I SPONSORED A PUSSY: Cabbage Chicks and the Politics of Vegan Sexism

Cabbage Chicks

Sexist advocacy is normalized within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Most readers are likely aware of the infamous PETA campaigns that use the naked bodies of women to grab attention, but sexually objectifying vegan women “for the animals” might now be the status quo. Case in point: the Cabbage Chicks.

In 2013, a grassroots group based out of Milwaukee tabled the city’s PrideFest featuring two young white women, topless save for a pair of cabbage leaves glued to their breasts. Their nudity was exploited as a teaser to attract visitors, and they awarded stickers to those who took the bait and donated. The stickers read: “I SPONSORED A PUSSY.”

When criticized, the organization insisted that it was unaffiliated with the campaign. Apparently, these women came up with this idea on their own to “help draw attention” to the tent, and “they had fun doing it.” The organization’s president assured that dressing up in vegetable costumes was “empowering.” PETA takes a similar position in response to feminist critique.

Cheers to them, of course, if they indeed had fun and felt empowered, but this is far from an individual act. Naked protesters frequently represent an organization, and organizations clearly condone these stunts by promoting the women’s semi-nude images on social media accounts. Individualizing women’s protest, however, removes culpability and risk. When campaigns succeed, the organization can reap the benefits. When they falter, the individual volunteers can be blamed.

Defending the Campaign

What if men get naked sometimes, too? One organizational representative noted that one man also took his shirt off and helped out: “There was a male dressed up as well, not sexist.” Yet, in our deeply sexist society, the bodies of men and women are not interchangeable. Men’s bodies are interpreted differently, generally in ways that empowers them and reasserts their dominance. Women’s naked bodies have yet to be divorced from the larger structure of degradation and sexual objectification. Again, PETA also deflects with this false equivalent when pressed by feminist critique.

The organization’s president also stated: “I’m not completely making the connection on how this is any different than wearing a swimsuit at a public beach.” Of course, beaches can be sites of oppression for women as well, but for the most part, wearing bathing suits on the beach is not going to draw attention to women in the same way wearing cabbage leaves in an information booth would. While PrideFest is arguably much more nudity-normative, it should be considered that women dressed as food reinforces the notion that women are consumable commodities (isn’t treating vulnerable persons like edible things exactly what activists are hoping nonvegans to get move away from?). The double entendre of the “I SPONSORED A PUSSY” sticker only reinforces the misogynist message.

Contextualizing the Campaign

This stunt is only one of several other problematic campaigns. In another, they had a young woman stand by the side of the road with meat cuts drawn on her naked body. The organization suggested that it was less problematic because it’s “not really sexy,” but using a naked woman’s body to emulate violence against animals is arguably worse.

In another campaign (not staffed by the organization itself, but promoted on its Facebook page), two bloodied women lay prostrate on the ground with a metal pipe by their bodies. A man in black (drawing on the imagery of the stereotypical rapist or murderer) stood over top their “corpses” brandishing a woman’s animal hair coat. This campaign targets female consumers (the primary wearers of “fur”) by drawing on imagery of violence against women. The organization’s response? “AWESOME! Thanks for all that you do for the animals! <3”

The PETA Effect

I share this incident to demonstrate that something systemic is at work here. The use of naked or nearly naked young women (usually white and always thin) and the use of women’s bodies as stand-ins for dead Nonhuman Animals are both increasingly popular tactics resulting from the hegemonic presence of PETA. As the largest Nonhuman Animal rights organization, PETA has the cultural power to define what types of advocacy are popular, expected, and legitimate. Ultimately, PETA is reflecting popular advertising techniques from the business world, those that are developed by men for patriarchal purposes (i.e. “sex sells”). In other words, it is not simply about women’s personal “choice.” Instead, there is a more powerful movement structure working to narrowly define what choices are available to female activists.

Regardless of individual women’s choices, activists should be concerned about the larger implications for women as a demographic. Western society trivializes and even condones rape, and according to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 2 seconds (most of these are victims are women). Psychological and sociological research has shown that sexual objectification of women and trivialization of violence against women is correlated with the devaluation of women and increased violence against women. It even leads women to self-objectify and achieve much lower levels of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is important, not only in fighting against one’s own oppression, but in feeling worthy enough to participate in social movements . . . including Nonhuman Animal liberation.

