Tag Archives: Sexism

Are Teddy Bears Vegan? President Roosevelt and the SPCA

Speciesism, like any ideology of oppression, is effective in its banality. Consider the “teddy bear.” Have you ever stopped to consider its origin? It is not so cuddly as you might imagine.

Teddy bears trace back to the early 20th century. Known as the Progressive Era, this was an age of considerable change and insecurity as the country modernized and reformed. As feminists pressed for women’s rights, traditional male power was challenged and provoked resistance. Rugged masculinity became a popular “cure” for a populace thought have become weak and effeminate. This was complicated by American imperialism and war, both of which necessitated ideological support for the systemic violence, dominance, and colonization that characterized the American agenda.

As such, nationhood was bound to the celebration of masculinity and the denigration of all that was feminine. Unfortunately for Nonhuman Animals, they would become prime targets in this conflict. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, “hunting”1 was primarily associated with the lower classes engaged in substance-killing and the upper classes engaged in sport-killing. Humane societies had little interest in harassing the poor, and even less interest in antagonizing elites who could easily become a political threat. According to HSUS historian Bernard Unti,2 this changed with the election of Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s gregarious, rough-n-tumble warrior-“cowboy” persona brought hunting center stage. Humane advocates could not ignore the president’s gratuitous violence and its potential influence on impressionable youth.

Roosevelt’s “hunting” exploits drew considerable media attention and criticism from humane organizations, namely the Massachusetts SPCA. The criticism was well deserved. In one African “safari,” Roosevelt and his team were responsible for killing 11,000 animals. “Hunting” became a ritual display of Presidential power. As he visited towns across the US, citizens would present nonhuman victims, some of whom were tame, for Roosevelt to dispatch in “canned hunts.”

In one such case, one of the victims presented was in especially pitiful shape. Already mangled by “hunting” dogs, the gasping bear had been tied to a tree to await Roosevelt’s shot. Rather than maintain the pretense of a “hunt,” Roosevelt instructed his guide to “euthanize” the bear by violently stabbing him death. The bear apparently struggled considerably in this final fight for his life. The incident went viral, and Roosevelt was commended for his “compassion.” Like many epic tales of Roosevelt’s exploits, there was a political tilt. The violent and paternalistic control of Nonhuman Animals spoke not only to America’s relationship with women and foreign powers, but also to people of color. The Smithsonian, for instance, reports that the Teddy bear story analogized Roosevelt’s disdain for lynching in the South. Whatever the intended meaning, the President and bears were linked ever since. The popularity of the story sparked the sale of “teddy bear” souvenirs.

Animal-killing generally worked in Roosevelt’s favor, and he dismissed his critics with racism, ableism, and sexism. Vegetarians were simply “flabby Hindoos,” while humane activists were “soft-headed.” To Roosevelt, killing was natural, necessary, and good for the character and the nation.

Today, teddies are associated with childhood, sweetness, and even love, but their legacy is riddled with patriarchal, imperialist violence and the mass killing of Nonhuman Animals. There is also an unmistakable undercurrent of misogyny, as violence enacted on animals was a measure of reasserting masculine dominance. The animalizing of African Americans in the South in the teddy bear legacy also gives pause.  Critical Animal Scholars have also examined children’s toys as a powerful means of socializing human supremacy. I am not prepared to classify teddy bears as nonvegan, but I do advocate an honest appraisal of their questionable history.

 

Notes
1. Euphemistic terms are placed in quotations to denote their contested nature.
2. Readers can learn more about the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt and the history of humane activism in the United States in Bernard Unti’s 2002 The Quality of Mercy: Organized Animal Protection in the United States 1866-1930 (open-access). More information is also available from the Theodore Roosevelt Association.


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

Readers can learn more about the politics of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment

animal-rights-sexism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Carol Glasser.  2011.  “Tied Oppressions:  An Analysis of How Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment.”  The Brock Review 12 (1):  51-68.

All oppression is rooted in the same system of domination and so embracing any form of oppression reinforces all oppressions. Unless social movements recognize oppression as rooted in the same system of domination, they will not be able to reject the foundations upon which their oppression is rooted. Dichotomous epistemology and value-hierarchies are the main characteristics of patriarchy that enforce both sexism and speciesism. I illustrate this by examining two animal rights advertisements that use sexist images. I demonstrate how sexism bolsters speciesism by reinforcing dichotomous epistemology, establishing value-hierarchies and accepting that positioning women as animals is degrading to women.

Many organizations and activists support a “sex sells” notion when promoting misogynistic tactics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, but there is no evidence to support that objectifying women encourages people to stop objectifying other animals.

