The Vegan Experience for Older Women

In a publication authored with my colleague Alexus Lizardi, Older, Greener, and Wiser: Charting the Experiences of Older Women in the American Vegan Movement, we offer the first exploratory research on an underserved demographic: older vegan women. Minimal data is available on this group–most of it is relegated to subscriber feedback reported by The Vegan Society. 

Interestingly, our sample had not put much thought into what it means to be older and vegan. Some noted that they were aware of how older vegans are objectified in the movement if they were seen to “age well.” In other words, age is leveraged to promote veganism as a means to beat aging. For the average person who ages normally, they may find themselves invisibilized. Indeed, the vegan and vegetarian movement has actively dismissed key leaders thought to sully the movement with their prolonged illness and premature death (like founder of the American Vegan Society Sylvester Graham and founder of the British Vegetarian Society William Cowherd). 

Otherwise, our respondents noted that being older granted them a degree of confidence in their political choices. This is an important finding given the movement’s focus on young people and its concern with recidivism (many young people will revert to nonveganism should they lack social supports). Older people are more resolved in their decisions and are less swayed by social pressures. 

This could sometimes backfire. A few of our respondents felt they were rather isolated given their hesitancy to associate with non-vegans who they felt were hostile to their lifestyle. Older folks in general risk isolation as they age, leading us to consider whether older vegans were doubly burdened in this respect.

Some respondents also expressed concern with accessing medical professionals who took veganism seriously. As many of our participants were middle-class and living in the New York area, they were relatively privileged in this respect, but it was clear that more marginalized older vegans could find difficulty in this regard.

Lastly, many of our respondents noted that their gender definitely informed their veganism. They reported being compelled by the horrors of dairy production, something they could empathize with given their own reproductive journeys as female-bodied persons. We consider whether this awareness is due to the popularity of Carol Adams’ vegan feminist work in the movement. It is likely that greater acknowledgement of aging issues in the vegan community might increase activist consciousness to the unique challenges facing older folks in a relatively ageist society.

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 is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, 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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“Sexy at 70” and “Grumpy Old Vegans”: Ageist Stereotypes in the Vegan Movement

By Dr. C. Michele Martindill

“Ageism? Who cares about old people anyway? I volunteer with a group of white women over the age of 50. They are so behind the times and not helpful at all,” said a vegan.

“Why was it important for you to mention their age or gender?”

“Um…I don’t know.”

Vegans seem to at least recognize the words racism, sexism, classism, ableism and speciesism, but ageism is consistently left off that list of oppressions. Erasure. Silencing. Stereotyping older people as useless, past their prime, set in their ways and not able to contribute to the vegan movement. As one vegan once posted on Facebook, “Taking a stand against ageism feels too much like a single issue campaign, not really worth the effort. People need to just go vegan.” Really? Ageism is just a single issue campaign?

PETA ad featuring Pamela Anderson posing in a bikini with her body marked with meat cut names. Reads: "All animals have the same part"

PeTA is well known for its sexist advertising campaigns involving young women who pose partially or completely nude in an effort to get the public to stop eating or otherwise harming animals, e.g. celebrity Pamela Anderson posed in an almost non-existent bikini with her body marked off in the same way a butcher marks off the body parts of a cow—just to make the point that “All Animals Have the Same Parts.” Few would be surprised to learn that particular ad was banned in Montreal, Canada over the blatant sexism (Cavanagh, 2010), but how many people are aware that PeTA sponsors a Sexiest Vegan Over 50 contest? Judging is based on the entrant’s enthusiasm for their vegan lifestyle and “PeTA’s assessment of your physical attractiveness (PeTA, 2014).” Through a contest that objectifies women aged 50 and older, the public learns that a vegan lifestyle and diet should lead to what really matters in life—physical attractiveness. As if women don’t face enough pressure when they’re young to conform to standards of beauty created and institutionalized by men, they now have to face those same sexist standards as they age.

Actual avatar for Grumpy Old Vegans as described in text.

Of course, there are other stereotypes of older women in the animal rights movement. The Grumpy Old Vegans (GOV) Facebook page continues to use an avatar or logo depicting an older man and older woman with pronounced wrinkles, unfashionable clothing, grey hair, sour expressions and the woman is wearing pearl jewelry, a most un-vegan adornment (Grumpy Old Vegans, 2015). The representation of this pair as perpetually grumpy serves to stereotype older people, women in particular, as crotchety and is a form of ageism. While there is little doubt that if the GOV Facebook page used a logo featuring a couple in blackface or Native Americans as r-skins there would be a great public outcry, to date few have spoken up against the ageism of the wrinkle-bound couple logo.

