Fisicoculturistas Veganos, Hombres Músculo, y el Físico Masculino: Por Qué Promover lo Masculino es Dañino para el Movimiento de la Liberación Animal

 

Muscled man's chest and arms, holding large floret of broccoli

Translation by Mariángel Villalobos. You can follow her on Twitter @mvillabe. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

PETA y otras campañas de liberación animal son comúnmente criticadas por explotar los cuerpos de las mujeres de una manera sexualmente provocativa en campañas para los animales no humanos. A través de estas campañas, las mujeres son motivadas a prostituir sus cuerpos desnudos en la calle, todo para llamar la atención a la situación de los animales no humanos. Mi amiga y colega Corey Wrenn llama la atención sobre los efectos dañinos de usar el sexo para vender el caso de los derechos de los animales, señalando que “la degradación de la mujer socialmente aceptada y su objetificación sexual está directamente conectada a la discriminación y violencia en contra de la mujer.”

Mientras que estoy de acuerdo de que tácticas como las de PETA dañan a la mujer y que estos trucos perpetúan la objetificación de la mujer, que de vuelta engendra violencia sexual, me gustaría señalar que hay otra manera en que las campañas de liberación animal comúnmente dañan a los animales y a las mujeres al mismo tiempo: al usar la masculinidad para promover el veganismo.

No es poco común ver organizaciones de liberación animal, como Vegan Outreach  ilustrar en sus panfletos cómo uno puede mantener su masculinidad en una dieta vagana. De hecho, en el panfleto de Vegan Outreach “Even if You Like Meat” (Aunque te Guste la Carne) ellos incluyen una foto de un fisicoculturista Robert Cheeke en una camiseta que lee “Vegan Bodybuilder” (Fisicoculturista Vegano), dando la aprobación para llamar la atención a sus hinchados músculos. Publicidad como esta perpetúa el siguiente mensaje: puedes ser vegano y también tener tu masculinidad.

Pausemos por un momento para considerar qué es la masculinidad y por qué es dañina.

La masculinidad se relaciona con las expectativas de la sociedad para los hombres; hay ciertos roles de género que son vistos como apropiados para que los hombres fomenten. Mientras que los roles

de género son comúnmente definidos como “un set de expectativas para comportarse, pensar y sentir, que son basados en el sexo biológico de una persona,” la masculinidad es un set de roles de género, comportamientos, y aspectos de personalidad esperados de “hombres reales”: fuertes, independientes, con metas, trabajadores, dominantes, heterosexuales, vigorosos, agresivos, no emocionales, físicos, competitivos, enérgicos (KIlmartin 1994, 7-17).

La idea de que la masculinidad es responsable por la violencia, incluyendo los asaltos sexuales, es raramente cuestionada. Como Kilmartin señala, la gran mayoría de actos violentos son cometidos por los hombres, llevándonos a concluir que hay una alta relación entre la masculinidad y la agresión (KIlmartin 1994, 211). De acuerdo al FBI (2011), aproximadamente 90% de los crímenes violentos en los Estados Unidos son cometidos por hombres.

Además de la relación entre la masculinidad y la violencia, la masculinidad es asumida como la responsable de la violencia sexual, ya que “los asaltos sexuales son casi exclusivamente perpetuados por los hombres” (KIlmartin 1994, 212). En su estudio transcultural sobre el abuso sexual, Sanday (1981) reporta que las sociedades con un alto índice de violaciones “toleran la violencia y fomentan a los hombres y niños a ser fuertes, agresivos y competitivos.” De la misma manera, Kilmartin (2005, 1) sugiere que “la socialización de los hombres para que sean agresivos y iniciadores sexuales, su desproporcionado poder social y organizativo, y su habilidad para intimidar basado en superior tamaño y masa muscular“ puede explicar el fenómeno de los asaltos sexuales llevado a cabo por hombres. La moral de historia, entonces, es que, “la masculinidad es uno de los más poderosos contextos en los cuales los asaltos sexuales ocurren” Kilmartin (2005, 1).

Cuando usamos individuos como Robert Cheeke, cuya imagen ilustra lo masculino, para promover el veganismo, perpetuamos la idea de que la masculinidad es un tipo de ideal que los “hombres reales” deberían esforzarse para alcanzar. Sin embargo, si la masculinidad es responsable de la violencia, especialmente la violencia en contra de los débiles o “femeninos”, entonces deberíamos pausar para considerar si hace sentido que usemos este tipo de tácticas de mercadeo para enviar un mensaje vegano.

