Pointlessly Gendering Cats and Dogs


My partner and I were shopping for a Christmas present for his dog one December (dogs love gifts, too!), and while sifting through the pet section of Aldi (a grocery chain), we noticed something strange. The holiday gift packs for dogs were tagged as male, while the cat packs were coded female.

According to Armitage Pet Care (“The largest independent manufacturer and distributor of branded pet accessories and treats in the UK”), kitty treats are for “good girls” and doggy treats are for “good boys.” The design colors and animal caricatures used in the packaging appear to be neutral, but the labels are unnecessarily gendered.

Upon further investigation, I found that this gendering process extends beyond Santa’s workshop: “Good Boy” applies to Armitage’s entire line of canine treats, and “Good Girl” refers to its line of feline treats. What is more, this gender assignment is presumed to be implicit. The company website does not bother to clarify which product line refers to which species; it is simply taken for granted that visitors will know that dogs are “good boys” and cats are “good girls” (see below).

Sociologists have noted that humans transfer their gender role expectations onto nonhumans. Dogs tend to be masculinized; cats tend to be feminized. Regardless of the animal’s actual sex, they will be socialized in accordance with the gender of their guardian.

My brother’s pit bull is female, for example, but she plays rough and rowdy. This is because my brother, male-identified, has socialized her as an extension of his own gender expression. Gender is not genetic or instinctual: it is taught and learned. Her behavior cannot be attributed to her breed, as other pit bulls can be very quiet and gentle.

When the sex of an animal aligns with the gender of their guardian as well as the guardian’s gender role projections, this effect amplifies. Consider, for instance, that many men are hesitant to have their male companion animals spayed for fear of emasculating them (a serious problem given the high death rates in kill shelters for discarded and homeless animals). Gender may be socially constructed, but its consequences are real indeed.

Sociologist Lisa Wade regularly deconstructs “unnecessarily” or “pointlessly” gendered cultural artifacts on Sociological Images and its corresponding Pinterest page to demonstrate how powerfully gender shapes the social imagination. To be clear, gendering products is not truly “pointless.” This behavior has a very intentional social purpose: to maintain and reproduce difference (which, in turn, maintains and reproduces social inequality). Nonhuman bodies are often politicized in the process, acting as representations of human stratification.

In many cases, the aggravation of these differences is agential because it also serves to increase consumption. A heterosexual, cis-gender couple can’t just share body wash, for instance. He has to have the forest-scented, icy blast, utilitarian soap in the black bottle labeled “For men;” she has to have the pastel mango passion meadow sparkle soap in the flowery bottle.

The difference enforced by gender is disproportionate in impact as well. Female consumers must fork up extra cash for the pink tax, as women’s products cost more than equivalent products for men. As sociologists understand the economic sphere to be the origin of social structure (and inequality), gender becomes another means for the market to encroach into the private sphere.

Now dogs and cats are being roped into the profit-oriented gender machine as well.

My cats do not care either way if they are a good “boy” or “girl” as long as yummy things are in the packet. My partner’s dog definitely doesn’t care if he is a good “doggy” or a good “kitty” either, and would gladly chomp down on anything and everything in the “Good Girl Christmas Cat Stocking.”

Sorry Armitage, but we’re not buying it. We settled on a chew toy.

 

References

Adams, C. and J. Donovan. 1995. Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ramirez, M. 2006. “‘My Dog’s Just Like Me’: Dog Ownership as a Gender Display.” Symbolic Interaction 29 (3): 373-391.

 

This essay first appeared on Human-Animal Studies Images, a production of the Animals & Society Institute on January 15, 2015. 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, 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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In a Sexist World, a Horse’s Company is an Escape

horses-running

Many people go through a traumatic experience at least once in their life and they may also go through times where things get very hard. We are told that this is life and that life is supposed to be hard, but is it really supposed to be this difficult? Being a woman in a male dominated business is very difficult and often very stressful for me even though I am still in school. I choose a major and a career path that is heavily dominated by men, but women are slowly breaking down the barrier.

There have been many times where I feel like I’m being talked down to at work or I’m being talked to only because of my relationship with someone who is big at this company. There have been times where my boss and other co-workers have given me an extremely easy assignment because I am a woman but on the contrary, they have also given me nearly impossible assignments to make me feel like I can’t complete it. There are days where I feel like I should give up on my career choice to be an accountant and to pick something that is more welcoming to woman, but the only thing that stops me from changing my life is the company of my horses.

When people typically have a bad day at work they go home and relax on the couch; or they can go pay a therapist to listen to them talk about their day. When I have a bad day, I go to the horse farm to destress with the company of my horses. There is something about a horse that is relaxing to a person and can make their bad day turn into something positive by just being around a horse. I often get called the “crazy” horse girl by my friends, but anyone who has ever been around a horse before knows exactly what I am talking about.

horse-running
Some people would argue that the reason for having animals, such as horses is to use them for a specific purpose such as providing labor or transportation. Another thought is that we as humans exploit animals for our gain and we do so by using force (Luke 1996). While these things are sadly true, this is not the relationship that I have with my two horses. My horses get to enjoy being outside with other horses eating grass all day. They occasionally get brushed and then I give them their cookies, which they happen to love. My horses are not pets to me, they are my family and I need them in my life. I have a mutual relationship with my horses as they trust that I won’t let them get hurt and I trust that they won’t hurt me.

