LUSH Cosmetics: Kind(ish) to Animals, Not to Women

Lush Not Vegan

LUSH Cosmetics is known for its handmade and largely cruelty-free bath and beauty products. While not a vegan company, LUSH has expanded into the realm of Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy. Under its “Fight Animal Testing” campaign, for instance, LUSH has been pressuring governments to end vivisection, even offering a large cash reward to anyone who can develop a solution.

While a concentrated effort to improve the condition of Nonhuman Animals is commendable, LUSH unfortunately replicates many of the harmful, misogynistic tactics favored by full-time animal rights organizations like PETA. Offering some vegan products in its stores and getting active to end some forms of Nonhuman Animal exploitation is obviously a good thing, but the damage LUSH could be doing to women is alarming.

Take, for example, its anti-vivisection street demonstration that featured a young woman in a nude body suit enduring graphic reenactments of torture at the hands of a male “researcher” for ten hours. The woman was dragged about by a rope tied to her neck, forcibly pushed into various positions, and force-fed. She was pulled by her hair, injected with saline needles, and her head was shaved. While the woman was a consenting professional performer, the pain she endured was clearly real. This event took place in a store window and was fully visible to the public.

lush cosmetics animal testing controversy

The use of a female actor was no coincidence. LUSH explains:

“We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman. This is important within the context of Lush’s wider Fighting Animal Testing campaign, which challenges consumers of cosmetics to feel, to think and to demand that the cosmetics industry is animal cruelty free.  It is also important in the context Jacqui’s performance practice:  a public art intervention about the nature of power and abuse.  It would have been disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse.”

LUSH intentionally chose a female actor to endure 10 hours of torture in a public space to, in so many words, teach women a lesson. Incidentally, products marketed to women are much more likely to be free of animal testing, unlike men’s products. The next time you are in a store that sells toiletry items, check the packaging of men’s products. How many are cruelty-free? You will be hard pressed to find any. Furthermore, most animal testers, farmers, and slaughterhouse workers are men. Men are more likely to hunt and men consume more Nonhuman Animal products than women. It’s even men who are buying animal hair coats, as the ability to adorn women with “fur” acts a male status symbol. Is it really so disingenuous to question men’s role in the systemic exploitation of animals?

The truth is that women are easy targets. Women are LUSH’s primary customers, and I suspect that LUSH is hoping to frighten women into choosing LUSH products over its competitors. LUSH is drawing on and aggravating the reality of male-on-female violence to secure sales.

LUSH has hosted many similarly problematic promotional stunts. For instance, one anti-vivisection demonstration featured bound women on their knees lined up outside the store with their mouths taped over. A woman dressed as a scientist (drawing on male imagery) loomed beside them. At another store, female employees were dressed as foxes and coquettishly arched their backs, smiling as a man threateningly hovered over them with a kitchen knife.

White woman covered from head to toe in red paint wearing only underwear laying in the center of a Canadian flag as though she was dead in front of a LUSH store

Nonhuman Animal rights organizations frequently use a woman’s body that has been sexualized in some way to represent an abused, tortured, or dead victim. The intentional conflation of sex and violence is particularly problematic.

One store featured a 24 hour storefront display of an anguished woman in a leg-hold trap. In another, a woman was suspended by hooks inserted through the skin in her back to protest shark fishing. In a French store, a woman dressed as a rabbit cried out in anguish as her “fur” was peeled away, displaying her raw flesh below. Her naked body had been painted to resemble bloodied muscles.

LUSH is not afraid to use nudity, either. Protesting oil dependency, naked store employees wore mock oil barrel signs that cheekily read, “Time for an oil change or we’ll lose it all.” In one worldwide event, LUSH employees (who are mostly female) were paraded outside the store wearing nothing but aprons and high heels to hand out leaflets announcing LUSH’s “reduced packaging.” For some stores, aprons read: “Ask me why I’m naked.” Encouraging nude female employees to approach gazing men with LUSH leaflets is unsettling. But, handing out soon-to-be-trashed leaflets to men who are probably not in the market for bathbombs to advertise reduced packaging is just confusing. What’s the real objective here?

White woman wearing barrel sign, nude underneath in LUSH store

Entering a LUSH store is a magical experience, I can’t deny that. Stores are fragrant and colorful, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. I love having more than one vegan product to choose from (although I’m still confused as to why LUSH refuses to go completely vegan). I actually wore Karma perfume for 6 years, but I can no longer shop with LUSH (I switched to Pacifica, which is 100% vegan and does not demean its female employees). I also informed my friends to find alternatives to the LUSH gift certificates I often receive.

It is clear to me that LUSH is exploiting the victimization and sexual objectification of women for profit. If LUSH is sincerely expecting these stunts to combat oppression, it might consider that aggravating normalized violence against women is counterintuitive to a campaign hoping to end violence against Nonhuman Animals. A message of peace and justice cannot be clearly articulated through oppressive actions.