Recordemos qué es lo que el mensaje de liberación animal conlleva: una de las metas del movimiento de la liberación animal incluye desafiar el modelo de dominio al repensar por qué nosotros damos privilegio y admiramos a los seres “dominantes” o “fuertes”. Sin embargo, cuando las organizaciones usan a los fisicoculturistas para vender el mensaje vegano, envían el mensaje opuesto, un mensaje peligroso: la masculinidad es preferida sobre lo femenino y hay una jerarquía donde lo masculino reina y domina sobre los demás.

Esta idea no solo pone en peligro a las mujeres, pero la idea de que hay una dicotomía entre lo masculino y lo femenino pone en desventaja a los animales, ya que los animales son identificados como parte de la “naturaleza” – y la naturaleza es de vuelta identificada con lo femenino.

Si queremos erradicar la explotación de los animales, debemos desafiar la idea de que “no importa por qué alguien es vegano, simplemente importa el que ellos son veganos.” Por que el que alguien sea vegano importa si nuestra metal final es completar la liberación animal. Si uno no comprende que los principios de fondo detrás del veganismo ético, como el rechazo al dominio de la jerarquía, entonces qué va a prevenir que él explote animales en situaciones que le permiten expresar su masculinidad, como en las corridas de toros, la caza de animales, etcétera? La masculinidad es un mensaje peligroso de mandar, y si podemos promover los beneficios para la salud del veganismo sin tener que recurrir a las imágenes de la masculinidad, por qué las organizaciones de liberación animal como Vegan Outreach se centrar en hacer esto mismo?

Por 1LT Cheryl Abbate

 

“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.

 

Notes
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. http://www.census.gov/population/hispanic/

References
Cavanagh, K. (2010, July 15). Pamela Anderson’s sexy body-baring PETA ad gets banned in Canada. Retrieved from NY Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/pamela-anderson-sexy-body-baring-peta-ad-banned-canada-article-1.463753

Grumpy Old Vegans. (2015, May 12). Grumpy Old Vegans. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GrumpyOldVegan?fref=ts

Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (n.d.). On Stigma and its Public Health Implications. Retrieved from http://www.stigmaconference.nih.gov/LinkPaper.htm

PeTA. (2014). PeTA’s 2014 Sexiest Vegan Over 50 Contest. Retrieved from PeTA Prime: http://prime.peta.org/sexiest-vegan-over-50-contest/details

Shuttleworth, A. (2013, July 8). Are negative stereotypes about older people bad for their health? Retrieved from NursingTimes.net: http://www.nursingtimes.net/opinion/practice-team-blog/are-negative-stereotypes-about-older-people-bad-for-their-health/5060639.blog

The Senior Citizen Times. (2011, November 23). Top 20 stereotypes of older people. Retrieved from The Senior Citizen Times: http://the-senior-citizen-times.com/2011/11/23/top-20-stereotypes-of-older-people/

Toronto Vegetarian Association. (2015, April). Toronto Vegetarian Association. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/torontoveg/permalink/10152808399662686/

Wider Opportunities for Women. (2012). Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans. http://www.wowonline.org/documents/OlderAmericansGenderbriefFINAL.pdf.

Wider Opportunities for Women. (2012). Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans. http://www.wowonline.org/documents/OlderAmericansGenderbriefFINAL.pdf.

 

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.

Real Power

Closeup of one of PETA's Lettuce Ladies wearing a bar in public with a large "GO VEG!" button on her bra strap

Real power isn’t gained and wielded based on anyone else’s desire for your body or how you think you look today — that’s about as disposable as it gets, dictated by someone else’s preferences and whims and discarded just as quickly.

If the viral video you are viewing or the “empowering” messages you are reading are asking you to value your beauty and your body at the expense of your goodness, skills, gifts, etc., that message is keeping you stuck in a place of self-objectification.

