PETA’s Sexy Pregnancy Campaign Against SeaWorld

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

Trigger Warning: Discusses pornography and the sexual exploitation of pregnant women.

Not Safe For Work: Contains discussion of pornography and erotic imagery.

Anti-Seaworld ad by PETA featuring Marisa Miller, a young white woman, nude and pregnant in a bathtub covering her breasts with her arms and looking at the camera from below

Supermodel Marisa Miller, widely regarded as a “sex symbol” for her work with Victoria’s Secret, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues, and Maxim, has posed nude while pregnant for PETA’s SeaWorld ad campaign.

Because the media space is so saturated with sexualized images, pornographers consistently seek to push the edge with more and more taboo or sensational sexualizations.This means that children will be sexualized, grandmothers will be sexualized, pregnant women will be sexualized, etc. This is not to say that children, grandmothers, and pregnant women can’t or don’t feel sexual or enjoy sexual agency–the point is that pornography tries to encroach into spaces where women and girls are traditionally honored and protected from being viewed as a sexual resource to men as a marketing ploy. It is the taboo that sets them apart and sells product. Of course, with, many pornographers taking this route, what was once “taboo” is now accepted and normalized.

PETA protest against Seaworld float in Macy's Parade. Two nude women with body paint like orcas sit in a bathtub holding a sign, "Could you live in your bathtub? Boycott Seaworld!"

PETA also takes a more “traditional” approach in its Seaworld campaign by featuring nude women in public protest who do not appear to be pregnant.

There is definitely a connection between SeaWorld’s imprisoned whales and women in PETA’s ads, but it is not the connection PETA hopes we will decipher: vulnerable demographics are exploited for gain, and this exploitation is seen as entertainment.

We, the viewer, are invited to feel good by consuming, to feel good by gazing at a naked woman and then (maybe) donating to PETA, and to feel good by gazing at a trapped whale and paying admission and buying stuffed Shamus. More importantly, we see it as something the participants “enjoy” doing, and we are discouraged from thinking about the ugliness that lies behind the scenes. In all likelihood, Miller probably did enjoy it, being a supermodel is a career for her. However, we should consider how pornography hurts vulnerable women who do not have the same privilege and access available to wealthy white women. It is important to acknowledge how capitalist framing can obscure the exploitation involved with consumption with imagery of choice, independence, individualism, enjoyment, pleasure, and other good feelings.  SeaWorld uses the same rhetoric to justify the imprisonment of their whales: they love what they do. They’re enjoying themselves, so sit back and enjoy the show.

While lacking a feminist critique, Jezebel covers the campaign and admits similar confusion:

A pregnant Miller chilling in a tub makes me think SeaWorld is a place where pregnant Orcas chill in tubs. While that’s by no means a great life for an orca, it’s not exactly the right message.

Clawfoot bathtub with orca reclining inside, a baby orca is diving into her belly

Image from Jezebel

But maybe the image isn’t meant to be a metaphor at all. Maybe it’s just a continuation of PETA’s long-used tactic of stripping celebrities down as a way of titillating their audience into some kind of low-level version of awareness.

OK, fine. It’s probably that. But it’s still a crappy ad.

Indeed, the level of awareness is quite low. Social psychological research demonstrates that using sex to “sell” ethics backfires. Protest observers actually find the degradation of women to be a serious turn-off. Outside of social movements, research also finds that “sexy” advertising can distract an audience to the point where they don’t even know what was being sold to them.


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for and Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

There are NO Cults in the Animal Rights Movement!! So, What about Yourofsky?

By: Dr. C. Michele Martindill

Trigger Warning: Discusses the violent rhetoric of Gary Yourofsky, which many have described as racist, ableist, and sexist. Comments from Yourofsky supporters included in this essay also engage heterosexism. Finally, this essay analyzes the formation of cults and may be upsetting to those who have been personally impacted by cult exploitation.



Someone with years of experience in the animal rights movement raised an intriguing question when she asked a straightforward question: Why can’t we get all of the leaders within the animal rights movement into a room to work out their differences and find a way to do what’s best for the animals? What a question!! YES, great idea! The movement does need to find a common definition for animal rights and a comprehensive path for activism. After all, there is much confusion over what to call the movement: Veganism? Animal rights? Animal Liberation? Vegan Abolitionist? OR How about Movement for Animal Rights, Veganism, Environmentalism, Liberation and Abolition (MARVELA!!)? Once the leaders settle on a name for the movement they can sit down and plot movement strategies: Diets? Boycotts? Direct action? Marches? Information tables? Facebook pages? Passionate speeches? Shopping for vegan products? Good. Now the movement has a name and some immediate goals. Nice day dream so far, eh? All that’s left is deciding on the scope of the movement: Is the movement about social justice for all, the environment or just for the animals? Uh oh. The dream is getting fuzzy. Will the movement encompass ending the oppression and exploitation of humans, too? Zap!  Lightning bolt End of daydream! The realization dawns that the movement leaders gathered in a room to build a more coherent movement are all upper class-abled-cis gendered-white men—men like Gary Yourofsky. Nooooo!

Just when the movement needs to decenter and dismantle the white man dominated leadership in order to center previously marginalized groups, it would be a step in the wrong direction to even invite Gary Yourofsky to a planning session for a movement that could potentially impact so many lives. Recent essays have documented the problematic nature of Yourofsky’s views and the unquestioning loyalty of his followers. Some attribute his rise to prominence in the movement to hero worship on the part of followers. A few portray him as a fascist dictator, and others declare Yourofsky a cult leader. So, which is it? Using social psychology to examine how the cult leaders become established and the attraction of cults for followers will help to reveal a major problem within the animal rights movement—the notion that if we just silence one vocal, hate-filled leader the problem of disunity and oppression of marginalized groups in the movement will be solved.

Hero worship of a cult leader may end, but we will still be living in a social world grounded in patriarchy, a social world in which every interaction is man-centered or becomes man-centered the second a man notices women trying to make their voices heard. In addition, there are women in the movement who wear this institutionalized man-centered ideology either with pride or sometimes unknowingly—a patriarchal ideology that installs men as the leaders and women as the followers. The strategy of pitting women against women, those who support patriarchal leadership against those who challenge it, is not uncommon. A real danger in the movement is feeling that other women are the ones perpetuating oppression and exploitation of the women who dare to speak up, to question authority. It is important to keep in mind that all women are the victims here, victims of manipulation, and historical or institutionalized patterns of social organization.

Furthermore, the self-serving bias, a social psychological process through which people preserve their self-esteem by asserting the belief that only others participate in questionable behaviors or interactions, tells us no one is immune to joining a cult. Anyone—you, me, or the most dedicated social justice activist—can become or may already be a cult member, but continue to deny it because we fear looking bad to others. We’re not the problem; it’s everyone else. It is theorized that women are more likely than men to be cult members, possibly because they are more accustomed to living their lives under the authority of men in leadership roles and showing deference to men. More research needs to be done with regard to how gender, race, social class and ableism relate to cult membership. If the animal rights movement is to become inclusive of members of marginalized groups, then it is imperative to ask how the predominantly upper class white abled leadership and membership of cults in the animal rights movement contributes to classism, racism, ableism and ultimately exclusion.

