COVID Masculinities and the Meat of the Matter

On Super Bowl Sunday, households across the nation ignored Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice to only enjoy the iconic game with their immediate household. Instead, Super Bowl parties are expected to be ‘mini super spreader’ events with COVID-19 infections projected to grow exponentially because of these gatherings. Like cockfights in Bali (a case study often used by anthropologists to understand gendered politics in the region), Dr. Jan Huebenthal has argued that the Super Bowl similarly says something about masculinity in America. The potential for Super Bowl parties, often facilitated by men, to increase COVID-19 infections is not the first time toxic masculinity has been criticized for exacerbating the harm caused by COVID-19. Salon has written that “toxic masculinity has become a threat to public health,” the New York Times has argued that men’s “aversion to common sense protections” is inherently intertwined with men’s fear of seeming weak, and Wyoming News has simply stated that “toxic masculinity [is] a big reason for spread of COVID-19.” However, the implications of toxic masculinities and pandemics does not stop at COVID-19; toxic masculinity also increases the risks for future infectious disease outbreaks caused by animal agriculture.

Though the origin of COIVD-19 remains unknown, it has been argued that there are “many unshakeable links between modern animal agriculture and COVID-19.” COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means that it originates in animals and can jump to other species, such as human beings. The root cause of zoonotic diseases is  often animal exploitation;  modern agricultural practices, such as factory farms, are involved in high-risk interaction between humans and animals and pose a serious risk for future outbreaks, such as avian flu. This is why organizations, like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, have published white papers on the relationship between COVID-19 and animal agriculture in the hopes of reducing the likelihood of a future global pandemics.

In addition to necessary policy changes that the white papers discuss, we must also interrogate the relationship between toxic masculinity and meat consumption, specifically in the context of COVID-19. Toxic masculinity has been a hot-button term for the past few years and is used to describe how what society deems ‘being manly’ is can be harmful to women, as well as the men themselves. Similarly, hegemonic masculinity is the practice of structures and institutions that legitimize men’s dominant position in society and encourage toxic masculinities. In the autumn of 2020, NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies posted a call for papers concerning the masculinities of COVID-19 in which the journal contended that “political and social appeals to act responsibly seem to be intertwined with different assumptions of what a good man should and should not do, not only among politicians but also in everyday encounters between obliging and obstructing citizens.” It asked scholars to research why men are dying at higher rates than women from the COVID-19 pandemic, how toxic masculinities played out on the federal level through policy creation, and in which ways fear of seeming weak and vulnerable have affected some men’s usage of commonsense COVID-19 protections, such as wearing masks.

These traits of what being a strong man means, which Salon described as “individualistic, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric,” has been reified by Trump’s re-election campaign. As the Washington Post reported, Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be “This potentially deadly illness is something to dominate or be dominated by.”  These anxieties about seeming ‘weak’ are an example of toxic masculinities that directly affect public health, especially as men have refused to wear masks in fear of being seen as weak and have “turned mask wearing into a battlefield in the culture war,” as argued in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. This threat of emasculation by something as simple as wearing a mask has made “flouting public health guidelines became synonymous with manliness,” as reported on in Mother Jones.

Not only do toxic masculinities put people’s physical safety at risk, but COVID-19 has also exacerbated mental health crises. In “Men, Suicide, and Covid-19: Critical Masculinity Analyses and Interventions,” Khan et al. found that “Excessive pressure to conform to traditional modes of masculinity increases the risk of men’s suicidal behavior.” Over 75% of men in a Cleveland Clinic survey reported increased levels of stress and worsened mental health. As Healthline reported, “When asked about their own health priorities and stressors, the men surveyed cited the economy and their family’s well-being ahead of their own personal health.” This is troubling, especially as men attempt suicide at higher rates than women and that suicide rates are increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is well accepted that toxic masculinities hurt men themselves and that this harm has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic itself—as well as the potential for future pandemics—can also be blamed on hegemonic masculinity. The connection between meat consumption and masculinity has been well researched, and have inspired books like Carol Adam’s keystone work, the Sexual Politics of Meat, in which she argues that “white supremacy and misogyny together upheld meat as white man’s food.” Simply, men consume more animal products because meat and masculinity are inherently intertwined because meat is seen as a stand-in for power and strength. Not only does this form of masculinity have an ecological and ethical footprint, but it also hurts the men themselves who face health risks connected to meat consumption, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  

