A Gallery of Sexism in Animal Rights

Content Warning:  Depictions of physical and sexual violence against women. NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

The following images collected from online news sources and activist spaces chronicles the systematic exploitation of women for the purposes of anti-speciesist campaigning. Although persons of all genders are active in the movement (and nonhumans of all sexes are exploited), it is disproportionately women who are volunteered as proxies for violence against Nonhuman Animal bodies. There are two reasons for this pattern. First, in a misogynistic society, the public is already cued to images of suffering women. Second, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has a long history of institutional sexism. Scientific evidence does not support that this approach is effective. To the contrary, it repels the public, alienates potential allies in other social justice movements, and aggravates the epidemic levels of violence against women and girls across the globe.

– Corey Lee Wrenn, PhD

Last Updated: April 23, 2017
This blog post is no longer being updated. Please visit the permanent resource page for curated version.


PETA – Anti-Leather Campaign

PETAUK – Anti-Foie Gras Demonstrationforce-fed-foie-gras

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Animal Liberation Victoria – Anti-Vivisection Campaign

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Stop UBC Animal Research & PETA – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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Anima Naturalis – Anti-Vivisection Demo
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Citizens United For Animals

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Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania
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Igualdad Animal – World Meat-Out Day
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PETA – Go Veg Campaign
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PETA’s “Youngest Pinup” (Model is 16)
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Deutscher Tierschuntzbund E.V. (German Animal Welfare Association) – Anti-Fur Campaign
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Deutscher Tierschutzbund E.V. (German Animal Welfare Association) – Anti-Horse Branding Campaign
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Image from Vegan Pinup

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign
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PETA – Milk Gone Wild Commercial
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Citizens United for Animals
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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign
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PETA – Anti-Sealing Campaign
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PETA – Leather Shoe Protest
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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign
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PETA – Dogs in Hot Cars Commercial
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PETA – Horse Carriage Campaign

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 PETA – Go Veg Campaign
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PETA – Spay/Neuter Campaign
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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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FishLove – Over Fishing Campaign

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Freedman & Barnouin – Cookbook

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign (Targeting the Olsen Twins)

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Circus Campaign

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FishLove – Over Fishing Campaign

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PETA – Animal Times Cover

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PETA – Go Veg Demo
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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Demo

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Fur Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Fur Demo

LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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PETA – Vegetarian Campaign

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PETA – Glue Trap Campaign

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PETA – Spay & Neuter Campaign

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PETA – Veggie Love Casting Session

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Animal Liberation Victoria – Anti-Whaling Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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Animal Liberation Victoria – Anti-Whaling Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Demo

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PETA – Anti-Vivisection Campaign

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Animal Naturalis – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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LUSH Cosmetics – Reduced Product Packaging Demo

Animal Liberation Victoria – Milk Sucks Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Vivisection Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign (“Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom Out of Me”)

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LUSH Cosmetics – Anti-Fishing Demo

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PETA – Anti-Circus Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Glue Trap Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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PETA – KFC Boycott Demo

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PETA – Anti-Fur Campaign

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PETA – Go Veg Demo

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PETA – Anti-Bull Fighting Demo

PETA – KFC Boycott Demo

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PETA – Go Veg Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Circus/Elephant Rights Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Vivisection Campaign

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PETA – Anti-Foie Gras Campaign

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PETA – Animal Adoption Campaign

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Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on May 22, 2013.whyveganism.com

Why Can’t the ALF Talk about Sexism?

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and other direct action collectives have a rocky track record with women in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.

In celebrating violent masculinity, the language and imagery of the ALF is repellent to women and antagonistic to femininity. In my research, I have noted that direct action collectives regularly denounce nonviolent civil resistance (what they sometimes misconstrue as pacifism), framing it as weakness and complacency. Consider a 2012 conference presentation in which ALF founder Steve Best aggressively lectures a room of female attendees, furious at the feminization of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and demanding that activists literally take up arms against speciesists. The now defunct project Negotiation is Over published regular criticisms of vegan baking as outreach.

Nonviolent civil resistance of all kinds, but especially baking, is, of course, feminized. The proposed alternative–taking up arms–is explicitly masculinized. As a male-dominated organization, the ALF’s adamant rejection of women’s tactics is blatantly sexist.

In Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror, vegan feminist Lee Hall also describes parallels between masculinity and ALF operations. Vandalism, arson, and threats to researchers and their families are understood to be “front line” activism. This activism earns men prestige and honor in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. This is real activism, activism for the “brave” and “courageous.” In practice, it is most adopted by male teens and 20 somethings who have absorbed the patriarchal culture of glorified violence, anger, and domination.