There are many completely vegan and genuinely cruelty-free companies selling natural, hand-made cosmetic products that don’t throw women under the bus “for the cause” (or for the company). When (and if) LUSH decides to grant the same respect to women as it purports to grant to Nonhuman Animals, perhaps I’ll be smelling of orange blossom and patchouli again one day. In the meantime, I’m shopping elsewhere.

 

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Ms. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and council member of the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association.

Celebrating a Racist, Abusive Sheriff is Not Vegan

Pamela Anderson and Joe Arpaio inspect bags full of vegetarian meals that are being packed into boxes. A Hispanic inmate in the foreground smiles.

By Prison Isn’t Vegan

PETA and their celebrity spokesperson Pamela Anderson made headlines this week by traveling to Pheonix to promote Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For those that don’t know, “Sheriff Joe” has been widely criticized for racial profiling of Latinos, racist discrimination against inmates, abuse of power, illegal arrests and deplorable conditions in jail, including numerous wrongful deaths under his watch.  This criticism has come from traditional human rights organizations like Amnesty International and ACLU, along with the New York Times (who called him “America’s Worst Sheriff“) and the U.S. Department of Justice who sued him for “intentionally and systematically discriminating against Latinos.”

So why exactly did Pamela and PETA decide to showcase “Sheriff Joe?” Because he serves vegetarian food to the inmates at Maricopa County Jail.

Sheriff Joe and Pamela Anderson

PETA is trying to spin it as a way to protect animals and promote health, but it’s clear Arpaio’s decision to serve vegetarian food is because it’s cheaper. In attempt to save money, “Sheriff Joe” has moved toward only serving two meals a day,charging inmates for their own meals, serving green bologna and has cut out salt, sugar and condiments from meals.

Examples of Arpaio’s abusive treatment of inmates are too extensive to list here (including “Tent City” in 135 degree heat, use of chain-gangs, and many others). While Arpaio’s specific form of racist abuse makes PETA and Anderson’s gesture of support particularly egregious, support for any jail or prison is problematic for an organization promoting veganism from an animal rights perspective.

Veganism rooted in a desire to liberate all animals from captivity and exploitation is inconsistent with supporting prisons. Prisons encage and exploit human animals.

This is particularly true in the context of the prison-industrial complex. Inmates (human animals) are held in captivity and forced to work against their will, while others profit from this captivity and forced labor. Arpaio’s use of chain-gangs is an excellent example of this. Inmates are forced to work in order to get out of lockdown. They do not get paid, providing free labor to the County. If another species were exploited for the financial benefit of humans, animal rights organizations would actively oppose it (as they should). It would be easy to imagine PETA criticizing animal “chain-gangs” given their opposition to animal-based industries and their position on chaining dogs.

A likely response will be that the people in prisons did something to be there, unlike animals on farms or at zoos. As part of the press release, Pamela Anderson said “I believe people can be rehabilitated from the inside out. Jails are full of people wanting to change, to make amends, to learn healthier habits and understand compassion and empathy.”

But there are two things to consider about this:

First, PETA and Pamela went to a jail, not a prison. There’s a difference. The majority of people in jail are pre-trial, meaning they have not been convicted and are presumed innocent in our society. Those in jail are people awaiting trial who could not afford to post bail. So overwhelmingly, the people in Maricopa Jail and county jails like it are poor and working-class people who have not been convicted of any crime. The small percentage who are in jail after a conviction have been convicted of misdemeanors – lesser crimes including traffic violations, vandalism, minor drug possession, etc.

Second, incarceration doesn’t rehabilitate. The disconnect in the analysis of some animal rights activists is striking when comparing anti-social behavior among humans and non-human animals.  One example is Tilikum, the Orca held at SeaWorld who has killed three different trainers. The animal rights perspective has been to look at the trauma Tilikum suffered by being captured and held in captivity. No animal rights organization or activist would claim that the appropriate response is to continue to hold him in captivity in order to “rehabilitate” him.

Image of orca in aquarium

Similarly, animal activists embrace a thoughtful, nuanced and empathetic approach toward problematic behavior in dogs. (Something I’m familiar with from fostering and adopting rescued dogs). In addressing dog behavior, animal advocates encourage looking to the socialization, history and experiences of each individual animal: What in their background causes them to behave (or misbehave) in a particular way and how can you deal with the underlying cause? No dog trainer would suggest that locking a dog in a cage for years would be an effective way to get a dog to end their bad behavior. (Note that PETA takes a strong position against using dog crates) Yet PETA and other animal welfare organizations perpetuate the myth that caging humans leads to “rehabilitation.”

Embracing a radical social analysis means challenging and critiquing all societal assumption. And supporting liberation of all living things means freeing all humans from the cages of prisons.

 

This essay was originally published by NoCages.org on April 14, 2015.

 

Editor’s Note:

Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society argues that veganism is a practice that refers specifically to Nonhuman Animals. While supporting racial profiling and the imprisonment of humans is certainly inconsistent with the social justice ethic that undergirds veganism, veganism is an ethical position that directly and exclusively represents nonhuman animals.