In an interview concerning COVID masculinities conducted by history PhD student Matthew Sparks, an interviewee explained the anxieties COVID-19 created for their masculinity:

Men are supposed to be the protective, providers, go out and hunt the boar and bring back the meat, go out and fight and defend the home, protect the home and the hearth and all that kind of stuff, it’s kind of ingrained in us, even if we don’t necessarily relate to that kind of behavior, it is ingrained in our way of thinking and in our society…So, here we are in survival mode, and those perceived gender roles are just sporadically going everywhere…We’ve redefined and rearranged our roles in the household to where it’s like “what the fuck are we supposed to do right now?”

This confusion over identity and purpose illustrated above, as well as the perceived failing many men currently feel for not being able to provide for their families as unemployment rates rise, is another example of toxic masculinity harming men themselves. However, as explained earlier, toxic masculinity has a body count—when men see wearing masks as ‘feminine,’ people get sick and masculinity literally threatens public safety and health. When eating meat is seen as manly, zoonotic disease outbreaks can occur that can detrimentally harm our global community, when men feel pressured to uphold the ‘right’ kind of masculinity, men’s mental health suffers. In order to mediate future pandemics, it is imperative that we as men question what it means to be ‘manly.’ Toxic masculinity isn’t helping any of us—give yourself the freedom to pursue healthy forms of masculinity and let’s redefine what being a ‘man’ means together.  


Z. Zane McNeill is an activist-scholar, co-editor of Queer and Trans Voices: Achieving Liberation Through Consistent Anti-Oppression, and the founder of
Sparks & McNeill
.

Armie Hammer’s Alleged Cannibalistic Fantasy is the Ultimate Manifestation of Misogyny

By Antonia Georgiou
Trigger warning: This post discusses extreme violence including rape.

Privileged and powerful men, as we learn time and time again, feel that they can get away with all manner of abuse against women. But when #armiehammer began trending recently, no one was quite prepared for the horrific nature of the accusations. The Call Me By Your Name star is facing allegations of indulging in violent sexual fantasies involving cannibalism, rape, and bloodsucking. Whether these claims are true or not, past statements made by the actor are testament to his hatred of women. Hammer was once quoted as saying, “I liked the grabbing of the neck and the hair and all that. But then you get married… You can’t really pull your wife’s hair. It gets to a point where you say, ‘I respect you too much to do these things that I kind of want to do.’” The debate as to whether certain women are “worthy” of respect is frequently propagated by misogynists; that is, women perceived as being of less value may be subjected to degrading acts, whereas women who uphold the traditional gender role of, say, wife or mother deserve respect.

Hammer’s purported behaviour is merely an extension, albeit an extreme one, of what powerful men in Hollywood have been getting away with for decades. The list of men accused of sexual misconduct seems to grow every day; some face repercussions, while others are either forgiven or their actions are swiftly swept under the carpet. Hammer, it seems, may very well end up in the latter category, with colleagues quick to dismiss the messages as fake news. This denial is demonstrative of the endemic nature of rape culture, as accusers are dismissed and distrusted, while their alleged abusers are painted as the real victims. Despite what his devotees may assert, dozens of screenshots of messages believed to have been written by Hammer exhibit a desire to quite literally consume women.

While there is nothing wrong with kinks involving consensual adults, an impulse to eat women is inherently misogynistic, and Hammer’s accusers have said that they did not consent to the alleged acts. According to one of the DMs, Hammer is claimed to have “cut the heart out of a living animal before and eaten it while still warm”. Tellingly, Hammer once revelled in posting gory photos of a dissected pig on his official Instagram, proclaiming with morbid glee that “He’s smiling!”