Would we know a cult if we saw it? What are the distinguishing features of cults? Cults are distinct from organized groups that focus on activities, one-time events or volunteerism. Cults are comprised of a strong, authoritarian leader and a group of dedicated, loyal followers. Certain social psychological processes have been identified to help explain how cults are formed. Cults can be focused on religion, promises of future wealth or enlightenment to the capital-T Truth, and political causes such as animal rights or veganism. There is nothing particularly different about people who join cults. People who join cults may have recently gone through some life challenge such as a divorce or a death in the family. They might also be inexperienced in social interactions or disillusioned with the status quo, e.g. those who are concerned about the oppression and exploitation of other animals. The common denominator is that potential followers are vulnerable in the sense that they want answers, solutions or some way of coping with perceived problems. A cult promises not only answers, but camaraderie (Langone, 2013).

Several young women in blue dresses flank a raised throne with an older man who resembles jesus with a wooden cross behind him

One thing to keep in mind about cult members is that contrary to popular belief, they do not suffer from low self-esteem any more or less than the general population, nor are they recruited based on having low self-esteem. Persons with psychological problems would most likely be considered a liability by cults and not capable of carrying out the work of the cult—defending the leader, bringing in money or recruiting duties (Rhoads, n.d.). The core question centers on how cults keep members in line and actively involved. It is not simply the power of the message delivered by the cult leader that puts a cult in motion.

Researchers have identified countless tactics used to motivate cult members and prevent their questions about the integrity of cult leadership. The “hot-seat technique” is one of the best known strategies. It involves putting the new member center stage in front of the group to confess their misdeeds or impure thoughts, and then having the leader and membership berate them in an effort to shatter their self-confidence and self-esteem. The idea is to keep members doubting their capabilities, and in constant need of the support of the cult leader and other cult members. A big group hug of some kind usually follows the hot-seat or center stage treatment, assuring the cult member all is well IF they follow the party line.

Lego man wearing a shirt with the word "you" crossed out while he flips the middle fingerSeveral examples of the hot-seat strategy from Facebook interactions and YouTube videos have Yourofsky spewing misogynistic, sexist, racist, ableist and other oppressive speeches aimed at supporters as well as those who might be swayed to become supporters. This strategy serves to set the rules of the cult, to impress listeners through dynamic, charismatic speech, and to force followers to consider their own actions and confess how they were once oppressors of other animals. The following comment by Yourofsky illustrates the point:

The latest lie being spread about me is that I’m a racist because I said Palestinians were crazy. But if I distrust or hate all humans and the way we behave, I am a misanthrope NOT a racist! Yet, my misanthropy causes no actual harm contrary to the human rights hypocrites who actively support violent exploitation AND murder every time they sit down to a meal.

In this introduction to Yourofsky’s latest YouTube video, “Palestinians, Blacks and Other Hypocrites,” Yourofsky uses ableist and racist language to defend himself against charges of racism, something that might seem likely to turn away followers, but actually establishes him as someone willing to insult and degrade humans—someone who appears brave and a formidable leader. Note the response of an enamored follower:

I thought the whole idea of being a vegan was for animal liberation. Why are we even talking about human rights, when so many animals continue to die every second of every year.
If you want to be a human rights activists, the door is open, exit veganism now.
I’ll agree with Gary on this. I’m glad he said it. At least he’s no hypocrite.
Can’t you see, we are the problem. Humans create their problems and then expect everyone to sympathize. Take responsibility for your actions.
On the other hand, animals, do not create problems nor do they expect any sympathy.
I defended Gary’s stance and I would do it again. Go join a human rights group and let us true vegans clean up your dirty work. And stay out of the way.

Support is offered for the leader’s ideology and followed with a confession that “…we are the problem. Humans create their problems…”. “True vegans” should either get with the plan or “go join a human rights group,” as if that would be the worst form of rejection by the cult.

The rules are clear: There is no room for human rights activists among Yourofsky’s followers, and his response to the above Facebook comment dishes up approval for those who agree and lets everyone know what constitutes sanity and logical thinking:


Racism comes more into play with the next comment from Yourofsky:

Malcolm X once said: “You cannot be anti slavery and pro slavemaster.” Animals are the victims/slaves. Humans are the victimizers/slavemasters.. I side with the slaves and will no longer defend humans who scream about their mistreatment when they dish it out to the animals.

The tokenism and appropriation of a quote from a leader in the Civil Rights Movement is blatant and allows Yourofsky to portray the simple good vs. evil mythology that grounds so many religions. He does so by ignoring hundreds of years of human slavery and claiming all humans are “slavemasters.” One follower touts the revelations of Yourofsky as the “new paradigm”; however, Yourofsky is well aware of those who would challenge this new paradigm:

… except my enemies come from WITHIN the vegan movement. vegans have been trying to silence me for more than a decade. and they’re gonna win soon because I am worn out and burnt out.

Prophecy!! One of the great trademarks of a cult leader—the ability to predict the future! Most impressive. We also gain a clearer picture of THE enemy: vegans!! A form of call and response, a preaching style in which the minister speaks and the congregation answers with an affirmation, follows throughout this Facebook discussion thread. Comments supportive of Yourofsky net words of praise from the leader, and negative comments are met with admonishments to watch his video again or to go away (polite terminology). The vast majority of responses from followers are reinforcing Yourofsky’s views, including his racism:

I’m rapidly becoming disliked by most people I know….because I 100% share your attitude, morals and beliefs. I’d rather be a fuc***g loner, than a murdering hypocrite! The name calling and personal attacks are becoming the norm, and I couldn’t give a shite! OUR WORDS ARE RIGHTEOUS, THE TRUTH, SPOKEN WITH COMPASSION AND MORAL. For every murderer I see shovelling in a fork full of suffering…they’ll get my harsh words for afters, couldn’t give a flying shit what colour or where they’re from! My life focuses on the devastation humans cause…so FU** HUMAN RIGHTS!!

Another writes:

If they ever win by silencing you, I’ll carry your cross for you. You have plenty of support Gary.
Never forget that!

Homosexuals are another frequent target for cult members:

Yeah or the homosexuals who want “their rights” and respect, but cannot do the same for all of nonhuman animals that end up on their plates every time of every day. They want to get what they themselves don’t want to do. I used to fight so much for the homosexuals rights until I saw that when it came to what I cared about ( nonhuman animals ) they were not willing to support my cause in any way. So sad that they’re so selfish.

And then one person dares to question Yourofsky on his claims of success in making the world go vegan:

I agree about the hypocrisy of fighting for human rights while hurting animals but I don’t think hating people helps them see what they’re doing.

Yourofsky responds:

The Real Gary Yourofsky how can you say that when I have converted between 100,000 to one million with MY ATTITUDE/STYLE and the lovey dovey BS pacifists haven’t done shit? stop believing in fairytales like love conquers hate.

Yes, a part of cult leadership is laying claim to vast numbers of unverifiable conversions or some other accomplishment as proof that their strategies are effective and to motivate followers. Given Yourofsky’s focus on making all of Israel vegan, it is possible Yourofsky is referring to a survey that suggests vegans in Israel number 10% of the population or about 700,000 people, giving the country one of the largest per capita vegan populations in the world, but questions grounded in critical thought about this number are absent from the discussion. A 2001 report from the Israeli Ministry of Health shows “7.2% of the men and 9.8% of the women identified themselves as vegetarians” (Neiman, 2014). These numbers indicate Israel had a strong vegetarian population well before Yourofsky started his campaign for veganism in Israel. Also, while a recent report by Israeli media confirms that Yourofsky’s video from a Georgia Tech appearance in the summer of 2010, “The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear” (Yourofsky, The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear, 2010), has been seen “by at least 396,000 people…(with Hebrew subtitles) (Darom, 2102), there is no way of knowing if all of the viewers were in Israel or if they immediately made the decision to be vegan.