Considering that vegans claim veganism is against all oppression, it is distressing to see them rank order which oppressions matter the most and which ones don’t even make the list, namely ageism. At the very least a definition of ageism is needed, explaining why and how it affects women more than men. Ageist stereotypes of older women affect the way they are stigmatized and contribute to their erasure from public concern. It is also important to explore how it is that men in leadership roles of the vegan animal rights movement can be so dismissive of older voices, particularly the voices of women.

AGEISM: The definition of ageism is straightforward–it is discrimination and prejudice against people based on their age, and is directed toward the very young as well as those who are considered old or elderly. Ageism is structural or systemic in our social world, meaning people learn it and enact it through social institutions, language, and organizations. People often don’t notice when they’re socially reproducing ageism, e.g. it is commonplace when someone forgets where they put something to say they’re having a senior moment, as if aging is universally defined by memory loss. Ageism is a relationship of power in that the dominant group in society uses ageism to oppress, exploit and silence those who are very young or much older. Just as the vegan animal rights movement stands against racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and speciesism, it stands against ageism—or at least some movement members claim it does. That remains to be seen.

STEREOTYPING: The tools of ageism are stereotyping and attaching stigmas to older people. Stereotypes are overly simple, fixed, rigid or exaggerated beliefs about an entire group or population of people. Stereotypes can lead to and be used to justify prejudice and discrimination. Aging women experience stereotyping more than men. Their bodies are criticized based on wrinkles, weight, hair color, posture, incontinence and overall loss of beauty; men may be similarly criticized, but are most likely regarded as distinguished in their later years and have the social capital—kinship, friendships, co-workers—to slough off negative stereotypes. Some of the most often used stereotypes of older people include:

1) All old people get sick and have disabilities, including hearing loss, urinary incontinence and blindness.
2) Old people are incapable of learning anything new; they are set in their ways.
3) Old women are a burden on everyone.
4) “Old people are grouchy and cantankerous.” (The Senior Citizen Times, 2011)

These and other stereotypes are communicated in multiple ways throughout the vegan animal rights movement. In a recent Facebook discussion of how PeTA uses young blonde white women in their advertising campaigns several women pointed out the sexism and racism of such a tactic. None mentioned ageism. One man stepped in to ‘mansplain’ and defend PeTA:

Humans are sexual beings and there’s nothing wrong with that. This doesn’t degrade women the same way half-naked male models don’t degrade men. It just looks like you’re actively looking for sexism, racism, or some sort of discrimination in an effort to be politically correct. I don’t think that’s a good approach. (Toronto Vegetarian Association, 2015)

When told by a woman that it degrades women to be reduced to the sum of their body parts and that they are only heard if they are considered sexy, this same man responded:

How exactly does it suggest that being sexy is the only way people will hear you if you’re a woman? That’s just ridiculous. People listen to not attractive people. Look at Hilary Clinton for godsake. [Emphasis added] That’s just a weird argument with no validity. I’ve never seen someone turn down a conversation with a woman based on their attractiveness.

How exactly does looking at and LIKING someone’s body disrespecting them? It seems like YOU are the one degrading women here. And it’s funny – aren’t feminists about women having freedom to wear what they want without being judged? Double standard much?

Oh my. If it’s not degrading to use half-naked men in advertising, then it’s okay to use half-naked women? What this man does not understand is how men have the power to deflect attempts at objectification. Women do not, not at any age. Please note there’s no mention of ageism in his reasoning, but Hilary Clinton, current presidential candidate in the United States, is held up as an example of “not attractive people” who can still get attention. Furthermore, this man calls out the women in the conversation for being bad feminists since they failed to support his admiration for attractive young women. The explicit ageism in this conversation was never mentioned, and it served to socially reproduce acceptance of ageism, acceptance of making disparaging remarks about women based on their age and appearance.

Clinton Sexism Ageism

STIGMA: Stereotypes lead to stigmas. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1922-1982) defined stigma as society attaching an undesirable attribute to an individual and then reacting negatively to that individual in such a way as to rob them of their identity, their ability to function or fully participate in society (Link & Phelan). In our social world, age is seen as an undesirable physical attribute, a stigma that is attached to women through man dominated ideologies which favor younger women for their sexualized bodies. Whenever a person or group displays a stereotypical representation of women as wrinkled, grouchy, or set in their ways, they contribute to the stigma of aging and socially reproduce ageism.

