There are NO Cults in the Animal Rights Movement!! So, What about Yourofsky?

By: Dr. C. Michele Martindill

Trigger Warning: Discusses the violent rhetoric of Gary Yourofsky, which many have described as racist, ableist, and sexist. Comments from Yourofsky supporters included in this essay also engage heterosexism. Finally, this essay analyzes the formation of cults and may be upsetting to those who have been personally impacted by cult exploitation.

Yourofsky

 

Someone with years of experience in the animal rights movement raised an intriguing question when she asked a straightforward question: Why can’t we get all of the leaders within the animal rights movement into a room to work out their differences and find a way to do what’s best for the animals? What a question!! YES, great idea! The movement does need to find a common definition for animal rights and a comprehensive path for activism. After all, there is much confusion over what to call the movement: Veganism? Animal rights? Animal Liberation? Vegan Abolitionist? OR How about Movement for Animal Rights, Veganism, Environmentalism, Liberation and Abolition (MARVELA!!)? Once the leaders settle on a name for the movement they can sit down and plot movement strategies: Diets? Boycotts? Direct action? Marches? Information tables? Facebook pages? Passionate speeches? Shopping for vegan products? Good. Now the movement has a name and some immediate goals. Nice day dream so far, eh? All that’s left is deciding on the scope of the movement: Is the movement about social justice for all, the environment or just for the animals? Uh oh. The dream is getting fuzzy. Will the movement encompass ending the oppression and exploitation of humans, too? Zap!  Lightning bolt End of daydream! The realization dawns that the movement leaders gathered in a room to build a more coherent movement are all upper class-abled-cis gendered-white men—men like Gary Yourofsky. Nooooo!

Just when the movement needs to decenter and dismantle the white man dominated leadership in order to center previously marginalized groups, it would be a step in the wrong direction to even invite Gary Yourofsky to a planning session for a movement that could potentially impact so many lives. Recent essays have documented the problematic nature of Yourofsky’s views and the unquestioning loyalty of his followers. Some attribute his rise to prominence in the movement to hero worship on the part of followers. A few portray him as a fascist dictator, and others declare Yourofsky a cult leader. So, which is it? Using social psychology to examine how the cult leaders become established and the attraction of cults for followers will help to reveal a major problem within the animal rights movement—the notion that if we just silence one vocal, hate-filled leader the problem of disunity and oppression of marginalized groups in the movement will be solved.

Hero worship of a cult leader may end, but we will still be living in a social world grounded in patriarchy, a social world in which every interaction is man-centered or becomes man-centered the second a man notices women trying to make their voices heard. In addition, there are women in the movement who wear this institutionalized man-centered ideology either with pride or sometimes unknowingly—a patriarchal ideology that installs men as the leaders and women as the followers. The strategy of pitting women against women, those who support patriarchal leadership against those who challenge it, is not uncommon. A real danger in the movement is feeling that other women are the ones perpetuating oppression and exploitation of the women who dare to speak up, to question authority. It is important to keep in mind that all women are the victims here, victims of manipulation, and historical or institutionalized patterns of social organization.

Furthermore, the self-serving bias, a social psychological process through which people preserve their self-esteem by asserting the belief that only others participate in questionable behaviors or interactions, tells us no one is immune to joining a cult. Anyone—you, me, or the most dedicated social justice activist—can become or may already be a cult member, but continue to deny it because we fear looking bad to others. We’re not the problem; it’s everyone else. It is theorized that women are more likely than men to be cult members, possibly because they are more accustomed to living their lives under the authority of men in leadership roles and showing deference to men. More research needs to be done with regard to how gender, race, social class and ableism relate to cult membership. If the animal rights movement is to become inclusive of members of marginalized groups, then it is imperative to ask how the predominantly upper class white abled leadership and membership of cults in the animal rights movement contributes to classism, racism, ableism and ultimately exclusion.