Just as Yourofsky brags about his successes, he also proclaims extreme humility in an effort to show followers he is just like them, someone they can identify with and emulate:

“I’m not a politician. I’m not a salesperson. I don’t ask for donations. I don’t want donations. I want people’s minds. I want people to be kind for the animals (Yourofsky, Gary Yourofsky speaks to 450 students at Ben Gurion University, n.d.).

Setting aside Yourofsky’s comment that he wants people’s minds, his occupational profile fits that of many cult leaders who were writers, salespersons and carnival workers prior to leading their cults. Most notably, Yourofsky worked as a paid spokesperson or lecturer for PeTA between 2002 and 2005. The common thread is that these jobs all involve persuasion, a key skill requirement for someone trying to sell others on a particular dogma (Sagarin, n.d.). Any denial of political activity—using power to effect change—or working to sell people on his ideas is a direct contradiction of what he does every single time he takes the stage to speak. His denials are, however, a persuasive rhetorical technique, an attempt to show he has nothing to gain on a personal level. Nothing, except the notoriety that guarantees his voice will be heard over the voices from marginalized groups!

Internet culture brings with it new opportunities for cult formation and their sustained activities. Their work is often measured by the number of memes or YouTube videos they produce and disseminate, as well as the number of ‘likes’ these products receive on websites such as Facebook. There is also an unrelenting willingness of supporters to defend leaders, including Facebook page owners and moderators, no matter what they might publish. Public objections are frequently deleted and those who question authority are banned from the site. Still, the following general definition of cults remains the same for all types of cults:

• The leader is best classified as an authoritarian; simply put, it is the leader’s way or the highway
• The beliefs of a cult are different from the mainstream and often narrowly focused; they have the potential to be dangerous or even false; a cult often suggests that nothing matters except focusing on gaining converts
• Demanding changes in lifestyle for followers, e.g. a demand to cut off communication with family members who don’t show proper support
• Cults emphasize recruitment, soliciting money or other needed resources, and finding opportunities to make the cult’s videos or products available to the public
• Cults have distinctive ways of getting all members on the same page, of getting them to think the same way
• Insiders in cults are clearly distinguished from outsiders, sometimes with the use of insider language or symbols; outsiders are often attacked, and they are abused psychologically or physically (Nassim, 2013)

A friend once observed that the best way to handle cult leaders and the claims-making of cult members is to ignore them, to stop feeding their egos. Cults are more than the manifestations of any leader’s ego. Cults have to be seen in relation to the patriarchal institutions and oppressions of our social world. They do not exist in isolation of sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, classism or speciesism. It requires critical thought and questioning of cults in order to dismantle them or at least defuse their incessant attacks on those outside of the cult. Every time someone outside of the cult hedges their criticism of the cult they inadvertently support it. Yourofsky’s misogyny is often criticized, but the criticism is mitigated when it is promptly followed with praise, e.g. “But he does do a lot of good for the animals.”

Gary Yourofsky

Critical thinking involves revealing contradictions in interactions or public discourse, e.g. how can cult leaders claim to not care what people think about them, but then try to defend themselves from criticism? Critical thinking aims to expose relations of power and to challenge oppression. When it comes to an examination of the hate speech and the promotion of violence by Yourofsky here are a few questions grounded in critical thinking that must be asked:

1. Who or what group benefits from using violence—threats, bullying and verbal abuse—against humans as way to end violence against other animals? What is gained from threatening violence or violent acts? Psychological dominance? Financial power? Publicity?
2. Through what social processes have cults become a normalized part of the animal rights movement, normalized to the point that their role in promoting oppressions is rarely challenged?
3. Many movement members who are not involved with any cult insist they could never be cult members, following the pattern of the self-serving bias. To what extent is it an example of the self-serving bias that so many movement members try to excuse the problematic actions of cults by saying, “Well, at least they’re doing it for the animals”?
4. Whose voices are silenced by cults? How are they silenced? How do cults socially reproduce or reify existing structures of racism, sexism, ableism, classism, ageism and speciesism?
5. To what extent do members of animal rights movement cults lose their psychological autonomy? Especially the women who follow a man centered leadership?

An important point to consider in trying to end the influence of cults within the animal rights movement is that they are a reflection of our patriarchal social order. Without patriarchy and the acceptance of sexism and misogyny throughout society, cults would have a difficult time forming, much less gaining momentum. It may be frustrating to think about how cults make the animal rights movement look to the outside world, and to encounter the lies, exaggerations and misrepresentations vocalized by cult members; however, ending the influence of cults depends on identifying and challenging them with critically grounded questions. The demand made by cults to focus only on the animals does indeed sound noble and even desirable, but it is also a way of deflecting criticism by presenting a worthy goal, AND it is a way of isolating the membership from the pervasive oppressions of the social world. Cult followers are repeatedly told that there is no point in addressing racism or sexism, for instance, and that veganism is all that matters. Any plans for an inclusive animal rights movement, one that addresses social justice, will depend on a clear message that focuses on how speciesism cannot be eliminated by turning our backs on human oppressions.



Darom, N. (2102, September 6). Is vegan superstar Gary Yourofsky an animal savior or a mad militant? Retrieved from HAARETZ:

Langone, P. M. (2013). Who Joins Cults and Why? Retrieved from ICSA International Cultic Studies Association:

Nassim, A. (2013, September 2). Online Cults. Retrieved from Internet Ascent:

Neiman, R. (2014, February 6). What Israeli Vegans Eat – And Why. Retrieved from Israel 21c:

Rhoads, P. K. (n.d.). Cults: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from Working Psychology:

Sagarin, D. (n.d.). Cult Influence Tactics. Retrieved from Working Psychology:

Yourofsky, G. (2010). The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear. Retrieved from YouTube:

Yourofsky, G. (2015, May 17). The Real Gary Yourofsky’s Photos. Retrieved from Facebook:

Yourofsky, G. (n.d.). Gary Yourofsky speaks to 450 students at Ben Gurion University. Retrieved from YouTube:


Michele Spino MartindillDr. Martindill earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri and taught there in the Sociology Department, the Peace Studies Program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Her areas of emphasis include political sociology, organizations and work, and social inequalities. Dr. Martindill’s dissertation focuses on the no-kill shelter social movement and is based on ethnographic research conducted during several years of working in an animal shelter. She is vegan, a feminist and is currently interested in the stories women tell through their needlework, including crochet, counted cross stitch and quilting. It is important to note that Dr. Martindill consistently uses her academic title in order to inspire women and members of other marginalized groups to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges those dreams may entail, and certainly one of her goals is to see more women in academia.

Sustainability If

Painting of two bluefin tuna surrounded by swirls of hundreds of little fish

By Lisa Kemmerer

All oppression creates a state of war.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex


Environmental sustainability includes an “if.”  The “if” is implied, but invariably left unstated.

“Sustainability” means “ability to endure across time.” When used as a matter of physical limitation, no “if” is implied or needed.  For example, running at 6 km/h is not sustainable for the course of a day—we simply cannot maintain such speed across that much time. (Indeed, if we can reach such a speed in the first place.) In this assertion of limited physical ability there is no “if” involved.

