I SPONSORED A PUSSY: Cabbage Chicks and the Politics of Vegan Sexism

Cabbage Chicks

Sexist advocacy is normalized within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Most readers are likely aware of the infamous PETA campaigns that use the naked bodies of women to grab attention, but sexually objectifying vegan women “for the animals” might now be the status quo. Case in point: the Cabbage Chicks.

In 2013, a grassroots group based out of Milwaukee tabled the city’s PrideFest featuring two young white women, topless save for a pair of cabbage leaves glued to their breasts. Their nudity was exploited as a teaser to attract visitors, and they awarded stickers to those who took the bait and donated. The stickers read: “I SPONSORED A PUSSY.”

When criticized, the organization insisted that it was unaffiliated with the campaign. Apparently, these women came up with this idea on their own to “help draw attention” to the tent, and “they had fun doing it.” The organization’s president assured that dressing up in vegetable costumes was “empowering.” PETA takes a similar position in response to feminist critique.

Cheers to them, of course, if they indeed had fun and felt empowered, but this is far from an individual act. Naked protesters frequently represent an organization, and organizations clearly condone these stunts by promoting the women’s semi-nude images on social media accounts. Individualizing women’s protest, however, removes culpability and risk. When campaigns succeed, the organization can reap the benefits. When they falter, the individual volunteers can be blamed.

Defending the Campaign

What if men get naked sometimes, too? One organizational representative noted that one man also took his shirt off and helped out: “There was a male dressed up as well, not sexist.” Yet, in our deeply sexist society, the bodies of men and women are not interchangeable. Men’s bodies are interpreted differently, generally in ways that empowers them and reasserts their dominance. Women’s naked bodies have yet to be divorced from the larger structure of degradation and sexual objectification. Again, PETA also deflects with this false equivalent when pressed by feminist critique.

The organization’s president also stated: “I’m not completely making the connection on how this is any different than wearing a swimsuit at a public beach.” Of course, beaches can be sites of oppression for women as well, but for the most part, wearing bathing suits on the beach is not going to draw attention to women in the same way wearing cabbage leaves in an information booth would. While PrideFest is arguably much more nudity-normative, it should be considered that women dressed as food reinforces the notion that women are consumable commodities (isn’t treating vulnerable persons like edible things exactly what activists are hoping nonvegans to get move away from?). The double entendre of the “I SPONSORED A PUSSY” sticker only reinforces the misogynist message.

Contextualizing the Campaign

This stunt is only one of several other problematic campaigns. In another, they had a young woman stand by the side of the road with meat cuts drawn on her naked body. The organization suggested that it was less problematic because it’s “not really sexy,” but using a naked woman’s body to emulate violence against animals is arguably worse.

In another campaign (not staffed by the organization itself, but promoted on its Facebook page), two bloodied women lay prostrate on the ground with a metal pipe by their bodies. A man in black (drawing on the imagery of the stereotypical rapist or murderer) stood over top their “corpses” brandishing a woman’s animal hair coat. This campaign targets female consumers (the primary wearers of “fur”) by drawing on imagery of violence against women. The organization’s response? “AWESOME! Thanks for all that you do for the animals! <3”

The PETA Effect

I share this incident to demonstrate that something systemic is at work here. The use of naked or nearly naked young women (usually white and always thin) and the use of women’s bodies as stand-ins for dead Nonhuman Animals are both increasingly popular tactics resulting from the hegemonic presence of PETA. As the largest Nonhuman Animal rights organization, PETA has the cultural power to define what types of advocacy are popular, expected, and legitimate. Ultimately, PETA is reflecting popular advertising techniques from the business world, those that are developed by men for patriarchal purposes (i.e. “sex sells”). In other words, it is not simply about women’s personal “choice.” Instead, there is a more powerful movement structure working to narrowly define what choices are available to female activists.

Regardless of individual women’s choices, activists should be concerned about the larger implications for women as a demographic. Western society trivializes and even condones rape, and according to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 2 seconds (most of these are victims are women). Psychological and sociological research has shown that sexual objectification of women and trivialization of violence against women is correlated with the devaluation of women and increased violence against women. It even leads women to self-objectify and achieve much lower levels of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is important, not only in fighting against one’s own oppression, but in feeling worthy enough to participate in social movements . . . including Nonhuman Animal liberation.

What is more, this kind of advocacy does not solicit the desired effects. The tools of misogyny only build more misogyny.