The relationship between a horse and a person is a powerful one that can help a person who has been struggling with personal difficulties. I have had my fair share of personal difficulties in my 21 years of life. I have never had anything extremely traumatic happen in my life but I have had things that have messed with my head before happen to me. Although I have lived a very good childhood, a few things recently hurt me and the only way I could cope with the issues that I was facing was by going to see my horses. Even if I could stop by for a couple of minutes to give them some treats I would because their presence helped to calm me down.

The recent issue that has been bothering me is that after 21 years of what I thought was a happy marriage, my parents announced to my siblings and I that they were in the process of getting a divorce (right before the holidays). I felt that my whole childhood and my life was a complete lie because they said that they have been having issues for years. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, not my mom, my dad, or even my two siblings. I would get angry and get loud, but then I would immediately start crying afterwards because the only life I knew was crashing down out a nowhere.

I never thought that I would be a result of divorced parents, even though the United States is #3 in divorce rates. To be honest, none of the divorce risk factors have affected my parents as they were in their late twenties when they got married, so they didn’t get married young, and neither one of them have divorced parents. They also knew each other for a while before they got married. Divorce seems to affect women more than the men because the women are typically older women, who are housewives or have been housewives for many years and are reentering the labor force after a long absence. Although divorce has become more common and more acceptable over the years in the United States, it is still shocking to me that this is happening.

My escape from the things that were happening in my life was my horses and just being around them helped. They are both complete opposites in personality and in appearance. Marshall is a big bay, with a gorgeous glistening coat, whereas Yankee is of a shorter and stockier build, who is grey (white) with flea-bitten spots, which look like brown freckles all over his body. Yankee will stand over me if I’m sitting in the grass crying as to almost be the therapist that listens to my problems, but obviously cannot give any input. Marshall is the horse that gets my mind off things because he is goofy and will head butt me if I’m trying to hug him to try to cheer me up.

horse-and-woman

Some people don’t believe that animals know when something is wrong, but I can say that my horses know when something isn’t right; it’s like animals have a sixth sense. If you ever need to get your mind off things or need a break from reality, see if you could go to a local barn to just be around the horses. There are even non-profit programs geared towards helping disabled people and veterans with PTSD. So, if a therapist isn’t in the cards, go pet a horse, I promise it will make you feel much happier.

References:
Brian Luke. 2007. Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals. UI Press.
 


rebeccaRebecca Hila is currently a junior at Monmouth University. She is majoring in Business with a concentration in Accounting and a minor in Criminal Justice. She has been an avid animal and horse lover since she was a little girl. Although she spends a lot of time indoors due to her choice of study, she loves spending as must time outside as she can especially in the spring and fall.

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Dove “Real Beauty” is a Real Nightmare for Animals

Dove Real Beauty Veganism
Palm oil is produced by extremely exploited, practically enslaved humans in developing countries. Production is also extremely destructive to the environment, and orangutan populations, in particular, have been hit hard.  Many Nonhuman Animal rights activists have stopped consuming palm oil and have urged vegan companies to switch out the offending ingredient.

Recently feminists have joined the dialogue as well with parallel campaigns against palm oil. Unfortunately, their claimsmaking tends to overlook the intersectional nature of this social problem as their efforts tend to focus on nonvegan products. Without vegan praxis, feminism undermines itself.

orangutan-orphan-palm-oil

Organizations such as Fem2pt0, for instance, have targeted Dove (a product of Unilever) insisting that the soap brand to go “slavery-free” and drop the problematically-sourced palm oil.  Yet, even with the most ethically produced palm oil, forced labor remains fundamental to Dove products.

Most name brand soaps available in major supermarkets rely on the oppression of vulnerable Nonhuman Animals. Unless the soap is specifically marked vegan or vegetable-sourced, chances are very good that the soap is composed of slaughterhouse renderings. That is, one of the main ingredients in Dove is the body tissues of Nonhuman Animals. These “ingredients” never gave consent, never received compensation, and ultimately lost their lives in the exchange. This violence should be identified within the feminist critique of Unilever and similar corporations, but, unfortunately, it is not.

Consider also that Unilever, like many name brand cosmetic companies, is a company that tests on Nonhuman Animals.  Unilever claims to be moving away from vivisection, but it continues to test nonetheless.  Nonhuman Animals are tortured with abrasions and blinding with the chemicals and detergents found in nonvegan soaps.  Many companies hold trials in which animals are force-fed ingredients until at least half of the sample population dies to determine toxicity.  Dove soap is always sourced from oppression, torture, and death, palm oil or no. These products are made of the bodies of the nonconsenting, from the products of the nonconsenting, and are tested on the bodies of the nonconsenting.