The Dangers Of Hero Worship In An Activist Movement

By Michele Kaplan

Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape and racism; contains extremely offensive racist and ableist comments about Palestinians and Muslim culture.

Gary Yourofsky

Have you ever been in a situation where people wish you would just shut up?

It all began back on March 19th , when some vegans in my social media circle were talking about Gary Yourofsky’s anti-Palestine rant. Naturally, those in the animal rights community (myself included) who support the plight of the Palestinian people, were horrified at what he said.

Gary Yourofsky's Facebook statement on Palestine.

This post was apparently deleted from his Facebook. For disabled visitors, you can listen to the post read by Plant Powered Activist on Youtube.

Who was this Gary Yourofsky? I heard his name here and there in various animal rights circles, but was not familiar with his contributions to the movement. I began to google his name and found out that this rant (that was just dripping with discrimination and privilege) was not a one time incident (not that that would’ve  made what he said okay).

Gary Yourofsky, is a controversial and passionate figure in the animal rights community, with a history of on one hand, making powerful speeches that have inspired people to go vegan, and on the other hand making derogatory statements that have alienated people within and from the animal rights movement.

Such statements as his infamous quote (and you can read the full interview here):

Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.

As a vegan, as a woman and as a human being, I was shocked that he said this, and felt nothing short of disturbed (and a little less safe) when some people in the AR community made excuses for his behavior.

“Oh, that’s such an old quote.” they said, as if time makes it somehow untrue. Or as if he had since apologized for this statement, or changed his ways. He has not.

I felt heartbroken because I devoted so much time and love to the cause, and now I was questioning my future in it. I knew there was this old school (and not so intersectional) wave of AR activism and the next wave animal rights activism (which typically is very intersectional), so I didn’t think that everyone would support the letter, but when some people in the next wave were making excuses, even though it was “only” a couple of people, it was incredibly disheartening.

The next morning, a small group (3 to be exact) got together and put out a statement to let the community (and internet) know that our veganism has zero room for discrimination and oppression of others.

A woman who was a survivor of rape came forward and said that reading this letter was very healing for her. Another person said “I’ve been stuck without support on making these points about him many times. So glad this exists to show other vegans feel the same way!” (and this sentiment was repeated by a number of people). And so for a moment in time, we felt like whatever happens, this was all worth while.

And then… the backlash kicked in.

“Why are you attacking Gary?”
“Why are you being so mean?”
“Gary does so much for the animals, why are you focusing on this?”
“I think the good outweighs the bad.”
“Are you guys for real? … Premature April 1st joke? Trying to get an attention attacking Gary or just plain stupidity?”
“You’re being really judgmental.”
“So he made a mistake. We all make mistakes.”
“You’re taking things out of context!”
“He needs support, not stabbing in the back.”
“He does not condone actual, literal rape in any circumstance. Do more research.” (As if that was said in the statement? It wasn’t. As if just talking about it was harmless and without consequence? It’s not.)

It was incredibly confusing and draining. I mean what the hell is going on?

And then it dawned on me. Could this be a case of hero worship? Something that I have certainly done in the past.

I remember when I had heroes, and I heard something damaging or negative about them, I would get defensive and protective, because that was my hero. A symbol. Hope. Part of me needed to believe that a hero exists.

These days I do not have heroes, because to have heroes is to place someone on a pedestal. I admire people and their work. I appreciate them, but at the end of the day, we are on the same level. Human and human.

And I get it. Advocating for veganism and animal rights is going against a deep rooted social conditioning, where even though factory farms is one of the largest contributors to climate change, where even though the conditions in which the animals live are so horrific and unethical, it is the vegan diet, it is the idea of animal rights that is “extreme”.  And once you know the truth behind the animal agriculture industry, you can’t un-know that. And knowing how much the animals suffer, if people don’t take proper self care (which is not always promoted in the movement. “The killing doesn’t take a break, so either will we!”), it can all get to you.

But does that justify discrimination in the movement? No. Furthermore, let us not forget that unless you were born vegan, there was a time, when you were not vegan either. So is it okay to advocate for violence against people (who were just like you) simply because they haven’t un-learned the social conditioning at the same rate that you have?

At the end of the day, the statement that we put out there was not about attacking Gary for the mere sake of attacking someone. At the end of the day, it was about saying “No, just because a person is vegan does not give them a free license to discriminate against others (and without consequence), regardless of how revered they might be.” At the end of the day, it is very dangerous, especially within an activist movement, when a person is placed so high on a pedestal, that they become untouchable and can do no wrong.

 
This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on April 21, 2015.

 

Editor’s Note:

Interested in learning more about the problems with hero worship in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement? Check out the work of Marti Kheel, co-founder of Feminist for Animal Rights. Some of her writings on this topic are hosted on the FAR website. Vegan Feminist Network has also written on this topic in regard to the celebration of male violence as vengeance. You can also read more about the problems with anti-Muslim rhetoric on the Academic Abolitionist Vegan. A number of Yourofsky’s essays on violence and rape are also available on Negotiation is Over; please be warned, they are very crude and offensive.