Criticizing these tactics isn’t about policing women’s behavior. Vegan feminism is instead responding to the rape culture that Nonhuman Animal rights organizations perpetuate to the detriment of women. Organizations must accept responsibility for the wider implications of this type of advocacy. Nude campaigns are mostly legal, just like rape jokes are legal, but that does not exempt them from criticism. Shutting down well-meant discussion about the hurt that sexist advocacy causes women is problematic. It is also indicative of how toxic the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has become for women and other vulnerable groups. The bottom line is that activists cannot articulate a clear message of anti-oppression for other animals so long as the movement uncritically exploits and aggravates the oppression of other vulnerable groups.

Here’s a radical notion…what if women didn’t have to be sexy cabbages to advocate for the end of violence against animals? What if women got to be persons? I think a person makes for a better activist than a cabbage any day.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.


Dove “Real Beauty” is a Real Nightmare for Animals

Dove Real Beauty Veganism
Palm oil is produced by extremely exploited, practically enslaved humans in developing countries. Production is also extremely destructive to the environment, and orangutan populations, in particular, have been hit hard.  Many Nonhuman Animal rights activists have stopped consuming palm oil and have urged vegan companies to switch out the offending ingredient.

Recently feminists have joined the dialogue as well with parallel campaigns against palm oil. Unfortunately, their claimsmaking tends to overlook the intersectional nature of this social problem as their efforts tend to focus on nonvegan products. Without vegan praxis, feminism undermines itself.


Organizations such as Fem2pt0, for instance, have targeted Dove (a product of Unilever) insisting that the soap brand to go “slavery-free” and drop the problematically-sourced palm oil.  Yet, even with the most ethically produced palm oil, forced labor remains fundamental to Dove products.

Most name brand soaps available in major supermarkets rely on the oppression of vulnerable Nonhuman Animals. Unless the soap is specifically marked vegan or vegetable-sourced, chances are very good that the soap is composed of slaughterhouse renderings. That is, one of the main ingredients in Dove is the body tissues of Nonhuman Animals. These “ingredients” never gave consent, never received compensation, and ultimately lost their lives in the exchange. This violence should be identified within the feminist critique of Unilever and similar corporations, but, unfortunately, it is not.

Consider also that Unilever, like many name brand cosmetic companies, is a company that tests on Nonhuman Animals.  Unilever claims to be moving away from vivisection, but it continues to test nonetheless.  Nonhuman Animals are tortured with abrasions and blinding with the chemicals and detergents found in nonvegan soaps.  Many companies hold trials in which animals are force-fed ingredients until at least half of the sample population dies to determine toxicity.  Dove soap is always sourced from oppression, torture, and death, palm oil or no. These products are made of the bodies of the nonconsenting, from the products of the nonconsenting, and are tested on the bodies of the nonconsenting.

Dove has a weak record in demonstrating its concern for the suffering of others. Remember the feminist Facebook protest of May 2013?  Because Facebook was unresponsive to the rampant misogyny and violence against women and girls promoted throughout the platform, feminists began to pressure its advertisers instead.  Many companies quickly pulled out, but Dove stubbornly remained with Facebook.  Neither has Dove been popular with feminists with its shallow representation of women’s self-acceptance in the “real beauty” advertisements. Everyone is beautiful to Dove, but not quite beautiful enough to forgo its beauty products.

Dove ad featuring seven women in their underwear happy and posing

Ethical consumption is, in other words, far from simplistic and many angles must be examined. For those feminists who are concerned about the suffering of others who are commodified in the products we consume, it is necessary to consider veganism.

Step one? Go vegan and dump Dove; switch to vegan brands.  Affordable vegetable glycerin soaps are available in most supermarkets, and countless vegan companies offer amazing upscale soaps and body washes as well. Just steer clear of LUSH, it has a history of exploiting women and perpetuating rape culture.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.


Podcast #4 – Veganism & Capitalism

Vegan Socialism

In this podcast, Corey and Brian liberate a can of worms in discussing the many important overlaps and disconnects between socialist activism and veganism. Despite the relevance of Marxist critique, it seems that ideologies have gotten the better of us.

This episode is not safe for work (contains cursing).

Episode recorded on September 24, 2016.

Show Notes

Alexander Simon  – “Against Trophy Hunting: A Marxian-Leopoldian Critique” Monthly Review

Essay Reading – Single-Issue Campaigns are the White Feminism of Animal Rights

Vegan Feminist Radio

White feminism prioritizes the interests of relatively privileged women with the expectation that their gains, more easily won, will trickle down to more marginalized women. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement demonstrates this problematic tactic as well, frequently to the exclusion of vegan outreach and to the detriment of the most marginalized of species.

Reading by Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn; music by Lucas Hayes.

This is an installment of Vegan Feminist Network’s podcast series, making popular essays more accessible through audio recording. You can access the original essay by clicking here.