ALF actions are as much a performance of maleness as they are tactics of nonhuman liberation. Activists who do not engage in direct action are labeled “cowards” to humiliate men by feminizing them and intimidate women by shaming their femininity.

 ALF Supporters Group Newsletter

In a misogynistic society, there are serious consequences for women and girls when a social justice movement aggravates gender stereotypes. There are consequences for the entire movement and Nonhuman Animals, too. Although peaceful vegan activism surely played a part as well, it was specifically ALF’s violence that would prompt agricultural elites to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in the 1990s (see Muzzling a Movement 2010). This act would essentially criminalize any action that interferes with speciesist enterprise, violent or not. Equally problematic, young men are made vulnerable to serious fines and jail sentences when this kind of activism is valorized.

Women, of course, are not completely absent in direct action, but even the most masculinized of spaces will sometimes attract female participants who understand that association with patriarchy can grant them some male privilege, albeit with considerable limitations and always at the expense of other women. In ALF literature, the role of women tends to be one of sidekick and adoring fan. In Love and Liberation: An Animal Liberation Front Story (Piraeus Books LLC 2012), the female lead is portrayed as smitten by the male lead’s prowess, prompting her to follow him into combat. This is a classic masculine trope whereby men’s violent bravery is rewarded by an objectified woman. As a trophy or prize, the woman’s character is subservient to and dependent upon the man’s story.

ALF

Other ALF publications are more straightforward in their sexual objectification of women. Liberator, for instance, has been criticized for its sexist themes. The illustration below featuring a female protester with large breasts fit into a tight shirt with no bra is a case in point.

The Liberator

The comic creator Matt Miner responded to feminist criticism in a now deleted “Open Letter to the Open Letter Author on Women in Comics.” His tone was dismissive and aggressive:

[ . . . ] you’ll notice that the art does not focus on her breasts, she’s fully clothed, the piece does not sexualise her in any way.

In your “open letter” you state other inflammatory nonsense that I find particularly offensive, attacks on my qualifications to write this series and there’s even a misguided attempt of associating me with the sexist animal killers of PETA, but clearly you’ve not done the slightest bit of research before unleashing so I’ll just laugh that bit of irony off.

When another feminist questioned the implications of his comic on his Facebook page, Miner responded with a rudimentary appeal to reverse sexism in describing the criticism as “offensive.”

ALF and sexism

As this essay has outlined, there are three roles that women play in direct action claimsmaking, all of which are sexist: the feminizing factor, the prize for male activists, and the eye candy. Aggressive deflection of feminist criticism is generally engaged in favor of putting “nonhumans first,” but the ALF’s protection of sexism is not for the protection of Nonhuman Animals. It is merely unchecked violent masculinity masked as social justice. Violent masculinity “for the animals” “by any means necessary” provides a rationale for reinforcing privilege and hurting others.

Oppression cannot be dismantled with more oppression and a brazen refusal to self-reflect. In the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, sexism does not seem to exist unless it is acknowledged, validated, and legitimated by men. While it is true that men have more symbolic power in a patriarchal society, women are not obligated to take men’s sexist interpretations of the social world as reality.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

The Lion Guard, Defending Anything But Feminism

lion-guard-feminism

To the unsuspecting parents desperate to distract their children, The Lion Guard manifests itself as an effective tool.

Immediately upon hearing the show’s opening theme song, children will abandon their toys and miscellaneous devices to commit their fullest attention to Kion and his lion guard.

Conversely, perhaps it is the subtlety of the program’s most troubling themes that prevents the nostalgic parents from raising their red flags.

The Break-Down: Understanding The Lion King and its Follow-ups

The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride was the seldom-heard-of sequel to The Lion King. In it, Simba had a protagonist daughter named Kiara.

As for The Lion Guard, the creators wanted to focus on the time of Kiara’s youth in the second film for the spin-off.

However, rather than providing a continuation or addendum to Kiara’s story, she was relegated to a minor role to allow her brother, Kion, (who never existed in any of The Lion King movies) to seize her spotlight as the main character.

Boy and girl cub looking at one another, boy cub smirks: "Hi, I'm the brother figure no one asked for and I exist to make you irrelevant"

As a sidenote, it is also interesting that Kiara is suddenly bereft of her individuality. Here, Kion flaunts the stand-out golden colors associated with Simba, whereas Kiara . . .

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. . . Has lost all instances of her distinguished shading tint from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (top) and can now hardly ever be recognized amongst her fellow creamy-pelted girl friends in The Lion Guard in any lighting whatsoever (bottom).