Criticism of a stereotypical ageist logo on the GOV Facebook page was met with dismissiveness on the grounds that people have a right to identify themselves as old and grumpy, and then the author, who was a man, made an ad hominem attack on the person who challenged his group:

…if you truly believe that people who identify themselves as old, grumpy and vegan and run a page with that title, using caricatures to represent themselves, are ageist for those reasons alone then your thinking is as muddled as that of those who made the allegation originally.

The man continued to defend his group’s ageist logo by dismissing sociological research and by stating that since the majority of the group “liked” it on Facebook, the logo could not possibly be ageist:

sociology is not an exact science. For that reason, it would be foolish to regard every utterance from sociologists as gospel. The rebuttal of this allegation issued on the page was ‘liked’ by a large number of people, many of whom expressed appreciation for a page they identified with, as they often felt invisible in a movement that celebrates youth. There were no adverse comments. In short, there is no substantive evidence to support the allegation.

What some vegans fail to see is how their actions affect others outside of the group. A logo or mascot is not ageist based on the vote of a membership who benefit from the stereotyping; ageism is grounded in any action that stigmatizes people based on their age.

Kyriarchal or Interactive Systems of Oppression: Kyriarchal social justice addresses all forms of oppression—racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ableism, and speciesism—and focuses on the dynamics of how these systems are interactive, crisscrossing and layered oppressions in the lives of individuals and groups (see below for a definition of kyriarchy—what was formerly referred to as intersectional). All oppressions are socially reproduced and linked by social institutions, through the economic, medical, legal, educational, religious and any other type of social institutions people navigate on a daily basis.

Too often when women in the vegan animal rights movement point out institutional ageism they are told by movement leaders that drawing attention to oppressions such as ageism is wrong, that kyriarchal social justice means we should just get along and go vegan for the animals because ending speciesism is all that matters. These vegans seem fine with claiming they care about humans and readily assert they are opposed in a general sense to things like racism, but they rank order oppressions and try to cherry pick the oppressions that matter most to them, leaving the rest to sit unnoticed. Why? In part they fear doing harm to the vegan animal rights movement and its organizations; they fear attention will be drawn away from ending speciesism or that outsiders will not join the movement if they have to stand against all oppressions. It is also difficult for the movement to envision how to address kyriarchal social justice when most of the leaders are men and eighty percent of the followers are women, when most of the membership is white, cis-gendered, young, without disabilities and not living in poverty. By not addressing ageism vegans socially reproduce and reify the stereotypes and stigmas associated with aging in our society.

AGEISM DOES REAL HARM: What harm is there in ignoring ageism? Plenty. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Southern California found that negative stereotypes about aging can potentially impair the memory of older people. “The study found that a group of older people asked to perform memory tests after reading fictitious articles about age-related memory problems did less well than a group given articles on preservation of and improvement in memory with age (Shuttleworth, 2013).” The older people who experienced memory loss fell victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy and the cliché of older people losing cognitive function just because they are old.

Older Laotian women sewing rugs for market

In addition, stereotypes keep people from seeing the realities of aging; they erase and marginalize older voices. Telling older people—especially women—to just go vegan will not address the financial problems faced by an aging population. Older women are at particular risk to be living in poverty. A report from 2012 based on US Census Bureau data reveals that over half of elder-only households lack the financial resources to pay for basic needs. Sixty percent of women aged 65 and older who live alone or with a marriage partner cannot meet day-to-day expenses. Women of retirement age are hit particularly hard by economic insecurity. Their pensions are smaller than those of men, they own fewer assets, and lack the education and job skills needed for post-retirement employment. Some of this economic disparity is the result of women leaving their careers to care for families and for their own elderly parents, and thereby losing opportunities for promotions as well as building up Social Security income. Also, women outlive men, leaving them alone with a single income and having to exhaust assets just to have shelter and food (Wider Opportunites for Women, 2012).

Older women of color are more likely than white women to have sufficient retirement incomes. Almost 50% of white women have insufficient retirement incomes to afford daily needs, while nearly 75% of Black women, 61% of Asian women and 75% of “Hispanic” (see US Census Bureau definition of Hispanic below) women were in households that could not afford basic expenses—even with Social Security income and Medicare coverage (Wider Opportunities for Women, 2012). Vegans who stereotype and stigmatize older women as self-sufficient and out of touch with animal rights might want to consider how these women have more pressing concerns in their lives, e.g. how they will make the next rent payment or pay the heating bill. Keep in mind, too, these numbers do not take into account those who are homeless or who live in elder care of some sort.