In the environmental movement, “sustainability” statements include an unstated “if.” A particular action is unsustainable if we value and wish to protect and preserve certain aspect of the natural environment, for example, ocean ecosystems.  (Concurrently, actions/consumer options are sustainable if they do not cause worrisome environmental problems.)  An environmentalist who notes that our beef habit is unsustainable is really saying that our beef habit cannot be sustained if we would like to preserve rainforests and freshwater, work against the weight of dead zones and climate change.  And consuming kale is sustainable only if such consumption does not dangerously degrade the environment. It is thus readily apparent that sustainability with regard to environmental justice rests on anticipated outcomes and values. For example, we might say:

  • Eating bluefin tuna (a critically endangered species) is unsustainable if we intend to protect endangered species.
  • Eating cheese is unsustainable if we hope to arrest and ultimately decrease dead zones.
  • Eating shrimp is unsustainable if we value ocean ecosystems, including essential, fragile deep-sea reefs.

In such statements the “if” is almost always omitted; environmentalists simply note that a certain action is “unsustainable.” Period.  When we include the unspoken but essential “if,” finishing the sentence, we realize that statements of environmental sustainability are value laden, carrying ethical urgency.

What is most interesting about this missing “if” is that reinsertion allows us to see that sustainability is the key not just to environmental justice, but to social justice more broadly. Sustainability can fruitfully be employed in any social justice context—eating bluefin tuna, cheese, and shrimp are no more sustainable than expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, speciesism, ableism, ageism, and so on. Consider “sustainability” applied in these diverse contexts:

  • It is unsustainable for racist police to brutalize Black civilians if we value equality and justice—or peaceful, safe, harmonious communities.
  • Forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term is unsustainable if we are committed to protecting each person’s right to determine what happens with her body.
  • Offering the financial and social benefits of legal marriage only for heterosexuals is unsustainable if we intend to actualize equal treatment and equal opportunity.
  • If we are committed to an ethic whereby we protect the vulnerable from the exploitation of the powerful, eating chickens is unsustainable.

In each instance an “if” connects the ideal of sustainability with shared values that carry moral imperatives.  Racist, sexist, homophobic, speciesist, ableist, and ageist behaviors are just as unsustainable as two-car households if we value social justice and world peace.  Unsustainable options ought to be avoided if one values equality, civil liberties, protecting the weak and vulnerable, the environment—peace and a measure of prosperity for all.

Landscape view of a cattle herd in a cleared rainforest area

Exploring “sustainability” as used in the environmental movement supports the work of ecofeminists—sustainability is not just about cycling and recycling, it is about the redistributing wealth, yielding wrongly-gained power to the disenfranchised, and protecting all who are vulnerable from the miseries of oppression.  Indeed, as ecofeminists noted, all forms of oppression are connected. Industrial fishing is unsustainable (and therefore an immoral choice for consumers blessed with such choice) not only because it harms ocean ecosystems, but also because it harms indigenous communities dependent on depleted ecosystems for subsistence survival, and because it harms so many individual fish.  Industrial fishing is unsustainable if you care about protecting the defenseless—ocean ecosystems, fish, and indigenous peoples—against the immoral greed of powerful corporate interests and indiscriminate and/or uninformed consumers. Similarly, factory farming is unsustainable if you value Earth because animal agriculture harms rainforests and waterways, and is the number one contributor to greenhouse gases.  But factory farming is also unsustainable if we value worker’s rights, the protection of defenseless farmed animals, and the health of unsuspecting consumers who suffer from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and obesity because of diets rich in animal products. These practices are unsustainable not only if we care about the environment, but also if we care about social injustice.  We ought to avoid supporting unsustainable acts, such as those that ravage the natural environment, along with acts that are racist, sexist, speciesist, ableist and ageist not only if we care about the Earth, but also if—because—we care about injustice more broadly.


Further Reading

By Invitation. Kemmerer, Lisa. “Defending the Defenseless: Speciesism, Animal Liberation, and Consistency in Applied Ethics.” Les Ateliers de l’éthique/The Ethics Forum 9:3 (2015).

By Invitation. Kemmerer, Lisa. “Ecofeminism: Women, Environment, Animals.” DEP: Deportate, Esuli, Profughe. Ca’ Foscari University of Venezia, Italy, 23 (2013).

Click here to download the introduction to Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices

Click here to download the introduction to Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice


KemmererDr. Kemmerer is a professor of Philosophy and Religion and a prolific author in animal ethics.  Her books include In Search of Consistency: Ethics and AnimalsAnimals and World ReligionsSister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice, Call to Compassion: Reflections on Animal AdvocacySpeaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices, and Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education. She is particularly interested in intersections of Nonhuman Animal advocacy and environmental advocacy in the spirit of Marti Kheel, as is evidenced in her 2015 publication Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice and her editorial work for the 2015 anthology Animals and the Environment: Advocacy, Activism, and the Quest for Common Ground.


Gary Yourofsky: Is The Backlash Warranted?

By Michele Kaplan

TRIGGER WARNING: The following article is in response to a video posted by Gary Yourofsky. It contains quotes from Yourofsky that reference violence, sexual abuse and rape. The video also contains ableist language and makes the inaccurate claim that every person on death row is guilty. (#FreeLeonardPeltier! #FreeMumia!) Lastly, it contains a great deal of macho posturing, aggressive, graphic and at times disturbing language which may be triggering for many people.

NOT SAFE FOR WORK: Contains foul language.

Screencap from video showing Yourofsky explaining himself

“After 18 years on trial, the verdict is finally in!” Gary Yourofsky recently declared on social media. “I’ve been found INNOCENT on all charges of supporting rape!”

This being in reference to the backlash from his infamous quote: “Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.” The “testimony” (which was in the form of a 28 minute video) goes into great detail as to why he feels he has been treated unfairly.

It should be noted this is not an actual trial. Yourofsky has also declared himself “the judge” (thus his innocence) and ends his testimony by saying “Vegan love to all my supporters who refused to believe these psychotic defamatory lies about me. And finally, to all the organizations and people who have attacked me, claiming that I support rape. I hear by challenge you to top my anti rape position. Go ahead. I dare ya.” He pauses for a moment and then continues in an aggressive posturing “What?! Yeah, I thought so. As usual, I win! Checkmate! You lose!! Fuck you!!”

Yourofsky goes to great lengths in the video to show just how much he despises rapists: “This is what I think should happen to rapists.” He says “Even somebody who rapes a woman in a fur coat (if that ever happens).”

According to Women Organized Against Rape, 1 in 4 human women and 1 in 6 human men will be raped by the age of 18. Considering how much of the norm wearing fur is in our culture, the chances that a fur wearing human being raped, is highly likely.

He continues:

I think his penis and balls should be seared off with a cuticle remover slowly, and then I think two skewers should be shoved into their eye sockets, dragged into another room. And then I think their penis and balls should be dipped into diarrhea and puke. They should be given the option of eating that and then they can save their lives. And if they do eat it, I want to take a gun, put it between their eyes and say ‘I was just kidding’.

In another quote he states that, “Since 1997, thousands of people (mostly vegans) have accused me of condoning rape” and that he has been “continuously harassed with false statements for 18 years.” Okay, so it is clear he does not like rapists. Is he also saying that he never said the infamous rape quote?