What is more, this kind of advocacy does not solicit the desired effects. The tools of misogyny only build more misogyny.

Criticizing these tactics isn’t about policing women’s behavior. Vegan feminism is instead responding to the rape culture that Nonhuman Animal rights organizations perpetuate to the detriment of women. Organizations must accept responsibility for the wider implications of this type of advocacy. Nude campaigns are mostly legal, just like rape jokes are legal, but that does not exempt them from criticism. Shutting down well-meant discussion about the hurt that sexist advocacy causes women is problematic. It is also indicative of how toxic the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has become for women and other vulnerable groups. The bottom line is that activists cannot articulate a clear message of anti-oppression for other animals so long as the movement uncritically exploits and aggravates the oppression of other vulnerable groups.

Here’s a radical notion…what if women didn’t have to be sexy cabbages to advocate for the end of violence against animals? What if women got to be persons? I think a person makes for a better activist than a cabbage any day.

 


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.

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Dove “Real Beauty” is a Real Nightmare for Animals

Dove Real Beauty Veganism
Palm oil is produced by extremely exploited, practically enslaved humans in developing countries. Production is also extremely destructive to the environment, and orangutan populations, in particular, have been hit hard.  Many Nonhuman Animal rights activists have stopped consuming palm oil and have urged vegan companies to switch out the offending ingredient.

Recently feminists have joined the dialogue as well with parallel campaigns against palm oil. Unfortunately, their claimsmaking tends to overlook the intersectional nature of this social problem as their efforts tend to focus on nonvegan products. Without vegan praxis, feminism undermines itself.

orangutan-orphan-palm-oil

Organizations such as Fem2pt0, for instance, have targeted Dove (a product of Unilever) insisting that the soap brand to go “slavery-free” and drop the problematically-sourced palm oil.  Yet, even with the most ethically produced palm oil, forced labor remains fundamental to Dove products.

Most name brand soaps available in major supermarkets rely on the oppression of vulnerable Nonhuman Animals. Unless the soap is specifically marked vegan or vegetable-sourced, chances are very good that the soap is composed of slaughterhouse renderings. That is, one of the main ingredients in Dove is the body tissues of Nonhuman Animals. These “ingredients” never gave consent, never received compensation, and ultimately lost their lives in the exchange. This violence should be identified within the feminist critique of Unilever and similar corporations, but, unfortunately, it is not.

Consider also that Unilever, like many name brand cosmetic companies, is a company that tests on Nonhuman Animals.  Unilever claims to be moving away from vivisection, but it continues to test nonetheless.  Nonhuman Animals are tortured with abrasions and blinding with the chemicals and detergents found in nonvegan soaps.  Many companies hold trials in which animals are force-fed ingredients until at least half of the sample population dies to determine toxicity.  Dove soap is always sourced from oppression, torture, and death, palm oil or no. These products are made of the bodies of the nonconsenting, from the products of the nonconsenting, and are tested on the bodies of the nonconsenting.

Dove has a weak record in demonstrating its concern for the suffering of others. Remember the feminist Facebook protest of May 2013?  Because Facebook was unresponsive to the rampant misogyny and violence against women and girls promoted throughout the platform, feminists began to pressure its advertisers instead.  Many companies quickly pulled out, but Dove stubbornly remained with Facebook.  Neither has Dove been popular with feminists with its shallow representation of women’s self-acceptance in the “real beauty” advertisements. Everyone is beautiful to Dove, but not quite beautiful enough to forgo its beauty products.

Dove ad featuring seven women in their underwear happy and posing

Ethical consumption is, in other words, far from simplistic and many angles must be examined. For those feminists who are concerned about the suffering of others who are commodified in the products we consume, it is necessary to consider veganism.

Step one? Go vegan and dump Dove; switch to vegan brands.  Affordable vegetable glycerin soaps are available in most supermarkets, and countless vegan companies offer amazing upscale soaps and body washes as well. Just steer clear of LUSH, it has a history of exploiting women and perpetuating rape culture.

 


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

PETA’s Sexy Pregnancy Campaign Against SeaWorld

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Trigger Warning: Discusses pornography and the sexual exploitation of pregnant women.

Not Safe For Work: Contains discussion of pornography and erotic imagery.