The patriarchy tells us that real men eat meat, but when man has conquered, killed, and consumed as many non-human animals as he can, he may then turn to another animal that he deems lowly, lesser, and, crucially, unequal to him: the human female. It is not enough for rich and entitled men to subjugate women through power imbalances; the ultimate manifestation of misogyny comes in tearing off a woman’s flesh, abasing her not simply through the patriarchal hegemony, but through the diminution of her very being. For these men, women are viewed as prey to be hunted, captured, and devoured. Though shocking, these alleged fetishes are an extreme symptom of pervasive misogyny whereby women are regarded as nothing more than vessels for male gratification, no matter how cruel and depraved the enactments may be. Moreover, cannibalism is a fundamentally selfish endeavour, which is symptomatic of a culture that centres itself on male pleasure, male needs, and women as the receptacles for whatever men desire.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, counsellor Michael Sheath explained that watching extreme pornography is a gateway into real life violence: “If you look at the videos on mainstream porn sites you can see ‘teen’ themes, ‘mom and son’ themes, lots of incestuous porn. It’s pretty deviant stuff. To watch this you have already lowered your threshold of what is acceptable. Porn is an entry drug for a lot of them.” While we may not know the reasons for Hammer’s purported predilections, their depraved nature is rooted in increasingly callous pornography, in which women are routinely beaten and abused for perverse gratification. The more violent the pornography, the less satisfied the viewer, resulting in further aberrant searches until the fantasies manifest in everyday life.

As with kinks, there is nothing wrong with pornography itself; the problem lies with a male-dominated industry that exploits women’s bodies and labour, for which they do not own the means, in unwaveringly aggressive and extreme enactments. When men grow accustomed to violent sex as the norm, there is a greater risk for women being subjected to this brutality in real life intimacy. For instance, when referring to raping a woman at knife point, Hammer allegedly laments that “everything else seemed boring” afterwards. As Sheath explains, “Think of young women emerging into the sexual world and meeting men who are into strangulation and anal sex. It’s not criminal, it’s not being reported, but as a social and cultural experience it’s really significant.”

Other DMs demonstrate a desire to be a slave master who owns his partners, as Hammer professes to a woman that he wants to “brand you, tattoo you, mark you”. One former girlfriend, Paige Lorenze, has claimed that Hammer branded her by carving his initial into the skin near her vagina, which is undoubtedly the uttermost emblem of his patriarchal dominance. The veracity of Hammer and Lorenze’s relationship has been confirmed by the former’s team, who assert that the acts were consensual and did not amount to abuse. Branding is one of the most monstrous weapons of domestic violence, and the ultimate means of control, so the extent to which such intrinsically misogynistic acts could be consensual is dubious at best. By viewing women as property for his sole ownership, Hammer exposes the true extent of his privilege, suggesting that art imitates life and he is perhaps not dissimilar from malevolent characters he has played in excellent, anti-racist films such as The Birth of a Nation (2016) and Sorry to Bother You (2018).

Whether these allegations are true or not, they shed light on a woman-hatred so endemic in society that supporters are quick to defend even the most heinous of accusations. But there is no doubt that such an extreme fantasy, the literal devouring and degeneration of women, is the pinnacle of misogyny.


Antonia is a London-based writer with degrees from Queen Mary University and UCL. She is culture editor at New Socialist where she writes primarily on film from a feminist perspective. A lifelong feminist and animal welfare advocate, her other areas of interest include mental health, disability rights, and an end to austerity

The Hunt: Masculinity & Fox Oppression in Britain

By Madelaine Couch

On Boxing Day 2018, I joined a hunt gathering.

Never in my life would I expect to say those words. Never in my life would I support hunting. I was an observer to document and tell a story.

I had just spent Christmas in a small West Country town. As usual, it was a day filled with eating, opening presents, drinking alcohol – the expected festivities. The following morning on Boxing Day, as it turned out, the town centre held a hunt meet. Fox Hunting.

I was curious to see what it was all about, because throughout my whole life I have stood against hunting for sport. I have opposed blood sports and I always will. Causing unnecessary suffering for man’s pleasure seems sadistic to me. Cruelty is not an act I condone.

