Gender and Victorian Animal Advocacy

Although the nonhuman animal rights movement in the West is frequently framed by activists and remembered by historians as gender-neutral, Donald’s (2020) Women against Cruelty (which examines meeting notes and campaigning documents reaching back to the movement’s founding in the early 19th century) demonstrates just the opposite. Women’s affinity for anti-speciesist activism within the context of a prevailing sexism which pitted all female pursuits as lesser-than would prove a difficult hurdle to surmount with regard to social movement resonance. This is not to reify or reduce women’s contributions. Women against Cruelty catalogs a diversity of feminine and feminist approaches to advancing the interests of nonhuman animals: some religious, some scientific, and some intersectional. Many women favored educational outreach, while others relied on rational debate, shocking images, direct intervention, and legal resistance.

Donald showed that women’s efforts in some ways discredited the movement through feminine associations, but, in other ways, women also buoyed it with their consistent and energetic support. Women, it is clear, existed as the movement’s foundation, providing critical insight, labor, donations, and tactical innovations. As Donald uncovers, women consistently made up the majority of various organizations’ memberships as well. However, the strict gender norms of Victorian Britain ensured that their desire to participate in the public affairs of anti-speciesism would be difficult to reconcile with their expected domestic role as caretakers (and their supposed natural affinity to other animals, a connection that many women saw as a strength but many men saw as a reason to discredit them). The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA), for instance, routinely confined women’s participation and restricted their leadership in campaigning.

To an extent, the tension between feminine and masculine social spheres actually reflected a tension between religiosity and the changing mores of the Industrial Revolution. Activism of the 18th and early 19th centuries was imbued with Biblical doctrine, but adherence to this approach would diverge under the growing influence of capitalism. Women, responsible as they were for upholding society’s morals, became agents of a romanticized Christian vision of equality and compassion, while men, privileged with the duty to advance society through industry and politics, became immediate opponents given the importance of speciesism (and other forms of domination) to this agenda. Thus, on one level, women and girls policed speciesist cruelty, but, on another, they also came to police the unchecked power of men who increasingly pushed the boundaries of social order through conquest, colonialism, and science. The treatment of nonhuman animals, in other words, came to symbolize the uncomfortable and monumental transition into modernity.

Read the full review here.


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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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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Mariage et Patriarcat

Translation by Hypathie: Feminist and Anti-Speciesist Blog. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

Anita Magsaysay-Ho "Women Feeding Chickens"

By Marv Wheale

Le mariage est une institution ancienne, en même temps que contemporaine. Son aspect culturel réside dans sa capacité à appeler des aspirations telles que l’amour, le bonheur et l’identité. Le cérémonial du mariage lie ensemble des individus à la poursuite d’un avenir satisfaisant et comblé.

Vous ne pouvez pas reprocher à des couples de vouloir une vie merveilleuse, mais le mariage pose pourtant de nombreux problèmes. Je vais en examiner deux :

– Il occulte les inégales conditions sociales des hommes et des femmes ;
– Il dévalorise les autres relations intimes non sexualisées : amicales, fraternelles (entre frères et sœurs) et entre humains et autres animaux, en les renvoyant à un statut inférieur.

La politique sexuelle autour du mariage

Le mariage en tant que dispositif établi par la société dissimule les divisions de pouvoir entre hommes et femmes face à l’intimité qu’ils partagent. Plus simplement, les femmes n’ont pas un statut égal à celui des hommes même quand l’affection qu’ils partagent est profonde : l’assignation aux rôles sexuels / travail reproductif non payé / salaires inégaux sur le marché du travail / participation des hommes disproportionnée aux gouvernements / manque de représentation des femmes à la tête des grandes compagnies, dans la police, les cours de justice et l’Armée / le harcèlement sexuel, le viol, les violences conjugales et le meurtre / l’objettisation sexuelle dans la pornographie, les autres médias et la prostitution. Tous ces facteurs se mêlent à d’autres et sont aggravés par l’ethnie, la classe économique, le handicap, la taille, et l’âge.