Talking About the Main Character: When Retconning Does More Harm Than Good

This wasn’t the only change that was seen in Kiara.

In The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Kiara makes it very clear toward the end of this video that she doesn’t want to be queen!

Yet somehow, in The Lion Guard, this trait is entirely discarded in lieu of a minor female character who wants nothing more than to claim her title of nobility.

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The Lion Guard makes the mistake of depicting this Kiara as arrogant, haughty, and quite “bitchy” for being ambitious about the position she was already born into.

Kiara is happy essentially remaining home and doing nothing of importance (by apparent virtue of her off-screen “training to be queen”) while her brother becomes the outgoing hero.

This is a troubling mentality that Barnett and Rivers remark on in Same Difference:

Women’s brain structures are poorly suited for leadership . . . male brains are created for systemizing–the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system . . . Women lack the motivation for leadership . . . men are the risk takers . . . jobs are “cheerfully chosen” by women because of their preferences, motivations, and expectations . . . women are just not aggressive enough to succeed . . . In short, these commentators believe that women will never achieve as much as men . . . When men lead, all’s right with the world. When women lead, men are less manly and women are miserable. (Barnett & Rivers, 175-176)

If the “queen-in-training” title is referenced or used as a plot device during an episode, the audience can rest assured that this nagging character will not hold the spotlight, and Kion will soon appear to entertain the children with his rambunctiously boyish antics.

This is merely a coded term for “princess,” a trite title that Disney knows they have bestowed upon their female protagonists or side characters in the past.

It grants these girls the excuse to eventually become pretty ornaments or damsels to be rescued by the males, all under the false illusion that they are being just as practical as the guys.

Kiona looking cool says, "What a pretty title, good thing it doesn't come with any responsibilities, because I was almost relevant"

Hyenas and Clans: What Do You Mean “Not A Patriarch?”

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Furthermore, The Lion Guard is equally reluctant to depict its first villain, a spotted hyena leader named Janja, as the female he really should be.

In spotted hyena cackles or clans, there is no question about the dominance of the females, which is established the moment hyena cubs are born.

As the video below explains, female hyena cubs have immediate priority over a hyena clan’s oldest male adults, will grow to be larger and stronger than males, and ultimately enforce a matriarch system with their power.

This begs a simple question: why? Why would the creators, who very obviously would have been aware of this research due to their close contact with Disney’s highly convenient Animal Kingdom, decide against this?

“Because it’s a cartoon!” Some readers may readily shout, however this isn’t an appropriate time for that excuse; one of The Lion Guard’s main goals, as their producers stated, was to teach kids about animals.

This is why they made the choice to ensure that animals aside from lions–a hippo, a honey badger, a cheetah, and even a cattle egret–were in Kion’s Lion Guard.

Despite this perfect learning opportunity to add a girl to the outnumbered female character line-up, we are instead treated to a stereotypical gangster-accented punk of a guy hyena.

In fact, he is so attuned to the Guy Code that moments of his feminization (such as a butterfly landing on his head) are occasionally used as gags. This is a character who faces frequent humiliation when he is unable to be tough and intimidating.

As the author of Guyland explains this pattern of behaviors:

Violence, or the threat of violence, is a main element of the Guy Code . . . They use violence when necessary to test and prove their manhood, and when others don’t measure up, they make them pay. (Kimmel 57)

This definitely appears to resonate with Janja, who time and time again bullies and antagonizes other animals in his all-male clan of hyenas.

Perhaps Disney’s concern was that Janja would’ve come off as a butch lesbian if allowed to be an aggressive female, given the extremely masculine and “Guy Code” nature of true female spotted hyenas.

Hyena saying, "Even though no one complained about a pretty androgynous-looking female in the first movie.

Damsels In Distress, With Disturbing Implications

Additionally, this male aggression is repeatedly coupled by female victimization. We have a grand maximum of three recurring female characters, and all of them require rescuing: Kiara, Fuli the cheetah, and Jasiri the hyena are those damsels.

Many complained about the demonization of hyenas in the first movie, and so when a “good,” supposedly independent female hyena appeared in The Lion Guard, the feedback was generally positive!

It was so optimistic, in fact, that audiences very easily ignored that she was anything but a self-reliant female character. In the video below, Jasiri scoffs at Kion for suggesting that she might ever need his help.

Of course, seconds later, trouble arrives in the form of Janja and his clan. She defends herself for a bit, but ultimately, it is Kion who chases off the malevolent hyena clan with an awesome roar.

Her musical number with Kion, “We’re The Same,” begins to sound void of self-awareness once it is realized that . . . They really aren’t treated the same at all, in fact.

