Donald Trump’s campaign built on hate and fear-mongering is a tactic all to familiar to vegan mobilization. This essay identifies the dangers to social justice and social movement stability that Trump veganism presents.
Reading by Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn; music by Lucas Hayes.
This is an installment of Vegan Feminist Network’s podcast series, making popular essays more accessible through audio recording. You can access the original essay by clicking here.
To the unsuspecting parents desperate to distract their children, The Lion Guard manifests itself as an effective tool.
Immediately upon hearing the show’s opening theme song, children will abandon their toys and miscellaneous devices to commit their fullest attention to Kion and his lion guard.
Conversely, perhaps it is the subtlety of the program’s most troubling themes that prevents the nostalgic parents from raising their red flags.
The Break-Down: Understanding The Lion King and its Follow-ups
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride was the seldom-heard-of sequel to The Lion King. In it, Simba had a protagonist daughter named Kiara.
As for The Lion Guard, the creators wanted to focus on the time of Kiara’s youth in the second film for the spin-off.
However, rather than providing a continuation or addendum to Kiara’s story, she was relegated to a minor role to allow her brother, Kion, (who never existed in any of The Lion King movies) to seize her spotlight as the main character.
As a sidenote, it is also interesting that Kiara is suddenly bereft of her individuality. Here, Kion flaunts the stand-out golden colors associated with Simba, whereas Kiara . . .
. . . Has lost all instances of her distinguished shading tint from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (top) and can now hardly ever be recognized amongst her fellow creamy-pelted girl friends in The Lion Guard in any lighting whatsoever (bottom).
Talking About the Main Character: When Retconning Does More Harm Than Good
This wasn’t the only change that was seen in Kiara.
In The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Kiara makes it very clear toward the end of this video that she doesn’t want to be queen!
The Lion Guard makes the mistake of depicting this Kiara as arrogant, haughty, and quite “bitchy” for being ambitious about the position she was already born into.
Kiara is happy essentially remaining home and doing nothing of importance (by apparent virtue of her off-screen “training to be queen”) while her brother becomes the outgoing hero.
This is a troubling mentality that Barnett and Rivers remark on in Same Difference:
Women’s brain structures are poorly suited for leadership . . . male brains are created for systemizing–the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system . . . Women lack the motivation for leadership . . . men are the risk takers . . . jobs are “cheerfully chosen” by women because of their preferences, motivations, and expectations . . . women are just not aggressive enough to succeed . . . In short, these commentators believe that women will never achieve as much as men . . . When men lead, all’s right with the world. When women lead, men are less manly and women are miserable. (Barnett & Rivers, 175-176)
If the “queen-in-training” title is referenced or used as a plot device during an episode, the audience can rest assured that this nagging character will not hold the spotlight, and Kion will soon appear to entertain the children with his rambunctiously boyish antics.
This is merely a coded term for “princess,” a trite title that Disney knows they have bestowed upon their female protagonists or side characters in the past.
It grants these girls the excuse to eventually become pretty ornaments or damsels to be rescued by the males, all under the false illusion that they are being just as practical as the guys.
Hyenas and Clans: What Do You Mean “Not A Patriarch?”
Furthermore, The Lion Guard is equally reluctant to depict its first villain, a spotted hyena leader named Janja, as the female he really should be.
In spotted hyena cackles or clans, there is no question about the dominance of the females, which is established the moment hyena cubs are born.
This begs a simple question: why? Why would the creators, who very obviously would have been aware of this research due to their close contact with Disney’s highly convenient Animal Kingdom, decide against this?
“Because it’s a cartoon!” Some readers may readily shout, however this isn’t an appropriate time for that excuse; one of The Lion Guard’s main goals, as their producers stated, was to teach kids about animals.
This is why they made the choice to ensure that animals aside from lions–a hippo, a honey badger, a cheetah, and even a cattle egret–were in Kion’s Lion Guard.
Despite this perfect learning opportunity to add a girl to the outnumbered female character line-up, we are instead treated to a stereotypical gangster-accented punk of a guy hyena.
In fact, he is so attuned to the Guy Code that moments of his feminization (such as a butterfly landing on his head) are occasionally used as gags. This is a character who faces frequent humiliation when he is unable to be tough and intimidating.
As the author of Guyland explains this pattern of behaviors:
Violence, or the threat of violence, is a main element of the Guy Code . . . They use violence when necessary to test and prove their manhood, and when others don’t measure up, they make them pay. (Kimmel 57)
This definitely appears to resonate with Janja, who time and time again bullies and antagonizes other animals in his all-male clan of hyenas.
Perhaps Disney’s concern was that Janja would’ve come off as a butch lesbian if allowed to be an aggressive female, given the extremely masculine and “Guy Code” nature of true female spotted hyenas.
Damsels In Distress, With Disturbing Implications
Additionally, this male aggression is repeatedly coupled by female victimization. We have a grand maximum of three recurring female characters, and all of them require rescuing: Kiara, Fuli the cheetah, and Jasiri the hyena are those damsels.
Many complained about the demonization of hyenas in the first movie, and so when a “good,” supposedly independent female hyena appeared in The Lion Guard, the feedback was generally positive!
It was so optimistic, in fact, that audiences very easily ignored that she was anything but a self-reliant female character. In the video below, Jasiri scoffs at Kion for suggesting that she might ever need his help.
Her musical number with Kion, “We’re The Same,” begins to sound void of self-awareness once it is realized that . . . They really aren’t treated the same at all, in fact.
As two separate species, they accept each other, and feasibly that is a positive message about appreciating physical differences. Even so, when comparing the sexes, an imbalance is clearly seen in favor of our male hero.
