Sexism and Speciesism in the Not-So-Female-Friendly Hollywood

speciesism-in-hollywood
The lack of sexual diversity in Hollywood has been a critical issue that gained wide attention among movie lovers and researchers. But, as a recent University of Southern California report shows, a real change in the industry is still required. In particular, Dr Katherine Pieper points out “raised voices and calls for change are important, but so are practical and strategic solutions based on research.”

So how can we implement solutions based on research, such as the one that USC proposes? Is the research showing solutions for all female species?

Research often offers observations and critical analysis of existing case studies. There are several feminist cases to study, such as Julia Roberts not wearing high heels and Alicia Keys not using makeup on the red carpet. Publicity of Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy – the fact that breasts are not essential for her sense of being a woman – generated contested views in feminism. While Jennifer Aniston received attention for her feminist perspectives on the impacts of paparazzi photography, Keira Knightley posed nude to protest against the use of Photoshop and questioned idealistic images of women in Hollywood. Furthermore, Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra have successfully used media channels to represent themselves as women of color in Hollywood, thus resisting in a wider context of social justice.

What else can researchers do apart from studying actions that these female actors have already taken and have also inspired others to do?Well, being a living example of change and bearing witness of violence are essential for social justice. But most fans often shift responsibility to Hollywood actors as idols of our society.

Here, we are not talking about blockbuster films in Hollywood only. One must note that Hollywood is an abstract cultural space where filmmakers and film studies scholars co-exist through material and symbolic modes of communication in shared environments. Furthermore, critical questions on the female are not limited to humans but also apply to animals in our overall environment of social practices. In this respect one of the issues that is rarely addressed is how atrocity in ongoing circumcision of male pigs and grinding of live male chicks is overlooked while exploitation of female reproductive organs e.g., chicken breasts, milk, and eggs is glamorized. These practices lead to normalizing, naturalizing, and legitimizing exploitation of female body parts. The exploitations are completely overlooked in Hollywood representations of a ‘bacon and egg’ breakfast after a steamy sex scene, where female actors are far more exposed and consumed than their male counterparts.

Famous diner scene from "When Harry Met Sally" where Sally fakes an orgasm over a nonvegan sandwich
Now the USC report argues “women were over three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown partly nude or in sexually revealing clothing”. Why?

In The Sexual Politics of Meat, feminist author Dr Carol Adams points out that sexism and speciesism have the same roots of patriarchal oppression in a class-based society. Unless we use verbal and non-verbal means to resist violence against all females, women will be not only underrepresented but also be animalized.

We cannot fight for the freedom of one while oppressing the ‘Other’ in discourses of the female body. The intersections in sexism show that there is no single issue cause in Hollywood and beyond.

Marilyn Monroe nude in bed wrapped in sheets

So how can we bring much-needed changes in Hollywood representations of women and feminists that fight for diverse social issues? And can we walk the talk?

We need to show intersections – not categorizations. That’s exactly the problem.

We need to show how sexism, classism, speciesism, and ableism among many other ideological practices are interconnected in Hollywood. Using the intersectional approach, we must be a living example of change and resist images and products that support exploitation. As Gandhi says, “be the change you want to see.”

 


samita_nandyDr. Samita Nandy is an award-winning academic, author and cultural critic on fame. With federal and provincial grants valued at $140,000, her research has developed with an aim to reveal meanings of celebrity culture, history of stardom, and celebrity activism. She is the Director of the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) and author of Fame in Hollywood North.

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

Cabbage Chicks

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

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

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

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

Defending the Campaign

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

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

Contextualizing the Campaign

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

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

The PETA Effect

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

whyveganism.com

Girl Power: How Dairy Pornifies Motherhood

Dairy cow in field, reads "Girl Power." Ad for dairy products.

The capitalist system is a degendered one. Although capitalism heavily relies on female bodies, this reality is relatively obscured from popular consciousness. Advertisements selling hens’ eggs or cows’ milk exemplify this phenomenon. Although hens and cows are often anthropomorphized as “girls” or “ladies,” their mother status is frequently concealed.

In a typical advertisement for Bregott dairy products, for instance, a cow stands in a sunny field under a bright blue sky. The image reads “Girl Power.” On Bregott’s Instagram page, dozens of portraits capture these “girls” as they graze, relax, and play. Very rarely are the children of these “girls” pictured. Indeed, the invisibility of childbirth, nursing, and parenting is a consistent theme.

Images from Bergott including cows walking through fields, resting together, and wearing a wreath of flowers on their head

Consider also the “Happy Cows Come from California” television campaign for Real California Cheese or Laughing Cow’s advertising imagery. These cows are shown as giggling, trivial, and carefree. These are not depictions of ideal mothers, or even competent mothers. Depicting these cows as mothers would disrupt the fantasy presented to the human consumer; the presence of calves forces the viewer to acknowledge the intended purpose of cows’ breast milk.

 

Instead, farmers are more frequently pictured nurturing calves, when calves are visible at all. Farmers are thus presented as caring stewards, while the bovine mothers are dematernalized as silly and immature good-time girls. Characterized as such, they are not to be taken seriously as willing participants in this seemingly harmless, live-and-let-live industry.

It is worth considering that “girl” language encourages consumers to only superficially conceptualize dairy cows as female. Subsequently, the audience will not be invited to acknowledge that they are actually mothers. Motherhood reminds the audience that these animals do not exist solely for the pleasure of the consumer. It is a reminder of their connectedness in complex social relationships, their responsibilities for others, their love for others, and others’ love for them.