Dove has a weak record in demonstrating its concern for the suffering of others. Remember the feminist Facebook protest of May 2013?  Because Facebook was unresponsive to the rampant misogyny and violence against women and girls promoted throughout the platform, feminists began to pressure its advertisers instead.  Many companies quickly pulled out, but Dove stubbornly remained with Facebook.  Neither has Dove been popular with feminists with its shallow representation of women’s self-acceptance in the “real beauty” advertisements. Everyone is beautiful to Dove, but not quite beautiful enough to forgo its beauty products.

Dove ad featuring seven women in their underwear happy and posing

Ethical consumption is, in other words, far from simplistic and many angles must be examined. For those feminists who are concerned about the suffering of others who are commodified in the products we consume, it is necessary to consider veganism.

Step one? Go vegan and dump Dove; switch to vegan brands.  Affordable vegetable glycerin soaps are available in most supermarkets, and countless vegan companies offer amazing upscale soaps and body washes as well. Just steer clear of LUSH, it has a history of exploiting women and perpetuating rape culture.

 


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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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.

whyveganism.com

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.

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The Urgency Of Activism: Friend or Foe of Progress?

Not Safe for Work: Contains Coarse Language

Minks in cage

By Michele Kaplan

One thing the Animal Rights movement is not short on is statistics. We have stats so exact, we have what is called “kill counters”, that tell you exactly how many marine animals, chickens, ducks, pigs, rabbits, turkeys, geese, sheep, goats, cows (and calves), rodents, pigeons (and other birds), buffalo, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys (and mules) and even camels have been killed, within seconds that it took to view a page on the internet.

And as we watch the numbers on the counter rapidly increase, taking less than a minute till the numbers are in the thousands (for many animals), what is the animal rights activist to do with that information?

Does one nod soberly, acknowledge the truth, and say something like “there is much work to be done. We keep fighting.”

Or does one intensely focus on the staggering statistics, the numbers that just … keep… rising, and say “There is no time to waste! The animals need us now!!!” This is The Urgency, (the activist panic) that if one is not careful, can swallow you whole.

And while The Urgency says “do… something! Hurry up! Go! Go! Go!!”, is the default answer to take immediate action? Can we remain mindful and aware that because we are in a state of urgency, that it is very much possible that it’s clouding our judgment, as to what constitutes as a good idea for the cause?

After all, when we are in a state of panic (activist or otherwise), often the dominant motivation is a strong desire to experience catharsis, to get relief from said emotion (whether we are conscious of that or not). This is not to say that an action can not be both cathartic and effective, this is to say that just because it feels good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are reaching beyond the choir.

Is it possible to be mindful in a state of urgency, that we can either tell someone “Fuck you!” or we can try to educate them, reach out, but that we can’t do both? That as activists we have to decide what we want to accomplish and ask ourselves : will this action, will this behavior, will these words work towards or against the goal? We all want to say “Fuck you!” sometimes, but what happens when we mistake this for effective activism? #KnowTheDifference

Can we, in our state of urgency, remain aware of triggering language? Can we remain aware that, yes while “holocaust” is defined as “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”, and thus when we use it to describe the animal agriculture industry, we are using it in an accurate fashion, but it’s what the word is commonly associated with (the slaughter of humans on a mass scale), that will matter more in our outreach related conversations?

Can we be aware that having the truth is not enough? Can we be aware of vegan consciousness (and the varying levels of), and that it is simply not always realistic to expect nor demand instant vegan consciousness (that matches our own), knowing that the unlearning of deep rooted speciesism is a process, not a moment. Can we remember in a state of urgency, that unless we were born vegan, there was a time when we didn’t get it either?

Or in our state of urgency, is there no time to be aware of such things? And if that is the case, what exactly are we doing? Are we really helping the animals or are we just yelling “Fuck you”?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was written with no intention to disparage or attack anyone in the community. The article was also written with no intention to put down anxiety or suggest that an anxious state is an inferior state. It is not. There is no inferior or superior emotional state and as with all emotional states, it is to our benefit (when possible) to be aware of how it may be influencing our thought process. This article is also not suggesting that the activist should be perfect at all times. No one is, as perfection does not exist. The only reason I am able to write about The Urgency (aka: the activist panic) in such detail, is because I have often experienced it myself in my own activism, and it is only when I stopped to examine my own behavior, and questioned what was I really accomplishing, was when I realized how The Urgency can impact one’s judgment, despite having good intentions. The article is also not written with the intention of telling anyone how to do vegan activism. It is merely asking questions for discussion. I still struggle at times, with how to reach beyond the choir, but I have learned that activism without self care is just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “The Urgency” is frequently used to divert from pro-intersectional, critical thinking in advocacy spaces. It is also highly gendered in its expectation that women must put others first, thus shaming them for considering how urgency-based tactics could be hurtful to other women. Read more in the essay, “What Are You Doing to Help Animals Right NOW?” hosted on Coreyleewrenn.com.

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on April 4, 2016.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

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