Irritating as this is, it pales in comparison to some of the perverse undertones displayed throughout these damsel cases. The collage below may help to define this persisting theme.
It is always predatory or preying groups of males that plan to abduct or ambush the girls. In each case, the girls are helplessly pinned or too are weak to defend themselves.
In the video below, Kiara is lured into the outlands where Janja’s clan awaits to attack. It’s Kion to the rescue once again, and only then does the cackle retreat.
Even this is rather subtle harassment in contrast to Fuli’s encounter with vultures, and it is worth listening to what the villains’ voice of reason says as his parliament encircles her at 1:13.
“Oh, don’t worry my dear, it will all be over soon. After all, we’re not uncivilized.”
What it sounds like is precisely what the distracted parents are likely to miss, and it’s also what the author of Guyland commentates on in uncensored detail:
Whenever men build and give allegiance to a mystical, enduring, all-male social group, the disparagement of women is, invariably, an important ingredient of the mystical bond, and sexual aggression the means by which the bond is renewed. (Kimmel 238)
It’s the sugar-coated conclusions to these twenty-minute-long episodes that obscures an otherwise precarious brand of symbolism. These are metaphors where men are carnivores and women–even if technically meat eaters in this show–are the targets of assault.
Even if one chooses to disbelieve that this is very mildly hinted rape culture slipping into children’s television, there is still something to be said about the high levels of violence toward women that are being depicted today in children’s television.
Final Thoughts and Reflection
Parents are swift to defend this show with a defensively prepared, “It’s just a cartoon, so what’s the harm? They love it, and they’re learning something from it!”
The sad truth is, they really are learning something from it; and it isn’t what we’d hope they would about animals or friendship.
They’re learning about Hollywood-contrived, exaggerated discrepancies between males and females, where few actually exist in reality.
They’re learning that they’re watching a “boy’s” show, where mainly boys get to explore.
Overall, they’re learning some concepts about general kindness and courage, but it’s a swing and a miss because gender and messages of equality all conjoin in the same ballpark.
Positive themes and morals aren’t impossible in children’s television, because dedicated shows with reasonable airing times like Gravity Falls create an entertaining space of equality without shoving ideas down the audience’s throat.
Before we begin asking kids to be friendly to each other through media, perhaps we as adults should wonder what we’re making these children think about themselves.
Barnett, Rosalind, and Rivers, Caryl. 2004. “Leading Questions.” Same Difference. New York: Basic Books.
Kimmel, Michael. 2008. “Bros Before Hos”: The Guy Code.” Guyland. New York: Harper.
Kimmel, Michael. 2008. “Predatory Sex and Party Rape.” Guyland. New York: Harper.
This essay was written and compiled by a student of Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn who wishes to remain unnamed.
In this podcast, Corey examines the personal and community grief associated with the 2016 American election. This episode also identifies a number of important parallels between Trumpism and veganism. Aggravating human inequalities in a hasty and desperate push for change is an ethical concern.
Donald Trump’s horrific rise to power was based on fear-mongering and the blatant exploitation of divisions. Millions of “forgotten” working class whites rallied behind Trump, driven by his appeals to dangerous immigrants, nasty women, and dangerous “urban” people of color. Fear, anger, and otherization both mobilized and motivated.
Disaffected vegans, mostly white and male, embrace these tactics, eager to transmit “their” vegan movement, one that prioritizes white-centric, patriarchal values and banks on the ostracization of nonwhites and women. Incidentally, such an atmosphere puts pressure on marginalized people to join ranks with the majority as a measure of protection. As many white women voted for Trump, many white women also throw their support behind these hateful vegan campaigns, happy to cash in their racial privilege and bargain with patriarchy in hopes of higher status by association.
When these tactics are criticized, their vitriolic supporters go ALL CAPS. They become aggressive and threatening, desperate to protect their privileged approach as common sense while framing their critics as anti-vegan. Anyone that finds such an approach problematic is accused of not caring about animals, or told, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” “Make veganism great again,” they seem to suggest.
“PC” culture isn’t welcome here. Neither are women, people of color, disabled persons, trans persons, and others. In fact, they are framed the bigots for daring to challenge the discriminatory status quo.
The result of anti-intersectional vegan campaigning is strikingly similar to that of Trump’s. The ranks swell with sexist, racist, blissfully ignorant, and hateful deplorables. More than tapping into and inviting in this bigotry, this framework actually aggravates it, creates it, and normalizes it. Being racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced and discriminatory is becoming an acceptable value so long as it is positioned as necessary for the protection of the oppressed.
Violence begets violence. History has shown that appealing to privilege will encourage behavior change that is unstably based on violent ideology. This violent ideology supports discriminatory actions. It further marginalizes the underprivileged. Vegans will do well to avoid taking cues from Trump’s play book. It is unsustainable and wholly incongruent with the principles of social justice.
I am further wary of post-Trump appeals to “come together” or strive for “unity.” It is akin to victim-blaming. Rape survivors hear it. Communities impacted by police violence hear it, too. Those who have been wronged by institutional oppression are not those who should be concerned with unity. They should be focused on how to strategize to survive systemic violence. Vegans betray justice by insisting all movement parties “just get along.” There is no ethical justification for supporting violence in our society or a social justice movement. Both Trump’s campaign built on hate and the vegan movement’s campaign built on hate will have deadly consequences to minorities impacted by that ideology. “Unity” rhetoric is a form of social control and protects, rather than challenges, inequality.
Dr. 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.
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.
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.
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.”
Dr. 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.
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.
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.
Dr. 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.