Parce que le mariage obscurcit ces inégalités et désavantages, il rend plus difficile l’organisation contre le pouvoir mâle. La mobilisation d’énergie est divertie vers les “intérêts du mariage” qui engloutissent des tonnes de ressources matérielles et émotionnelles en quelque chose qui ne peut satisfaire nos désirs les plus profonds. Il est essentiellement contre-productif d’investir autant dans un but incapable de tenir ses promesses aux hommes et aux femmes en tant que groupes sociaux. De toutes les identités qui affirment la subordination des femmes au patriarcat, le mariage est une des plus influentes.

Les mariages LGBTQ+ en sont une réforme, mais ils ne peuvent pas préserver des sanctions d’une institution fabriquée par la société patriarcale. Toute amélioration du système finit par le légitimer. Pensez aux proclamations du capitalisme végane, aux mesures de bien-être animal, à la pornographie féministe, au travail du sexe…, tous hérauts de la libération. Ces mouvements contradictoires ne peuvent apporter de résultats en vue d’une émancipation. Ils sont tous des illusions libérales.

Les outsiders

Pour mieux appréhender les implications du mariage, vous devez reconnaître la situation où il place celles/ceux hors de ses frontières. Les non mariés sont relégués dans une position sociale subordonnée au motif qu’illes n’atteignent pas le modèle marital. Vivre à l’intérieur de différentes autres unions vous donne un statut inférieur. C’est évident non seulement au niveau de la non reconnaissance culturelle, mais également dans les lois des états. Les relations contractuelles des sexes dans le mariage, reconnues par l’état permettent toutes sortes d’avantages : des réductions d’impôts, des prêts bancaires, l’accès à l’adoption d’enfants, l’accès aux avantages sociaux du partenaire, des privilèges d’assurances santé, des droits de visite à l’hôpital, des directives pré-décès, des droits du survivant, des droits à l’héritage, des droits à l’immigration, et tous les avantages des proches-parents.

Les contre-arguments aux critiques du mariage

Des gens vous diront que c’est une simplification que de voir le mariage comme irrémédiablement sexiste, surpassant toute autre relation platonique. Après tout, des quantités de femmes sont heureuses dans le mariage. De ce point de vue, plus de sensibilité et de crédit devraient être donnés aux exemples particuliers de mariages où les deux époux s’alignent sur les objectifs féministes, et qui respectent le pluralisme des relations des non mariés ; ils proposent que tous les avantages légaux et économiques du mariage soient étendus aux relations alternatives.

De plus, de nombreux couples issus des classes moins privilégiées pensent que le mariage est un refuge : contre la suprématie blanche, l’adversité économique, le capacitisme dominant, et la primauté hétérosexuelle. Ils proclament que bien que le mariage a des inconvénients pour les femmes, il est moins pénalisant que les pesants problèmes imposés par le racisme, le classisme, le capacitisme ou l’hétérosexisme. Ce qui est important pour elles/eux, c’est de centrer le mariage sur la réciprocité et la résistance aux injustices sociales. Dans ces cas, le mariage est estimé fortifier la classe laborieuse, les combats contre le racisme, ceux des handicapés et des LGBTQ+ : en retour, le mariage s’en retrouve fortifié.

Les mariages entre véganes aussi sont vus comme un moyen d’exprimer publiquement un attachement émotionnel, des valeurs communes pour la cause de la libération animale. Ce raisonnement et ces sentiments sont similaires aux autres mariages axés sur la justice sociale.

Dernières remarques

Non, tous les mariages ne sont pas égaux, mais la querelle contre le mariage est politique, car il est une entité politique.

L’idée du mariage, bon ou mauvais, faisant consensus, dépendant du respect mutuel, de l’affection et de la solidarité, masque la réalité des classes de sexe et la privatisation des femmes dans l’institution. Il dévalue celles/ceux qui ne veulent pas en être culturellement et légalement, refusant d’être ébranlés par l’optimisme progressiste des gens mariés à l’esprit aussi ouvert soit-il.