Glasser explores this irrational assumption in “Tied Oppressions,” reminding us that oppression works intersectionally.  Treating women like meat only reinforces social norms in treating other vulnerable group like meat, including Nonhuman Animals.

lizzy-jagger-naked-tuna-fishlove-jerry-hall-mick-jagger

 

 

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

 

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


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 17, 2013.

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Dr. Corey Wrenn Featured in Huffington Post on Women in Politics

cat-memes

On November 3, 2016, I was interviewed by The Huffington Post for its story, “The Bizarre History Of Anti-Suffrage Cat Memes: In 100 years, we went from cat memes to grabbing ‘em by the p***y” in response to the clear intersections between animalizing women in the early suffragette movement and the animalization of women in the 2016 American presidential campaign.

In the piece, I clarified that animalizing minority groups is one of the oldest tricks in the book. By framing women, people of color, immigrants, and other mariginalized folks as animal-like and of another species, their unequal position can be justified, rationalized, and normalized.

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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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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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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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The Rationalization of Misogyny: Why I left the Vegan Skeptic Community

Cartoon of a chimpanzee in deep thought

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As readers may be aware, I take issue with the abolitionist position on atheism and feminism.  I won’t rehash those points here, but given those developments, myself and a few other activists thought it prudent to branch off and begin a new project in 2011-12, one that specifically valued rationality.  As a scientist and an atheist, this position seemed well-suited to my worldview.  I began to advocate for a rational, evidence-based approach to Nonhuman Animal liberation.  Instead of drawing on personal beliefs, religion, experience, etc., I have argued that we need to hold our tactics and theory up to scrutiny.  Does it work?  And does it work for the right reasons?  If not, we’re not making any headway. Now is the time to abandon personal allegiances, idol-worship, and comfortable (but ineffective) approaches.

And so I became an ardent supporter of VeganUK, a small internet community that favors a rational approach and offers a safe space for atheists to connect and collaborate.  I started publishing papers and blogging about our new approach.  I became an administrator for the VeganUK Facebook group.  I became an editor for their magazine, The Abolitionist (now defunct).  I spent hours and hours at this non-paid position because my heart was in it, because I really believed in the project.

At this time, I was also studying feminist theory heavily.  Teaching gender at the university level, I became immersed in the research on gender inequality, rape culture, and patriarchy.  It was starting to inform my activist work.

It was then that I began to notice that other feminists who also valued a rational approach to Nonhuman Animal advocacy were routinely being shouted out and then banned from VeganUK.  The community rules, in so many words, stated that if you don’t hold up to scrutiny, you get the boot.  Which is fine if we’re valuing rationality, but it soon became clear that this was a ruse to subdue critical feminist thought. There was intense pressure on female group members to agree with the men and ignore the feminist experience that shows women another side to reality that men are more or less oblivious to.

The utopian dream of rationality is achieving 100% objectivity.  But this dream of pure objectivity completely obscures the fact that human beings are themselves tools of measurement.  Humans are products of socialization, they are prone to error and bias.  The scientific method works to reduce bias, but it cannot account for how one’s identity shapes the very questions we choose to ask.  Neither can it assure that how we choose to research the question and how we interpret the results is done with complete objectivity.  So long as the human factor is involved, there will always be bias.

Feminists argue that recognizing differential socialization and privilege is a more honest approach to a scientific inquiry into social inequality.  Social beings studying the social are never divorced from the social.  If you can’t get rid of bias, the next best thing to do is own up to it.  If your tool is imperfect, you will have imperfect results.  Pretending the imperfection isn’t there is unprofessional, dishonest, and often dangerous.

Drawing of two hands in a science laboratory holding a meditating female figure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In advocating this position, a position widely accepted within the scientific community, taught to students of science, and often required in scientific publications, I was ridiculed as “unscientific” by individuals in the group with no formal scientific training themselves.

Men who identify as atheists and skeptics with a few Richard Dawkins books on their shelf are encouraged to think themselves arbiters of what is deemed legitimate science.  I suspect, however, that their claim to expertise (with no qualifications to support it) is a prop for patriarchal oppression. These identity markers help already privileged people appear more important, authoritative, and wise. This mechanism protects the white male position and delegitimizes marginalized voices.

I will not rehash the illogical and often hateful “rationalist” arguments some vegan men use to adulterate feminist theory, as I don’t think they warrant any further platform.  The atheist movement itself, where much of this anti-feminist rhetoric originates, is rife with sexist claimsmaking and abusive treatment of women.