Would we know a cult if we saw it? What are the distinguishing features of cults? Cults are distinct from organized groups that focus on activities, one-time events or volunteerism. Cults are comprised of a strong, authoritarian leader and a group of dedicated, loyal followers. Certain social psychological processes have been identified to help explain how cults are formed. Cults can be focused on religion, promises of future wealth or enlightenment to the capital-T Truth, and political causes such as animal rights or veganism. There is nothing particularly different about people who join cults. People who join cults may have recently gone through some life challenge such as a divorce or a death in the family. They might also be inexperienced in social interactions or disillusioned with the status quo, e.g. those who are concerned about the oppression and exploitation of other animals. The common denominator is that potential followers are vulnerable in the sense that they want answers, solutions or some way of coping with perceived problems. A cult promises not only answers, but camaraderie (Langone, 2013).

Several young women in blue dresses flank a raised throne with an older man who resembles jesus with a wooden cross behind him

One thing to keep in mind about cult members is that contrary to popular belief, they do not suffer from low self-esteem any more or less than the general population, nor are they recruited based on having low self-esteem. Persons with psychological problems would most likely be considered a liability by cults and not capable of carrying out the work of the cult—defending the leader, bringing in money or recruiting duties (Rhoads, n.d.). The core question centers on how cults keep members in line and actively involved. It is not simply the power of the message delivered by the cult leader that puts a cult in motion.

Researchers have identified countless tactics used to motivate cult members and prevent their questions about the integrity of cult leadership. The “hot-seat technique” is one of the best known strategies. It involves putting the new member center stage in front of the group to confess their misdeeds or impure thoughts, and then having the leader and membership berate them in an effort to shatter their self-confidence and self-esteem. The idea is to keep members doubting their capabilities, and in constant need of the support of the cult leader and other cult members. A big group hug of some kind usually follows the hot-seat or center stage treatment, assuring the cult member all is well IF they follow the party line.

Lego man wearing a shirt with the word "you" crossed out while he flips the middle fingerSeveral examples of the hot-seat strategy from Facebook interactions and YouTube videos have Yourofsky spewing misogynistic, sexist, racist, ableist and other oppressive speeches aimed at supporters as well as those who might be swayed to become supporters. This strategy serves to set the rules of the cult, to impress listeners through dynamic, charismatic speech, and to force followers to consider their own actions and confess how they were once oppressors of other animals. The following comment by Yourofsky illustrates the point:

The latest lie being spread about me is that I’m a racist because I said Palestinians were crazy. But if I distrust or hate all humans and the way we behave, I am a misanthrope NOT a racist! Yet, my misanthropy causes no actual harm contrary to the human rights hypocrites who actively support violent exploitation AND murder every time they sit down to a meal.

In this introduction to Yourofsky’s latest YouTube video, “Palestinians, Blacks and Other Hypocrites,” Yourofsky uses ableist and racist language to defend himself against charges of racism, something that might seem likely to turn away followers, but actually establishes him as someone willing to insult and degrade humans—someone who appears brave and a formidable leader. Note the response of an enamored follower:

I thought the whole idea of being a vegan was for animal liberation. Why are we even talking about human rights, when so many animals continue to die every second of every year.
If you want to be a human rights activists, the door is open, exit veganism now.
I’ll agree with Gary on this. I’m glad he said it. At least he’s no hypocrite.
Can’t you see, we are the problem. Humans create their problems and then expect everyone to sympathize. Take responsibility for your actions.
On the other hand, animals, do not create problems nor do they expect any sympathy.
I defended Gary’s stance and I would do it again. Go join a human rights group and let us true vegans clean up your dirty work. And stay out of the way.

Support is offered for the leader’s ideology and followed with a confession that “…we are the problem. Humans create their problems…”. “True vegans” should either get with the plan or “go join a human rights group,” as if that would be the worst form of rejection by the cult.

The rules are clear: There is no room for human rights activists among Yourofsky’s followers, and his response to the above Facebook comment dishes up approval for those who agree and lets everyone know what constitutes sanity and logical thinking:

THANK YOU FOR THINKING LOGICALLY! YOU ARE SANE & COGNIZANT my friend (Yourofsky, 2015).

Racism comes more into play with the next comment from Yourofsky:

Malcolm X once said: “You cannot be anti slavery and pro slavemaster.” Animals are the victims/slaves. Humans are the victimizers/slavemasters.. I side with the slaves and will no longer defend humans who scream about their mistreatment when they dish it out to the animals.