Archives of this podcast can be found here.

How Vegans can be Better Pro-Intersectional Activists


Content Warning: Ableism, trans antagonism, racism

By Aris Austin

A couple of weeks ago, I published an article on why vegans need to be better pro-intersectional activists. If you haven’t already read that article, I encourage you to read it before moving on to this one. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary: Being a pro-intersectional activist (1) is the right thing to do and (2) will make our movement stronger.

So, how can we go about actually being pro-intersectional activists? I am by no means an expert on the issue, but I do try my best. I hope to outline a few first steps we can all take below.

1. Listen

Listen, listen, listen. This is number one on my list for a reason. Leadership starts with listening. Unless you are a single mother struggling to feed her family, you won’t know what her life is like unless you listen to her. And if you try to advocate for her before listening, you’re talking over her instead of using your voice to amplify hers. That isn’t good advocacy.

Listening doesn’t necessarily mean needing to seek out that single mother, or sitting on your hands until you happen to hear her speaking. You can educate yourself. It’s easier now than ever to listen to the stories, experiences, and needs of people. A simple Google search will yield countless articles, blog posts, and videos from single mothers talking about their experiences. So do some research. Listen to the voices of oppressed individuals. Learn, and then use your own voice to amplify theirs.

2. Never stop listening

If you haven’t seen Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” I encourage you to watch it. As she explains, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

We cannot allow ourselves to think that because we know a single story, we know every story. Listening to that mother’s story is an important step, but it does not make us an expert on the lives of everyone struggling to feed their children. How can we claim to know the story of a disabled mother of two in Chicago simply because we’ve already listened to the story of an able-bodied mother of three in São Paulo? Their experiences may be completely different. If we ever make the mistake of thinking that we’re done learning, we limit our ability to do good things and increase our potential to cause damage.

3. Own your mistakes

This one can be hard to do, but it’s also incredibly important. And hey, we all mess up sometimes. Every single one of us has made some kind of mistake in the past, and as we learn, it’s reasonable to expect ourselves to make more. However, the way we handle ourselves after making a mistake can mean the difference between a good and a bad conversation. Because of this, it’s important to handle ourselves well.

In my article on why vegans need to be better pro-intersectional activists, I used an example where you unintentionally hurt a friend by using the term “moral schizophrenia” to describe the treatment of animals. Let’s explore that example again, first looking at what might happen owning your impact.

You: “The way people cuddle their dogs at night and have no problem slaughtering pigs…They don’t even feel bad about eating bacon, but recoil at the thought of eating dogs. It’s total moral schizophrenia!”

Your friend: “Whoa, hold on. I get what you’re trying to say, but it really bothers me that you call it “schizophrenia.” That makes it sound like people with schizophrenia are violent, or don’t know how to make moral decisions. I have schizophrenia, remember? I would never hurt anyone.”

You: “I see what you mean, but that’s not my intention. I’m just saying that people treat animals in unpredictable and sometimes violent ways. I’m not trying to offend anyone.”

Your friend: “But when you use it like that, it’s ableist. You’re adding to the stigma that makes people see me as violent, unsafe to be around, and unfit to live in society. Will you please stop using that term?”

You: “You don’t get it. That’s not what I mean at all. I mean, obviously I feel safe around you, so you know that isn’t what I mean. I get that the term might offend you, but it’s a pretty common term in the animal rights movement. Sometimes we have to use shocking language to explain shocking things. Anyway, if most people knew that pigs weren’t all that different from dogs…”

You have completely lost your friend at this point. By defending yourself instead of listening, you’re causing hurt and perpetuating stereotypes that potentially limit her options in life. You’ve probably caused some damage to your relationship, and you’re certainly not getting anywhere with your vegan message. Worse, you may have given her the impression that veganism is an inherently ableist movement, and you’ve left yourself open to making the same mistake in the future.

Now let’s look at an example where you own your impact and address your mistake:

You: “The way people cuddle their dogs at night and have no problem slaughtering pigs…They don’t even feel sorry about eating bacon, but recoil at the thought of eating dogs. It’s total moral schizophrenia!”

Your friend: “Whoa, hold on. I get what you’re trying to say, but it really bothers me that you call it “schizophrenia.” That makes it sound like people with schizophrenia are violent, or don’t know how to make moral decisions. I have schizophrenia, remember? I would never hurt anyone.”

You: “Wow…I guess I never thought of it that way. I don’t know what to say, except that I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m going to make an effort to stop using that term, and to be more aware of casual ableism in my language. Thank you for telling me.”