Cow grooming calf

Motherhood is essential to the reproduction of the capitalist system, but it must be hidden from the public sphere, lest its sentimentality interfere with cold and rational business. That said, it is also true that characterizing mothers as “girls” is certainly accurate in the sense that these are immature cows who are still juveniles themselves. While bovines live an average of two decades, their average age at slaughter is just four or five years. In this way, their own childhoods are erased as well.

As Carol Adams has indicated, pornography extends beyond the consumption of women’s bodies to include that of other animals as well. Pornography encourages the viewer to consume without emotional attachment, infantalizing adults, sexually exploiting children, and erasing the inherent violence in production. Flesh-eating consumers are thus encouraged to become “playboys,” enjoying the pleasures of nonhuman bodies, guilt-free with no strings attached.

Playboy Ad from 1960s showing a shirtless man in a bathroom with two women wearing only towels Playboy cover from the 1960s showing a model who looks underage wearing a nightie and holding a pen and a pink envelope Playboy cover from the 1960s showing a nude model with pigtails and tube socks squeezing a teddy bear

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

You can read more about intersections of gender, capitalism, and Nonhuman Animal rights in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


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

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The Woman as Sexy Dying Animal Trope

Women crouch in filthy cages, dressed in rags, looking around in fear; promo image for "The Herd"

Too frequently in anti-speciesism advocacy, women become stand-ins for Nonhuman Animals suffering from extreme human violence and degradation. It is not by chance that women predominate in these roles. Women are selected (or self-select) because it culturally “makes sense” to audiences that sexualized violence will be aimed at women. If men, a relatively privileged group, were to substitute the vulnerable and suffering Nonhuman Animals, it just wouldn’t compute.

Women are regularly subject to violence and degradation, so they become the “natural” choice when staffing campaigns. Women in the audience, too, are familiar with the normalcy of misogyny, and perhaps social movements hope to trigger them into supporting the cause by tapping into their fears and traumas. Such a tactic begs the question as to how aggravating inequality for women could reduce inequality for other animals.

Consider the vegan advocacy film, The Herd. Status quo misogyny predominates, and there is arguably nothing that sets this film apart from standard sexist and violent horror movies except the good intentions of the filmmakers. The script is exactly the same: young, thin, white women, naked or nearly naked, are sexually brutalized for the titillation of the audience.

I ask activists to consider how replicating violent, misogynistic media could, logistically, disrupt oppressive thinking about other vulnerable demographics. Further, I believe it is ethically problematic to contribute to a culture of woman-hating in a world where actual violence against actual women continues to happen so frequently that it can only be described as normal. Images have power, and these images should be used responsibly in service of social justice. It is both unwise and immoral to capitalize on sexism to advance anti-speciesism.

In the video linked below, I have compiled a number of images to illustrate the woman as sexy dying animal trope. This is a pattern that extends across a number of organizations, notably PETA, but also LUSH Cosmetics, 269life, and others. Consider what it means when activists instinctively position women as representatives of speciesist violence. Consider also the privilege afforded to men who are less frequently used, but also the dangers in positioning them as abusers in protest scenarios. In a society where violence against women is still not taken seriously, it is unclear how movement audiences could be expected to take violence against animals seriously through misogynist imagery of this kind.

 

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

You can read more about gender politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


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

whyveganism.com

Love, Sex, and the Animal Liberation Front

Man in ski mask kisses woman in black hoodie
Image from Animal Freedom Fighters Unite Facebook group

More so than other factions of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, the “liberation” or “direct action” faction (frequently associated with the Animal Liberation Front) often engages symbolism of human-to-human love, intimacy, and sex in its activist narrative.

Consider Love and Liberation: An Animal Liberation Front Story, a romance novel following a young female activist who falls in love with another direct action activist, the two of them bonding over illegal actions in the name of anti-speciesism.

Cover of Love and Liberation

Consider also the direct action comic, The Liberator, male-created with a male and female protagonist. The female-bodied hero, however, tends to be drawn for the male-gaze, large breasted and sometimes bra-less.

Liberator

More than other factions of the movement, the direct action faction relies on narratives of heroism, machismo, and domination. As with any hero’s tale, the “girl as reward” must be present. In a previous essay, I note the “Liam Neeson effect,” whereby Nonhuman Animals are feminized and their plight exploited as a plot device to excuse hypermasculine vigilantism and violence. “Direct action” activism hopes to attract members and new recruits by creating an opportunity for boys and men to prove their manhood and become real life superheros. Steve Best, a leader of the ALF faction, has stated that it will be the media coverage of this type of activism which will motivate and inspire viewers to take up arms, so to speak. Love and sex must be part of this opportunity, as becoming a “man” necessitates power over the feminine.

Relatedly, ALF activists also frequently pose with Nonhuman Animals as loving and thankful. Most of these survivors are undoubtedly relieved, but we must keep in mind that media is not created by accident, and images are carefully chosen to convey a particular message. I see in this thankful animal trope the same patriarchal or paternalist concept: man as liberator and benevolent leader, woman and animal as grateful and dependent. Savior narratives, well meaning though they may be, are inherently disempowering to the marginalized (this is a major concern in ally politics).

ALF member in ski mask cradling small monkey

Social movements consciously strategize in their media representations, using particular codes that the audience will be expected to accurately and favorably interpret. The ALF and other direct action collectives bank on our cultural literacy with misogyny and patriarchy in order for these scripts and codes to make sense. I question as to whether or not this hypermasculine script will translate for an anti-oppression future if we’re still speaking the same language of domination.

 


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

whyveganism.com