– Beauty Redefined (Facebook post, April 9, 2015)

Read more at “Loving Your Body 101: The Three Questions of Positive Body Image

Vegan Body Shaming: Analyzing the Evidence

Trigger Warning: Fat-shaming.Vegan Body Image Shaming

By Corey Lee Wrenn

After coding data for an upcoming publication on demographic representations in vegan media, I was utterly shocked to discover that nearly all analyzed subjects were undeniably skinny.  Over a twelve year span, the two magazines included in my study featured only a handful of subjects (mostly men) who were noticeably athletic, toned, or carrying “excess” body fat.  Only one female subject appeared to deviate from the thin norm, but she was also wearing baggy clothing, so it was unclear.

Vegan campaigns sometimes go beyond this otherwise indirect connection between veganism and weight loss and blatantly suggest that if you want to be “hot” and “fit,” you need to go vegan.  Freedman and Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch is a prime example, as is PETA’s “Save the Whales” billboard campaign. The overwhelming representation of thinness in our movement is a problem in itself, but our fixation on veganism as a weight loss miracle carries with it several implications that target vulnerable populations:  women, people of color, and “obese” persons.

PETA Fat Shaming

Body shaming is especially problematic for a movement whose largest demographic is women.  When we promote veganism as a means to lose weight, we normalize thinness as the ideal body type.  This alienates those vegan women who do not fit within this ideal and it denigrates non-vegan women who do not fit it either.  Research has shown that veganism is indeed an important variable in reducing excess body fat, but one 2005 medical report found that as much as 29% of vegans are overweight or obese.  That means about 1/3 of our vegan community does not reflect the idealized thin body that represents us on magazines, websites, videos, and other lifestyle or outreach literature.

Idealizing thinness is really the idealization of higher socioeconomic class.  It oftentimes takes considerable income to have access to fresh vegetables and fruits.  Vegans without that luxury must rely on cheap, carbohydrate-heavy grains like flour, pasta, and potatoes.  Fresh fruits, vegetables, and even spring water tend to be far more expensive than their processed counterparts.

We cannot forget that socioeconomic status is not simply about economic resources, but social resources as well.  In the United States, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics are disproportionately poor, a result of centuries of oppression and continuing inequality.  They are also disproportionately located in areas with limited availability for healthful foods (rural areas and segregated inner city neighborhoods); these are known as food deserts.  In The Inspired Vegan, Bryant Terry, who advocates for improving food access for disadvantaged peoples, notes that in 2007, Oakland California housed 53 liquor stores, but not a single full-service supermarket.  Those living in food deserts might not have a car, could lack access to public transportation, and they may lack the time to travel out of town for healthier groceries due to work and childcare responsibilities.

Finally, the demonization of “fat” in the United States has very real and disastrous consequences for those humans unfortunate enough to fit within that socially constructed category.  “Overweight” humans (especially women) can face hiring discrimination, are less likely to be promoted or selected for prestigious projects, and they ultimately make less money overall.  And of course, weight discrimination can result in hurtful interpersonal mistreatment as well, like name-calling and objectification.

Skinny Bitch

I can understand that many vegans enthusiastically promote veganism as a weight-loss diet (and I do not deny that some types of obesity can be life-threatening), but we must be mindful that body weight is a complex social issue and the celebration over thinness can be hurtful to others who lack the social and economic privilege that most vegans enjoy.  This movement is about nonviolence, and this principle must extend beyond Nonhuman Animals to include our fellow activists as well.

Vegan media sources, too, should be aware of their influential role.  Consistently portraying a particular body type that is relatively unachievable for a good number of us creates a harmful and unrealistic ideal.  The impact of thinness in women’s magazines is well documented.  When the media is inundated with thin (often airbrushed) figures, this can seriously impact consumer self-esteem and lead to eating disorders. But some magazines like Seventeen have responded with a commitment to picturing “real” people.  This should be a goal for vegan media as well.

As social activists, we should not only be concerned with the well-being of our community members, but we should also recognize that our media portrayals are influential in attracting (or repelling) certain demographics.  If we consistently show thin people (or women, or whites, or higher socioeconomic status individuals), we are framing our movement as one meant for certain types of people, but not for others.  Yet, I suspect that diversity will be an essential variable in achieving social change.  I suggest, then, that we begin to think critically about how our movement is being represented and set our bar a little higher to include all body types and all backgrounds.

 

This post was originally published by One Green Planet on January 30, 2013.

 

Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at Colorado State 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. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

 

Why is the Animal Rights Movement so Toxic for Women?

