The Sexual Politics of Vegan Food

Cover for "Crazy Sexy Diet"

Carol Adams has written extensively on the sexual politics of meat, arguing that women and other animals are both sexualized and commodified to facilitate their consumption (both figuratively and literally) by those in power. One result has been the feminization of veganism and vegetarianism.  This has the effect of delegitimizing, devaluing, and defanging veganism as a social movement.

But I argue that this process works within the vegan movement as well, with an open embracing of veganism as inherently feminized and sexualized.  This works to undermine a movement (that is comprised mostly of women) and repackage it for a patriarchal society.  Instead of strong, political collective of women, we have yet another demographic of sexually available individual women who exist for male consumption.

Take a browse through vegan cookbooks on Amazon, and the theme of “sexy veganism” that emerges is unmistakable.

Cover for "Ms. Cupcake:  The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town!" Pictures a piece of cake with a tiny woman in a bikini sitting on top

Ms. Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town!

Cover for "Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook" Shows author posing with food dishes

Cover for "Skinny Bitch in Love:  A Novel"

Oftentimes, veganism is presented as a means of achieving idealized body types.  These books are mostly geared to a female audience, as society values women primarily as sexual resources for men and women have internalized these gender norms.  Many of these books bank on the power of thin privilege, sizism, and stereotypes about female competition for male attention to shame women into purchasing.

Cover for "Become a Sexy Vegan Beast:  The Guide to Vegan Bodybuilding, Vegan Nutrition, and Body Fat Loss" Shows woman in a sports bra and shorts with hands on her hips looking behind her

Cover for "Skinny Bitch Fitness:  Boot Camp"

Cover for "Eat Yourselve Sexy", Shows a topless woman with her arms up and behind her head, looking seductively at the camera

Eat Yourself Sexy

Cover for "Appetite for Reduction" A vegan weight loss book. Shows an illustrated woman in vintage style

To reach a male audience, authors have to draw on a notion of “authentic masculinity” to make a highly feminized concept palatable to a patriarchal society where all that is feminine is scorned.  Some have referred to this trend as “heganism.”  The idea is to protect male superiority by unnecessarily gendering veganism into veganism for girls and veganism for boys.  For the boys, we have to appeal to “real” manhood.

Thankfully Meat Is For Pussies (A How-to Guide for Dudes Who Want to Get Fit, Kick Ass and Take Names) appears to be out of print.

Cover for "Skinny Bastard:  A Kick-in-the-Ass for Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff"

Skinny Bastard: A Kick-in-the-Ass for Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff

Cover for "Eating Veggies Like a Man"

Cover for "Real Men Eat Tofu"

Then there is the popular tactic of turning women into consumable objects in the exact same way that meat industries do.  Animal rights groups recruit “lettuce ladies” or “cabbage chicks” dressed as vegetables to interact with the public.  PETA routinely has nude women pose in and among vegetables to convey the idea that women are sexy food.  Vegan pinup sites and strip joints also feed into this notion.  Essentially, it is the co-optation and erosion of a women’s movement.  Instead of empowering women on behalf of animals, these approaches disempower women on behalf of men.

Image shows two white, tan women back to back wearing lettuce bikinis and opening their mouths wide to insert veggie dogs. Woman facing camera is wearing a Playboy necklace.

Alyssa Milano dressed in vegetables. Reads: "Let Vegetarianism Grow on You."


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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“Booth Babes” Bad for Business & Animal Rights

Two teenagers in mini-dresses pose on a PETA Youth booth offering "Free hugs"

The animal rights movement loves using young women to sell veganism, but whether or not this tactic is effective has come under serious scrutiny.

New research on the effectiveness of “booth babes” at techie conferences suggests that the use of provocatively dressed young women to sell items at trade shows doesn’t work. The comparison group, which consisted professionally dressed older local women, performed significantly better:

The results? They were great. The booth that was staffed with the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic (as measured by conversations or demos with our reps) and less than half the leads (as measured by a badge swipe or a completed contact form) while the other team had a consistently packed booth that ultimately generated over 550 leads, over triple from the previous year.

Why don’t booth babes make good salespersons?  Marketing executive Spencer Chen suggests that they are intimidating to men.  That is, rather than attracting men, they repel men.  Chen also suggests that women who are hired specifically for these events have little incentive to work for the company. As he explains, “They are used to not doing much except showing up to make their fee for the day.”  Customers are looking to learn more, something models are not often invested in.  This point may or may not apply to vegan booths, as PETA and other organizations that objectify women rely on volunteers as well as paid models.