On Intersectionality in Feminism and Veganism

Akilah holding a piece of pizza

 

By Aph Ko

 

Dear Akilah,

I hesitated to write this open letter because frankly I think open letters can be corny and self-serving. However, after watching your intersectionality pizza video, I sincerely wanted to reach out to you to open up a conversation about a topic that is usually over-looked, or teased within mainstream feminist spaces: non-human animal rights. As a young black vegan feminist, I feel like I might be able to offer a different perspective on intersectionality, taking into account non-human animal bodies. I would urge you to at least consider checking out black vegan feminist literature in hopes that it might offer something new to your articulation of feminism and intersectional activism.

As a fan of your work, I must say that my goal is not to be a hyper-critical asshole because I am very much aware of how much courage goes into putting your thoughts out there, especially through digital media and vlogging. In this letter, I hope to build on what you’re saying in your intersectional video.

First of all, I thought your video was pretty clever. I am constantly in awe of feminists who diligently attempt to explain how oppression operates to people who might not have the language to completely grasp it. So, kudos to you for taking the time to even focus on intersectionality.

However, I must say that intersectionality too often has been co-opted as a tool to explain oppression to white people, instead of being a tool for minoritized people to understand their social locations and to develop methods to navigate it. So, I’m going to take a slightly different approach to intersectionality.

Trust me—I understand the connections you make in your video. My main contention is with the props and metaphors you used to bolster your thoughts about intersectionality because I think they matter immensely.

Your use of cheese pizza, sausage, and burgers [to explain intersectionality] demonstrates how difficult it can be, even when you’re a feminist, to see how ingrained oppressive hierarchies are.

My goal here is to perhaps start a necessary conversation about the bodies we include in our discussion about intersectionality, as well as the bodies that are routinely excluded [that need to be included].

Your video demonstrates that despite the fact that “intersectionality” is one of the trendiest words in our generation, our social justice movements are still largely compartmentalized, which makes it possible for really awesome anti-racist, intersectional feminists to completely disregard non-human animal rights.

Species Intersectionality

The position that non-human animals occupy in our cultural imagination is proof for how easy it is to accept the lower status of some beings without even a second thought. I would assume that this should be concerning to you, especially since feminism is all about fighting for the rights of the minoritized and powerless.

Please understand this—incorporating animal bodies into your activism isn’t a distraction from anti-racism or sexism—it’s an extension of the conversation because in reality we’re not just talking about racism or sexism, we’re talking about white supremacy and patriarchy. We’re talking about capitalism and other discriminatory systems of domination that operate off of exploitation. Therefore, although our bodies might look different, we must all come together, not to show how we’re similar, but to demonstrate how these systems negatively impact us all.

So many people shout that animal rights is a distraction from feminism and anti-racism…that animal rights “DERAILS” the conversation and to me, it sounds like people have absolutely no idea what the conversation is really about.

Dr. A. Breeze Harper [a prominent kick-ass black vegan feminist and creator of the Sistah Vegan Project] states:

“I simply cannot look at food as an ‘everyday mundane object.’ I understand the meanings applied to food as something that represents an entire culture’s ideologies around everything. For example, food can tell me a society’s expectations about sexuality, gender roles, racial hierarchies of power and ability.”

Our automatic cultural reflex to say “Well, they’re animals, who cares” demonstrates just how deep the roots of injustice run. You can look at the comment sections for some platforms that shared your video: people kept reciting the same scripts like they were on autopilot. People kept saying how they were “hungry” and wanted to go eat hamburgers and cheese pizzas. Many folks in the comments section didn’t seem to challenge themselves or even problematize their behaviors: they seemed comfortable which is generally a sign that their principles are not being challenged. As activists, we shouldn’t appeal to people’s comfort.  Despite the fact that people made the connections you wanted them to make, particularly to race and gender, I thought it was a missed opportunity to politicize non-human animal bodies.

Akilah-2

Oftentimes, when we talk about animal bodies, people get defensive because they don’t want to be “compared” to animals. [Most of us black feminists know the history of black people specifically being compared to apes and monkeys—you can think about the recent Michelle Obama incident] Again-the goal isn’t to “compare” us to non-human animals, it’s to show that the systems that rape and slaughter non-human animals benefit from the systems that exploit us.

The fact that being called an “animal” is even an insult speaks to the ways that animals-as-less-than has already been naturalized in our culture.

This is actually called speciesism. Speciesism is when humans deem themselves the most important and valuable species which allows them to give no moral consideration to other species. Because of this, humans are allowed to do whatever they want to other species Again—it’s another hierarchy socially constructed to explain away the exploitation of another group of sentient beings.

Speciesism isn’t *like* racism or sexism. I’m not here to make crappy analogies to already existing systems of oppression. It is its own brand of oppression that often intersects with systems that intimately minoritize us.

