PETA Applauds Horrific Maroon 5 Video Glamorizing Violence Against Women

Trigger Warning:  Post contains images and discussion of violence against women.

Lead singer Adam Levine holds a reclining woman. Both are naked and covered in blood

PETA has a rich history of using explicit violence against women to promote Nonhuman Animal rights, a tactic that has been spreading to other organizations that follow PETA’s example.  In 2013, a PETA commercial depicted a scantily-clothed model in a locked car dying a sexy death to raise awareness for dogs vulnerable to heat exhaustion in the summer. LUSH hosted an anti-vivisection street demo featuring a woman in a nude suit enduring 10 hours of torture that culminated in her simulated death.  Animal Liberation Victoria campaigns against vivisection and whaling by positioning women in various states of undress, doused in blood for public spectacle.  Many of PETA’s print ads feature sexualized women in pain, often bloodied or dismembered.  In addition to PETA’s 20 year campaign of sexually objectifying young white women “for the animals,” it is clear that misogyny has become an anti-speciesist tactic of choice.

Image depicts the upper body of a woman butchered and hanging on a meat hook. Reads: “Hooked on meat? Go veg.”

PETA seems pleased that others capitalize on sexualized violence against women as well.  “Animals,” a new video release by American pop band Maroon 5, has come under severe scrutiny by feminists who are aghast at the video’s glamorization of stalking and violence against women. Indeed, as the lead singer/stalker Adam Levine (People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” 2013) is also portrayed as a butcher and the sexualized body parts of the female love interest (his “prey”) are juxtaposed with the fragmented, bloody body parts of Nonhuman Animals,  the video brilliantly exemplifies vegan feminist theories of intersecting oppression.  Despite the loud outcry from feminist and anti-domestic violence communities concerned with the impact this video may have on dating norms, rape culture, and women’s safety, it turns out that images of blood-soaked naked women in danger are right up PETA’s alley.  PETA spokesperson Ben Williamson reports to MSN:

Actually, we think Adam does a very convincing job of making slaughterers look deranged… If anything, the video doesn’t go far enough in showing the bloody horror of the meat industry and the misery that animals endure before their carcasses end up on a meat hook or butcher’s chopping block… We’re all ‘Animals,’ but anyone upset by the bloody scenes in the video had better opt out of real life violence by choosing to be a compassionate, vegan animal!

Typical of sexist advocacy in Nonhuman Animal rights, PETA is pulling on misogyny to scare or shame women into compliance.  If women are “upset” by exposure to male violence, they “had better” go vegan.

Using images of violence against women should never be an acceptable form of advocacy in a world where violence against women is real, lived, and on-going.  Most women will experience violence at the hands of men at least once in their lives, and all women suffer the constant threat of it.  The statistics for harassment, stalking, assault, rape, and homicide are staggering.  Given this reality, these approaches are nothing short of unethical and irresponsible.  By stepping in to defend the Maroon 5 video (what feminists are calling “this year’s ‘Blurred Lines’“), PETA is actively aggravating the distrust many women harbor for the stereotypically sexist Nonhuman Animal rights movement.

Incidentally, PETA’s comment that “slaughterers look deranged” is extremely disableist, classist, and racist.  Slaughterhouse work is the most dangerous profession in the United States; and it is grossly underpaid with the highest turnover rate.  What this means is that lower class persons, non-native persons, uneducated or illiterate persons, mentally disabled persons, non-English speaking persons, people of color, and other vulnerable groups are pushed into these jobs.  Using disableist rhetoric to describe human victims of industrialized food systems further alienates marginalized communities and puts Nonhuman Animal rights activism in an ugly light.

With so many peaceful and creative ways to advocate against speciesism, I reject the movement’s insistence on exploiting systemic violence against women, poor persons, disabled persons, persons of color, etc. Such an approach is inherently limited and can only alienate potential allies.

“Eat Your Own Damned Periods!”: Faux-Intersectionality in Ireland

TRIGGER WARNING:  Contains images and discussions of violence against women.

