“Well behaved women seldom make history”
… Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Dutch-born vegan Nancy Holten is a long time resident in Switzerland. Her kids were born there. She’s raising them there. But because her activism for the animals is “too annoying”, she has had her application for Swiss citizenship turned down for the third time.
Passionate vegans are no strangers to activism backlash. It comes in all shapes and forms, from the prosecution of Toronto Pig Save’s Anita Kranjc, and Ric O’Barry of the Dolphin Project’s incarceration and deportation from Japan, through to violent physical attacks on hunt sabs and vicious bullying in the school yard.
“People were telling me to kill myself by drowning in milk or by cutting myself with a razor blade. One teacher at the school told me I should go to TAFE¹ because I am ‘not a mainstream student’.”
… 16-year-old vegan schoolgirl Kaila Mackay.
More commonly, vegans experience backlash in the form of vitriolic abuse on social media. Unpleasant though that may be, the personal cost to the vegan post-ers is hopefully not as life-changingly prejudicial as being refused citizenship of the country where you’ve lived most of your life. Nancy Holten’s case has to be a first.
Speaking for myself, I was a child of the 50s and the youngest of 3 – a small girl in the shadow of two bigger, stronger, faster, cleverer brothers. In the small island where we lived everyone knew everyone, and you fell over backwards never to give offence. A setting for a golden childhood, but sterile soil for growing gobby girls with the promise of sprouting into loud proud women. It would have taken someone very special, and that very special someone I was not. So on the outside I became exactly what the island community thought I should be, a “well-behaved” girl who kept her maverick thoughts entirely to herself. This little girl had felt to her cost at a young age the angry stamping-on those kind of thoughts invited if she dared to speak them out loud. I never looked like making history.
You could be ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ and ‘good’, all acceptable ‘feminine’ qualities. But if you were loud you were clearly none of those things, because being loud was the very antithesis of what was expected of the female of the species.
From then until now I’ve always had problems with my throat and my voice. My daughter puts it down to my having been effectively silenced, unable to ‘speak my truth’.
That was all last century though, before second-wave feminism came along. You would hope that kind of suppressive social pressure is long departed. But apparently not. It seems it’s alive and well in vegan Nancy Holten’s little Swiss town of Gipf-Oberfrick. Nancy however, is not to be silenced.
We’ll let you be an animal activist as long as you’re not too darn active, is what the residents of Gipf-Oberfrick are saying to her. It’s OK if you have views as long as you play nice, keep them to yourself, don’t be loud, absolutely don’t go public, don’t shove them down our throats, and above all don’t be annoying.
And what these good burghers think of her actually does matter, not just because the power of peer pressure is in inverse proportion to the size of a town’s population, but much more specifically, because under Swiss law they all have the right to sign off – or not – on her application for Swiss citizenship. The town’s spokesperson, Urs Treier, says they keep rejecting Holten’s application not because of her opinions but because she makes such a public display of the things she objects to.
Nancy is described as “not the quiet kind”. The local branch president of the Swiss People’s Party, Tanja Suter, says Holten has “a big mouth” and doesn’t deserve the “gift” of Swiss citizenship. Jeez!
This unstoppable lady has publicly voiced her opinions about piglet racing, hunting, animals in the circus, and horse breeding. But the one that really gets up the townsfolk’s collective nose, is her rant against their cows having cowbells slung around their necks. Is that so terrible? Yes, when you see the size of the bells, as in the pic below. They weigh in at 5kg apiece and rub and burn the cows’ skin. Plus the sound of the ringing must be deafening to the cows at 100 decibels. That is loud.
The good people of Gipf-Oberfrick’s though view her campaigning as an attack on treasured Swiss tradition:
“The importance of the cow bell is highlighted in Swiss folklore, which reflects a period when a great Trychel, or large cow bell, was a rare and much-coveted item. The legend of the Simmental tells how a young cowherd strays inside a mountain, and is offered by a beautiful woman the choice between a treasure of gold coins, a golden Trychel, or the fairy herself. He chooses the Trychel.”²
But tradition can never be a justification for inflicting harm. In 2016, 200 million women in 30 countries suffered FGM³ because it is ‘traditional’ in their communities. That doesn’t stop it being wrong.
Let’s face it, the crowd, the majority of folk who prefer to do what’s expected and think what they are told to think, will always lash out at someone swimming against the current and threatening to rock their comfortable boat. These ‘loud’ activists are speaking the truth no-one wants to hear like the Old Testament prophets, who were invariably persecuted for their pains.
Speaking out the truth is never without cost to yourself. If you stick your head up above the parapet, nothing is more certain than that you will get it shot off. What immense courage it takes to stand up and be loud, especially for a woman. But loud vegans’ courage is fuelled by compassion for the suffering, outrage at the injustices humans are inflicting on animals everywhere, and burning passion to see equality, liberation and justice prevail.
Here’s to all loud vegan women. I salute you. Heroes, everyone.
As for Nancy Holten, she knows full well what is at stake, having had her citizenship application turned down twice already. Yet still she refuses to shut up, refuses to stop being “annoying”, refuses to stop ruffling feathers in her little Swiss town. Because the fate of the animals is so very much more important than a few ruffled feathers – more important even than the coveted Swiss citizenship. I hope she finally does get what she wants. Switzerland should be proud to claim as one of its own an amazing person like Nancy who refuses to sacrifice her principles for her own expediency.
Give that loud annoying vegan woman a medal. We need more of her kind.
“Never be bullied into silence.”
… Harvey Fierstein
We can’t all be Nancys. I know I’m not. If you are struggling with simply maintaining a veg*n lifestyle, you are not alone. 63% of new vegans polled said they couldn’t hack sticking out from the crowd.
If you are depressed at all the horrors you see, or burned-out from all your activism, you are not alone.
Don’t give up. Awesome help and support is available here. For the sake of the animals, and for your own, please check it out.
¹Technical & Further Education
³Female genital mutilation