Sure, it sounds a little corny, and apologizing and owning your impact probably didn’t fix everything. Your friend may still be hurt. But by simply apologizing and not arguing, you’ve minimized the damage you’ve done and taken a big step toward doing better in the future. Rather than alienating your friend, you’ve shown her respect, and you’ve taken a step toward deconstructing oppressive systems.

It can be hard to take being called out well. Our first reaction is to become defensive, because we feel like we’re being attacked. It might be helpful to keep in mind that your friend probably only spoke up because she trusts you. She knows that you’re a good, thoughtful person, so she expects you to be willing to correct your mistake. In a way, her calling you out may be a sign that she thinks highly of you and is willing to push you to do better.

4. Speak up

This step combines all of the previous steps and helps you create positive change. You can’t (and shouldn’t) rely on your friend to educate every vegan on why saying “moral schizophrenia” is wrong. Let’s say that after your conversation, you went home and did some extra reading on why saying “moral schizophrenia” is problematic (educating yourself is great!). Now, let’s say that a few weeks later, you hear another vegan drop the term. This is your chance to speak up.

It’s probably more constructive to engage this other vegan in a conversation rather than outright attacking them. Since you also used to use the term, you can start by finding common ground with them, and then explaining why you’ve changed your mind. Let’s look at an example:

You: “Hey, I just wanted to point out something you might not be aware of. I noticed your use of the term “moral schizophrenia,” which is something I used to say too. But a friend recently pointed out that it implies those with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous. That’s already a major stereotype that can limit their employment, housing opportunities, and even safety. When we use it to describe violent systems, it only worsens the societal stigmas they have to live with every day. I know you probably didn’t mean any harm, but do you think we could talk about using different language that isn’t so harmful?”

They may change their behavior based on that simple conversation. Even if they reject your invitation, at least you did the right thing. You’re acting in support of your friend, and you’re working to remove harmful behavior from the vegan community. In doing so, you’re doing the right thing, and you’re making the vegan movement stronger by making it more inclusive and accessible.

It is important to note here that we should use our voices to amplify the voices of oppressed individuals rather than “talking over” them. What I mean by this is that we should be mindful of the space we’re taking up, especially if we’re speaking from a place of privilege. Like many things, this is dependent on the situation. If a man in a group of men hears a misogynistic remark from his friend, that is absolutely the time and place for him to speak up. However, if that same man finds himself in a room where several women are already discussing their own experiences of harassment from men, this is probably a good time for him to listen and learn rather than launching into a speech of his own. Women in our society are already so often “spoken for” by men, so it’s best for him not to take over the conversation, especially because he’s probably the least experienced person in the room on that particular subject.

5. Act in solidarity with others

I’m not saying we all need to drop animal rights as our first priority. But there’s little that bothers me more than people who purposely ignore every other form of oppression simply because of animals. To avoid speaking out against racism or xenophobia simply because you think the group of people being attacked is especially bad for the animals is (and yeah, I’ve seen stuff like that coming from some fairly prominent vegans). To condone slurs about Chinese people “because they eat dogs” ignores the fact that (1) people in many other countries eat pigs, who aren’t so different from dogs, (2) there are many wonderful activists in China working to end the dog meat trade and (3) racism is never justified, no matter what stereotypes you decide to believe.

We can do better by avoiding this mistake, but we can also do better by acting in solidarity with others. There are so many other movements that deserve our support, and we can give it to them by making very few or even no sacrifices to our work for the animals. Consider North Carolina-based group Vegans for Peace. Members of their group have joined other LGBT rights activists for several protests against North Carolina’s discriminatory House Bill 2. I imagine that many of these activists are animal rights activists first and foremost, but they understand the injustice happening in their state, and they’re taking the time and effort to protest it.

Acts of solidarity like this not only help combat injustice, but also make the vegan movement more inclusive. A group of vegans protesting HB2 tells the government that trans discrimination is wrong. But it also tells trans people that they’re safe around that group of vegans. And if we help people feel safe and welcomed around us (rather than making them feel unsafe or excluded, like some vegans seem intent on doing,) it greatly increases our movement’s potential for growth and positive change.

This is part two of four in a series on veganism and social justice.

meAris Austin is an author, student, and activist who writes fiction and nonfiction that aims to dismantle oppression. Their fiction has previously been awarded with honors at Colorado State University, where they attend school and serve as president for the university’s animal rights group. Aris can be found on Facebook page and more of their writing is available on their website.

Podcast #3 – Vegan Feminist Travel


In this podcast, Corey and Brian rant about vegan travel, picky eaters, encounters with forest-dwelling Tofurky bandits, and the sexual politics of vegan food apps.

This episode is not safe for work (contains cursing).

Episode recorded on September 3, 2016.