The following image was posted on Facebook today by “intersectional” abolitionist group Vegan Information Project, a vegan outreach grassroots organization that is located in Dublin, Ireland.  As one of the few abolitionist groups that claims to take intersectionality seriously, I was very sad to see that, following criticism, the image was not removed and was defended as a “comic.”  In other words, violence against women is a non-problem if it’s in a cartoon (similar to the “rape joke” justification).

A cartoon of a terrified woman caught with her hand in a chicken's nest with a chicken pointing a gun to her head.  Reads, "Eat your own damn periods."

The “joke” illustrated in the comic is that women do not comprehend the industrialized violence against female bodies inherent to egg production. By describing eggs as periods, the comic seeks to specifically shame women who are involved with the consumption.  This “joke,” however, obscures the fact that egg industries are male owned, profits go to men, and capitalists and advertisers that create the demand for these products are almost all men as well.  Interestingly, egg processing facilities in the United States are often staffed by women, mostly immigrant women from Mexico or other Latin American countries who cannot speak English and suffer very high rates of sexual harassment and rape.  Many are also enslaved, kept overnight in the facilities against their will and without additional pay.  Even if we were to accept that using this comic to promote veganism is acceptable, using female-oriented language (“periods”) and drawing on female-oriented imagery (violence against women) to shame non-vegan women distorts the intersectional reality of industrialized speciesism:  Violence against chickens entails violence against women.  Insinuating that women are getting what they deserve in some way for eating eggs really doesn’t make sense.

The comic is inaccurate, but more importantly, it is inconsistent with intersectional politics. Sadly, using “comics” to mask sexism and misogyny under the guise of humor is not a new technique. I have seen similar comics pop up that use the violent rape of women as a platform for veganism.  Though not meant to be funny, LUSH Cosmetics has also utilized misogynistic media to sell their anti-animal testing products by hosting live “performances” of a woman being abused and killed by a man outside their store. Campaigners draw on violence against women to shock women, a marginalized group that lives in constant terror of male violence, into accepting their anti-speciesist message.  For intersectional advocates, feminist rhetoric tends to be utilized when it is helpful to a group or individual’s image, but is quickly mocked or dismissed when it interferes with male privilege.  This approach is extremely problematic given the reality of gendered violence in today’s world.

In the United States, one of the leading causes of death for women is homicide (2nd or 3rd depending on her age).  Death, injury, and harassment by gun is lived experience for women; it is a well-known symbol of male violence and control.  Vegan Information Project is an Irish group however, and gun violence is not as prevalent in the EU. Nonetheless, violence against women remains rampant even on the Emerald Isle.  The following statistics are reproduced from Woman’s Aid, an Irish domestic violence organization:

  • In 2013, there were 3,711 incidents of physical assaults disclosed to the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline. Reported physical abuse included being gagged, kicked and beaten; being choked, strangled and stabbed; being slammed against the wall; being spat on, having hair pulled and being scalded; and being beaten and raped while pregnant. [Women's Aid Annual Report 2013]
  • 49% of women injured by their partner’s violence required medical treatment and 10% required a hospital stay. [National Crime Council and ESRI, Domestic Abuse of Women and Men in Ireland, 2005]
  • Irish research found that of women who had experienced violent behaviour, 46% had been injured. Serious violent incidents were common, 10% of women were punched in the face; 10% punched or kicked on the body, arms, or legs; 9% choked; and 9% forced to have sex. [Bradley, F, et al. (2002) Reported Frequency of Domestic Violence; Cross sectional survey of women attending general practice. British Medical Journal; Vol. 324]
  • For women aged 15-44 worldwide, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. [WHO (1997) Violence Against Women: A Priority Health Issue]

Any vegan organization that claims to advocate for peace, non-violence, and equality should take very seriously the state of women in the United States, Ireland, and anywhere else. These types of images draw on a culture of misogyny in order to “work.”  They draw on the marginalization of women and the constant state of fear that women live in to scare or shame them into compliance. With such a heavy reliance on misogynistic images and sexual objectification, the movement should not have any reason to be surprised or confused at the fact that we cannot expand as a movement or build bridges with other movements. We might claim to care about Nonhuman Animals, but we so often throw vulnerable human groups under the bus with cheap advocacy.