Rich Hardy is a storyteller, campaigner and investigative journalist. He has spent the past twenty years documenting the plight of animals around the world. He has spent time with fur trappers in America, Spanish bullfighters, exposed the rabbit fur industry, the broiler chicken industry, factory farms, followed live exports and told the story of primates kept in labs. Listening to interviews with Rich Hardy, he is a humble man who has dedicated his life to exposing cruelty and suffering, in an attempt to change laws and our behaviour towards animals.

Rich Hardy states that when spending time with many of these people who commit atrocious acts of cruelty towards animals, most of them are ordinary people in the world. They may go home to families, support their community and go to church. Some of them are respected figures in their towns and villages. Yet, beyond the human world, they can inflict profound
cruelty on another being. The sad fact is, this is quite common.

And this is the challenge. Because ultimately these people are not ‘other’. If we categorise people who do these things as ‘other’ and an ‘enemy’, we dehumanise them and remove their responsibility. We need to understand that there is a potential in this world for people to act in such ways. We need to educate and tell the stories in order for people to learn and understand the truth. Because most of the time, people don’t know the truth. The true stories are often kept behind walls – behind closed doors. They are intentionally covered up so intensive farming, blood sports and animal suffering for profitable gain can continue. The stories need to be told.

We walked into town on a crisp Boxing Day morning. I was surprised to see how busy the street was. In front of me stood a crowd of men and women in tweed jackets and hats, alcohol-induced rosy-cheeked men – their wives fashioning tall boots and neat hair do’s. I’d never seen anything like it.

As the huntsmen arrived with their immaculately groomed horses and rugged hounds, people drank mulled wine and chattered over Christmas cheer, the hunt leader in his Beauchamp blazer stood out in a street full of hunters. In his red fox-hunting jacket, he spieled about supporting hunting and fighting for the rights of hunters. I felt like I’d been flung back a few hundred years. Echoes of racism, sexism and white male patriarchal ideology hummed through the streets. This world seemed alien in the 21st century.

The crowd gathered and the man in the red jacket gave a speech.

‘First and foremost, can I just say a huge thank you to your town council for putting up with us yet again. This is one of our great traditions at Christmas time and it’s a lovely spectacle to see the hunt in the town square. So, for those of you that live here, thank you all very very much.’

A lovely spectacle isn’t the phrase that came to my mind. I genuinely felt fear for the foxes in the day that lay ahead. A large pack of rough looking hounds ran through the crowd whilst the sound of horns rang through the street. These dogs were large. They looked edgy, aggressive. People had brought their pet dogs out for the morning meet, and every single domestic dog confronted by a hound behaved with fear and aggression. Each pet dog
growled, hissed and barked at these hounds – because they were terrified of them.

‘It’s extraordinary that it was fifteen years ago now that I suspect many of you here faced a long trek to London to march in support of hunting. And of course, our voices were ignored and our politicians stabbed us in the back when they took the decision to ban hunting. But the good news is that we are still going and we have found a way to hunt within the law. And so, hunting, as we know it today, is still alive and well.’

Fox hunting was banned in 2004 in England and Wales. Since the ban of hunting, hunts invented an activity called ‘trail hunting’. Hunters claim to simply follow a pre-laid trail instead of chasing a fox. However, years of evidence shows that these ‘trail hunts’ are used as a cover for illegal hunting – and they continue to hunt foxes.

On the League Against Cruel Sports website, it states that more than eight out of ten people are opposed to hunting, including those in rural areas. Most people understand the cruelty of fox hunting and don’t condone it. The way we treat other sentient beings reflects the society we live.

There is the argument that fox hunting is about ‘pest control’, but hunts have been caught capturing and rearing foxes so they can be hunted. During one case, The League Against Cruel Sports investigators rescued and released foxes that were found locked up, near to a hunt meet. A few months later, monitoring the same hunt, their investigators were attacked, one resulted in a broken neck. For people to do this to human beings for rescuing a fox shows the level of violence and aggression that is tolerated in these blood sport cultures.

‘But it is alarming that just on the radio today, I heard, that it’s not enough now for them to take away our sport and then fine us if we break the law. They now want to put us in jail as well. And therefore, please, your support for this sport has never been more important. We do need to stand shoulder to shoulder. And so, what is also really lovely for us in the West Country for us to see, is the way that National Hunt Racing supports hunting.’

