It’s Like, Totally Sexist

Young white woman twirling her hair, reads, "I'm vegan. But I TOTALLY respect your RIGHT to harm other animals for your frivolous habits."

In my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, I argue that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement banks on sexist scripts in the interest of promoting veganism. To this effect, stereotypes are frequently employed to shame women into compliance.

Memes like that pictured above “work” because they draw on a popular cultural trope, “The Valley Girl,” to negatively characterize the behaviors of others. Recall the cult classics Clueless (1995) and Legally Blonde (2001). Their leading characters are jokes, something to be laughed at or despised.

The women in these memes tend to be described as frivolous and smug, often infantilized and always trivialized. They are always women as well. I have yet to see a “Valley Boy” meme in circulation.

Movie poster for Clueless, shows Alicia Silverstone holding a cell phone and wearing a minidress and heels wrapped in a boa on a staircaseMovie poster for Legally Blonde, shows Reese Witherspoon dressed in heels with a tight dress and blonde hair blowing in the wind while she looks up to the sky, small chihuahua in a pink sweater at her heels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These memes frame veganism as a personal choice and nonveganism as women making selfish choices over righteous ones. Women are degraded and insulted for “the cause,” while the structural causes of speciesism are subsumed under sexist deflections.  Too often, women become the targets of activist frustration and anger with little regard for the intersectional nature of women’s oppression and that of other animals.

Meme of a white woman with her mouth open very wide and she is looking up with her eyes almost rolling back. Reads, "OMG IT'S LIKE SO SAD THEY KILL BABY COWS AND GOATS BUT I CAN'T LIKE LIVE WITHOUT CHEESE!"These memes are chosen intentionally to draw on particular cultural knowledges.  In a society that systematically disadvantages women as evidenced in an epidemic of discrimination that is fueled by negative stereotypes, sexism in vegan advocacy is something that social justice activists should take seriously. Exploiting oppression to combat oppression is unlikely to be successful. Given that gender oppression and species oppression interlock, aggravating the devaluation of women is likely to have negative impacts for other animals.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about sexist strategies in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on June 3, 2013.

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The Vegan Politics of Taste

12582229724_5423168e8f_zImage from BZDogs

Psychologists tell us that we eat with our eyes. Sociologists, however, think we eat with our ideologies.

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has theorized extensively on the politics of taste. What is good taste? What is bad taste? How do we know what we like? It has less to do with our taste buds than we might think.

The human senses are, of course, capable of detecting sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness, and so on, and these tastes are synchronized with our brain to help us to determine what is edible, nutritious, and potentially useful for our bodies. However, as with so many embodied experiences, this process is highly shaped by our social environment.

For example, “vegan food” is regularly chastised for tasting like cardboard, sticks, and leaves (taste tests popular on Youtube exemplify this), but how much of this is based in reality? Stealth vegan entries into bake-offs should give us pause:

Tweet by username @ShultzTheWorld: "@triplejHack a vegan pie accidentally judged as meat pie and came 2nd at fine foods expo yesterday. Pie makers furious vegans rejoice"

Strange how vegan food can taste pretty good when we’re focusing on the flavor and not the politics.

Without culture to shape how we assign meaning to food, we are free to objectively rate it according to our senses, not our conditioning. The silliest part is that all humans eat plant food regularly without thinking twice about it. Fruit, grains, and vegetables, for instance, do not contain animal products, but nonvegans do not grimace when offered a banana not wrapped in bacon or dipped in butter.

Once the vegan label is attached, suddenly all the cultural baggage, promoted and reinforced by powerful industries and the government they influence, flood into the brain, manipulating the consumer’s experience of that food.

vegan-food-taste

 

Social constructions of taste are one of many operatives in the maintenance of oppression. What tastes good, bad, healthy, or not is determined by those with the power to shape interpretations. In Western society, this means corporate influence should not be discounted.

Some food companies and activists avoid describing their products as vegan, fully aware of market research that demonstrates apprehension about alternatives. “Plant-based,” “meat-free,” “soy alternative,” “vegetarian,” “veg,” and “animal-free” are labeling schemes that have been tried with varying success to encourage nonvegans to overcome their politicized palate.