Certainement que l’intimité et l’activisme politique sont accessibles hors liens maritaux.La violence des hommes contre les femmes est un système de pouvoir qui s’exprime majoritairement dans les liens du mariage. Pourquoi promouvoir un système oppressif qui masque l’occupation structurelle des hommes de la vie des femmes ?

Ne pourrions nous pas rendre l’intersectionnalité plus inclusive vis à vis des femmes battues en critiquant le mariage comme une fabrication sociale ? Nous savons que le genre, la race, le capacitisme, la classe, sont des constructions sociales, pourquoi ne pourrions-nous pas dire que le mariage en est une aussi ? Tendons-nous à nous accrocher socialement à des habitudes apprises qui nous empêchent de questionner en profondeur nos visions du monde ?

Je ne demande pas aux gens mariés de se séparer ou de divorcer. Ce serait arrogant, inconséquent et absurde. Ce n’est pas la faute des individus s’ils ont été socialisés par des normes et des valeurs. Mon invitation est de mettre de côté nos résistances aux questionnements et de soumettre nos institutions sociales à l’épreuve de la pensée, du ressenti et du vivre.


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.

Is This What Vegan Looks Like?

In the June 2018 issue of Women’s Health UK, I was interviewed on the prevailing stereotype of angry vegans that has dominated British media in recent months. In the article, I clarify that, although most animal rights activists and vegans are women, patriarchal norms endemic to society and social movements push men (especially hegemonic ones) to the spotlight. It’s not an especially fair portrayal and neither is it representative:

Whereas women, who are well aware that their emotionality will be framed as “hysterical,” tend to focus more on mediation, education and community-building. It’s tragic that long-standing peaceful leaders in the vegan movement are suddenly being held accountable for the actions of an extreme few.

Readers can access the entire interview here.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and served as Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college 2016-2018. She also served as council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association and was elected chair in 2018. 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.

Pointlessly Gendering Cats and Dogs


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

 

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


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Love, Sex, and the Animal Liberation Front

Man in ski mask kisses woman in black hoodie
Image from Animal Freedom Fighters Unite Facebook group

More so than other factions of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, the “liberation” or “direct action” faction (frequently associated with the Animal Liberation Front) often engages symbolism of human-to-human love, intimacy, and sex in its activist narrative.

Consider Love and Liberation: An Animal Liberation Front Story, a romance novel following a young female activist who falls in love with another direct action activist, the two of them bonding over illegal actions in the name of anti-speciesism.

Cover of Love and Liberation

Consider also the direct action comic, The Liberator, male-created with a male and female protagonist. The female-bodied hero, however, tends to be drawn for the male-gaze, large breasted and sometimes bra-less.

Liberator

More than other factions of the movement, the direct action faction relies on narratives of heroism, machismo, and domination. As with any hero’s tale, the “girl as reward” must be present. In a previous essay, I note the “Liam Neeson effect,” whereby Nonhuman Animals are feminized and their plight exploited as a plot device to excuse hypermasculine vigilantism and violence. “Direct action” activism hopes to attract members and new recruits by creating an opportunity for boys and men to prove their manhood and become real-life superheroes. Steve Best, a leader of the ALF faction, has stated that it will be the media coverage of this type of activism which will motivate and inspire viewers to take up arms, so to speak. Love and sex must be part of this opportunity, as becoming a “man” necessitates power over the feminine.

Relatedly, ALF activists also frequently pose with Nonhuman Animals as loving and thankful. Most of these survivors are undoubtedly relieved, but we must keep in mind that media is not created by accident, and images are carefully chosen to convey a particular message. I see in this thankful animal trope the same patriarchal or paternalist concept: man as liberator and benevolent leader, woman and animal as grateful and dependent. Savior narratives, well-meaning though they may be, are inherently disempowering to the marginalized (this is a major concern in ally politics).

ALF member in ski mask cradling small monkey

Social movements consciously strategize in their media representations, using particular codes that the audience will be expected to accurately and favorably interpret. The ALF and other direct action collectives bank on our cultural literacy with misogyny and patriarchy in order for these scripts and codes to make sense. I question as to whether or not this hypermasculine script will translate for an anti-oppression future if we’re still speaking the same language of domination.

 


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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