Sunday, June 17th, 2018

The Feminist’s Dilemma

Published on October 8, 2009 by   ·   41 Comments Pin It

I’m a proud feminist, as anyone who cares about the plight of women on our planet should be. In many parts of the world, women are still treated as property. They have few, if any, rights and are subject to exploitation, indignities, and violence on a daily basis. As we feminists struggle for an end to female oppression, we must also consider the females that we, ourselves, unknowingly oppress. Dairy cows, though not human, are perhaps the most horribly abused females on the planet. As we fight for human equality, should we not also concern ourselves with how humans exploit the very thing that makes an animal female, that makes an animal a mother?

If you think that statement sounds crazy, it’s likely because you, like most Americans, know little about what goes on in our nation’s dairy farms. (Just last week, PETA released shocking undercover footage from a Land O’Lakes dairy supplier). You may think it’s silly, even offensive, to compare the plight of female humans with that of another species, but keep an open mind as you read further. You may just be surprised.

Cows Left to Suffer
for Land O’ Lakes.
Let’s first begin with this: all dairy cows are female and have to be pregnant to produce milk. When stated, that fact may seem obvious, but it never occurs to most people that cows produce milk for the same reason all mammals do, to feed their babies. A cow’s gestation period is actually the same as a human being’s, nine months.

Since dairy cows are not afforded the natural act of mating with a bull, they are sent to an area of the farm called “the rape rack.” No joke. There, a metal pipe is shoved inside their vaginas to deposit sperm. Once impregnated, a dairy cow lives in a stall where she can barely turn around. As her fetus grows, she starts producing milk. At this point, a cold mechanical pump is hooked to her udders several times a day to take the milk. On most farms, hormones are given to the cows to make them produce unnatural amounts. More milk = more money for the dairy farmer. This makes the cows’ udders swell enormously, causing horrible pain and infection.

When a dairy cow gives birth, she is only allowed 24 hours with her newborn calf. After that, her baby is taken from her. If the baby is a female, she will most likely become a dairy cow. If the baby is a male, he is sold to become veal. Yes, behind every carton of milk, and every pint of ice cream, is a veal calf. If you’re buying dairy products, you’re directly supporting the veal industry. Indeed, the veal industry couldn’t exist without dairy cows.

Now, just in case you’re unfamiliar with the practices of veal farms, here’s a quick overview. Once veal calves are sold, at just a day or two old, they are chained inside a crate so small they can hardly move. And that’s exactly the point, because the less they can move, the more tender their “meat” will be when they are slaughtered (between 8 and 14 weeks old). Veal calves are also fed an iron-deficient diet so their flesh will be white instead of red or pink. They are often seen licking the metal bars of their crates in search of the iron that would be abundant in their mother’s milk.

Back on the dairy farm, mother cows cry, moan, and bellow for days, sometimes weeks, after their newborns are taken from them. Some have literally broken their necks trying to run after their children. One can only imagine the depression and distress of losing your baby. Since the cow is still producing milk for her calf, the dairy farmer continues to milk her. She will never know what it’s like to nurse the child that lived in her womb for nine months. Instead, her milk will become butter, cheese, cream, and of course milk sold in markets. And when the dairy cow becomes too “spent” after four years of pregnancy after pregnancy to produce milk at sufficient quantities, she is rewarded with a trip to the slaughterhouse, where she will become hamburger. That’s right, between almost all hamburger buns are the remains of America’s spent dairy cows.

Again, I know some may have a problem with comparisons between the suffering of animals and people. But what exclusive right do humans have to the mother-child bond? There is no sure way for us to know what a cow may feel for her newborn, but certainly we can all agree on something called a mother’s instinct. We recognize it in all animals. If a cow’s love is anything close to what a human mother feels for her baby, we can only imagine the emotional pain we are inflicting, and the injustice we are committing.

As feminists, should we not stand up for all females? Should we not cry out in protest when mothers, human or not, are so blatantly exploited?

Or should we remain silent in denial?

And for what good reason? There is no human dietary requirement for cow’s milk. In fact, when you start to think about it, consuming cow’s milk seems downright unnatural. Humans are the only mammals that drink milk past childhood, and we’re the only species that drinks the milk of another species. Many recent studies now also show that milk may be detrimental to our health. For not only are a substantial number of Americans either lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, but what’s worse is that casein, an animal protein abundant in milk, has been proven to be a powerful carcinogen.