Anti-Seaworld ad by PETA featuring Marisa Miller, a young white woman, nude and pregnant in a bathtub covering her breasts with her arms and looking at the camera from below

Supermodel Marisa Miller, widely regarded as a “sex symbol” for her work with Victoria’s Secret, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues, and Maxim, has posed nude while pregnant for PETA’s SeaWorld ad campaign.

Because the media space is so saturated with sexualized images, pornographers consistently seek to push the edge with more and more taboo or sensational sexualizations.This means that children will be sexualized, grandmothers will be sexualized, pregnant women will be sexualized, etc. This is not to say that children, grandmothers, and pregnant women can’t or don’t feel sexual or enjoy sexual agency–the point is that pornography tries to encroach into spaces where women and girls are traditionally honored and protected from being viewed as a sexual resource to men as a marketing ploy. It is the taboo that sets them apart and sells product. Of course, with, many pornographers taking this route, what was once “taboo” is now accepted and normalized.

PETA protest against Seaworld float in Macy's Parade. Two nude women with body paint like orcas sit in a bathtub holding a sign, "Could you live in your bathtub? Boycott Seaworld!"

PETA also takes a more “traditional” approach in its Seaworld campaign by featuring nude women in public protest who do not appear to be pregnant.

There is definitely a connection between SeaWorld’s imprisoned whales and women in PETA’s ads, but it is not the connection PETA hopes we will decipher: vulnerable demographics are exploited for gain, and this exploitation is seen as entertainment.

We, the viewer, are invited to feel good by consuming, to feel good by gazing at a naked woman and then (maybe) donating to PETA, and to feel good by gazing at a trapped whale and paying admission and buying stuffed Shamus. More importantly, we see it as something the participants “enjoy” doing, and we are discouraged from thinking about the ugliness that lies behind the scenes. In all likelihood, Miller probably did enjoy it, being a supermodel is a career for her. However, we should consider how pornography hurts vulnerable women who do not have the same privilege and access available to wealthy white women. It is important to acknowledge how capitalist framing can obscure the exploitation involved with consumption with imagery of choice, independence, individualism, enjoyment, pleasure, and other good feelings.  SeaWorld uses the same rhetoric to justify the imprisonment of their whales: they love what they do. They’re enjoying themselves, so sit back and enjoy the show.

While lacking a feminist critique, Jezebel covers the campaign and admits similar confusion:

A pregnant Miller chilling in a tub makes me think SeaWorld is a place where pregnant Orcas chill in tubs. While that’s by no means a great life for an orca, it’s not exactly the right message.

Clawfoot bathtub with orca reclining inside, a baby orca is diving into her belly

Image from Jezebel

But maybe the image isn’t meant to be a metaphor at all. Maybe it’s just a continuation of PETA’s long-used tactic of stripping celebrities down as a way of titillating their audience into some kind of low-level version of awareness.

OK, fine. It’s probably that. But it’s still a crappy ad.

Indeed, the level of awareness is quite low. Social psychological research demonstrates that using sex to “sell” ethics backfires. Protest observers actually find the degradation of women to be a serious turn-off. Outside of social movements, research also finds that “sexy” advertising can distract an audience to the point where they don’t even know what was being sold to them.

 

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.

LUSH Cosmetics: Kind(ish) to Animals, Not to Women

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Lush Not Vegan

LUSH Cosmetics is known for its handmade and largely cruelty-free bath and beauty products. While not a vegan company, LUSH has expanded into the realm of Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy. Under its “Fight Animal Testing” campaign, for instance, LUSH has been pressuring governments to end vivisection, even offering a large cash reward to anyone who can develop a solution.

While a concentrated effort to improve the condition of Nonhuman Animals is commendable, LUSH unfortunately replicates many of the harmful, misogynistic tactics favored by full-time animal rights organizations like PETA. Offering some vegan products in its stores and getting active to end some forms of Nonhuman Animal exploitation is obviously a good thing, but the damage LUSH could be doing to women is alarming.

