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Bodily Autonomy Beyond Ourselves

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“My body, my choice” has rightfully been touted by feminists for decades. When we speak of bodily autonomy, the fight for reproductive rights is most often what we’re referencing. And yet, there is a certain level of hypocrisy amongst many of the same people who proudly wear this slogan. It often seems as if the sentiment only reaches as far as the individual themselves.

In order to fully understand the meaning of bodily autonomy, we must understand that no one else’s body can be treated like property or used for another’s own gain or profit. To put it in its simplest form, the bodies of other animals, human or non-human, do not belong to us.

Valuing bodily autonomy as an inherent right means recognizing that every being must be able to live freely and exist safely in their own body. They have the right to choose why, when and what to do with their bodies. No other being, law or legislation or government can be permitted the right to dictate or infringe on bodies.

This is why consent is a core feminist value, why it’s unethical to dictate someone’s reproductive rights, and this is also why vegans won’t eat or use animals.

As disability rights activist David M. Perry recently wrote, one of the strongest links between left leaning social movements is the core belief of each individual’s right to exercise sovereignty over their bodies. While it can be easy enough to hold the belief that you are entitled to your own body, when we stretch the sentiment past ourselves, it requires more effort.

For the most part, acknowledging your own right does not require you to alter your lifestyle or actions. But once we acknowledge that all animals, human and non-human, have this entitlement, we have to alter how we live everyday.

Animals can’t, and presumably would never, give humans consent to use their bodies as vessels for profit, or to consume for lunch. To contribute to systems that rely on the non-consensual use of animals is to be complicit in the denial of bodily autonomy.

I went vegan around the same time I got my first taste of grassroots activism. The hypocrisy was always glaring. My belief in this principle was one of the largest factors in my decision. How could I be a reproductive rights activist, fighting day in and day out for my choice and my freedom, and turn my cheek on the ways I strip others of this right? And though I could pull thousands of reasons to go vegan out of my back pocket, the bottom line is, animals were never ours to use and consume in the first place.

There is tension between the vegan movement and several human rights movements – and granted, some of it is valid. But this thought that the vegan movement is competition has to go and in turn we have to recognize that the systems which commodify non-human bodies are directly linked to systems that commodify human bodies.

As humans, we fight against the notion that it is in any way acceptable to exploit the power one has over another. But how can we fight for our own liberation, and not the liberation of others?

When Perry wrote “Each of us exists at specific intersections of needs and concerns. To win, we must find ways to unite our struggles without erasing our differences. One place they connect: the need to defend bodily autonomy,” he was referring to humans, and he was right. However, it’s not enough to defend human bodies and leave other animals in the dust.

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