At that moment, I felt appalled to live in the West Country. My heart pounded, adrenaline pumped through my body. His speech was so loaded with talk of ‘rights’ and ‘being stabbed in the back’. His tone was aggressive.

What about the suffering inflicted on British wildlife – foxes and their cubs? Not to mention the other animals that are often injured and harmed if they come into contact with the hunt.

Other animals and wildlife have been known to be killed during a fox hunt.
I saw footage recently of a huntsman throwing a dead fox into a river and kicking one of the hounds. It was disgraceful and disgusting. The lack of compassion for another being was so evident. The aggression was rife. Perhaps for many supporters of hunting, there’s a pleasure in power and control. Man’s dominion over animal.

Hunt supporters say the sport is not cruel – claiming the hounds kill the foxes outright. And the fox does not anticipate death. And alternative ways to kill a fox would cause more suffering. They argue that hunting is a tradition and keeps the British culture alive.

Ban supporters argue that the sport is cruel. If there is a problem with foxes in an area shooting is more humane than hunting. Yet, foxes are not pests. These sports are old. We should have moved on from those times.

As the hunters and hounds left for the hunt, I asked a man in the crowd why he supported hunting. What is the point of it? Why does he condone it? He told me it was a tradition that he didn’t want to see lost and that it’s a part of British culture. As I continued the debate with him, co-incidentally he waved to a neighbour and cut the conversation short. I wasn’t being aggressive. I was trying to have a civilised, calm conversation. But he wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t converse with me about it. Perhaps, deep down, he knew hunting was wrong.

So, the argument of tradition – what about bear baiting and bull baiting? These were also traditions. How can we be proud of many British traditions when they are so loaded with violence? I looked around me and saw white faces, tweed jackets, old husbands and wives, a history which I was not proud of. And fox hunting was another badge on that jacket of patriarchal dominion. Power. Elitism. Aggression. Control. A connection between blood sports and the ideologies of racism and sexism rang loud and clear.

I’ll never understand the psychology behind supporting violent sports. Fox hunting. Bullfighting. Deer hunting. Many supporters of these sports also say they respect and wish to protect British wildlife in general. Have they ever heard of hypocrisy? How bold they stand in an ocean of duplicity. We must keep telling the truth because that is all this world has.

This article has been inspired by the work of journalist Jo-Anne McArthur who is the founder of We Animals, the photographer Sam Hobson, the primatologist Jane Goodall and wildlife presenter, Chris Packham.


Maddy Couch is a writer and artist whose work examines themes relating to compassion for animals, wildlife protection, and the relationship between humans and animals. Her images feature in The Curlew Magazine and homes around the world. She has exhibited in Bristol, London and New York. Maddy has written for travel companies and VizArt Film. She is currently writing her first book and working on her 1000 Rescue project, creating 1000 artworks to raise awareness of animal and wildlife rescue worldwide. Maddy grew up in London. She received her BA from Brighton University, where she studied philosophy and history. She spent much of her twenties volunteering internationally for animal rescue, wildlife and community projects. She currently lives in Devon, with her
fiancé and two rescue cats. Maddy has also lived in Cornwall, Bristol and Taiwan.

You can find Maddy’s work on her website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Is This What Vegan Looks Like?

In the June 2018 issue of Women’s Health UK, I was interviewed on the prevailing stereotype of angry vegans that has dominated British media in recent months. In the article, I clarify that, although most animal rights activists and vegans are women, patriarchal norms endemic to society and social movements push men (especially hegemonic ones) to the spotlight. It’s not an especially fair portrayal and neither is it representative:

Whereas women, who are well aware that their emotionality will be framed as “hysterical,” tend to focus more on mediation, education and community-building. It’s tragic that long-standing peaceful leaders in the vegan movement are suddenly being held accountable for the actions of an extreme few.

Readers can access the entire interview here.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and served as Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college 2016-2018. She also served as council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association and was elected chair in 2018. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

Why Can’t the ALF Talk about Sexism?