And remember all that talk about calcium and how milk is good for your bones? Well, it’s true that milk does contain around 300 milligrams of calcium per glass, but that’s only because dairy farmers nowadays administer calcium supplements to their cows. You see, cows would naturally eat grass, which contains calcium (as do all green leafy vegetables), but since dairy cows are now primarily fed corn, farmers have to add calcium to their feed, fortifying it, so their milk contains adequate amounts. It should be noted that for all the calcium hype, a cup of collard greens contains even more calcium than a glass of cow’s milk and a glass of fortified rice or soy milk matches the calcium content of cow’s milk exactly.

Wonderful sources of calcium: Leafy Greens, Sesame Seeds, Almond Milk

Today there are amazing alternatives to cow’s milk: almond milk, soy milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk, hemp milk, rice milk, etc. And there are numerous butter and cheese substitutes. Many luminaries through the ages, from Pythagoras to da Vinci to Tolstoy, have reflected on how our treatment of animals influences our treatment of our fellow human beings. Is it just a coincidence that a world that blindly exploits the female in animals also often turns a blind eye to the exploitation, suffering, and oppression of women? Isn’t it time we show compassion to all females, to all mothers, even outside our species?

Ari Solomon is the President and co-creator of the celebrated vegan candle line A Scent of Scandal After graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ari first worked as an actor in New York and Los Angeles, and later hosted the wildly popular ARI’S HOLLYWOOD UPDATE on Miami’s Y-100FM. Now a prolific activist and writer for animal and human rights, Ari is a columnist for The Huffington Post.

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Readers Comments (41)

  1. kimsy says:


  2. Etirsa says:

    Lately I’ve been saying that when we eat cow, lamb, goat etc., we are eating someones child. Think about it- these animals deliver only one, maybe two babies at a time. We can’t say there’s no love and connection there.

  3. Jason says:

    Bravo!!! Excellent blog!!!

  4. […] ***The GirlieGirl Army*** » Blog Archive » The Feminist’s Dilemma – view page – cached Guest Blogger and Girlie Girl Army Boy Sgt, Ari Solomon (creator of our absolute favorite candle line A Scent of Scandal) outs dairy as the misogynist cruelty it is. — From the page […]

  5. Amazing piece, as usual. I am sending this one to my mother. How could she not relate? Thank you for this.

  6. Annabella says:

    Ouch! Really, OUch!

  7. Valerie says:

    Applause and standing ovation!

    I am visiting a local organic farm tomorrow for a tour and I am interested to see how their animals are treated. No cow left behind!!!!!!

  8. Gretchen says:

    when mothers feed dairy products to their children, they feel they are nurturing them and feeding something wholesome and natural, which is insane and a testament to the power of advertising. thank you for spreading some truth!

  9. Gretchen says:

    ps- Valerie- as far as the organic farm tour goes- no matter who is raising the cows, they are selling the milk to humans so they are still immediately discarding the babies to veal or whatever, like Ari said, and the mothers are still slaughtered when their milk production wanes. There is no humane way to exploit animals!

  10. Melissa says:

    Ari – you are brilliant. Thank you for explaining dairy in such clear and unique terms. You are such a hero for animals!

  11. Vanessa says:

    Ari, I’ve enjoyed all of your pieces but this is the best one you have written. I am forwarding this link to everyone I know. Especially all the vegetarians. I truly believe that people just don’t know what’s behind that glass of milk. Thank you for opening up the conversation.

  12. Gina says:

    Thanks for this Ari.

    I have been off cow’s milk for years(never made sense to me that we would drink another animal’s milk and to continue to do so long after we are grown up)but cutting out the other dairy items is something I have been slack on and I know better. Your post is a huge kick in my arse and I truly appreciate it.

  13. jenni says:

    beautifully put! i think this argument will resonate deeply with people who don’t understand what the hoopla is about dairy.

  14. Andre says:

    Incredible article and I am forced now to deal with the issue of eating any more dairy in my life. I am no longer ingnorant so must make a change. Thank you for shedding light on this.

  15. beforewisdom says:

    I just finished a fascinating book about breast cancer written by a former head of the British Geological Survey, Dr. Jane Plant.

    She was a breast cancer victim, lost her breast, had multiple surgeries, multiple chemotherapies and radiation ( to disable the estrogen production in her ovaries ). Still, at one point she was told she had 3 months to live.

    Being a scientist she did her own research.

    She decided to quit all dairy products and in a few weeks her cancer went into permanent remission.

    She wrote a book about her experiences. Unlike many such books, this book has stellar references to large, double blind and peer reviewed studies.

    Her book has a lot of useful advice for how to navigate the Cancer culture to avoid getting shitty treatment. It also links dairy to prostate cancer.

    Just google on “The No Dairy Breast Cancer Cure” by Dr. Jane Plant

  16. beforewisdom says:

    Nobody needs milk.

    Read this post I made about how to get adequate calcium without it.