A few years ago, feminists in the atheist (rational/skeptic/humanist/free-thinker) community began to speak out against the harassment they’d been enduring online and at conventions.  Prominent male leaders such as Dawkins either ignored or mocked their complaints.  In response, many women and their allies created “Atheism+”, a social change space where intersectionality is encouraged and social inequalities are explored through a rationalist lens.

Atheist+ proponents argue that it  is not enough to dissect the role of institutionalized religion in oppressing humans as a general matter.  When we operate according to generics (i.e. “humans,” “humanity,” or “mankind”), we more often than not default to the experience of privileged, white, heterosexual men.  We need a more nuanced approach that recognizes how the white male experience is not the universal experience.

Importantly, Atheism+ explicitly acknowledges that the unique circumstances of marginalized experiences are largely ignored in atheist activism.  As the popularity of Atheism+ increased, atheism was no longer seen as a space for men to reassert their white male superiority and mock religious people (who, by the way, are often from vulnerable non-white, non-male demographics).  Atheism was now about inclusivity and compassion for at-risk populations.

Cartoon. Man says: "Only rational thought can free the world!"Woman asks, "Can we do something about sexism and racism, too?" Woman is shouted down.

Unfortunately, the Atheist+ movement met with considerable hostility for their efforts, and the rift in the atheist community remains.  Female free-thinkers have launched new web spaces and an annual women’s conference, but many men in the movement continue to belittle feminists and harass them.  At the 2013 Women in Secularism conference, the Center for Inquiry’s CEO Ron Lindsay opened the event with a speech bemoaning how feminist critique was nothing more than a means to silence men. The realities of patriarchy can be completely lost on even those men supposedly in support of the feminist approach to free-thought.

The generic rational approach, more often than not, hides behind masculine ideology and the rhetoric of rationality to bully, intimidate, and ultimately silence women, people of color, and other vulnerable persons.  As often as rationality is used to liberate, it is used to oppress and maintain inequality.  Rather than prioritizing criticism and discourse, it becomes a legitimized means of stifling marginalized voices to the benefit of privileged white males.

When I originally wrote this essay in 2013, one the leaders of VeganUK was stalking my every move online.  He watched everything I posted on my blog,  on my public Facebook page, Twitter, etc.  He was also screencapping any of this feminist behavior he found objectionable, emailing me with these images as “evidence.”  He filled up my inbox with threats to sue me for voicing free speech over public content that I find problematic and sexist.

For any woman who has been a victim of violence at the hands of men who have stalked them (and there are many), it should be clear how behavior of this kind is both inappropriate and violent. And it is gendered. It is a classic technique wielded to threaten, frighten, and control women.  Apparently free speech, rational thought, and criticism are appropriate only when they do not target privileged white men. I say this because feminist rationalists are abused in similar ways as a matter of course. The rationality movement is systematically seeking to erase women’s skepticism.

Until it went defunct sometime in 2015, The Abolitionist was also hosting my work without my permission.  I contacted four VeganUK administrators explicitly requesting that my work be removed, as I had no desire to be associated in any way with a group that promotes anti-feminist sentiment.  All refused my request; insisting that my work was not mine to control.  Although I had signed no copyright, they took my volunteered efforts to be the sole property of VeganUK.

For a group that claims to promote science, rationality, and integrity, I was quite shocked that academic dishonesty and blatant theft were actually being defended.  I was informed, more than once, that it was up to them to decide what to do with my work. But, then, science has a long history of appropriating the ideas and discoveries of women for patriarchal legacies. This would become an important life lesson for me as a female scientist and academic.

When men can’t shut women up with language of authority, power, and knowledge (more “sophisticated” and legitimated means of controlling women), they simply revert to the tried and true method of harassing and threatening them. When that doesn’t work, they can rip the carpet out from under marginalized folks by stealing their contributions and rendering them invisible. Sadly, it works. Science has been effectively doing so for over 200 years.

Privilege will always try to silence others to protect itself.  But, as always, onwards and upwards.  I’m still a scientist, I’m still an atheist, I still value rationality . . . I just keep a skeptical woman’s eye on it all from a safe distance.  The vegan rationality community is a dangerous space for many critical thinking women, and it’s nothing I want to be a part of. My efforts here are shared in hopes of reaching readers who value social justice and critical thinking, and those women who might be comforted in knowing they are not alone in their experiences.

 

If you enjoyed this essay, these ideas and more are explored in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights (Palgrave 2016).

 


A version of this essay was originally published on July 16, 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.
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Status Contamination in Animal Rights

tofu-08-cover-store

My article, “Status Contamination: Women, Nonhuman Animals, and Intersectional Liberation” was published today in issue #8 of T.O.F.U. Magazine on sexism in the animal rights movement. Copies of the magazine are available on a pay-as-you-can system.

 

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