Well, back in my I-wish-I-were-a-hippie days (late 80s if I remember correctly), I often wore cotton skirts way below my knees but not quite long enough to hide my hairy legs, and while I wasn't surprised by people being surprised, I was taken aback by the amount of anger it generated. The hair on my legs not only grossed some people out, it really upset them. And while it never bothered anyone that I was in a personal relationship with, I can't tell you the number of strangers (men, women, of all ages) who would approach me and angrily demand to know why I didn't shave. My legs were a personal affront to them, and they sure let me know it. Although it was annoying at the time (and I soon gave up skirts altogether), I was also quite fascinated by the response and tried to figure out what was going on.
What I had done, of course, was breach public convention and upset the status quo. I had tampered with the notion of what a woman's body should look like and how she should present herself. In short, I had made people uncomfortable. It gave me a taste though of what it might be like to be pregnant and have strangers make remarks about something that is none of their business, or what it would be like to have a visible disability. But while folk don't usually get mad at expectant mothers or people in wheelchairs, choosing to flaunt convention sometimes made me feel I should get ready for a public flogging.
But what specifically does this have to do with veganism? Well, as you already know, daring to be different comes with a price. Seeing someone who doesn't look or eat the way you expect others to look and eat can be upsetting. And if something as innocuous and impersonal as a woman not shaving can send someone right out of their comfort zone (and forget their manners), then you can imagine how charged a topic food can be. While someone can easily dismiss a hairy faux pas, tee hee (after all, if every decent woman knows enough to shave then I don't have to think of this as an issue), eating is a bit too close to home. Most omnivores probably don't think too much about food beyond financial and health implications, and likely rarely consider that there may be political, environmental and animal-welfare consequences of their food choices until they encounter vegans. Seeing or hearing about someone who eats very differently but who belongs to a similar group can be jarring, especially if they do so because they don't want to consume animals. Because what does that imply or say about your own food choices? Not as easy to dismiss anymore.
And remember the popular slogan of the women's movement the personal is political? It was and still is, but the culinary is political too, and perhaps even more so.
In many ways, femininity really is a social construction. Men, for the most part, are thought of as male without having to do too much extra. Get up, get dressed, get out the door, and you're not likely to be accused of not being masculine enough. Women on the other hand are required to take additional, and I would argue artificial, steps before showing up in public. Remove all body hair except for what grows on your head. Sorry, but if it wasn't natural for hair to grow in certain places, it wouldn't grow there. Head hair needs inordinate amounts of attention to be considered presentable: washed, dried, styled, gelled, sprayed, coloured, tinted, trimmed, and if female, not cut too short. But you're not done yet. Jewelry, accessories, shoes and clothes need to be picked out carefully. Ever notice how fashion shows and magazines are obsessed with women's clothes being feminine enough? But when was the last time you heard men's shirts being referred to as masculine, or that "masculinity" is the trend for this season? And staying away from the topic of cosmetic surgery to "improve" women (a whole post unto itself), what is natural about putting man-made colour onto nails, cheeks, lips and eyelids in order to be thought of as suitably feminine?
Now I'm not arguing here that women shouldn't shave, or pay attention to their hair, or wear makeup, but to just be aware that these are artificial constraints. And that what is considered feminine has been commodified, because sadly, appearance is still viewed as one of the most important aspects of being a woman. When was the last time you saw a female newscaster who wasn't attractive? Who wasn't wearing makeup? Just saying.
Gosh, haven't had a feminist rant like this in a long time. I feel quite refreshed, snort. Thanks for listening. ;)