It’s unfair that certain bodies are automatically coded as “less than” and certain bodies are automatically coded as “superior.” We live in a white supremacist patriarchy where white, middle class, able-bodied men are the standard, and everyone else is less-than. Because of this unquestioned, rigged framework, many bodies exist in systems that thrive off of their oppression and exploitation. This is where feminists and social justice activists must intervene.

We can’t reproduce this same logic in our own circles, especially as feminists. To disregard the oppression of other bodies reproduces a Patricia Arquette-type of analysis.

We can’t have activists shout about intersectionality, only to get quiet when it comes to the actual connection-making part of it.

To use cheese, sausage, and hamburgers to “explain” how human oppression operates is nothing short of ironic.

Non-human animal bodies are exploited to such an extent that they are stripped of any type of subjectivity—they exist for us which makes it possible for you to disregard their structural exploitation in a video about oppression. You used meat products as de-contexualized props to talk about humans which made the analysis ironic for those of us who practice veganism and politicize the ways that non-human animal bodies are arbitrarily designated as less-than.

The problem with your video is that it didn’t make people question the structural abuse of animal bodies—or the fact that animal bodies are things for our use and consumption. If anything, your video supported the myth that non-human animal bodies are to be used for human consumption and entertainment. You inadvertently employed speciesism in a video about intersectionality which is kind of anti-intersectional.

Just replacing the meat pizza with a vegan pizza won’t do the trick either because veganism isn’t the cure-all to oppression, although it would have been an improvement. Veganism without politicization will only yield de-contexualized diets. It would have been powerful if you used a vegan product and included non-human animal bodies in your analysis.

We must actively politicize the abuse animals experience as well as the systems that benefit from it. In fact, in studying food politics, it becomes evident how all of these oppressive systems collide, and strategically impact poor folks of color. It’s no secret at this point that the meat and dairy industry in the U.S. exploits the hell out of its brown workers. [Even in some produce industries, this is a problem too which deserves its own post!] Folks of color also disproportionately live in food deserts saturated with unhealthy animal products.

We must seriously consider non-human animals in our intersectional analyses as feminists. We can’t have liberation when people “don’t care” about the exploitation of an extremely vulnerable group of beings.

When you make a video about intersectionality and oppression, and people want to eat hamburgers in response, you know they missed the point.

Sure—to your credit, your video wasn’t specifically about animal abuse. I got that—but your video was about how we can better understand the oppression of bodies that don’t look like our own and how we can build better social justice movements that can accommodate bodies that are routinely excluded from the mainstream social justice narratives.

Non-human animals *must* be a part of this conversation, but not as props to help bolster your other points about humans.

The fact that people even get upset when animals are brought up in feminist discussions is because there’s an inherent anxiety surrounding animal bodies. We don’t have a good argument for abusing animals or eating them. People generally bring up “other” cultures that can’t go vegan, or don’t have the privilege of caring about animal rights—but many of us live in a culture or geographical space where we *can* care and change our behaviors—and those are the folks that I focus on.

People are terrified to talk about non-human animal abuse because it reveals how contradictory our moral compasses are. When we don’t politicize animal suffering in our movements, we merely have people who are committed to social justice-so long as they are at the center of the analysis. This type of set-up can’t yield intersectional movements.

One of the most noticeable tenets of white feminism is the inability to understand how oppressions connect—therefore, some white feminists routinely exclude other bodies from their analyses [cue Arquette]. We shouldn’t use this as a template for our own activism.

So, overall, thank you for making a video and opening up another dialogue about the importance of intersectionality in our social justice movements, however, I would sincerely urge you to check out some material that incorporates vegan feminism. In fact, there’s a conference next week from the Sistah Vegan Project. It’s called “The Sistah Vegan Conference: The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter.”

I hope we can engage in a dialogue about the different bodies we talk about when we discuss intersectionality. I would like to highlight a quote that you said in your own video:

“I think it’s time we talk about feminism a little differently/more inclusively…”

I 100% agree. Understanding intersectionality isn’t about becoming a more “perfect” activist, it’s simply about understanding oppression a little bit better which is something that I think we can all be better at, myself included.

Thanks!

~Aph

 

This post originally appeared on Striving with Systems on April 16, 2015.

Aph Ko is a freelance writer and creator of the web series Black Feminist Blogger. You can check out a recent interview with her here: “Creating Revolution: Interview with Aph Ko.”