Treating adults like toddlers, however, is perhaps not the best approach. Reducing vegan stigma by coming out of the closet, so to speak, is one way to resist. Until veganism is promoted proudly by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, it cannot overcome stigma or challenge social constructions of taste.

Unfortunately, most professionalized organizations in the movement enable this behavior. Reclaiming veganism as a matter of political support for the advancement of Nonhuman Animals is a crucial first step. Taste follows power structure; until veganism is recognized as legitimate, vegan food will continue to “taste” yucky in a speciesist society when human privilege is on the line.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about sociological theories of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


 

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The Surprising History of John Harvey Kellogg and His War on “Meat”

John Kellogg

But although the sheep goes dumb to the slaughter, do not its [sic] eloquent eyes appeal for mercy?  Do not the bleating of the calf, the bellowing of the bull, the cackling of the frightened geese, the gobbling of the reluctant turkeys, and the cries of the hundred of other creatures that we call dumb, but to each of whom nature has given its [sic] characteristic mode of speech, rise in eloquent protest against the savagery to which the instincts inherited from our cannibalistic ancestors habitually lead us?  That we are able in cold blood to take the lives of these innocent beings, then to bury their carcasses in our stomachs, as do the savage beasts of the forest, is made possible only by the fact that the ancient savage still leaps and yells in our hearts. (Kellogg 1923: 219-220).

Dr. Kellogg’s 1923 The Natural Diet of Man [sic] offers an interesting perspective into the vegetarian/vegan movement of the United States 100 years ago.

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Take, for instance, the preface and final chapter in which Kellogg complains of the “meat” industry’s reaction to post-war declines in flesh consumption.  As he explains, the industry launched an “Eat More Meat” campaign, flooding newspapers with scientific claims to “meat’s” essentialness to human health.

Take, also, the cringe-worthy examples Kellogg reprints in the chapter entitled, “Newspaper and Magazine Misinformation.”  The “meat” industry has been bombarding the public with strategic advertising to increase profits for a century or more.

Despite this entrenching ideology, Kellogg seems confident the industry would not succeed:

The packers are certainly trying to “raise the wind” in behalf of their industry, but they will not succeed.  When they set to work to find “scientific data wherewith to correct adverse propaganda,” they will find nothing to correct.  The physiologists have been stating the simple, incontrovertible facts about meat, which show its uselessness and harmfulness, and there is not a word to be said in its favor which has not already been said and resaid so many times during the past that there is nothing new to say.  […] it is not to be believed that these eminent and efficient promoters of national welfare can be persuaded by the packers to back up their “Eat More Meat” campaign, which has been organized, not in the interest of the public welfare, but simply to enrich the pocketbooks of breeders and butchers. (361)

What right have packers and breeders to undertake to exploit the consumers of food simply to create a market for their products? (362).

For a time, the scarcity of WWI normalized vegetarian and low-meat eating

For a time, the scarcity of WWI normalized vegetarian and low-meat eating

Despite this optimism, the role of “meat” in the project of oppression is deeply rooted and the “science” the industry creates is just as biased but convincing as it ever was. Kellogg, however, was witnessing the very formation of an ideology in an era of great social change. “Meat” was shaping nationhood.

Indeed, “meat”-eating and colonialism went hand-in-hand at this time.  British colonizers, for example, explained their supremacy in India as a direct consequence of the physical and mental superiority granted from consuming flesh.  Indians, who primarily ate plant-based diets, were argued to be weak, stupid, and ripe for subjugation.

This ethnocentrist and racist ideology permeated the Western defense of flesh consumption.  Dr. Kellogg counters in The Natural Diet by highlighting many of the amazing and physically exerting feats that Indians regularly achieved.  He suggests that any feebleness suffered by Indians and other colonized vegetarian groups was more accurately attributable to starvation. British imperialism, in other words, was the source of harm, not a vegetable diet.