UPDATE:  Following the publication of this essay, Vegan Information Project did acknowledge the problems with this comic and promptly removed the image.

Male Privilege, Discussion Derailments, and the Politics of Politeness

dawson-leery-is-crying-male-tears

Yesterday I was in a conversation with a male colleague who supports violence and welfare reform in Nonhuman Animal rights efforts.  As an abolitionist, I reject these tactics as both ideologically flawed and counterproductive.  The violence/non-violence debate and the abolition/welfare debate have long histories in the movement, and debates over effectiveness are never ending.  Because I specialize in social movement theory in my academic life, I have some rather strong positions on these topics.  My colleague, however, is a non-academic and is not versed in the science of social movements, basing his position on the dominant (male-led) discourse of the movement.  As the conversation progressed and I continued to remain strong in my position, my colleague pointed out that he didn’t feel like he could talk to me without eventually being accused of sexism.  This may have been because I was using the language of privilege to discuss the dominance of welfarist organizations in the movement, or it may have been because I noted that violent tactics are patriarchal and tend to attract men.  Whatever the reason, I was being flagged for communicating my position within the framework of inequality.  I certainly never accused him of sexism. However, it soon occurred to me that my colleague was probably not making this claim out of true exasperation, but rather as a manipulative tool intended to derail the discussion and restore male supremacy.

Men tend to be socialized to expect domination in discourse.  They are socialized to believe they are right, that their opinions matter, and that these opinions are the most important.  This is not based on experience or expertise, rather, it is based on their privileged social status as a male.  Women, on the other hand, are socialized according to the politics of politeness.  We are taught to give men more room to talk, to value their opinions no matter how ridiculous or offensive, to soothe their egos, etc.  Decades of sociological research on talk, language, and social space regarding mixed gender interactions has confirmed that men talk more, they take up more space, they dictate the discussion, and their opinions are viewed as more credible and legitimate.  Women, on the other hand, speak less, support more, and take up less space.  Their opinions are also extremely devalued.

When men complain about not being able to say anything without being accused of sexism, what they are really saying is:

1.  I am used to having control over the conversation, your awareness of sexual politics makes it difficult for me to enact this invisible privilege smoothly.

2.  I am used to being able to speak about any topic without my authority being challenged, the possibility of being accused of sexism interferes with my authority.

3.  I am drawing on politics of politeness to shame you into putting my feelings and interests first.

4.  Feminist theory is a charade.  Sexism isn’t real, you’re just using that rhetoric as a way to win the argument.

This tactic is a variation of tone-policing. Rather than engaging the discourse, there is a derailment created by appealing to the bruised male ego, the woman’s character, and the authenticity of feminism.  Women are distracted from expressing their own authority on a subject when men exploit femininity and pressure women into paying deference to the patriarchal social structure.  The validity of my argument goes by the wayside, I have to put his feelings first.  Not putting the feelings of men first is a cardinal sin in the patriarchy.  Being a woman with an educated opinion seems to be a great offense as well.

Finally, it is extremely important to recognize that when we individualize oppression, we obscure its systemic nature.  If we can’t discuss systemic oppression because people of privilege prioritize their discomfort at what appears to be a personal attack, we will not be able to have the important conversations necessary for creating an egalitarian society.  Making it personal (“Hey, I’m not sexist!”; “Hey, are you calling me racist?!”) seriously derails the conversation.  Instead of challenging structural oppression, advocates find themselves tending to the feelings of people of privilege who are used to being shielded from discomfort. It becomes extremely wearisome for oppressed people to continuously pander to the feelings of privileged persons.  Doing so redirects attention from the oppressed to the oppressors.  It also shuts down the dialogue, interferes with critical thinking, and impedes social justice work.