Cost of aging

STOP AGEISM in the VEGAN MOVEMENT: All vegans can work to eliminate ageism and extend empathic understanding to older people by considering how clichés and gaslighting—silencing someone with a barrage of questions and attacks—frame interactions with older people. Following are ten of the most often repeated ageist clichés found throughout the vegan animal rights movement and in vegan Facebook discussion threads:

1. “I feel old, so I know what you’re feeling even though I’m not really old myself.”
No, you don’t know what it means to feel old. You haven’t experienced it. Just as a white person has no way of knowing what it feels like to be Black, young people come across as dismissive and patronizing when they pretend to know how it feels like to be old.
2. “Age is just a number” or “You’re only as old as you feel.”
Condescending! Implicit in these statements is the view that young is better than old, so just don’t look at the number.
3. “I’m having a senior moment.”
This cliché is most often uttered when someone wants to explain a mental lapse of some kind or a moment of forgetfulness, and it stereotypes “seniors” as having diminished mental capacities. It’s not only ageist, but ableist!
4. “Ageism feels like a single issue campaign (SIC). Let’s keep the focus on the animals.”
Veganism is an effort to end the exploitation of all animals, including humans. Ageism in its many forms is exploitation. It misrepresents veganism to deny ageism exists or that its effects are harmless.
5. “I’m not ageist! You’re the one being ageist by bringing it up!!”
Here’s an example of reverse ageism. There is no such thing as reverse ageism, just as there is no such thing reverse racism. Only the group holding power can inflict oppression.
6. “I’m old, so I can say what I want about old people.”
Yes, old people can discuss aging in ways young people can’t, but remember disparaging remarks and stereotypes hurt ALL old people. Think about the big picture!!
7. “Jokes about aging are culturally relative. We poke fun at old people in the United Kingdom.” OR “Lighten up! Get over yourself!”
If a vegan anywhere in the world knows their words or actions will hurt others by contributing to ageism or any other oppression, then they can’t use cultural relativism as an excuse for their disrespectful behavior. It’s that simple.
8. “Old people discriminate against young people, so why can’t we make fun of old people?”
Yes, some older persons may be prejudiced against young people or discriminate against them, but stereotypes don’t stick to young people, don’t leave young people marginalized because of their age.
9. “You look like my grandma.”
While most likely meant as a compliment, these words stereotype women as being primarily in nurturing roles, especially later in their lives.
10. “The older generation let us down on social justice issues, so why should we care about them?”
Stop blaming the victims!!

Older man cuddling catIn a cis-gendered white man dominated society ageism is used to silence older women. It’s a continuation of the objectification that starts early in the life of every woman. Older women are regarded as the sum of their body parts, parts that are stereotypically seen as wrinkled, sagging, graying and useless. Men dismiss the educational achievements and work of older women as a means of devaluing the contributions they make. The vegan animal rights movement has yet to acknowledge ageism or speak out against it. Instead, the older women who are in the movement support its man dominated leadership, both denying ageism exists and acting as apologists for the leadership. They tell those who mention ageism to not take themselves so seriously. Ageism is not a joke to be laughed off and forgotten. Vegans seem to at least recognize the words racism, sexism, classism, ableism and speciesism, but ageism is consistently left off that list of oppressions. At best, it is seen as a single issue campaign within the vegan movement, an object for disdain that distracts from the mission of saving other animals. Mark these words: The vegan social movement will not survive as long as it practices oppression against one group in order to elevate the needs of another group.


1 Kyriarchy is used in this essay to refer to networks or systems of interactive oppressions. The word emerged from the work of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. It is taken from the Greek kyrios, meaning lord or master, and archo, meaning to govern. It is considered a more inclusive and expansive term than patriarchy.

2 The use of “Hispanic” in this reference is based on the US Census Bureau definition: “People who identify with the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the decennial census questionnaire and various Census Bureau survey questionnaires – “Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano” or ”Puerto Rican” or “Cuban” – as well as those who indicate that they are “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.” While it is not an optimal definition, it was all that was available for this data set. Much work needs to be done in defining and mapping the use of such categories.