Incidentally, Kellogg was certainly no egalitarian himself by any right. Notably, he founded a eugenics society at his Battle Creek sanitarium where he hosted conferences on “racial betterment.”

All patients at Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium were expected to practice vegetarianism. Photo from Willard Library.

All patients at Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium were expected to practice vegetarianism.
Photo from Willard Library.

 

While primarily concerned with “meat’s” impact on human health, Kellogg does make an ethical appeal to vegetarianism near the end of his book:

With winter’s frost an evil day arrives,–a day of massacre, of perfidy, of assassination and bloodshed.  With knife and ax he turns upon his trusted friends,–the sheep that kissed his hand, the ox that plowed his field.  The air is filled with shrieks and moans, with cries of terror and despair; the soil is wet with warm blood, and strewn with corpses (220).

As this prose attests, plant-based eating was serious business for Dr. Kellogg. He required vegetarianism of all patients sojourning in his Battle Creek sanitarium   In fact, when patients were caught sneaking “steak,” he was known to place their meal under the microscope to grant them a closeup view of the bacteria active in the decomposing flesh. In a shock tactic that remains favored by vegan activists today, he hoped the exposure would repel and disgust them from further digression.

Perhaps understandable for the time, The Natural Diet of Man [sic] explicitly argues for vegetarianism, with only a fragmented acknowledgement of vegan politics. He does, however, note that a completely plant-based diet is just as healthful and nutritionally sufficient as a vegetarian one. It is also cheaper, he concedes.  Kellogg even recommends nut milk, a suggestion would be unheard of in today’s corporatized and monopolized food system. That’s just as well. Today’s Kelloggs cereal is fortified with animal-derived Vitamin D. Nut milk or no, it would not suitable for vegans.

 

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the relationship between colonialism, racism, and speciesism as well as the media politics of nonvegan industry in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on May 25, 2013.

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Could Fat-Shaming and Health-Shaming Encourage Veganism?

Pink striped socks standing on pink scale

 
Fat-shaming and health-shaming, two popular tactics in the vegan movement. Want to get that beach body? Go vegan. Want to cure yourself of depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, or heart disease? Go vegan. Remain nonvegan at your own risk.

The majority of activists and organizations regularly tout the wonders of veganism for curing humanity’s many ailments, and, in doing so, they create a vegan-as-healthful / nonvegan-as-unhealthful dichotomy which invites shaming. Shaming nonvegans does not work because stigmatizing health behaviors in general does not work.

Stigma strategies have been employed against fat people, people with HIV/AIDS, people who abuse heroin, and more. The thinking is that the facilitation of a culture of stigma will facilitate social control. I have been teaching deviance and stigma with Colorado State University for several years, and I frequently emphasize to my students that these approaches are not based in evidence, but rather in discrimination.

Shaming strategies individualize what are essentially structural issues. That is, instead of focusing on food production, food access, poverty, racism, or classism, shaming focuses on each person’s presumably good or bad choices within that system. There is a false assumption of equal access in opportunities and choices. There is also a failure to acknowledge painful oppressions faced by those who are cut off from privileged pathways.

Many scholars and activists who specialize in the critical study of age, ability, and size emphasize that what is considered healthy is often more subjective than we, as a society, are willing to acknowledge. Healthfulness as a social construction depends upon a number of ascribed advantages that grant the privileged class the ability to define “normal” and “healthy” for everyone else.

Unfortunately, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement regularly pulls on established stigmas in hopes of shaming its audience into veganism. This tactic, however, is unsupported. More importantly, evidence demonstrates that stigma strategies only aggravate oppression. Anthropocentric approaches also incorrectly present veganism as a diet and invisibilize Nonhuman Animals, whose injustice should be centralized.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the problems with stigma strategies in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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You Won’t Believe This Shocking Whole Foods “Healthcare” Policy

Photo by Jay Janner

Photo by Jay Janner

Cooperation with speciesist industry is a primary tactic for professionalized organizations in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, despite its dangerous consequences for normalizing a post-speciesist ideology. This strategy concerns me as it normalizes capitalism, despite capitalism’s inherent need to exploit social inequality.

