic here, here and here.
This document tackles some examples and ways to address problematic language.
Do be aware of what oppressive language is, who it is harming, and what the alternatives are – if in doubt, google to check a word and search for alternatives!