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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).
Rachel M. Calogero. 2013. “Objects Don’t Object: Evidence that Self-Objectification Disrupts Women’s Social Activism.” Psychological Science 24(3): 312-8.
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.
This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on February 13, 2013.
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.