“Father” of Nonhuman Animal rights and elite philosopher Peter Singer supports this pro-capitalist route, insisting that those with the privilege to do so should financially support the world’s poor, generally by funneling wealth through carefully selected, elite-operated charities. From this perspective, it is not necessarily the unequal system that is the problem, but rather the failure for more privileged parties to take care of those underneath them.

Altruism and corporate success are fundamentally incongruent. Consider Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s 2009 editorial piece published in the Wall Street Journal warning of the perils of Obamacare (President Obama’s attempt to provide healthcare to the millions of Americans who were vulnerable and unprotected, myself included at the time). Mackey insists that each person is responsible for their own health, and placing this burden on corporations is inappropriate:

“Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.”

Not surprisingly Mackey’s prescription for personal responsibility and better health entails consuming more whole foods (conveniently on offer in his stores).

While activists believe that elites are the gatekeepers to to a more altruistic society, the pressures of capitalism will ensure that their cooperation with industry will entail serious compromise. Like many grocery chains, Whole Foods amassed its wealth through the exploitation of Nonhuman Animals, prison laborers, and immigrants producing product and the lower classes pushing the product on shop floors. What Mackey fails to acknowledge is that social services such as Obamacare are funded in part by corporations because it is considered a means of redistributing the wealth extracted through these inequalities.

Whole Foods Vegan
 
Mackey, like many wealthy elites, resent this government intervention, promoting instead a neo-paternalist charity system which would keep this redistribution process within in his control. In doing so, corporations are able to feed or starve particular programs or issues  according to the economic and political interests of the corporation.Revising tax laws, he insists, will, “make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance…” The celebration of individualistic solutions to social problems created by capitalism redirects blame to the most vulnerable in our society and absconds corporations of their responsibility to redistribute the wealth accrued through the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Mackey advocates “capitalism with a conscience,” supposing that a system built on inequality need not be devoid of altruism or compassion for others. But this conscience is conditional on the protection of a system of haves, have nots, and “personal responsibility” for successfully navigating a fundamentally unequal  society.

This is not a game that social justice movements ought to be playing. Capitalist corporations require exploitation and prioritize profit. This incompatibility with egalitarianism should be a warning to activists that corporations will hold very little genuine support for social justice. Indeed, when activists offer their movement’s seal of approval to these “conscientious capitalists” as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement frequently does, corporations such as Whole Foods will happily apply these commendations to their products. Undoubtedly, this will also justify dramatically increasing the profitability of their value-added products.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the dangers of corporate welfare and pro-capitalist approaches to anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Do You Know the Most Common Mistake in Animal Activism?

Effective Animal Advocacy

As a social scientist specializing in social movement theory as it applies to the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I am often dismayed that so many vegan activists consciously dismiss the importance of research in their commitment to prioritizing activism. This likely reflects a general conservative suspicion with science (an ironic attitude given that science is such an important ally to social justice), exacerbation over the critical plight of Nonhuman Animals, or even plain ol’ human stubbornness.

I argue that this “Activism First” skittishness of science constitutes a serious blunder. The liberation of Nonhuman Animals will not come willynilly, through good fortune, or even with dedication and hard work. Tactics must be supported with research and guided by science to ascertain their effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the power, politics, and egos of social justice work frequently trump a genuine and necessary interest in what works, what doesn’t work, and what can be improved. As a researcher in this field who has studied extensively the science of social movements and the politics of anti-speciesism, my biggest piece of advice to vegan activists is to pause a moment and do some assessment.

I am certainly not making a case for elitism. Innovation in tactics should be fostered, and sometimes this will emerge from newcomers and the unstudied. However, it is a strategic failing when the majority of a movement’s activists have zero training in effective activism and few have bothered to read the scientific theory of social movements and social change. This is an enormous, unnecessary, and avoidable disadvantage.