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and other direct action collectives have a rocky track record with women in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.

In celebrating violent masculinity, the language and imagery of the ALF is repellent to women and antagonistic to femininity. In my research, I have noted that direct action collectives regularly denounce nonviolent civil resistance (what they sometimes misconstrue as pacifism), framing it as weakness and complacency. Consider a 2012 conference presentation in which ALF founder Steve Best aggressively lectures a room of female attendees, furious at the feminization of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and demanding that activists literally take up arms against speciesists. The now defunct project Negotiation is Over published regular criticisms of vegan baking as outreach.

Nonviolent civil resistance of all kinds, but especially baking, is, of course, feminized. The proposed alternative–taking up arms–is explicitly masculinized. As a male-dominated organization, the ALF’s adamant rejection of women’s tactics is blatantly sexist.

In Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror, vegan feminist Lee Hall also describes parallels between masculinity and ALF operations. Vandalism, arson, and threats to researchers and their families are understood to be “front line” activism. This activism earns men prestige and honor in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. This is real activism, activism for the “brave” and “courageous.” In practice, it is most adopted by male teens and 20 somethings who have absorbed the patriarchal culture of glorified violence, anger, and domination.

ALF actions are as much a performance of maleness as they are tactics of nonhuman liberation. Activists who do not engage in direct action are labeled “cowards” to humiliate men by feminizing them and intimidate women by shaming their femininity.

 ALF Supporters Group Newsletter

In a misogynistic society, there are serious consequences for women and girls when a social justice movement aggravates gender stereotypes. There are consequences for the entire movement and Nonhuman Animals, too. Although peaceful vegan activism surely played a part as well, it was specifically ALF’s violence that would prompt agricultural elites to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in the 1990s (see Muzzling a Movement 2010). This act would essentially criminalize any action that interferes with speciesist enterprise, violent or not. Equally problematic, young men are made vulnerable to serious fines and jail sentences when this kind of activism is valorized.

Women, of course, are not completely absent in direct action, but even the most masculinized of spaces will sometimes attract female participants who understand that association with patriarchy can grant them some male privilege, albeit with considerable limitations and always at the expense of other women. In ALF literature, the role of women tends to be one of sidekick and adoring fan. In Love and Liberation: An Animal Liberation Front Story (Piraeus Books LLC 2012), the female lead is portrayed as smitten by the male lead’s prowess, prompting her to follow him into combat. This is a classic masculine trope whereby men’s violent bravery is rewarded by an objectified woman. As a trophy or prize, the woman’s character is subservient to and dependent upon the man’s story.

ALF

Other ALF publications are more straightforward in their sexual objectification of women. Liberator, for instance, has been criticized for its sexist themes. The illustration below featuring a female protester with large breasts fit into a tight shirt with no bra is a case in point.

The Liberator

The comic creator Matt Miner responded to feminist criticism in a now deleted “Open Letter to the Open Letter Author on Women in Comics.” His tone was dismissive and aggressive:

[ . . . ] you’ll notice that the art does not focus on her breasts, she’s fully clothed, the piece does not sexualise her in any way.

In your “open letter” you state other inflammatory nonsense that I find particularly offensive, attacks on my qualifications to write this series and there’s even a misguided attempt of associating me with the sexist animal killers of PETA, but clearly you’ve not done the slightest bit of research before unleashing so I’ll just laugh that bit of irony off.

When another feminist questioned the implications of his comic on his Facebook page, Miner responded with a rudimentary appeal to reverse sexism in describing the criticism as “offensive.”

ALF and sexism

As this essay has outlined, there are three roles that women play in direct action claimsmaking, all of which are sexist: the feminizing factor, the prize for male activists, and the eye candy. Aggressive deflection of feminist criticism is generally engaged in favor of putting “nonhumans first,” but the ALF’s protection of sexism is not for the protection of Nonhuman Animals. It is merely unchecked violent masculinity masked as social justice. Violent masculinity “for the animals” “by any means necessary” provides a rationale for reinforcing privilege and hurting others.