Sexism is all too prevalent in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Anyone familiar with PETA’s advocacy has seen their heavy reliance on female nakedness to garner attention and fundraise. Of course, how they hope to alleviate the objectification of Nonhumans while simultaneously objectifying women is questionable. Their inability to respect the interconnectedness of speciesism, sexism, and other oppressions has been criticized heavily by academics and advocates alike.

PETA Shoe Protest

However, sexism remains indirectly prevalent in other advocacy organizations and activist communities. The problem is so rampant that I would venture to say that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has become a microcosm of patriarchal domination. This is especially bizarre given that advocating against speciesism (which I define as the structural oppression of the vulnerable) is inherently an anti-patriarchy endeavor.

Femininity and concern for other animals have long been linked. Traditional gender roles view women as creatures of nature with an “instinct” for nurturing. Adding to this, the oppression of women often mirrors the oppression of other animals, and many times these oppressions reinforce one another. So it comes as no surprise that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is composed largely of female activists (to the tune of about 80%).

As we know, gender stereotypes are not always so flattering. Femininity is also associated with hyper-emotionality and irrationality. This is a socially constructed reality that women of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement recognize. In an effort to overcome these stereotypes and resonate with audiences, female activists often adopt rational discourse and suppress emotion in their advocacy. Sociological research has found that male Nonhuman Animal right activists are perceived to be so rare and so important to lending the movement credit that women (and other men) will praise these men heavily and readily elevate them to positions of leadership. Women are often relegated to the less glamorous and more mundane tasks behind the scenes.

Clearly, we wouldn’t expect to see organizations like PETA prioritizing female empowerment, but other more “serious” liberation organizations drop the ball as well. Some of these factions are so reliant on rational arguments that feminine perspectives are generally unheard of or are dismissed as unnecessary. Femininity is suppressed in favor of rational, unemotional, masculine discourse. This is especially unfortunate because emotionality is actually an asset in affecting social change. Social psychology has shown emotional appeals to be far more persuasive and motivating than rational ones.

To be sure, race and gender intersect as well. Masculinity and whiteness have become normalized and go largely unexamined. White world views predominate and white, thin vegan bodies have become the ideal. Vegan critical race activist Dr. Breeze Harper warns that this has had the effect of alienating people of color. Likewise, T.O.F.U. Magazine recently published a special issue on the detrimental impact of fat-shaming and privileging thinness.

When recognized at all, people of color are often tokenized. While white activists may draw parallels between speciesism and racist atrocities like antebellum slavery, most fail to acknowledge the ongoing discrimination that people of color face. Many campaigns are designed to sensationalize animal cruelty associated with people of color, exploiting racial prejudice for the cause. Still other campaigns default to the white world view and ignore human rights violations, environmental racism, and racialized food politics. Structural racism is ignored, unless it is something advocates can campaign behind.

Ignoring gender and race has real consequences, consequences that hurt at-risk populations. Women find themselves sexually objectified by organizations like PETA, Animal Liberation Victoria, and LUSH Cosmetics, who see them as nothing more than naked bodies to prostitute for media attention and donations. Women who advocate with their clothes on do not escape these consequences either. Sociologist Dr. Emily Gaarder, author of Women and the Animal Rights Movement (2011) reports that sexual harassment is a very common experience among female activists. By pushing men into positions of power and relegating women to subordinate tasks and stripping, the movement becomes toxic for the vulnerable. As for people of color, they are often left out of outreach efforts altogether. Those who are outspoken about this exclusion risk backlash and accusations of “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism.” Like many other critics of oppression, it has even been suggested that I have a mental illness (the exploitation of disability identity in Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy is another topic altogether!).

LUSH-Cosmetics-Sexism-300x228

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement would be wise to consider how gender and race continue to be salient identities that warrant special consideration in a social movement environment that privileges men and whites. Gender and race matter, despite any personal fantasies we may have about a post-feminist, post-racial utopia. Diversity in leadership and advocacy should be encouraged. Femininity and emotional appeals should be given their place alongside rational discourse and the language of rights.

Until the Nonhuman Animal rights movement cleans up its act in its treatment of vulnerable populations within its own ranks, I don’t believe it’s possible to make any real headway for other animals. A coherent battle against oppression cannot be fought so long as the movement’s own oppressiveness goes unchallenged.

By Corey Lee Wrenn

You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog, The Academic Abolitionist Vegan.

This post was originally published on Feminspire on June 11, 2013.