  17. lisa says:

    says it all! thank you.

  18. Jaya Bhumitra says:

    So well said. This is such a compelling angle from which to view a tragic situation. You always hear about the issues with factory farming from an ethical, public health, or environmental point of view. This is a fresh perspective and yet another convincing argument against commercial production of meat and dairy.

  19. den says:

    Very good article.

  20. We’re the only species on the planet that drinks milk as adults. We’re the only species on the planet that drinks the milk of another species. Not only does our milk consumption defy common sense, it also also defies common decency. Bravo to Ari Solomon and GirlieGirl for getting the word out about the terribly cruel and exploitative dairy industry. has excellent information for kicking the dairy habit.

  21. jackie lambert says:

    I am vegan and have been for just over 6 years, I
    drink plenty of soya and have alternatives to dairy free mayo, marg etc. I feel heathier than I have ever done and would say vegan is the only forward to help stop the cruelty of all animals!

  22. Angelique says:

    Great article. Being a long time vegan I am aware of this, but it pleases me to see the fight continue and the awareness being spread. HUGE APPLUADS!!
    I continue to spread the message too and hope we will combat this horrible act of humankind. This insane behavior must be stopped! I have tears in my eyes and heart every time I think about the poor animals!!

  23. Ariela says:

    Amazing piece. My eyes are welled up with tears. There are so so many alternatives out there, it just does not make sense to keep abusing these beautiful cows. We need to let them live their lives, be mothers, eat grass!

    Thank you Ari, I will be passing this on!

    p.s. Hemp milk is delicious in oatmeal!

  24. brook says:

    this is such a good piece all i can really say is “marvelous.”

  25. elemae says:

    Excellent piece, Ari, thank you for saying it so well. Every year on Mother’s Day, I make a donation to a farm animal sanctuary to honor all the mother cows who have been so cruelly exploited by the dairy industry.

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  27. Jane Smith says:

    profound, enlightening, well-constructed. thank you!

  28. Jordan says:

    Nice article!

    It’s nice to see some writing about the link between rejecting sexism and rejecting speciesism. I am a feminist AND a vegan, and I get really sick of all the articles I read in feminist magazines and blogs about how veganism is nothing more than a diet and therefore anti feminist. I wish more people were talking and writing about how it’s the same impulse that allows the racist to write off the black person that allows the sexist to write off the woman that allows the bigot to write off the gay person that allows the speciesist to write off the animal. Whew!

    Thanks for this!

  29. Hazel says:

    Yes – I’m another feminist who is also vegan. Great to read the piece – I used to teach a session at University in the UK called ‘Feminism and Animals’ similarly motivated. My feminism embraces animals as well as humans.

    I am absolutely committed to veganism as a total concept – but – if I was (bizarrely) forced to choose between NOT eating meat and NOT eating dairy and eggs I would choose the latter. I would prefer an abused animal’s life to be short – as in meat production – rather than the animal having an extended life but a life of horrendous abuse as in dairy and egg production. But of course I choose both. Happy World Vegan day for the 1st November and remember the 16-days of activism against gender violence starting from the 25th November.

  30. […] The Feminist’s Dilemma – “Dairy cows, though not human, are perhaps the most horribly abused females on the planet. As we fight for human equality, should we not also concern ourselves with how humans exploit the very thing that makes an animal female, that makes an animal a mother?” […]

  31. Philip says:

    Great!!! A wonderful post, thank you.

    A personal story of this dilemma below.

  32. Minor quibble:
    “should we not also concern ourselves with how humans exploit the very thing that makes an animal female, that makes an animal a mother”

    While fertility is exploited and though females of any species are mostly valued for their/our ability to reproduce, our fertility is NOT what makes us female. We are female before and after our fertile years and we are still female even if we’re not fertile.

    The distinction is important. It’s important because when you define “female” as “fertile” you not only exclude a large segment of females, you also help maintain the notion that fertility is our most valuable trait.

    That said, it’s an otherwise awesome post!
    Go vegans!

  33. Ari says:


    Thank you for clarifying that. You are 100% right. I appreciate the feedback!

  34. Kristin says:

    This was an outstanding article! It made me cry– I love the picture of the mom and baby cow. I have been Vegan for 2 years and I’ve never felt better! I sent this to everyone–and my mom!! People always ask me about why I am Vegan, and this post is probably one of the best examples I could ever give! It’s great to show non-vegans amazing blogs like this that really show what the dairy industry is doing to these beautiful, innocent animals. Hopefully this will inspire more people to choose Veg! thank you.