Chen also reports, “Business and product execs don’t talk to booth babes.”  While vegan “booth babes” are not targeting important business persons, the effect is similar.  Animal justice is a serious matter, as is changing one’s diet, and “booth babes” simply do not convey seriousness:

Many times I observed that while my team was busy in demos with other prospects, the booth babes were unable to hold the interest of these execs for the extra five minutes that I needed to get a person from our team to engage.

Who they do tend to attract, however, are young men who are interested more in photo ops than business.

Young man poses next to the "Ice Queen" while another young man takes their picture. The woman is very thin, white, and painted in blue. She wears a tiara and high heels. Sign reads: "Beat the heat with nondairy treats."
So why use booth babes at all? Chen suggests that it’s simply cheaper than relying on qualified individuals and experts.  It’s not only easier on the budget, but it’s indicative of cheap advertising standards that dominate the marketplace:

[…] there still exists the “stripper and steaks” mentality in sales, where it’s less about the product and more about relationships and the art of the “close.” Booth babes have long been a part of this dog-and-pony show in this old approach to sales.

This study comes on the heels of the Australian study published in December of 2013 that demonstrated PETA’s “sex sells” approach is actually counter-productive.  Male participants recognized that the women were dehumanized and were subsequently less likely to support the animal rights cause.

Courtney Stodden poses with a veggie dog in a revealing lettuce bikini. Men in the background stare at her.

 


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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Does Sex Sell Animal Rights? RESEARCH SAYS NO!

Three naked women stand behind a PETA anti-fur banner outside. A female bystander looks shocked.

Two researchers in Australia sought to test PETA’s hypothesis that sex sells animal rights:

Images of scantily clad women are used by advertisers to make products more attractive to men. This “sex sells” approach is increasingly employed to promote ethical causes, most prominently by the animal-rights organization PETA. Yet sexualized images can dehumanize women, leaving an unresolved paradox – is it effective to advertise an ethical cause using unethical means? In Study 1, a sample of Australian male undergraduates (N = 82) viewed PETA advertisements containing either sexualized or non-sexualized images of women. Intentions to support the ethical organization were reduced for those exposed to the sexualized advertising, and this was explained by their dehumanization of the sexualized women, and not by increased arousal. Study 2 used a mixed-gender community sample from the United States (N = 280), replicating this finding and extending it by showing that behaviors helpful to the ethical cause diminished after viewing the sexualized advertisements, which was again mediated by the dehumanization of the women depicted. Alternative explanations relating to the reduced credibility of the sexualized women and their objectification were not supported. When promoting ethical causes, organizations may benefit from using advertising strategies that do not dehumanize women.

The conclusion?

Overall, these findings are the first to demonstrate that sexualized images that dehumanize women reduce concern for ethical behavior in a domain unrelated to gender relations and sex. 

Salon reports that PETA dug in their heels in response to the research, insisting naked women get the most media attention.  So, perhaps we are misrepresenting PETA’s hypothesis.  They’re using naked women not to raise awareness and stop animal exploitation, but to raise money and awareness about PETA.  The “sex sells” tactic, I have argued, is indicative of the non-profit industrial complex, where compromised messages and fundraising are prioritized over actual social change.  Really, PETA is ignoring this research even though it has been demonstrated that their tactics do not help Nonhuman Animals.  They will continue objectifying women because it “grabs the headlines.” Can it be any clearer that this is not about social change effectiveness?

Of course, while this study demonstrates that there is no effectiveness, there is also a huge body of research that demonstrates that the sexual objectification of women is directly linked to violence against women and the devaluation of women.

 

This post originally appeared on the Academic Abolitionist Vegan.


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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The Sexual Politics of Halloween Meat

Halloween has earned a nasty reputation for perpetuating oppression.  Women are encouraged to wear “slutty” costumes that leave little to the imagination and also leave women to freeze in the late October weather (for Northern Hemisphere folk), generally for the enjoyment of men.  Caricatures of Native Americans, disabled people, people of size, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arabs, etc. all become fair game for costumes.  In other words, Halloween has become a celebration of white male Western dominance, and anyone who has a problem with that “can’t take a joke.”