 

The $29.00 Vegan Poverty Challenge: Classism, Patriarchy and Animal Rights

By Dr. C. Michele Martindill

Let’s play the Gwyneth Paltrow Game, the ultimate food challenge! In this game each one of us has exactly $29.00 to spend on our food for one week and by playing the game we should all learn what it means to live in poverty—at least that’s what we’re supposed to learn according to the #FoodBankNYCChallenge. This $29.00 a week food challenge involves celebrities tagging each other in a game to try and subsist on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) weekly food budget of those living in poverty in the United States. Chef Mario Batali challenged Hollywood personality Gwyneth Paltrow and in turn, sparked a global…well, national…discussion about many things, but not poverty. As observed in numerous online Facebook chats, not even vegan feminist abolitionists could resist this game. How does it work, you ask? In accepting the challenge, Paltrow agreed for one week to eat only what she could purchase with $29.00 and made her purchases public news–one dozen eggs, lettuce, dried black beans, frozen peas, an onion, parsley, a sweet potato, green onions, brown rice, some garlic, a single tomato, one ear of corn, soft tortillas, one chili pepper and seven limes. NOTE: Paltrow confessed she only lasted four days before feasting on “…chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice)” (Johnson, 2015). That’s the definition of privilege—knowing all along she didn’t really have to stick with the budget.

Family playing board game

Family playing board game and learning lessons of life.

So, how much have people who followed this story and discussed Paltrow’s shopping trip haul learned about poverty? What are members of the vegan feminist abolitionist movement taking away from the latest Paltrow media frenzy? Here is an opportunity to think reflexively about the white, classist and masculinized privilege that permeates the vegan abolitionist movement, to decenter the vegan perspective and achieve some kind of empathic understanding for those most affected by poverty—women and children.

Before looking at the vegan response to the Paltrow food budget, it is necessary to provide some context for the story. At least twice in the last week vegan abolitionist organizations made disparaging remarks about people looking for jobs in their organizations, and they were ostensibly referring to poor people or the working poor—the very people who don’t see a $29.00 food budget as a game. One author elaborated on why no one should donate to groups requesting help with vegan education and no one should expect to find work in the vegan abolitionist community:

So many ‘advocates’ are attempting to solicit donations to help with vegan education. If you have any spare cash you wish to donate to a worthy cause, please send it to where it will be used to directly help the underprivileged rather than to fund the business or living expenses of organisations or individuals involved in such activities. A conflict of interests–between wanting to end animal use and profiting from attempting to persuade others to end their participation in animal use–is inevitable when donations are needed to indirectly support work of this nature and there is something rather distasteful about those arrogant enough to hold the opinion that their ‘work’ is so valuable that others should provide the means to undertake it. (Grumpy Old Vegans, 2015)

The author is correct in recommending potential donors take care in knowing how their contributions will be used. It is also entirely possible that the author is warning people that vegan organizations should resist the pull of becoming large capitalist corporations with high salaried staff and executives who do little to stop animal exploitation, but do provide padded salaries to executives (Ritzer, 1975). One message is clear: there is no way to both end animal use and profit from the donations of supporters. As Corey Wrenn pointed out in an essay (Wrenn, 2015), there is no way to end animal oppression through capitalism when it is capitalism that is responsible for the oppression in the first place. Still, the language of the above rejoinder was not specifically anti-capitalist and sends a different message to those who might be looking for work just to survive, to be able to feed their families on something more than $29.00 per person per week. Someone could easily understand the author to mean that it is “distasteful” and “arrogant” for anyone—even someone living in poverty—to think their work is valuable enough to deserve a living wage. It was the first, but not last, vegan missive this week to demonstrate how much the vegan abolitionist movement needs to learn about living in poverty.

Women looking for job at job fair

Another statement made by a different vegan abolitionist organization correctly establishes how the animal rights movement loses momentum when organizations try to stand out from the crowd and make names for themselves by embracing single issue campaigns or doing other things just to garner donations. This group takes a stumble, though, when it presents the following:

Unfortunately, the problem can extend beyond the organizational level. It can threaten our movement even at the grass roots. Individual would-be advocates sometimes become more focused on carving out an activist identity and brand for themselves than on sincerely contributing to a movement focused on nonviolent abolitionist vegan education. Their motivating question switches from “How can I use my skills and opportunities to bring about a world where humans treat animals and each other with respect?” to “How can I differentiate myself from my fellow advocates?” Often due to a simple need for attention and acknowledgment (and, troublingly, sometimes due to the hope of a job, money, or future speaking opportunities) many thoughtful advocates have been driven toward brand-building and self-promotion. [Emphasis added] (International Vegan Association, 2015)

The author stresses that would-be vegan educators too often just want “attention” and maybe hope for a job or some other form of remuneration. That assumption is understandable from the perspective of the dominant white upper middle class ideology of the animal rights movement, but when seen through the eyes of people living in poverty the statement is problematic. Not everyone can afford the time, financial resources or the energy to be a vegan educator unless they are compensated for the effort—certainly not the working poor who often depend on multiple jobs just to survive. It can feel disheartening to want to help and yet know the organization is only interested in those who have time, money and energy to provide on a volunteer basis—and worse, to read that the poor actually “threaten our movement.” Telling a person that the only thing that matters is for them to “go vegan” won’t help them get over feelings of being on the outside of the movement and different from those who are able to be fully invested activists.