Feminism by Men, for Men, and against Women

Trigger warning:  Post includes derogatory name-calling against feminists.

I present an excellent example of sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement as evidenced by the mocking of radical feminist positions.  This Facebook account is also a great example because feminism is regularly mansplained and defined in terms of how it should benefit men and protect male privilege.  Don’t bother commenting, as I am told that feminists are routinely banned from this page.  I simply wanted to document and draw attention to this bizarre (but typical) passive-aggressive, pseudo-feminist claimsmaking.  These types of arguments tend to draw on feminism only when convenient to promote male interests, maintain male power, and keep men at center stage.  Feminist positions are discredited if they challenge male privilege and male entitlement to all spaces and platforms.  Incidentally, the entire point of feminism is to challenge male privilege.

 Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights 6 hours ago · Edited This morning's Believe-It-Or-Not email:   In response to a thread from yesterday about sexism (referenced in comment below):  "I want to register my objection to your making pronouncements of what constitutes sexism and how to be a feminist. You are a MAN. You can be an ALLY of feminists but you cannot BE a feminist. Only WOMEN can be feminists."  The CAPS were ALL in the original.  You cannot make it up. You really can't.

From the comments to this post:

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights I should say that that I have been attacked by some "animal advocates" who endorse this ally of feminists/feminist distinction and who think that I should not express views about feminism. But then, there are some so-called feminist animal advocates who make accusations of sexism whenever someone takes a position they disagree with or when they just feel like attacking someone. These people do a great deal of damage to the cause of feminism as well as to animal rights. In any event, I regard the ally of feminists/feminist distinction to be the sort of thing that gives bullshit a bad name. And I apologize to bulls.I don’t recommend reading any of the other comments left by other users, as they are all rather triggering and reflect a deep distrust of women and female equality.   This type of rhetoric, in addition to the movement’s use of women’s bodies in campaigns, is a primary reason why the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has been largely unable to build alliances with the feminist movement (and other progressive movements for social equality).

If you find this post depressing, I would recommend checking out a new Twitter account called Pro-Feminist Pierre, a satire account that pokes fun at the male usurpation of feminism for the protection of male privilege.  It’s pretty funny!

 

–  Sincerely, a “so-called feminist animal advocate”

 

Rape & Slaughter: Empirical Correlations

Slaughterhouses and rape

I had the pleasure of presenting at the American Sociological Conference last August in San Francisco with a panel of several talented female scholars in the field of Animals & Society.  One such presentation, that of Racine Jacques, a Ph.D. student at the University of Central Florida, especially caught my attention because of its implications for vegan feminist theory.  Ms. Jacques had discovered a very strong relationship between rape and the presence of “beef” slaughterhouses in the community.  This relationship remained strong even when controlling for a number of other variables typically responsible for increases in crime rates.  She reports that the presence of a slaughterhouse corresponds with a 166% increase in arrests for rape.  Her study looks at other forms of crime, but rape stands out as especially significant.

Racine Jacques

Racine Jacques

This study partially confirms what vegan feminist scholars have been theorizing for some decades:  Violence against women and violence against animals are closely entangled and likely aggravated by patriarchal rule and capitalist economics.  In a society where the bodies of women and other animals are considered commodities and resources for the privileged, it should come as no surprise to find intersections of violence.

Ms. Racine’s study, “Social Disorganization in Slaughterhouse Communities,” is due to be published in an upcoming issue of Society & Animals.  A more nuanced discussion of the race and class oppression felt by the slaughterhouse workers themselves is included in her analysis.

Prison Rape and the Sexual Politics of Meat

Billboard that reads "The Freshes Meat outside the prison"

The above image was taken on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The billboard pictured reads, “The Freshest Meat Outside of a Prison,” and advertises a fusion restaurant called Chino Latino.  The mocking reference to prison rape is both saddening and telling.