Cavanagh, K. (2010, July 15). Pamela Anderson’s sexy body-baring PETA ad gets banned in Canada. Retrieved from NY Daily News:

Grumpy Old Vegans. (2015, May 12). Grumpy Old Vegans. Retrieved from Facebook:

Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (n.d.). On Stigma and its Public Health Implications. Retrieved from

PeTA. (2014). PeTA’s 2014 Sexiest Vegan Over 50 Contest. Retrieved from PeTA Prime:

Shuttleworth, A. (2013, July 8). Are negative stereotypes about older people bad for their health? Retrieved from

The Senior Citizen Times. (2011, November 23). Top 20 stereotypes of older people. Retrieved from The Senior Citizen Times:

Toronto Vegetarian Association. (2015, April). Toronto Vegetarian Association. Retrieved from Facebook:

Wider Opportunities for Women. (2012). Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans.

Wider Opportunities for Women. (2012). Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans.


Michele Spino MartindillDr. Martindill earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri and taught there in the Sociology Department, the Peace Studies Program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Her areas of emphasis include political sociology, organizations and work, and social inequalities. Dr. Martindill’s dissertation focuses on the no-kill shelter social movement and is based on ethnographic research conducted during several years of working in an animal shelter. She is vegan, a feminist and is currently interested in the stories women tell through their needlework, including crochet, counted cross stitch and quilting. It is important to note that Dr. Martindill consistently uses her academic title in order to inspire women and members of other marginalized groups to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges those dreams may entail, and certainly one of her goals is to see more women in academia.

An Overlooked Intersection: Ageism, Sexism and the Animal Rights Movement

Older woman hugging black lab

Author: C. Michele Martindill

Within the animal rights movement there is some understanding that vegans have a responsibility to lead by example in stopping the oppression and exploitation of animals. A meme recently making the rounds of various Facebook pages is a call to positive action and leadership for all vegans:

“As vegans, we must lead the way in ending animal use, and so we must be committed to ending it. This means that we must reject exploitation and commodification of nonhumans in all its forms. We ought never seek to regulate or perpetuate that which we want to end. Don’t participate in nonveganism by endorsing it. Unequivocally embrace veganism and educate others to it.”

Image of the meme discussed. Pictures a mountainscape in the night with a bright star in the sky.

The message is clear. In order to end the use of animals vegans have to completely stop all use of animals and not settle for merely regulating the use of animals. Laws that try to make slaughterhouses more humane or stores that sell so-called happy meat still treat animals as products and insure their continued suffering, although the humans who consume these animals are lead to believe life is better for all concerned. The part of the message in the aforementioned meme that makes no sense in terms of veganism is the last sentence, the admonition to not equivocate in accepting veganism and to get others to learn about veganism. Why then does the organization responsible for this meme have a name and logo that reflect ageism and sexism? How can the animal rights movement consider itself inclusive of all members of society as long as any group openly stereotypes, objectifies and commodifies older people, specifically older women? If veganism is defined by a “rejection of exploitation of nonhumans in all its forms” then it’s time for vegans to realize the same call to social justice must be extended to all marginalized groups. Vegans do not get to exploit one group as a means to end the exploitation of another group.

It is unfortunate when any group within the animal rights movement fails to think reflexively or critically about its role in the oppression of others. Most of the time these groups do good work on behalf of all animals and do express a desire to be inclusive in their membership, especially in terms of accepting people of all races, genders, ages, physical abilities and social classes. Still, the group Grumpy Old Vegans remains defensive over its name and logo. The group used to be named Grumpy Old Vegan (GOV) and was the brainchild of a man who quickly drew well over a thousand Facebook followers to his animal rights group, a group that focuses on abolitionist veganism. Dating back to the launch of the group, the membership has been mainly comprised of women. When GOV was approached about the exclusion of women in the leadership of the group, the name of the group became Grumpy Old Vegans, with the addition of an ‘s’ to the name which implied the leadership was not just that of one man. To further deflect criticism of sexism within GOV the logo of the group went from being a caricature of just an older man to a caricature of both an older man and an older woman. The caricatures add to the ageism by depicting the man and woman as having oversized ears and noses, toothless and pinched oversized frowns, deep and exaggerated wrinkles, baldness for the man and gray hair in an outdated style for the woman. The overall message conveyed by the name of the group and logo is that old people are always grumpy, wrinkled, toothless, and possess oversized facial features. In short, they should be dismissed as nothing more than a joke. It’s too bad the GOV group members do not see how deeply their ageism cuts.