  35. Rosemarie says:

    I recently read “The Way we Eat” – Peter Singer and Jim Mason. The authors discuss the ethics of our food choices. Take what you have just learned about the treatment of dairy cows and multiply it by pigs, hens, turkeys, etc. Animals are treated as machines. Their natural needs are ignored. They live a life of nothing but pain and immobility until they are slaughtered – often inhumanely and often in a way that is dirty and unhealthy to the workers who kill them as well as to those of us who eat them. I have not eaten any meat since I read this book. It is a choice, after all, and I can choose not to be part of this system.

  36. Amy says:

    You are grossly oversimplifying and stereotyping dairy farms and farmers. You are applying what happens in some instances to ALL dairy farms, which is terribly inaccurate and sensationalistic. You are perpetuating a hatred toward farmers that makes it so much more difficult for the people who feed the world to do their job. It is bad journalism to present your opinions of dairy farms as facts. Do instances of injustice happen to the animals on farms? Yes, they do. Maybe you should move toward knowing where your food comes from on a local level and build a relationship with your food. Most instances of abuse result from people who have become so ridiculously removed from their food that they cannot relate to how it is produced. Food is consequently completely commercialized. I am distressed when I imagine that for some people your portrayal of a dairy farm is their only perspective on where milk comes from. Even the production of vegan food has its negative consequences. Only by being able to weigh the options factually can people make educated decisions about their food.

    On my dairy farm and every other dairy farm within my neighborhood, my cows are always afforded the natural act of mating with a bull. If I did chose to artificially inseminate my cows, I would place a pipette that is less approximately a quarter of an inch wide gently into her vagina to deposit sperm, which, if I were a cow, I would probably prefer rather than continuously getting jumped on by cows and bulls when I naturally come into heat. If I am abusive with my cows, they will not produce milk for me. I have never even heard of a rape rack. Cows don’t come into milk or freshen until after a calf is born. My cows don’t live in stalls where they can barely turn around but roam around naturally on pasture. They come in twice a day to be milked. Each of my cows’ udders are gently massaged to let milk down before warm, rubber padded milkers are attached to her udder. If my cows are not comfortable, they do not produce milk. As a breastfeeding mother who has spent many years pumping myself, I would not call being milked a painful event. On most farms, hormones are not given to the cows to make them produce unnatural amounts. And family dairy farmers hardly get rich milking cows. Properly cared for cows rarely have enormously swollen udders that cause horrible pain and infection.

    After the calf is born, it is true that often the calf is taken from the cow after a period of time. At our farm, the calves then nurse on a wet nurse cow until weaning. No dairy farmer in my area even sells veal calves. One of the benefits of artificially insemination is that you can buy sexed semen so male calves aren’t even born. At some point, every baby needs to be weaned and I think you are getting a little sentimental and personalizing the cows. You are assuming the cow prefers to be bit and bumped and have her teats stretched by a suckling calf than get milked. You are glorifying and ridiculously humanizing what a natural life cycle of a cow would be. In the natural world, cows hardly have the right to stand up to the bull every year and say, no, sorry, I’m not interested. Foraging for themselves, cows wouldn’t have the very good rations that could keep them healthy. By continuing to nurse their children without appropriate nutriment, the cow would get sucked down to skin and bones until she could kick and bunt the calf enough until if finally learned to leave her alone. Not all cows are good and loving mother’s either as you are suggesting. Just like with humans, some cows could care less about their children.

    Before judging and jumping to conclusions, I would invite people to visit their local certified humane and potentially organic dairy farm for a few days to see how the process works. The same thing applies to all farms raising any type of food for human consumption. If you don’t make that effort, how do you know your fruits and vegetables aren’t being produced using environmentally unsound methods and shipped half way across the world after being grown and harvested by grossly underpaid workers?

  37. Courtney says:

    I never understood why Vegans were Vegans…why dairy was so bad…why vegetarianism was not enough. Thank you so much for this eye opening article. I am now a proud Vegan. <3

  38. melissa says:

    I’m going vegetarian as a resolution for next year and then hopefully vegan evetually!!

  39. […] Solomon wrote this piece for us, and we loved it so much, we thought it would be a good reminder to repost it just before […]

  40. Thanks for writing a wonderfully concise explanation of the ridiculousness that is drinking a cow’s milk! For more info on the way animal products turn on cancer cells in humans watch the movie “Forks over Knives.” For those interested in feminism and how both women and animals are exploited in today’s society I would suggest reading anything by Carol Adams, especially “The Sexual Politics of Meat.” Her work has been a great inspiration to me and has led me to create visual art that explores all of these issues.

  41. […] for the earth, and all the millions of animal death and deep suffering it causes.   And it’s a feminist issue!   Eating dairy is so truly unnecessary when we have such fabulous alternatives.   Dis on her all […]

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