Take, for example, its anti-vivisection street demonstration that featured a young woman in a nude body suit enduring graphic reenactments of torture at the hands of a male “researcher” for ten hours. The woman was dragged about by a rope tied to her neck, forcibly pushed into various positions, and force-fed. She was pulled by her hair, injected with saline needles, and her head was shaved. While the woman was a consenting professional performer, the pain she endured was clearly real. This event took place in a store window and was fully visible to the public.

lush cosmetics animal testing controversy

The use of a female actor was no coincidence. LUSH explains:

“We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman. This is important within the context of Lush’s wider Fighting Animal Testing campaign, which challenges consumers of cosmetics to feel, to think and to demand that the cosmetics industry is animal cruelty free.  It is also important in the context Jacqui’s performance practice:  a public art intervention about the nature of power and abuse.  It would have been disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse.”

LUSH intentionally chose a female actor to endure 10 hours of torture in a public space to, in so many words, teach women a lesson. Incidentally, products marketed to women are much more likely to be free of animal testing, unlike men’s products. The next time you are in a store that sells toiletry items, check the packaging of men’s products. How many are cruelty-free? You will be hard pressed to find any. Furthermore, most animal testers, farmers, and slaughterhouse workers are men. Men are more likely to hunt and men consume more Nonhuman Animal products than women. It’s even men who are buying animal hair coats, as the ability to adorn women with “fur” acts a male status symbol. Is it really so disingenuous to question men’s role in the systemic exploitation of animals?

The truth is that women are easy targets. Women are LUSH’s primary customers, and I suspect that LUSH is hoping to frighten women into choosing LUSH products over its competitors. LUSH is drawing on and aggravating the reality of male-on-female violence to secure sales.

LUSH has hosted many similarly problematic promotional stunts. For instance, one anti-vivisection demonstration featured bound women on their knees lined up outside the store with their mouths taped over. A woman dressed as a scientist (drawing on male imagery) loomed beside them. At another store, female employees were dressed as foxes and coquettishly arched their backs, smiling as a man threateningly hovered over them with a kitchen knife.

White woman covered from head to toe in red paint wearing only underwear laying in the center of a Canadian flag as though she was dead in front of a LUSH store

Nonhuman Animal rights organizations frequently use a woman’s body that has been sexualized in some way to represent an abused, tortured, or dead victim. The intentional conflation of sex and violence is particularly problematic.

One store featured a 24 hour storefront display of an anguished woman in a leg-hold trap. In another, a woman was suspended by hooks inserted through the skin in her back to protest shark fishing. In a French store, a woman dressed as a rabbit cried out in anguish as her “fur” was peeled away, displaying her raw flesh below. Her naked body had been painted to resemble bloodied muscles.

LUSH is not afraid to use nudity, either. Protesting oil dependency, naked store employees wore mock oil barrel signs that cheekily read, “Time for an oil change or we’ll lose it all.” In one worldwide event, LUSH employees (who are mostly female) were paraded outside the store wearing nothing but aprons and high heels to hand out leaflets announcing LUSH’s “reduced packaging.” For some stores, aprons read: “Ask me why I’m naked.” Encouraging nude female employees to approach gazing men with LUSH leaflets is unsettling. But, handing out soon-to-be-trashed leaflets to men who are probably not in the market for bathbombs to advertise reduced packaging is just confusing. What’s the real objective here?

White woman wearing barrel sign, nude underneath in LUSH store

Entering a LUSH store is a magical experience, I can’t deny that. Stores are fragrant and colorful, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. I love having more than one vegan product to choose from (although I’m still confused as to why LUSH refuses to go completely vegan). I actually wore Karma perfume for 6 years, but I can no longer shop with LUSH (I switched to Pacifica, which is 100% vegan and does not demean its female employees). I also informed my friends to find alternatives to the LUSH gift certificates I often receive.

It is clear to me that LUSH is exploiting the victimization and sexual objectification of women for profit. If LUSH is sincerely expecting these stunts to combat oppression, it might consider that aggravating normalized violence against women is counterintuitive to a campaign hoping to end violence against Nonhuman Animals. A message of peace and justice cannot be clearly articulated through oppressive actions.

There are many completely vegan and genuinely cruelty-free companies selling natural, hand-made cosmetic products that don’t throw women under the bus “for the cause” (or for the company). When (and if) LUSH decides to grant the same respect to women as it purports to grant to Nonhuman Animals, perhaps I’ll be smelling of orange blossom and patchouli again one day. In the meantime, I’m shopping elsewhere.

 

 

Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology 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.