No, not every vegan abolitionist or animal rights organization collects donations, applies for and receives grant money or has resources available to hire paid staff members. The point being made here is that movement members have much to learn about living in poverty, and they need to refrain from calling those who seek jobs “disgraceful,” “arrogant,” “attention” seekers, or “threatening” to the movement. There is also no suggestion that vegans should get busy and cough up charitable donations for the poor. It is instead a call for solidarity. Charity moves from the top down. Solidarity, on the other hand, is horizontal with everyone standing side by side in mutual respect and possessing a willingness to learn. One example that stands out is a recent effort by the Vegan Intersecionality Project (V.I.P.) in Ireland that saw the organization stand in solidarity with squatters at the Grangegorman site, hearing their stories about police harassment and living in poverty (Vegan Information Project – VIP, 2015). The question remains, did vegan abolitionists miss the opportunity to stand in solidarity with people living in poverty in their analysis of the $29.00 per week per person food budget story? Unfortunately, their discussions did not hinge on poverty and would leave an outsider wondering about vegan priorities.

Poster stating charity is vertical and solidarity is horizontal

Among the first to respond to the circulation of the Gwyneth Paltrow story on Facebook were those who tried to explain what they would buy with only $29.00 to spend for groceries. One couple stated they already lived on approximately $100.00 a month or $25.00 per week. Others were quick to stress the value of bulk purchases of dried beans and frozen fruit. Oatmeal was a popular choice due in part to its low cost per meal. There was some debate over whether the rules of the challenge allowed for use of staples already on hand, e.g. spices and flour. It was established that they do not. Someone mentioned they would make use of the local food pantry, and the advice was offered that local farmers markets will count each dollar of food stamps as two dollars, up to a maximum of fifteen dollars—yet another helpful suggestion.

Questions were raised in other discussions about Gwyneth Paltrow’s food choices, thanks in large part to a Mother Jones (Oh, 2015) article that suggested the selected foods would only be good for a de-tox diet. At that point things deteriorated into a Gwyneth lovers vs. Gwyneth haters debate. Moving on to the next conversation there was finally someone—one woman–who voiced several key concerns, including: 1) society does not need a wealthy celebrity to explain how SNAP works, how SNAP doesn’t provide enough money for an adequate diet or to pretend to live on a SNAP food budget; 2) society will unfortunately not believe anything unless a celebrity says it; and 3) why doesn’t anybody ask SNAP recipients about their experiences? Why is it that only the voices of privilege are sought after and heard?

Poster for Equal Pay Day, April 14, 2015

Ironically, the Paltrow budget game coincided with #EQUALPAYDAY on April 14, 2015, a day meant to bring to everyone’s attention to the fact that women only make 78 cents to every dollar made by men, a pay gap that has held steady for approximately ten years (The Editorial Board, 2015). Women without any advanced degrees make only 74 percent of what men make. Other facts about poverty were mentioned in the equal pay stories. According to 2013 census figures, there are 46.5 million people in the United States living in poverty. Single-mother families living in poverty number 4.1 million, and the child poverty rate remained steady at 21.8 percent. How many of these people—very real people, not just statistics—are on food stamps? 15.8 million! That translates to 13.6 percent of all U.S. households—the highest level ever. Just over half of these households live below the poverty line and just over 40 percent have at least one person in the household who has a disability. Women comprise almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners, and mothers are the primary or sole earners in about forty percent of all households with children under the age of 18 (Shriver, 2014). Think again about why the world turned to Gwyneth Paltrow to educate everyone about poverty and food stamps. Aren’t there enough people, especially women, living in poverty who could teach us much more? These numbers barely begin to convey the realities of life for those living in poverty, but we continue to make the faces of these women invisible and their voices remain unheard.

Here’s one last observation about the vegans who played the Paltrow game and those who described people looking for work with utter contempt—at a time when the vegan abolitionist movement is trying to demonstrate its intersectionality through practice and to show that veganism is not just a diet, it is interesting that they managed to ignore their own privilege and its consequences. Women living in poverty are not statistical objects who just need to go vegan and poverty is not a game.

 

References

Grumpy Old Vegans. (2015, April 5). Grumpy Old Vegans. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GrumpyOldVegan?fref=ts

International Vegan Association. (2015, April 8). International Vegan Association. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/internationalvegan?fref=ts

Johnson, Z. (2015, April 16). eonline. Retrieved from E!: http://www.eonline.com/news/647045/gwyneth-paltrow-admits-she-cheated-on-her-29-food-bank-challenge-after-four-days-i-would-give-myself-a-c

Oh, I. (2015, April 12). Gwyneth Paltrow Confuses Her Latest Master Cleanse with Attempt to Relate to the Poor. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2015/04/gwyneth-paltrows-latest-master-cleanse-people-food-stamps

Ritzer, G. (1975). Professionalization, Bureaucratization and Rationalization: The Views of Max Weber. Social Forces, 627-634.