Gender, class, ability, size, and race all intersect in the multitude of horrendous, problematic costumes, so we should not be surprised to find the same for species.  There are countless costumes that degrade other animals.  One of the most horrific is a strap-on sheep that is made to appear as though she is being raped by a stereotypical “hillbilly” (a derogatory caricature of Appalachian peoples).

Man in red long johns with hat and full beard wears a toy sheep attached to his groinThere are many variations of this costume for men.  But, for women?

Woman dressed in small tight fitting black dress with sheep's earsNotice how the male version, while horribly classist, still demonstrates male superiority over the feminine.  The female version demonstrates female vulnerability/animal vulnerability.  In both cases, the “sheep” is feminized and portrayed as a male sexual resource.  See also American Apparel’s “zookeeper and animals” costumes.

There are several costumes that also juxtapose femininity with animality, sexual availability, and the desire to be consumed.  Check out sexy bacon, sexy pepperoni pizza, and sexy hamburger and hot dog:

Woman in tight fitting mini dress patterned like bacon

Woman in tight fitting mini dress patterned like pepperoni pizza

Two women in tight fitting mini dresses, one patterned like a hamburger, the other like a hot dogThese are brilliant examples of Carol Adams’s sexual politics of meat theory:  Women are animalized, animals are feminized, and living persons become dead objects.  They become fragmented pieces of flesh for those in power to pleasurably consume.  These pieces of meat are made sexy.  They want you to eat them.

In researching this article, I actually came across several “sexy” women’s costumes that sexualized non-animal food items as well.  While sexy hamburgers and hot dogs are especially problematic because they intersect sexism and speciesism, I’m not convinced that sexy corn-on-the-cob, sexy chewing gum, or sexy watermelon is much of an improvement.

Woman in tight fitting mini dress patterned like watermelonSexualized food costumes for women reinforce the notion that women are resources to be consumed.  They are non-persons, they are objects, they are here at your disposal.  At least these costumes leave Nonhuman Animals out of it, but they’re still pretty darn  problematic.

 


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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Vegan Porn is a Barrier to Egalitarianism

A new study in Psychology of Women Quarterly, reports that people who admitted to watching pornography were less likely to support affirmative action for women in a subsequent interview.  Why?

“[ . . . ] sexual media activate abstract social scripts, which may then be used to inform opinions about social issues.”

“Pornography often presents women as sexual objects deserving of degradation, and even aggression.”

“In alignment with these depictions, prior studies have found that pornography viewers are more likely to hold a variety of antisocial attitudes towards women.”

Countless studies similar to this one have supported the link between exposure to pornography and a rejection of egalitarian values.

So, my question is: Why does the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (PETAJames McWilliamsCUFA269Life, VOKRA, VGirls|VGuys, Animal Liberation Victoria, Vegan PinupLUSH, etc.) use porn?  How can “sex sell” Nonhuman Animal rights if it fosters anti-egalitarian attitudes?  If pornography fosters female objectification and degradation and aggression against women, why would we expect that reaction to magically transform to respect for other animals?  And do we not have a duty to protect the safety and dignity of the women who compromise 80% of our movement?  How can we build a strong collective if we’re giving the green light to antisocial attitudes against our largest demographic?

This post was originally published on  The Academic Abolitionist Vegan on September 16, 2013.


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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Social Movement Prostitution

Trigger Warning: Discusses prostitution and pornography.

Not Safe for Work: Contains nude images.

Nude PETA protester (white and female) stands in city street and is surrounded by menNude protest has a long history in social activism, but it is certainly gaining a lot of momentum in today’s hyper-sexualized world where pornography is mainstream and third-wave feminism prioritizes sexualization as empowerment.  Media attention is a social movement’s best asset.  It gets the organization more recognition, attracts more volunteers, and more importantly, it brings in more donations.  These days, to get media attention in a digitized, high-speed media landscape that is bombarded with trillions of competing images, some social movement organizations attempt to stand out with free soft-core porn. Free sampling is a technique heavily utilized by pornographers in a highly competitive online pornography space.  They give the consumer a little taste of the product with the expectation that the consumer will become excited and will want to purchase more.

When I set out to write this essay, I had hoped to explore social movements as a whole, but sadly, once again, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement steals the show in its problematic treatment of women.  The only other large social movement (that isn’t the nudity movement itself, where people advocate for the freedom to be naked without penalization) is the peace and anti-war movement.  Breasts Not Bombs, for instance, has female volunteers march in public spaces holding political signs.