As two separate species, they accept each other, and feasibly that is a positive message about appreciating physical differences. Even so, when comparing the sexes, an imbalance is clearly seen in favor of our male hero.

Hyena saying, "Let's not forget how odd it was for a female hyena to be the boys' victim, when all real female spotted hyenas dominate males without exception"

Irritating as this is, it pales in comparison to some of the perverse undertones displayed throughout these damsel cases. The collage below may help to define this persisting theme.

It is always predatory or preying groups of males that plan to abduct or ambush the girls. In each case, the girls are helplessly pinned or too are weak to defend themselves.

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In the video below, Kiara is lured into the outlands where Janja’s clan awaits to attack. It’s Kion to the rescue once again, and only then does the cackle retreat.

Even this is rather subtle harassment in contrast to Fuli’s encounter with vultures, and it is worth listening to what the villains’ voice of reason says as his parliament encircles her at 1:13.

“Oh, don’t worry my dear, it will all be over soon. After all, we’re not uncivilized.”

Timon looking disgusted

What it sounds like is precisely what the distracted parents are likely to miss, and it’s also what the author of Guyland commentates on in uncensored detail:

Whenever men build and give allegiance to a mystical, enduring, all-male social group, the disparagement of women is, invariably, an important ingredient of the mystical bond, and sexual aggression the means by which the bond is renewed. (Kimmel 238)

A dismayed Scar muses, "Surely you will soon grow tired of this damsel trope?"It’s the sugar-coated conclusions to these twenty-minute-long episodes that obscures an otherwise precarious brand of symbolism. These are metaphors where men are carnivores and women–even if technically meat eaters in this show–are the targets of assault.

Even if one chooses to disbelieve that this is very mildly hinted rape culture slipping into children’s television, there is still something to be said about the high levels of violence toward women that are being depicted today in children’s television.

Final Thoughts and Reflection

Parents are swift to defend this show with a defensively prepared, “It’s just a cartoon, so what’s the harm? They love it, and they’re learning something from it!”

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The sad truth is, they really are learning something from it; and it isn’t what we’d hope they would about animals or friendship.

They’re learning about Hollywood-contrived, exaggerated discrepancies between males and females, where few actually exist in reality.

They’re learning that they’re watching a “boy’s” show, where mainly boys get to explore.

Overall, they’re learning some concepts about general kindness and courage, but it’s a swing and a miss because gender and messages of equality all conjoin in the same ballpark.

Positive themes and morals aren’t impossible in children’s television, because dedicated shows with reasonable airing times like Gravity Falls create an entertaining space of equality without shoving ideas down the audience’s throat.

Before we begin asking kids to be friendly to each other through media, perhaps we as adults should wonder what we’re making these children think about themselves.

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References

Barnett, Rosalind, and Rivers, Caryl. 2004. “Leading Questions.” Same Difference. New York: Basic Books.

Kimmel, Michael. 2008. “Bros Before Hos”: The Guy Code.” Guyland. New York: Harper.

Kimmel, Michael. 2008. “Predatory Sex and Party Rape.” Guyland. New York: Harper.


This essay was written and compiled by a student of Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn who wishes to remain unnamed.

whyveganism.com

Sexism and Speciesism in the Not-So-Female-Friendly Hollywood

speciesism-in-hollywood
The lack of sexual diversity in Hollywood has been a critical issue that gained wide attention among movie lovers and researchers. But, as a recent University of Southern California report shows, a real change in the industry is still required. In particular, Dr Katherine Pieper points out “raised voices and calls for change are important, but so are practical and strategic solutions based on research.”

So how can we implement solutions based on research, such as the one that USC proposes? Is the research showing solutions for all female species?

Research often offers observations and critical analysis of existing case studies. There are several feminist cases to study, such as Julia Roberts not wearing high heels and Alicia Keys not using makeup on the red carpet. Publicity of Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy – the fact that breasts are not essential for her sense of being a woman – generated contested views in feminism. While Jennifer Aniston received attention for her feminist perspectives on the impacts of paparazzi photography, Keira Knightley posed nude to protest against the use of Photoshop and questioned idealistic images of women in Hollywood. Furthermore, Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra have successfully used media channels to represent themselves as women of color in Hollywood, thus resisting in a wider context of social justice.

What else can researchers do apart from studying actions that these female actors have already taken and have also inspired others to do?Well, being a living example of change and bearing witness of violence are essential for social justice. But most fans often shift responsibility to Hollywood actors as idols of our society.