Shriver, M. (2014, January 8). The Female Face of Poverty. Retrieved from The Atlantic : http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-female-face-of-poverty/282892/

The Editorial Board. (2015, April 14). Women Still Earn a Lot Less Than Men. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/opinion/women-still-earn-a-lot-less-than-men.html

Vegan Information Project – VIP. (2015, March 24). Vegan Information Project – VIP. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theveganinformationproject?fref=ts

Wrenn, C. (2015, January 9). On the Problems with Open Rescues: A Response to the DXE Position. Retrieved from The Academic Abolitionist Vegan: http://academicabolitionistvegan.blogspot.com/2015/01/on-problems-with-open-rescues-response.html

 

 

Dealing with Sexual Abuse in Our Community

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses sexual harassment and assault.

Not Safe for Work: Contains one sexually suggestive photograph.

I want to preface this essay by clarifying that I am not a medical professional, nor am I licensed in counseling or anything of that nature. I specialize in gender studies, feminist theory, and social movement theory with an emphasis on politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights space. This essay intends to share wisdom based on this expertise and is not meant to offer psychological or medical advice. 

Let’s start with context: the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is 80% female. A large percentage of these women are college age, and the movement specifically targets college age persons. The movement is also male-led and adheres to patriarchal norms. Masculinized violent tactics like aggressive confrontation or property destruction tend to be celebrated. As are patriarchal tactics like sexual objectification, whereby female-identified activists are pressured to sexually objectify themselves “for the animals.” So, what we have here is a very toxic situation where men are elevated for violent, patriarchal, and sexist behavior, and the movement is predominately populated by young women (a group that is especially vulnerable to sexual assault, rape, murder, and other forms of male violence) who are valued primarily as sex objects.

Group of scantily clad, sexualized women barely covered with vegetable underwear, their breasts covered with PETA stickers

Men enter the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with the expectation and understanding that female-identified activists exist primarily as sex objects. This also creates a movement culture where activists of all genders may find it difficult to believe survivors who speak out about their experiences.

The unfortunate result is that violence against women in our community is extremely common. Please review our victim services page to learn more about what constitutes violence. Readers may also want to check out Emily Gaarder’s 2011 Women and the Animal Rights Movement, which includes an ethnographic survey of violence against women. I also recommend The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (Chen et al. 2011). Abusers take advantage of social justice spaces where they know young women will be easily accessible, where survivors will be afraid to come forward and the movement will be unwilling to hold abusers accountable in an effort to protect the movement’s image.

Based on this context, activists who come across violence in our community should consider the following hierarchy of concern:

1. The victim or survivor

2. The movement

3. The abuser

Given that we live in a sexist society and our movement is a microcosm of that sexist society, advocates tend to default to victim-blaming, victim-shaming, dismissal, disbelief, etc. We need to overcome this internalized sexism and always keep the survivor first and foremost. It is tempting to be swayed by redemption narratives, especially when the abuser owns up to their abuse (which is rare, making their openness all the more alluring). But keep in mind that this is a movement with a majority demographic consisting of vulnerable persons (women), and men are, as a matter of course, elevated to positions of power and prestige. Survivors must come first, as should the safety of other women.

Activists lined up outside of Whole Foods holding an animal rights banner. Man in front of them is yelling the message to the public.

In a movement that celebrates aggressive tactics and elevates male activists to “heroes” and leaders, a culture is created that endangers women. Groups like DXE and ALF epitomize this hyper-masculinized approach. Image from Direct Action Everywhere Chicago.

Many also pressure victims to keep it hushed because of fears about the movement looking bad. Keep in mind, however, if we have a movement where women cannot be granted basic guarantees of safety, and if those victims come forward and are not believed (or, worse, they are insulted or threatened), this makes for a very weak collective. We must put the vulnerable first, not the abusers.

So where does this leave the abuser? Given the tendency for men in female-dominated spaces to abuse their power (this has been documented in the feminist movement as well), we need to be extra vigilant about male-on-female violence in this movement. There must be accountability for interpersonal violence. For those who own up to their behaviors, that is a good start, but we should engage the admission with caution. The redemption narrative can easily be used to protect male privilege, especially when a discouraged movement desperately wants to maintain hope that a just world is possible and also wants to keep a positive outlook for purposes of sustaining morale and attracting new members. But, remember who we must keep at number one: the survivor, not the abuser. Perhaps abusers should begin to exit the movement out of respect for the safety and well-being of others. The community should support this departure. For the sake of social justice and movement integrity: survivors first; abusers last.

Those who prioritize the movement might balk at such a suggestion. Indeed, many claim we need “all the help we can get,” so anyone and everyone is welcome to participate. But there are other ways for individuals to help animals that will not involve them being in direct contact with vulnerable persons in the activist community. If we do not maintain an accountable and safe movement, we are unnecessarily weakening our movement. This is serious. Survivors can experience severe mental health issues following the incident(s) like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Some even kill themselves. Many drop out. We support incredible suffering and we lose valuable activists when we refuse to take violence seriously. If this truly is a movement that values peace, nonviolence, and social justice, we need to keep our priorities in check. Survivors first.

 

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Ms. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and council member of the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association.