Though we often critique patriarchy in relationship to female disempowerment and violence against women, it is also true that the rape culture evidenced in advertisements like that of Chino Latino celebrate male violence in ways that hurt vulnerable men as well.  Rates of rape in the prison system (an institution that targets primarily men) are astronomically high.  Victimization is tied to severe emotional trauma, but also increased exposure to disease given the closed nature of the institution.  Gay men and transgender persons are extremely vulnerable to assault, but all men are at high risk within the hyper-masculinized and violent environment of the prison system.

Prison rape is a feminist issue for several reasons. First, male-on-male rape is a product of patriarchy and normalized male entitlement to vulnerable bodies.  Second, prisoners are, in many ways, feminized bodies. That is, they are disempowered persons who have been stripped of their agency and identity.  They generally fall into the “feminine” category within society’s masculine/feminine dichotomy.  They become deindividualized and are controlled and exploited by a capitalist/patriarchal institution (the privatized prison system is highly lucrative, relying on an inmate work force that is paid in pennies and cannot unionize).  Many are mentally ill when arrested or become mentally ill from the incarceration experience.  Imprisoned persons are often forcibly medicated.  Imprisoned persons are also forced to wear demeaning uniforms meant to deindividualize or humiliate them. Many are kept in solitary confinement to prevent meaningful and healthy social interactions or relationships.

Pink Uniforms Jail

Third, the prison system is notoriously racist and classist, meaning that poor persons and persons of color are disproportionately targeted for imprisonment.  Beginning in the 1970s, this trend increased significantly after the end of legalized slavery and the share-cropping system.  Previous economic forms of enslavement were simply replaced with the for-profit prison system.

Finally, of course, female prisoners experience high levels of rape as well, particularly from male prison staff.  Too often, the experiences of imprisoned persons are written off because these persons are presumed to “get what they deserve.”  This ideology, however, ignores the role of systemic oppression, gross violations of human rights, and the intentional targeting of vulnerable groups.

The Chino Latino advertisement makes light of this horrific system and plays on the rape of vulnerable, deindividualized and feminized bodies to sell the body parts of vulnerable, deindividualized and feminized bodies in the form of “meat.”  Exploiting and consuming the bodies of those who cannot consent is funny . . . and sexy . . .

The sexual politics of Chino Latino food is unmistakable. On their website, you are invited to look at “sexy pictures” and “hot shots” of their food and drinks.  Many of these images display the corpses of Nonhuman Animals in all varieties of dismemberment and display.

Screencap from website that shows a large piece of animal flesh being sliced. Labeled under "Sexy pictures!!" and "Hot shots"The advertisement for their party room (a webpage entitled, “Explore Our Private Parts – It’s Okay to Stare”) proclaims:

We don’t like to brag, but why be coy? For parties and private events, Chino Latino is unusually well-endowed, with five unique spaces.

One suggested use (there was no mention of any female equivalent, such as a bridal shower):

[ . . . ] have us host a bachelor party the groom won’t remember to regret.

In other words, spaces where “meat” is served and consumed are considered male spaces, and the products are framed as feminized and waiting for male penetration.

The consumption of animal bodies is embedded within the patriarchal language and imagery of sexualized entitlement to and domination over feminized bodies, be they imprisoned persons, women, or other animals.  The references to rape and voyeurism denotes the right of persons of privilege to the private and personal spaces of vulnerable persons.  They become objects of resource and enjoyment; their individual agency is obscured and ignored.

The institutionalized and epidemic levels of violence, rape, and death imposed on imprisoned persons (primarily poor persons and persons of color charged with drug offenses), women, and Nonhuman Animals is neither funny nor sexy.  That a billboard like this could be posted at all indicates how ingrained rape culture and patriarchal values have become.  The presence of these messages demonstrates how the public space is, by default, the male space, maintaining a rigid gender/class/race/species stratification system.

 

References to the sexual politics of meat in this essay are based on the work of Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, The Pornography of Meat, and other vegan feminist titles.