“I need all of my supporters to start condemning the liars and deceivers,” he says in the video “who claim that I support rape because I wished it. And I repeat: wished it, upon men and women who actually support rape and murder by draping themselves in fur coats.” He then goes on to say that there isn’t one person on this planet (including a rape victim) who is more against rape than he is.

And while it’s safe to say that someone who has actually survived rape would disagree with that last claim, let’s just move on and focus on what he is actually saying. He does not condone the actual violent act of rape. He merely wishes it upon certain people who he feels are deserving or “evil”

And while I agree that there is a difference between saying “I wish this person gets raped” and actually physically raping someone, I find it odd that he does not understand the consequences of language, let alone the consequence of when a man talks about raping a woman (even if “it’s just talk”). That when he uses rape as a means to punish a person (even if it’s “just talk”), that this still contributes to the collective rape culture, which also impacts the animals such as the dairy cows, who are repeatedly forcibly impregnated (aka raped) in the name of a product. That he doesn’t understand how when an aggressive sounding man starts talking about his rape fantasies, that this can be incredibly triggering to victims of rape. And thus, it is odd that he doesn’t understand how this could possibly create and warrant backlash.


He wishes evil things upon evil and violent people. (And while this includes rapists, domestic abusers and child molesters, none are more violent in his eyes, than the people who partake in the animal agriculture industry.)


“Nobody disagrees with my position on violence, they only disagree who I propose to be violent for.”


“Deep down, I truly hope that oppression, torture and murder return to each uncaring human tenfold!” And lastly he uses the word:


“Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.” As far as rape is concerned, this is what should happen to people (as he also comments on men) who support the fur industry.

This is why people accuse him of supporting rape, and yet he fails to see that.

In his eyes, why are people focusing on his words, when the animals (deemed as food) are being murdered, tortured and in many cases forcibly impregnated (aka: rape) on a daily basis? This would not occur if there weren’t people who were financially supporting the industry. This should be the focus, not something he says.

And in this regard, he is right. There is a deep social conditioning in our society that has raised us to believe that violence against certain animals are okay. That says certain animals are here to be our food and clothing and have no other purpose. The animal agriculture industry goes to great lengths to encourage this disconnect, by hiding the truth of the factory farms and putting the image of the jolly animal on their package, to give off the impression that the animal is happy to be your food.

Advert for barbecue catering service with a cartoon pig face that is smilingAnd when we see the packages of meat, the appearance is so far removed from what the actual animal looks like, that it becomes very easy to ignore and even forget the origin. The animal agriculture industry is so freaked out about their customers learning the truth of their industry, that they have gone to great lengths to lobby the government so it becomes illegal to expose the cruelty. Furthermore, how else will you ever get your protein and calcium? We are raised to believe that we can not be strong and healthy, if we do not consume animals, which is yet another myth perpetuated by the animal agriculture industry.

And I will also agree that there is a huge disconnect regarding the issue of rape and speciesism and that many anti-rape advocates and feminists do not know (or do not make the connection) between the dairy cow and the collective rape culture. They don’t know (or are taught not to care) that the only way a cow will continuously produce milk, is if she is repeatedly impregnated against her will (aka: rape), only to have her babies stolen from her time and again. Because to the industry, her baby is nothing but veal. This happens over and over until the mother cow is so emotionally and physically run down, that she is unable to produce babies (and thus milk), and then she is slaughtered. But we are taught to not worry about that because we are told that cows (and other farm animals) are unfeeling, unloving, creatures who do not respond to their environment, which is yet another myth perpetuated by the industry.

When he makes those particular points, he is correct. However, he remains confused as to why people are so distracted by his statements and they don’t just focus on what is a far worse situation. The truth is just because something is worse, doesn’t negate the consequences. I could say, “Oh, I hope you get shot and die a miserable slow painful death”. Meanwhile genocide is occurring in another part of the world. Yes, the latter is worse, but that truth does not remove the fact that there are still consequences to what I said.

Granted, Yourofsky will sometimes clarify his message and say that he only wishes violence upon people who indirectly or directly partake in the animal agriculture industry, because he feels that maybe if humans experienced the level of violence that the animals experience, then they would cease to contribute to the violence. However, he only clarifies some of the time. And when he does, people have to first get past his initial statements of wishing, hoping, and proposing violence against them to get to that point. Other times he just goes off on a graphic rant about what he thinks should happen to people who are evil.

The truth is, verbally advocating for the violence against a person who isn’t vegan only works against the cause of liberating the animals. Furthermore, it is hypocritical since unless you were born vegan, you too were once contributing to the violence. I know I was. And even now as vegans, when the grains, fruit and veggies are harvested, insects and field mice are often killed in the process. When the homes that we live in are constructed, harm is also done to the animals who were already living on that land. Many vegans require medications that were tested on animals. And yes, let’s work to change the system that makes it nearly impossible to not harm animals, but the present truth is that not one person is completely innocent of this.

Lastly, as activists we must remember that there is a difference between what feels good and cathartic to express, and what makes for an effective tactic and argument. The difference between what is best to share in a diary or in a private conversation, and what we share to the rest of the world, especially to people who we’d like to join us. Because, yes the animals need as many people on their side as possible, so that the goal of animal liberation can be achieved.

Gary Yourofsky has since put out another video entitled “Palestinians, Blacks and Other Hypocrites” where he addresses the issue of people in the community “unfairly” accusing him of making racist statements. Hmm, I wonder why.


This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on May 17, 2015.

“Sexy at 70” and “Grumpy Old Vegans”: Ageist Stereotypes in the Vegan Movement

By Dr. C. Michele Martindill

“Ageism? Who cares about old people anyway? I volunteer with a group of white women over the age of 50. They are so behind the times and not helpful at all,” said a vegan.

“Why was it important for you to mention their age or gender?”

“Um…I don’t know.”

Vegans seem to at least recognize the words racism, sexism, classism, ableism and speciesism, but ageism is consistently left off that list of oppressions. Erasure. Silencing. Stereotyping older people as useless, past their prime, set in their ways and not able to contribute to the vegan movement. As one vegan once posted on Facebook, “Taking a stand against ageism feels too much like a single issue campaign, not really worth the effort. People need to just go vegan.” Really? Ageism is just a single issue campaign?

PETA ad featuring Pamela Anderson posing in a bikini with her body marked with meat cut names. Reads: "All animals have the same part"

PeTA is well known for its sexist advertising campaigns involving young women who pose partially or completely nude in an effort to get the public to stop eating or otherwise harming animals, e.g. celebrity Pamela Anderson posed in an almost non-existent bikini with her body marked off in the same way a butcher marks off the body parts of a cow—just to make the point that “All Animals Have the Same Parts.” Few would be surprised to learn that particular ad was banned in Montreal, Canada over the blatant sexism (Cavanagh, 2010), but how many people are aware that PeTA sponsors a Sexiest Vegan Over 50 contest? Judging is based on the entrant’s enthusiasm for their vegan lifestyle and “PeTA’s assessment of your physical attractiveness (PeTA, 2014).” Through a contest that objectifies women aged 50 and older, the public learns that a vegan lifestyle and diet should lead to what really matters in life—physical attractiveness. As if women don’t face enough pressure when they’re young to conform to standards of beauty created and institutionalized by men, they now have to face those same sexist standards as they age.

Actual avatar for Grumpy Old Vegans as described in text.