Actual avatar for Grumpy Old Vegans as described in text.

It should be noted that the GOV group has dismissed these concerns about ageism with a litany of clichés, claiming that anyone finding ageism in their name or logo “clearly has too much time on their hands,” and that they, too, are aged fifty or older and don’t see a problem with the caricatures. One person even mentioned how the logo makes the group seem fun, a place for jokes. Others added that all that really matters are “the animals.” Not one single person tried to understand ageism or see how even if they felt fine with the name and logo, others might not feel the same way. Empathic understanding or sensitivity to the perspectives of others was nowhere to be found. Certainly if the name of the group had been Grumpy Old Women, Grumpy Old Indians or Grumpy Old Blacks, and had the logo featured caricatures of women, Native Americans or Persons of Color that stereotyped their appearance, this essay would not be necessary because most vegans know it is inappropriate to stereotype marginalized groups; nor would we need to define sexism and racism in relation to those caricatures or the resulting effects on the animal rights movement—those definitions are known and discussed throughout the movement. Now it’s time to recognize ageism, what constitutes an ageist stereotype and the consequences of exploiting older people with oppressive imagery.

Collection of racist Native American sports mascots

Stereotyping iconography is known to incite racist attitudes as well. The popularity of redface sports imagery has necessitated heavy campaigning by Native American activists and their allies.

Ageism refers to the discrimination and stereotyping of people based on the number of years they have spent on earth, their appearance, and the perception they have diminished physical and mental capacities. Ageism is a form of oppression and exploitation, and it mainly involves ignoring older people or silencing their voices in order for younger people to assert their positions of power and privilege. On occasion the very young can experience ageism when their lives and opinions are devalued solely based on their age; however, this essay addresses ageism directed toward people over the age of fifty, those who, as economist Joanna N. Lahey (Lahey, 2006) (Barnett, 2005) observes are finding their age is making them unwanted in the work world. Employers are buying into the stereotype of older people as ill-tempered, out of touch and in physical decline. When ageism intersects with sexism the invisibility, lack of respect for and devaluing of women becomes more profound, and yet it is ignored or treated like a joke among those who have yet to see their hair turn white or those making an ill-advised attempt at self-deprecating humor. The ageism-sexism intersection is particularly embedded in (Lahey, 2006) the structure of the animal rights movement, preventing the movement from both gaining the knowledge and experience of older women, and from being regarded as an inclusive, progressive social movement.

Senior woman holding large pan of food for a huge group of hungry dogs

The contributions of older women in animal liberation spaces are invaluable, and yet devalued. A group of senior women in China feed and care for hundreds of homeless dogs.

The sexism of the animal rights movement is well documented (Abolitionist, 2015). Ageism, like the older women in the movement, is largely not considered an issue. It is easy enough to point to the leading members of the movement who are older and have achieved the revered status of founders, philosophers or experts, members like Tom Regan and Peter Singer. Women are not prominent on these lists. As Rosalind Chait Barnett establishes, there are attitudes and social structures in our workplaces that leave women more vulnerable than men to the hardships of aging (Barnett, 2005). Those hardships are found in the animal rights movement, as well. While aging is seen as a state of decline for both men and women, successful men are viewed as “having grown in skill and wisdom,” [p. 26] but older women are too often stereotyped as round-tummied grandmas, kind and nurturing till the end of their days. Older women are making a strong drive to dispel this stereotype by pushing against the glCloseup of an older woman's face. She has "BEST BEFORE MAR 73" printed across her forehead.ass ceilings of their workplaces, by working in fields traditionally dominated by men, by demanding equal pay for equal work; however, none of the advancements made by women have given them secure futures in their old age. They often have to leave work to be caregivers to family members, and lose both opportunities for advancement and robust pensions. When it comes to women animal rights activists, they continue to encounter men in most of the leadership roles, to inherit strategies for activism that were created by men and to operate in social movement structures that men continue to enforce. As women animal rights activists age, if they are visible at all they are many times type-cast as nurturing and lacking the youthful exuberance of the majority of movement members (Barnett, 2005). Their online involvement in activism is too often unquestioning support of the men who run the animal rights groups. They become groupies who seek approval through their comments, knowing that any criticism or critical thinking will be deleted.