To presume ourselves experts and leaders in social change without also adopting the role of student exemplifies human arrogance, entitlement, and privilege. Activists must be life-long students in order to be effective leaders. If Nonhuman Animals are counting on us, we are obligated to aspire to our best.

 

 

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the science of effective activism and the importance of research in movement repertoires in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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The EU Ban on Cosmetic Testing and the Problem with Single-Issue Campaigns

EU Bans Testing

The European Union has banned the import and sale of cosmetics containing ingredients tested on animals. Good news? Well, sort of.

I am curious as to why the cosmetics–often made from the bodies, products, and labor of Nonhuman Animals–are not themselves questioned as morally objectionable. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is delighted by this “victory,” but the campaigning that led to this ban is rather disconnected. To me, campaigning to ban the import of tested ingredients on animal-based products would be no less counterproductive than promoting cheese-less “hamburgers” or “leather” coats without “fur” trim (I use quotation marks to highlight euphemistic language).

Most cosmetics are made with slaughterhouse renderings, meaning that they are inherently cruel and unjust. Focusing on animal testing is subsequently speciesist and confusing. Of course, bunnies are easy to rally behind because they are generally considered to be cute, but most humans still view cows, pigs, fish, and other Nonhuman Animals killed for cosmetics as commodities. In a human-privileging society, these animals are merely breathing slabs of “meat” and skin waiting to be processed. Single-issue campaigns reinforce this objectification and invisibility.

Lightning storm

Single-issue campaigns unnecessarily confuse the political imagination by skirting the root of the problem. If the root problem–speciesism–remains unaddressed, more horrible uses are free to sprout up to fill the void that EU legislation has created. I understand the allure of a low-hanging branch, but I suspect that this tactic is trading in symbols with no intention of serious economic disruption.

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is, like most social movements, strapped for resources. Every minute, every dollar, and every person expended on these piece-meal campaigns is a minute, dollar, and person squandered. I say this because it would be infinitely more efficient to promote comprehensive vegan education. Veganism covers all Nonhuman Animal use, not simply those that are convenient to organizers or more advantageous to non-profits with fundraising aspirations.

If Nonhuman Animal testing is reduced, that is obviously a good thing. However, vivisection comprises only a very small percentage of speciesist exploitation. The vast majority of this exploitation is tied into Nonhuman Animals being killed for food (laboratories kill in the millions, while slaughterhouses kill in the billions), so why expend so much of the movement’s resources on fringe exploitation?

Most importantly, it is this speciesist food system that supports other exploitative products and uses. By promoting veganism, the movement lessens demand for slaughterhouse products, and a political mass of vegans can put pressure on governments to eliminate subsidies to “meat” and “dairy.” Cosmetic companies will have to look elsewhere to find their raw material when animal flesh is no longer cheap and plentiful.

I care deeply about the plight of Nonhuman Animals, and I truly hope that this ban will put pressure on companies and other governments by demonstrating that consumers are not especially interested in supporting systems of violence. I also hope the ban will motivate consumers to extend their moral concern to the invisibilized billions of Nonhuman Animals killed for food and cosmetic ingredients. But hoping isn’t a valid justification for any tactic. I am not convinced that it is wise to compartmentalize speciesism when the movement could be building a strong vegan culture that rejects all use, not just some uses. Saving adorable rabbits should not mean throwing less popular species under the bus. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement has an obligation to lend support to all animals.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the problems with single-issue campaigning in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 11, 2013.

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Study Shows Objectified Women Less Likely to be Activists

PETA Naked Protest

 

A study published in Psychological Science finds that women who self-objectify are less likely to challenge the status quo of gender inequality. These findings could have serious implications for the Nonhuman Animal rights repertoire.

Anti-speciesism activism, in general, supports the notion that women are sexual objects that can be exploited for recruitment and fundraising.  Women (especially young, thin, white women) are repeatedly exposed to movement norms which expect them to take off their clothes and pose in sexually provocative ways “for the animals.” If these norms should begin to internalize and feed self-objectification for female activists, this could seriously disempower the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Young women comprise the movement’s largest demographic, and should be nurtured rather than exploited to achieve effective social change.