Of course, there are other stereotypes of older women in the animal rights movement. The Grumpy Old Vegans (GOV) Facebook page continues to use an avatar or logo depicting an older man and older woman with pronounced wrinkles, unfashionable clothing, grey hair, sour expressions and the woman is wearing pearl jewelry, a most un-vegan adornment (Grumpy Old Vegans, 2015). The representation of this pair as perpetually grumpy serves to stereotype older people, women in particular, as crotchety and is a form of ageism. While there is little doubt that if the GOV Facebook page used a logo featuring a couple in blackface or Native Americans as r-skins there would be a great public outcry, to date few have spoken up against the ageism of the wrinkle-bound couple logo.

Considering that vegans claim veganism is against all oppression, it is distressing to see them rank order which oppressions matter the most and which ones don’t even make the list, namely ageism. At the very least a definition of ageism is needed, explaining why and how it affects women more than men. Ageist stereotypes of older women affect the way they are stigmatized and contribute to their erasure from public concern. It is also important to explore how it is that men in leadership roles of the vegan animal rights movement can be so dismissive of older voices, particularly the voices of women.

AGEISM: The definition of ageism is straightforward–it is discrimination and prejudice against people based on their age, and is directed toward the very young as well as those who are considered old or elderly. Ageism is structural or systemic in our social world, meaning people learn it and enact it through social institutions, language, and organizations. People often don’t notice when they’re socially reproducing ageism, e.g. it is commonplace when someone forgets where they put something to say they’re having a senior moment, as if aging is universally defined by memory loss. Ageism is a relationship of power in that the dominant group in society uses ageism to oppress, exploit and silence those who are very young or much older. Just as the vegan animal rights movement stands against racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and speciesism, it stands against ageism—or at least some movement members claim it does. That remains to be seen.

STEREOTYPING: The tools of ageism are stereotyping and attaching stigmas to older people. Stereotypes are overly simple, fixed, rigid or exaggerated beliefs about an entire group or population of people. Stereotypes can lead to and be used to justify prejudice and discrimination. Aging women experience stereotyping more than men. Their bodies are criticized based on wrinkles, weight, hair color, posture, incontinence and overall loss of beauty; men may be similarly criticized, but are most likely regarded as distinguished in their later years and have the social capital—kinship, friendships, co-workers—to slough off negative stereotypes. Some of the most often used stereotypes of older people include:

1) All old people get sick and have disabilities, including hearing loss, urinary incontinence and blindness.
2) Old people are incapable of learning anything new; they are set in their ways.
3) Old women are a burden on everyone.
4) “Old people are grouchy and cantankerous.” (The Senior Citizen Times, 2011)

These and other stereotypes are communicated in multiple ways throughout the vegan animal rights movement. In a recent Facebook discussion of how PeTA uses young blonde white women in their advertising campaigns several women pointed out the sexism and racism of such a tactic. None mentioned ageism. One man stepped in to ‘mansplain’ and defend PeTA:

Humans are sexual beings and there’s nothing wrong with that. This doesn’t degrade women the same way half-naked male models don’t degrade men. It just looks like you’re actively looking for sexism, racism, or some sort of discrimination in an effort to be politically correct. I don’t think that’s a good approach. (Toronto Vegetarian Association, 2015)

When told by a woman that it degrades women to be reduced to the sum of their body parts and that they are only heard if they are considered sexy, this same man responded:

How exactly does it suggest that being sexy is the only way people will hear you if you’re a woman? That’s just ridiculous. People listen to not attractive people. Look at Hilary Clinton for godsake. [Emphasis added] That’s just a weird argument with no validity. I’ve never seen someone turn down a conversation with a woman based on their attractiveness.

How exactly does looking at and LIKING someone’s body disrespecting them? It seems like YOU are the one degrading women here. And it’s funny – aren’t feminists about women having freedom to wear what they want without being judged? Double standard much?

Oh my. If it’s not degrading to use half-naked men in advertising, then it’s okay to use half-naked women? What this man does not understand is how men have the power to deflect attempts at objectification. Women do not, not at any age. Please note there’s no mention of ageism in his reasoning, but Hilary Clinton, current presidential candidate in the United States, is held up as an example of “not attractive people” who can still get attention. Furthermore, this man calls out the women in the conversation for being bad feminists since they failed to support his admiration for attractive young women. The explicit ageism in this conversation was never mentioned, and it served to socially reproduce acceptance of ageism, acceptance of making disparaging remarks about women based on their age and appearance.

Clinton Sexism Ageism

STIGMA: Stereotypes lead to stigmas. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1922-1982) defined stigma as society attaching an undesirable attribute to an individual and then reacting negatively to that individual in such a way as to rob them of their identity, their ability to function or fully participate in society (Link & Phelan). In our social world, age is seen as an undesirable physical attribute, a stigma that is attached to women through man dominated ideologies which favor younger women for their sexualized bodies. Whenever a person or group displays a stereotypical representation of women as wrinkled, grouchy, or set in their ways, they contribute to the stigma of aging and socially reproduce ageism.

Criticism of a stereotypical ageist logo on the GOV Facebook page was met with dismissiveness on the grounds that people have a right to identify themselves as old and grumpy, and then the author, who was a man, made an ad hominem attack on the person who challenged his group:

…if you truly believe that people who identify themselves as old, grumpy and vegan and run a page with that title, using caricatures to represent themselves, are ageist for those reasons alone then your thinking is as muddled as that of those who made the allegation originally.

The man continued to defend his group’s ageist logo by dismissing sociological research and by stating that since the majority of the group “liked” it on Facebook, the logo could not possibly be ageist:

sociology is not an exact science. For that reason, it would be foolish to regard every utterance from sociologists as gospel. The rebuttal of this allegation issued on the page was ‘liked’ by a large number of people, many of whom expressed appreciation for a page they identified with, as they often felt invisible in a movement that celebrates youth. There were no adverse comments. In short, there is no substantive evidence to support the allegation.

What some vegans fail to see is how their actions affect others outside of the group. A logo or mascot is not ageist based on the vote of a membership who benefit from the stereotyping; ageism is grounded in any action that stigmatizes people based on their age.

Kyriarchal or Interactive Systems of Oppression: Kyriarchal social justice addresses all forms of oppression—racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ableism, and speciesism—and focuses on the dynamics of how these systems are interactive, crisscrossing and layered oppressions in the lives of individuals and groups (see below for a definition of kyriarchy—what was formerly referred to as intersectional). All oppressions are socially reproduced and linked by social institutions, through the economic, medical, legal, educational, religious and any other type of social institutions people navigate on a daily basis.

Too often when women in the vegan animal rights movement point out institutional ageism they are told by movement leaders that drawing attention to oppressions such as ageism is wrong, that kyriarchal social justice means we should just get along and go vegan for the animals because ending speciesism is all that matters. These vegans seem fine with claiming they care about humans and readily assert they are opposed in a general sense to things like racism, but they rank order oppressions and try to cherry pick the oppressions that matter most to them, leaving the rest to sit unnoticed. Why? In part they fear doing harm to the vegan animal rights movement and its organizations; they fear attention will be drawn away from ending speciesism or that outsiders will not join the movement if they have to stand against all oppressions. It is also difficult for the movement to envision how to address kyriarchal social justice when most of the leaders are men and eighty percent of the followers are women, when most of the membership is white, cis-gendered, young, without disabilities and not living in poverty. By not addressing ageism vegans socially reproduce and reify the stereotypes and stigmas associated with aging in our society.