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

Steak & BJ Day: Because Women’s Cancer is All about Pleasing Men

Not Safe For Work: Contains graphic discussions of sex acts. Website discussed is pornographic.

Content Warning: Intense degradation of women, particularly women disabled with cancer.

Close up of a woman's bottom, legs spread. She appears to be naked except for an apron and a pair of underwear with the organization's logo printed over the back of the panties. The logo is a cartoon of a steak and a pair of lips.

On “Steak and BJ Day,” women are encouraged to please the men in their life by cooking them a steak and performing fellatio . . . to “help punch cancer in the face.” You know, because breast cancer, a perfect excuse to serve men.

The event’s corresponding website is a veritable celebration of degradation and male entitlement.  The small print is all that distinguishes it from a run-of-the-mill pornography service, but I’m still not convinced. Multiple detailed and graphic instructional essays and videos are available to teach women how to give “the perfect head.” Here’s Step #11 “The Blowing of the Load” from “Blowjob 101”:

Spitting it out means like. Swallowing means love. And gargling with cum makes you look like a crazy slut that probably has STDs. Most guys don’t care about where it goes eventually, but there are some ways to keep it sexy and fun. If he’s into it, he may want to cum on your face. It’s just cum and you trust him. It has to go somewhere and it’s good for your skin. Wherever it goes, wipe it up soon. No one can relax and fall asleep when paste is hardening around them.

Swallow it or wear it if you want to demonstrate perfect servility.

Website visitors can also learn how to cook a steak, purchase merchandise, or pleasure themselves to a gallery of pornographic images of naked women cooking and cleaning for men. Only young, thin, attractive white women, though, all of whom have large, full, and undiseased breasts. Based on the imagery of the website, there are clearly age, weight, racial, and health restrictions to participation in Steak & BJ Day.

Cringing yet? Don’t, because this is actually for a good cause!

In 2015 we’re supporting Coppafeel® – a charity formed to raise boob awareness, fight cancer and save lives. 1.7 million people a year are diagnosed with breast cancer, and who knows how many more are indirectly affected.

You read that correctly. A deadly, painful, miserable disease that disfigures and kills millions of women is really all about saving women’s breasts so men can “cop a feel” and keep the blow jobs and steaks coming.

Beyond the clear pornographic aim of Steak and BJ Day and aside from the atrocious sexualization of a deadly disease for men’s enjoyment, it is also vital to acknowledge clear intersections between the objectification of women’s body parts with the objectification of Nonhuman Animal body parts. The organization’s tag line:

Rumps and Romps. Fillets and Fellatio. Sirloins and Sucking. Best. Day. Ever.

Women’s breasts, mouths, vaginas, and buttocks are put on a plate for men’s pleasurable consumption alongside the slices of lightly cooked and bloodied cow’s flesh. The language used makes the degraded body of the woman indiscernible from the degraded body of the cow. This is all about paying homage to patriarchy. Nothing is sexier in a patriarchal relationship than the humiliation and death of the vulnerable. In this case, the vulnerable could include cows tortured and killed to produce steak, women hurt and humiliated in the performance of androcentric sex acts, and women suffering and dying from breast cancer.

The intersection of these values is especially visible in the below image of a partially nude and sexualized woman covering her breasts with rotting flesh for the male gaze. The pain, vulnerability, humiliation, disease, death, and objectification of vulnerable bodies is considered a turn on.

Thin white woman on her knees, kneeling in front of a plate with silverware and blood. She is rubbing bloody steaks over her breasts and looking seductively at the camera

Actual image from the website

To those who have loved ones impacted by breast cancer or are struggling with the disease themselves, I can only imagine the humiliation they might feel if they were exposed to this “charity’s” imagery and claimsmaking. Beyond the misogynistic nature of the campaign, the fact that animal flesh consumption is known to be a primary cause of cancer makes this approach not only offensive, but conceptually backwards. Appealing to male privilege to raise awareness for women’s health is also suspect. Historically, women’s diseases have been trivialized or ignored due to patriarchal prioritization of men’s interests. But, again, I do not believe this to be a project with a primary goal of fighting cancer. This is pornography: the sexualization of suffering and subjugation. The cancer variable was likely thrown on superficially as a means to justify this grotesque display of male entitlement. Drawing attention to the fact that women are suffering and vulnerable to death and disfigurement is probably an added bonus: more female pain to fetishize.