Oppression cannot be dismantled with more oppression and a brazen refusal to self-reflect. In the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, sexism does not seem to exist unless it is acknowledged, validated, and legitimated by men. While it is true that men have more symbolic power in a patriarchal society, women are not obligated to take men’s sexist interpretations of the social world as reality.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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On Policing Male Allies

Fake Male Feminist

In 2013, I was the victim of an online harassment campaign. It was a cyber mob attack organized to punish me for publicly criticizing a number of sexist comments made by a leading male theorist in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (he was avidly supporting women’s sexual objection as a valid tactic). I received hundreds of aggressive and often gendered messages in response with the intent of validating the man’s patriarchal position and silencing my feminism (this is a phenomenon that happens with excruciating regularity in online spaces).

It was a frightening, upsetting, and deeply alienating experience. In the height of the chaos, one man appeared among the crowd of sexist barraging to defend my feminist critique. His support came as a great relief to me. It was much needed and much appreciated. While he would later become a good friend of mine, at that time, he was largely unknown to me. Someone amidst the fray immediately responded, labeling him my “partner.” Others responded understandingly: “Oh, that makes sense now.” Men, it seems, can’t be allies without an incentive.

David FutrelleThis experience, as it turns out, is a common one. For instance, David Futrelle of the anti-misogyny blog We Hunted the Mammoth, an online watchdog project tracking “men’s rights” advocacy, is regularly accused of writing about misogyny to “get laid.” It is as though feminist ideas are so wacky and so unimportant that the only reason men would be interested in fighting against sexism and misogyny would be to get something from women. Some men are so completely indoctrinated with the idea that women exist only as a resource that it becomes unfathomable that any man would want to challenge patriarchy. What rational man could actually take feminism seriously?

When men attack other men for promoting or defending feminism, it constitutes gender policing. Masculinity is protected in defining it by what it is not, and it is not feminine. Boys who play with Barbies, enjoy theater, or otherwise fail to “man up” may find themselves chastised. Similarly, boys who advocate gender equality are also chastised. Masculinity necessitates the rejection or devaluation of the feminine. Under patriarchy, there is no room for women’s rights, and there is even less room for traitorous men colluding with marginalized women.

Policing male allies is hurtful for a number of reasons. First, it dismisses the legitimacy of feminism. Feminism is presented as not worth supporting unless it provides men with sexual favors. Second, it reduces masculinity to the tired trope that men are only interested in sex. Third, it often entails emasculating and heterosexist gender policing. Finally, it discourages men’s involvement. Men are acutely aware that supporting feminism threatens their tenuous position in the patriarchal hierarchy and will solicit policing from other men (and some women). None of these consequences are compatible with the goals espoused by a social justice movement.

Although a number of men will feign interest in search of fame, fortune, or sex, to be sure, the truth is that some men really are interested in social justice, and not because of any personal reward. For that matter, faking feminism would prove to be a poor tactic. Many feminist women are not the easiest for patriarchal, chauvinistic men to get along with. They hold their male friends and romantic partners up to a higher standard of integrity (or, some might say, a standard of basic human decency). It is not as easy as posting a pro-feminist statement in a forum and then sitting back and waiting for the ladies to swarm in. Heterosexual feminists are more likely to be attracted to men who understand the issues, genuinely care about the issues, and can be counted on to fight for the issues. It is not something easily faked.

Writing off a man’s support with the ridiculous suggestion that he’s only interested in sex is about as shallow and lazy as calling feminists “man-haters.” It is not true, but for those committed to oppressive systems, truth is not the point. Rather, the point is to silence women and their allies in order to protect patriarchy. I believe that men claiming to be feminists (especially when they have been informed that doing so is appropriative and hurtful) is a problem, but when men are performing their duties as allies, they can be important sources of strength and support. Perhaps it is predictable then, that supporters of sexism will seek to undermine that relationship by digging deeper into sexism, degrading women as sex objects and the men that help them as hormone-driven lackeys.

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

This essay is a revision of “Are Male Allies Just Trying to Get Laid?” first published on August 1st, 2013 with a now defunct feminist blog. You can read more about gender and anti-speciesist activism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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