AGEISM DOES REAL HARM: What harm is there in ignoring ageism? Plenty. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Southern California found that negative stereotypes about aging can potentially impair the memory of older people. “The study found that a group of older people asked to perform memory tests after reading fictitious articles about age-related memory problems did less well than a group given articles on preservation of and improvement in memory with age (Shuttleworth, 2013).” The older people who experienced memory loss fell victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy and the cliché of older people losing cognitive function just because they are old.

Older Laotian women sewing rugs for market

In addition, stereotypes keep people from seeing the realities of aging; they erase and marginalize older voices. Telling older people—especially women—to just go vegan will not address the financial problems faced by an aging population. Older women are at particular risk to be living in poverty. A report from 2012 based on US Census Bureau data reveals that over half of elder-only households lack the financial resources to pay for basic needs. Sixty percent of women aged 65 and older who live alone or with a marriage partner cannot meet day-to-day expenses. Women of retirement age are hit particularly hard by economic insecurity. Their pensions are smaller than those of men, they own fewer assets, and lack the education and job skills needed for post-retirement employment. Some of this economic disparity is the result of women leaving their careers to care for families and for their own elderly parents, and thereby losing opportunities for promotions as well as building up Social Security income. Also, women outlive men, leaving them alone with a single income and having to exhaust assets just to have shelter and food (Wider Opportunites for Women, 2012).

Older women of color are more likely than white women to have sufficient retirement incomes. Almost 50% of white women have insufficient retirement incomes to afford daily needs, while nearly 75% of Black women, 61% of Asian women and 75% of “Hispanic” (see US Census Bureau definition of Hispanic below) women were in households that could not afford basic expenses—even with Social Security income and Medicare coverage (Wider Opportunities for Women, 2012). Vegans who stereotype and stigmatize older women as self-sufficient and out of touch with animal rights might want to consider how these women have more pressing concerns in their lives, e.g. how they will make the next rent payment or pay the heating bill. Keep in mind, too, these numbers do not take into account those who are homeless or who live in elder care of some sort.

Cost of aging

STOP AGEISM in the VEGAN MOVEMENT: All vegans can work to eliminate ageism and extend empathic understanding to older people by considering how clichés and gaslighting—silencing someone with a barrage of questions and attacks—frame interactions with older people. Following are ten of the most often repeated ageist clichés found throughout the vegan animal rights movement and in vegan Facebook discussion threads:

1. “I feel old, so I know what you’re feeling even though I’m not really old myself.”
No, you don’t know what it means to feel old. You haven’t experienced it. Just as a white person has no way of knowing what it feels like to be Black, young people come across as dismissive and patronizing when they pretend to know how it feels like to be old.
2. “Age is just a number” or “You’re only as old as you feel.”
Condescending! Implicit in these statements is the view that young is better than old, so just don’t look at the number.
3. “I’m having a senior moment.”
This cliché is most often uttered when someone wants to explain a mental lapse of some kind or a moment of forgetfulness, and it stereotypes “seniors” as having diminished mental capacities. It’s not only ageist, but ableist!
4. “Ageism feels like a single issue campaign (SIC). Let’s keep the focus on the animals.”
Veganism is an effort to end the exploitation of all animals, including humans. Ageism in its many forms is exploitation. It misrepresents veganism to deny ageism exists or that its effects are harmless.
5. “I’m not ageist! You’re the one being ageist by bringing it up!!”
Here’s an example of reverse ageism. There is no such thing as reverse ageism, just as there is no such thing reverse racism. Only the group holding power can inflict oppression.
6. “I’m old, so I can say what I want about old people.”
Yes, old people can discuss aging in ways young people can’t, but remember disparaging remarks and stereotypes hurt ALL old people. Think about the big picture!!
7. “Jokes about aging are culturally relative. We poke fun at old people in the United Kingdom.” OR “Lighten up! Get over yourself!”
If a vegan anywhere in the world knows their words or actions will hurt others by contributing to ageism or any other oppression, then they can’t use cultural relativism as an excuse for their disrespectful behavior. It’s that simple.
8. “Old people discriminate against young people, so why can’t we make fun of old people?”
Yes, some older persons may be prejudiced against young people or discriminate against them, but stereotypes don’t stick to young people, don’t leave young people marginalized because of their age.
9. “You look like my grandma.”
While most likely meant as a compliment, these words stereotype women as being primarily in nurturing roles, especially later in their lives.
10. “The older generation let us down on social justice issues, so why should we care about them?”
Stop blaming the victims!!

Older man cuddling catIn a cis-gendered white man dominated society ageism is used to silence older women. It’s a continuation of the objectification that starts early in the life of every woman. Older women are regarded as the sum of their body parts, parts that are stereotypically seen as wrinkled, sagging, graying and useless. Men dismiss the educational achievements and work of older women as a means of devaluing the contributions they make. The vegan animal rights movement has yet to acknowledge ageism or speak out against it. Instead, the older women who are in the movement support its man dominated leadership, both denying ageism exists and acting as apologists for the leadership. They tell those who mention ageism to not take themselves so seriously. Ageism is not a joke to be laughed off and forgotten. Vegans seem to at least recognize the words racism, sexism, classism, ableism and speciesism, but ageism is consistently left off that list of oppressions. At best, it is seen as a single issue campaign within the vegan movement, an object for disdain that distracts from the mission of saving other animals. Mark these words: The vegan social movement will not survive as long as it practices oppression against one group in order to elevate the needs of another group.


1 Kyriarchy is used in this essay to refer to networks or systems of interactive oppressions. The word emerged from the work of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. It is taken from the Greek kyrios, meaning lord or master, and archo, meaning to govern. It is considered a more inclusive and expansive term than patriarchy.

2 The use of “Hispanic” in this reference is based on the US Census Bureau definition: “People who identify with the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the decennial census questionnaire and various Census Bureau survey questionnaires – “Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano” or ”Puerto Rican” or “Cuban” – as well as those who indicate that they are “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.” While it is not an optimal definition, it was all that was available for this data set. Much work needs to be done in defining and mapping the use of such categories.

Cavanagh, K. (2010, July 15). Pamela Anderson’s sexy body-baring PETA ad gets banned in Canada. Retrieved from NY Daily News:

Grumpy Old Vegans. (2015, May 12). Grumpy Old Vegans. Retrieved from Facebook:

Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (n.d.). On Stigma and its Public Health Implications. Retrieved from

PeTA. (2014). PeTA’s 2014 Sexiest Vegan Over 50 Contest. Retrieved from PeTA Prime:

Shuttleworth, A. (2013, July 8). Are negative stereotypes about older people bad for their health? Retrieved from

The Senior Citizen Times. (2011, November 23). Top 20 stereotypes of older people. Retrieved from The Senior Citizen Times:

Toronto Vegetarian Association. (2015, April). Toronto Vegetarian Association. Retrieved from Facebook:

Wider Opportunities for Women. (2012). Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans.

Wider Opportunities for Women. (2012). Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans.


Michele Spino MartindillDr. Martindill earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri and taught there in the Sociology Department, the Peace Studies Program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Her areas of emphasis include political sociology, organizations and work, and social inequalities. Dr. Martindill’s dissertation focuses on the no-kill shelter social movement and is based on ethnographic research conducted during several years of working in an animal shelter. She is vegan, a feminist and is currently interested in the stories women tell through their needlework, including crochet, counted cross stitch and quilting. It is important to note that Dr. Martindill consistently uses her academic title in order to inspire women and members of other marginalized groups to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges those dreams may entail, and certainly one of her goals is to see more women in academia.