It must also be mentioned that women are objectified in terms of their appearance on a daily basis. Saggy skin and wrinkles are treated as a problem that needs to be solved rather than a part of the aging process that has its own beauty. Gray hair is something to be avoided at all costs through expensive color treatments. Surgeries exist to remove varicose veins and veins running across women’s hands simply because society deems veins to be ugly. Age spots are the targets of countless lotions and potions, even laser treatments. It is hard enough for aging women to accept their own bodies and fight against societal stereotypes of the aging body without a logo for an animal rights group adding to this stereotype of aging women’s bodies. Series of road signs pointing to senior center. Underneath them are another series of signs reminding them to make the turn and not forget.GOV could easily become an exemplary leader in the animal rights movement by addressing the intersection of ageism and sexism. Why not name the group simply Grumpy Vegans? Why not find a logo that doesn’t socially reproduce the stereotypes of aging in our society? Surely in a group so concerned with a call to “reject exploitation and commodification” of animals they could reject the exploitation and commodification of aging women—and men—by finding some other name and logo to promote their group. Just as sports teams are rejecting names and logos that stereotype women, Native Americans and POC, rejecting ageism in the animal rights movement is an important next step. Just as the language of racism and actions like dressing in red or black-face are rejected, ageism in the animal rights movement must be rejected. Reject ageism.



Abolitionist, T. A. (2015, March 27). About this Project. Retrieved from The Academic Abolitionist Vegan:

Barnett, R. C. (2005). Ageism and Sexism in the Workplace. Generations, 25-30.

Lahey, J. N. (2006). Age, Women, and HIring: An Experimental Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Dr. Martindill earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri and taught there in the Sociology Department, the Peace Studies Program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Her areas of emphasis include political sociology, organizations and work, and social inequalities. Dr. Martindill’s dissertation focuses on the no-kill shelter social movement and is based on ethnographical research conducted during several years of working in an animal shelter. She is vegan, a feminist and is currently interested in the stories women tell through their needlework, including crochet, counted cross stitch and quilting. It is important to note that Dr. Martindill consistently uses her academic title in order to inspire women and members of other marginalized groups to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges those dreams may entail, and certainly one of her goals is to see more women in academia.

Gender Inequity in the Animal Welfare Movement

Jen here. I recently had the pleasure of meeting (through the Internet) a fascinating scholar by the name of Corey Wrenn. She wrote a paper entitled, “The Role of Professionalism Regarding Female Exploitation in the Nonhuman Animal Rights Movement,” published in The Journal of Gender Studies.

Ms. Wrenn makes one point that it not new- that some animal rights groups get their point across by exploiting women, specifically PETA, LUSH, Fish Love, and Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV).

But she makes a larger point that is the elephant in the room: Even though WOMEN make up the majority of those who support animal welfare, it is MEN who are in the leadership positions.

Does this sell our cause, or does it demean women and diminish our voice?

Indeed, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the US, the Humane Association, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the World Wildlife Fund, and many other groups are led by men and their top leadership is overwhelmingly male.

But it’s not men that are caring for animals. It’s not men who are lobbying for animals. It’s not men targeted with those emotion-laden commercials begging for money. It’s all about us then, baby.

So why are men running the show in this female-dominated arena? Why are we allowing them to market to us in a way that is demeaning? And does this gender inequity play into our inability to make meaningful changes in the animal welfare arena?

Recently I wrote a blog post where I said I wanted to work in the field of animal welfare. Many posted comments suggesting that I cut back on blogging and show my interest by volunteering for a rescue. Really? I scoop litter boxes every day. Why do I have to prove my worthiness to work in this field by scooping litter boxes for someone else? For free? Do you think Wayne Pacelle, when interviewing to lead the Humane Society, was asked how many litter boxes HE scooped to earn his stripes?

Personally, I’m thinking it’s time for a real change in the path this movement is taking. We need to phase out the Good Old Boy leadership. We need to stop the exploitation of women. Let’s change the face of this movement from the Crazy Cat Lady and clueless co-ed, who each need men to guide them, to that of the Old Crone, the elder who holds the wisdom of the ages.

Painting of an elderly woman wrapped in red.The Wise Crone respects Mother Earth and all of her creations

What do you think? Is Animal Welfare rife with sexism? Do you feel women are respected in the movement, or are we used as funders and cheap labor to promote a male agenda? What do YOU think should be the face of the movement?


By Jenny Threet

You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog, Rumpy Dog.

This post was originally published on  Rumpy Dog on July 8, 2013.