Women who are objectified and consequently objectify themselves are less likely to affect liberation. As the research suggests, self-objectification is an important impediment to achieving social justice because “objects don’t object.” I have noticed that countermovement activity has attempted to frame vegans as weak, unpatriotic, weird, etc., but I have also noticed that vegan women have been eroticized. This is intentional: sexualizing others disempowers them. When women are reduced to sexual objects, this undercuts their political power and their ability to resonate. When they self-objectify in response to existing in a sexist cultural space, they are even further depoliticized. If the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is actively replicating this process, it could be doing the movement considerable damage (in addition to reinforcing sexism, an ethical problem in of itself).

Read more:

Rachel M. Calogero.  2013.  “Objects Don’t Object:  Evidence that Self-Objectification Disrupts Women’s Social Activism.”  Psychological Science 24(3): 312-8.

Abstract:

Integrating system-justification and objectification theories, the research reported here broadens the scope of prior work on women’s self-objectification to examine its system-justifying function. I investigated the relation of trait and state self-objectification to support for the gender status quo and engagement in gender-based social activism among U.S. college women. Study 1 established that greater trait self-objectification was related to more gender-specific system justification and less engagement in gender-based social activism. The data supported a mediational model in which gender-specific system justification mediated the link between trait self-objectification and social activism. Results from Study 2, in which self-objectification was situationally activated, confirmed the same mediational model. These findings suggest that trait and state self-objectification may be part of a wider pattern of system-justifying behavior that maintains gender inequality and thwarts women’s pursuit of social justice.

Read a summary from The Raw Story here.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the dangers of engaging sexism in Nonhuman Animal rights activism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on February 13, 2013.

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Review of “Our Children and Other Animals”

Our Children

My review of Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart’s sociological text on childhood studies and vegan theory is now available free to download from Volume 19 of Between the Species. This is an important contribution to the socialization processes involved in speciesism.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about vegan theory in my own publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


 

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Is Nudity a Prerequisite for Vegan Women’s Strength?

Pamela-Anderson

 

On International Women’s Day, PETA reaffirmed in a March, 2013 blog post (since deleted) that strong women in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement are those who pose naked and sexualized for the presumed male audience. According to PETA:

“The following brazen beauties used their most valuable asset—their minds [emphasis mine]—to speak up for the oppressed […]”

Wendy Williams poses nude for PETA advert

Pamela Anderson models for 'Save the Seals' PETA campaign
Actual images provided by PETA

PETA chose these images as representations of women using “their minds” to speak up for the oppressed. I see instead women who are using their bodies to speak to the oppressors. It’s “Girl power!” PETA exclaims.

Pornifying women (and referring to them as girls) is problematic in of itself, but it becomes especially quizzical when this is done in the name of feminism. In an interview with Bitch Media, a PETA representative not only defends this type of activism as feminist, but insists that those women who criticize it (like those associated with Bitch Media, one of the oldest grassroots feminist organizations in the US) are engaging sexism. After all, women who are sexually liberated are embodying the true feminist spirit, and women who shame that must be conservative, anti-woman prudes.

Of course, I reject that logic completely. PETA’s “feminism” is a corporate corruption of radical social claimsmaking. By slapping feminist rhetoric over the status quo of patriarchal sexual exploitation it, brands itself as cool, hip, and with it while it continues to profit from an unequal system that requires gender inequality. Bitch co-founder Andi Zeisler explores this trend in her 2016 release, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Cover Girl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. A decade prior, Ariel Levy examined the corporatization of feminism as well, emphasizing the dangers of rebranding sexism as “empowerment” in Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

In any case, it’s a real stretch to position PETA’s pornographic objects as female subjects using “their minds” for other animals. In fact, women seem to be actively discouraged from doing so in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, even vilified or harassed if they dare to voice an educated opinion. Pornifying women in activist spaces only reinforces this sexist culture and must be challenged. This isn’t strength. To the contrary, it is the movement’s greatest weakness.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and how it capitalizes on gender inequality in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 8, 2013.

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