Practicing Healing and Self-Care

We Are Not Advocacy Robots

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

Woman in golden field and white dress holding heart shaped pink balloons

At the 2015 Sistah Vegan conference, Dr. Breeze Harper featured an amazing talk on self-care by Jessica Rowshandel, LMSW (the conference recordings are available for purchase on Dr. Harper’s website). What I enjoyed about the talk was that it offered a few clear suggestions (most notably, the importance of friendship and community), but it was also realistic about the barriers many social justice activists face in practicing self-care.  Self-care really can be a luxury for some, and sometimes, we just can’t afford to engage it (financially, time-wise, ability-wise, etc.).

Sometimes it’s more than physical or material barriers that prevent us from prioritizing the self. Sometimes, it can be a matter of female identity or our current position in the activist journey. Women are socialized to be givers, to be selfless, to expect abusive behavior, and to be objects for the resources of others. This feminine identity, then, can really get us into some tough spots in our activism, especially when the activist space is patriarchal, as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is.

But also, the typical activist, I think, experiences an identifiable growth cycle. We learn about injustice, we get angry, and we stay in a rage. We get involved in the movement, we build connections with others, and we learn that social movements are highly contentious spaces with lots and lots of in-fighting and abusive behavior (particularly by men). We rage some more. And then, as the years pass, either we drop out or we start to adopt a sort of activist wisdom. We learn that the schisms and abuse are normal parts of collective behavior, just as they are normal parts of the outside world we wish to change. That doesn’t make it okay, it simply means that we need to prepare for this inevitability. Women and especially empathetic people are going to very sensitive to this constant negativity (and these are the very types of people attracted to the movement). At some point, we have to make changes in how we choose to expend our energy in order for our activism to be sustainable and in order to remain healthy.

For those of you who have pre-existing issues with depression, anxiety, and abuse (if you are female-identified, statistically, this probably includes you, my dear reader), the added stress and vulnerability created by our activism can really become a huge burden. There are a lot of things in this world that we cannot control, but activism is one thing that we can. And while many of us do not want to cut out activism from our life (especially because it can be extremely rewarding to give back through pro-social behavior and because our activist networks can be a positive addition to our lives), we need to recognize that there must be boundaries.

Woman at her desk raising a hammer to her laptop

Photo from The Frisky

Finding boundaries and having the mental strength to reinforce those boundaries is something that I’ve really been working with. I have to stay out of vegan groups, because I know that internet spaces invite vitriol and aggressive behavior. I have to disable comments on my blogs, because, again, the anonymity of the internet and my female identity makes my online activity a beacon for vitriol and aggressive behavior. I have to reevaluate how I will spend my time blogging: will I use the space to vent my frustration on yet another abusive person or corrupt organization? Sometimes that is necessary. But it’s also important to start engaging positive contributions.

As the summer begins to settle in this year, I’m finding myself emerging from a very gloomy winter and spring, wondering what I can do to heal from these past few months. I’m trying to find my grounding after the death of my best friend, the death of my dog, the brutal academic job market, the poverty of graduate school, revising my book, finishing my dissertation, being apart from my partner for many months, a very toxic family situation, and waves of harassment from anti-feminists, neo-nazis, and sexist or racist vegans. I mean, woah. That’s enough to bring anyone down. It’s time to come up for air. With so little out of my hands, it is prudent to ask myself: what exactly can I control?

It’s really important for us to recognize that we are humans. We are not advocacy robots: we have feelings and weaknesses. We get run down, we get tired, we get our feelings hurt, and we find it hard to trust.  Doing what we do is hard work. Let’s be honest about the reality of activism. It’s totally okay to acknowledge that sometimes it becomes too much to take.

My plan for Vegan Feminist Network this upcoming summer is a little bit in the air. I’m spending the next three months in Ireland with my partner, and I hope to stay off the internet as much as possible. I want to reconnect with him, cook healthy vegan food, squeeze in some hiking and a 5k, explore the pubs, and just allow myself to live (though I couldn’t help but pack some vegan leaflets!). Again, self-care can often be expensive. I have the privilege of taking the summer off because I am an online instructor, and we were fortunate enough to “afford” (i.e. go broke on purchasing) an expensive plane ticket (which is several months salary for many graduate students like myself). Some people might have financial security, but no loved ones to spend time with. Some people have families depending on them, and time is just not available. I know everyone has barriers, but we need to do what we can with what little we have to nourish our mental health.

African American woman of size Jessamyn Stanley demonstrates a complex yoga stretch.

Jessamyn Stanley; Photo from

I have discovered that yoga is one of those concrete ways that we can actually do something to repair ourselves from the damages of patriarchy and toxic activism. And it’s inclusive. There are variations of yoga for all body types and ranges of ability. In activist spaces, so often we focus on the mental emancipation through critical theory, learning, reading, and studying. Yoga is the other half of that–it helps us regain awareness and control over our bodies. Much like veganism, yoga is feminist praxis. For someone like me that has suffered with anxiety for my entire life, I have found that it is an amazing reward to my battered self to just take some time on the mat to stretch and breathe.

And you don’t need any expensive equipment–just comfy clothes and bare feet. I finally splurged on a mat, but it’s not necessary for yoga, just a nicety. For those who cannot afford yoga classes (like me!) or who are geographically isolated (like me!), yoga is freely available online (and allows you to practice from the peace and privacy of your own home). I have found Yoga with Adriene to be an amazing gift. Particularly helpful is her 23 minute “Yoga for a Broken Heart,” which is a gentle, beginner’s level session that will relax and soothe. See also the Instagram and Tumbler of Jessamyn Stanley, who combats the white- and thin-centricism of yoga practice in the West with body-positive curvy yoga. Or, Chelsea Jackson, who integrates critical thinking in her yoga practice for Black-identified persons facing trauma. “I see yoga as a tool to dismantle structural oppression,” she says. “It can help us interrogate systems that are constantly putting us in boxes or marginalizing us.”

Chelsea Jackson; Photo from Yoga Journal

Chelsea Jackson; Photo from Yoga Journal

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have a companion animal in your family, give them a snuggle. Research shows that interacting with them can lower blood pressure and ease anxiety.

A golden lab puppy and a chocolate lab puppy facing the camera and leaning on one another

If all else fails…flip to a random page and prepare as directed (with appropriate modifications for my gluten-intolerant and diabetic friends!). I have heard many say that cooking and baking is a calming experience. And cupcakes are happiness, no doubt about it.

Cover for "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" cookbook

I agree with Jessica Rowshandel in the acknowledgement that self-care will differ for every individual, and sometimes it’s hard for us to really take it seriously and work it into our schedule. Most of us lack the space, money, freedom, or motivation necessary to take time for ourselves. I don’t have all the answers, but I do want to start a dialogue. Some of you reading this might be new on your activist journey and just want to saturate yourself in negativity and fight through it all, but I have a feeling you will reach a point where you must acknowledge that boundaries are necessary. When you reach that point, I hope your remember this post and revisit it. I may revisit this post as well, as I may have new ideas or experiences to share. In the meantime, you may want to take a peek at this step-by-step self-care guide presented by one of my favorite Black feminist blogs, For Harriet.

Take care and be well my friends.



Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for and Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.