Here, we are not talking about blockbuster films in Hollywood only. One must note that Hollywood is an abstract cultural space where filmmakers and film studies scholars co-exist through material and symbolic modes of communication in shared environments. Furthermore, critical questions on the female are not limited to humans but also apply to animals in our overall environment of social practices. In this respect one of the issues that is rarely addressed is how atrocity in ongoing circumcision of male pigs and grinding of live male chicks is overlooked while exploitation of female reproductive organs e.g., chicken breasts, milk, and eggs is glamorized. These practices lead to normalizing, naturalizing, and legitimizing exploitation of female body parts. The exploitations are completely overlooked in Hollywood representations of a ‘bacon and egg’ breakfast after a steamy sex scene, where female actors are far more exposed and consumed than their male counterparts.

Famous diner scene from "When Harry Met Sally" where Sally fakes an orgasm over a nonvegan sandwich
Now the USC report argues “women were over three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown partly nude or in sexually revealing clothing”. Why?

In The Sexual Politics of Meat, feminist author Dr Carol Adams points out that sexism and speciesism have the same roots of patriarchal oppression in a class-based society. Unless we use verbal and non-verbal means to resist violence against all females, women will be not only underrepresented but also be animalized.

We cannot fight for the freedom of one while oppressing the ‘Other’ in discourses of the female body. The intersections in sexism show that there is no single issue cause in Hollywood and beyond.

Marilyn Monroe nude in bed wrapped in sheets

So how can we bring much-needed changes in Hollywood representations of women and feminists that fight for diverse social issues? And can we walk the talk?

We need to show intersections – not categorizations. That’s exactly the problem.

We need to show how sexism, classism, speciesism, and ableism among many other ideological practices are interconnected in Hollywood. Using the intersectional approach, we must be a living example of change and resist images and products that support exploitation. As Gandhi says, “be the change you want to see.”

 


samita_nandyDr. Samita Nandy is an award-winning academic, author and cultural critic on fame. With federal and provincial grants valued at $140,000, her research has developed with an aim to reveal meanings of celebrity culture, history of stardom, and celebrity activism. She is the Director of the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) and author of Fame in Hollywood North.

whyveganism.com

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 superheros. 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 the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

Women Laughing Alone With Salad

Woman eating outdoors

You’ve seen them a hundred times before. You know, the bright eyed salad crunching woman. Head thrown back with hysterical jubilee, she is overtaken by the gloriousness of the vegetable medley gracing her lunch bowl. The promotional flyer for your local natural foods co-op features them. The websites for major grocery chains use them. Educational pamphlets in your doctor’s office use them. Tons of vegan organizations use them. Heck, I bet if I checked into it, I probably used one to illustrate a blog post at least once.

Stock photographs of women… sitting alone… with a salad that is so damn hilarious, they can’t help but explode with laughter and delight.

Recently, the absurdity of these images has caught the attention of the internet, resulting in a number of memes, a tumblr page, and even a play.

Salad isn’t really funny. Rarely is it ecstasy-inducing. Usually it’s just a messy experience of trying to shove awkward lettuce leaves into your mouth. Often you’re dissatisfied and annoyed that you used too much dressing, or not enough. In reality, you’re checking your teeth for stuck pieces of lettuce instead of smiling from ear to ear between bites. Eating salad is, in general, a mundane affair.

Collection of stock photos showing women laughing while they eat a salad

But eating salad is lady’s work, and, as such, it must be performed accordingly to tell a particular narrative when being observed and documented.

Vegan feminist theory tells us that food–what we eat and how we eat it–is firmly rooted in gender norms. The consumption of vegetables (with salad being the ubiquitous cliché) is a highly feminized behavior. Gender codes also manifest in the regular hyper-emotionality of women in advertising. That is, women are often portrayed as having inappropriately extreme emotional responses. Representation of this kind adds to the cultural understanding of womanhood as infantile, irrational, and immature. In this case, even a little bit insane. These images reinforce women’s subordinate status. Pairing hyper-emotive women with hyper-feminized food items makes for a perfect storm in sexist imagery.

Man about to eat a forkfull of salad, smiles softly to camera

I have, of course, been presented with the inevitable, “Men, too!” argument. True, men are often shown to be just a little too excited about their salads. But let’s be honest: they are much less frequently depicted laughing, with their head thrown back, in their underwear, or pregnant. The gendered frivolity of salad consumption is very much so a feminine affair.

Woman laying on bed in white underwear eating a salad

When men are pictured in the improbable scenario of eating a salad prostrate on a bed in a white thong, then, okay, let’s talk.

 


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with 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. She was awarded the 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar 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 (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).