Protesters (mostly white and middle-aged or older) holding a number of signs, predominantly a banner that reads "Breasts Not Bombs"

Then there’s Femen, a male-led feminist group of mostly white, thin young women who claim to speak on behalf of all women (and sometimes brown women in particular) by going topless in public spaces.

Four young white thin women wearing only underwear holding signs in front of the Eiffel tower, "Muslim women, let's get naked," and "I am a woman, not an object"

Aside from these exceptions, getting naked for a cause is the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s modus operandi. And, though many supporters of Nonhuman Animal rights organizations that utilize sexualization as a tactic may claim that men’s naked bodies are used, too, the overwhelming majority of sexualized bodies presented to the public are that of young, thin, white women. With 80% of the movement identifying as female, the movement’s largest volunteer pool offers to organizations a wealth of physical assets. Body parts are politicized to the exclusion of women’s intelligence, skills, creativity, dedication, or leadership ability.

Organizations like PETA take female volunteers, put them on street corners, posters, and film, and, for all intents and purposes, prostitute these unpaid women to extract funding, media attention, or other resources (incidentally PETA may be the most infamous, but it is certainly not the only organization engaging this tactic). This systemic social movement prostitution is defended in ways similar to that of typical street prostitution: women choose to do it, or she’s getting something out of it. But free choice is often an illusion. Women do not have the same choices available to them that men do. Women in Nonhuman Animal rights are being funneled into the “choice” of stripping down for the male gaze in public spaces. Do women get something out of it? Some do, particularly middle-class white women. Is nudity a bad thing? No, of course not. But we need to be cognizant of patterns and power. There is a pattern of women’s bodies being used in a world where men have the power.

PETA protest with person in fish suit holding sign that says "Fishing hurts," next to a thin white woman holding a sign that says, "Don't let your kids become hookers."

PETA sign reads, “Don’t Let Your Kids Become Hookers.”

Female activists are “selling” their bodies for resources, but none of the profit goes to these sex workers.  Instead, the money raised goes to the organizations that they represent.  If a John buys a prostituted woman for sex acts, he pays her, and more often than not, the money goes to her pimp.  If a John buys a PETA membership because of his interest in PETA’s women (see PETA’s “Veggie Love” campaign for example), the money goes to her organization.

Incidentally, there is a vegan strip club in Portland, Oregon where women are also being prostituted for “the cause.”  The male club owner insists that “throwing boobs out there” is the only way to get people to visit his restaurant and try his vegan menu.  He claims he wants to “end the suffering of all creatures,” but it seems that he and the movement ignore the fact that women are “creatures,” too. We can be certain that “throwing penises out there” would draw some attention as well, but, patriarchy ensures that it is female nudity that will expected.

Stripping, like prostitution, is sex work that often preys on vulnerable populations of women (many feminists and survivors regard “sex work” to be a euphemism; for women who are trafficked, we must recognize it as sex slavery).  It is “work” with extremely high rates of sexual assault, rape, and other forms of violence.  It is “work” that is extremely difficult for most women to make a living with and it is “work” with little job security.  Strip clubs have a strict set of rules that ensure most money stays in the hands of the male owners, not in the hands of the hard-working women.  Like prostitution, stripping is glamorized or romanticized in the liberal imagination as something freely chosen by independent women who have full control over their work and lives. Some women enjoy that kind of agency, but most women do not.

Social activism today has been swept into the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, where organizations must compete for vital fundraising in order to survive. This extreme dependence on funding means that tactics are compromised, and advocacy becomes a means of making money to sustain the organization, not changing the world. In other words, even if viewers were to begin supporting Nonhuman Animal rights organizations as a result of being exposed to these sexualized tactics (and there is no evidence to support such a notion), most of the money raised will not be used in support of anti-speciesism. Instead, most of it will be put toward keeping the lights on, paying staff members, and funding more ways to raise money.

I argue that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement squanders an important resource by degrading women’s participation to stripping and legal forms of prostitution. So much more could be accomplished by nurturing women’s brains instead of objectifying their bodies. Beyond the negative impact that these tactics are having on so many of the girls and women groomed by the movement, we also need to take into account the impact that this type of activism has on women as a demographic. The socially-accepted degradation of women and their sexual objectification is directly linked with discrimination and violence against women. This is a consequence that social justice movements should take very seriously.


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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