The tokenism and appropriation of a quote from a leader in the Civil Rights Movement is blatant and allows Yourofsky to portray the simple good vs. evil mythology that grounds so many religions. He does so by ignoring hundreds of years of human slavery and claiming all humans are “slavemasters.” One follower touts the revelations of Yourofsky as the “new paradigm”; however, Yourofsky is well aware of those who would challenge this new paradigm:

… except my enemies come from WITHIN the vegan movement. vegans have been trying to silence me for more than a decade. and they’re gonna win soon because I am worn out and burnt out.

Prophecy!! One of the great trademarks of a cult leader—the ability to predict the future! Most impressive. We also gain a clearer picture of THE enemy: vegans!! A form of call and response, a preaching style in which the minister speaks and the congregation answers with an affirmation, follows throughout this Facebook discussion thread. Comments supportive of Yourofsky net words of praise from the leader, and negative comments are met with admonishments to watch his video again or to go away (polite terminology). The vast majority of responses from followers are reinforcing Yourofsky’s views, including his racism:

I’m rapidly becoming disliked by most people I know….because I 100% share your attitude, morals and beliefs. I’d rather be a fuc***g loner, than a murdering hypocrite! The name calling and personal attacks are becoming the norm, and I couldn’t give a shite! OUR WORDS ARE RIGHTEOUS, THE TRUTH, SPOKEN WITH COMPASSION AND MORAL. For every murderer I see shovelling in a fork full of suffering…they’ll get my harsh words for afters, couldn’t give a flying shit what colour or where they’re from! My life focuses on the devastation humans cause…so FU** HUMAN RIGHTS!!

Another writes:

If they ever win by silencing you, I’ll carry your cross for you. You have plenty of support Gary.
Never forget that!

Homosexuals are another frequent target for cult members:

Yeah or the homosexuals who want “their rights” and respect, but cannot do the same for all of nonhuman animals that end up on their plates every time of every day. They want to get what they themselves don’t want to do. I used to fight so much for the homosexuals rights until I saw that when it came to what I cared about ( nonhuman animals ) they were not willing to support my cause in any way. So sad that they’re so selfish.

And then one person dares to question Yourofsky on his claims of success in making the world go vegan:

I agree about the hypocrisy of fighting for human rights while hurting animals but I don’t think hating people helps them see what they’re doing.

Yourofsky responds:

The Real Gary Yourofsky how can you say that when I have converted between 100,000 to one million with MY ATTITUDE/STYLE and the lovey dovey BS pacifists haven’t done shit? stop believing in fairytales like love conquers hate.

Yes, a part of cult leadership is laying claim to vast numbers of unverifiable conversions or some other accomplishment as proof that their strategies are effective and to motivate followers. Given Yourofsky’s focus on making all of Israel vegan, it is possible Yourofsky is referring to a survey that suggests vegans in Israel number 10% of the population or about 700,000 people, giving the country one of the largest per capita vegan populations in the world, but questions grounded in critical thought about this number are absent from the discussion. A 2001 report from the Israeli Ministry of Health shows “7.2% of the men and 9.8% of the women identified themselves as vegetarians” (Neiman, 2014). These numbers indicate Israel had a strong vegetarian population well before Yourofsky started his campaign for veganism in Israel. Also, while a recent report by Israeli media confirms that Yourofsky’s video from a Georgia Tech appearance in the summer of 2010, “The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear” (Yourofsky, The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear, 2010), has been seen “by at least 396,000 people…(with Hebrew subtitles) (Darom, 2102), there is no way of knowing if all of the viewers were in Israel or if they immediately made the decision to be vegan.

Just as Yourofsky brags about his successes, he also proclaims extreme humility in an effort to show followers he is just like them, someone they can identify with and emulate:

“I’m not a politician. I’m not a salesperson. I don’t ask for donations. I don’t want donations. I want people’s minds. I want people to be kind for the animals (Yourofsky, Gary Yourofsky speaks to 450 students at Ben Gurion University, n.d.).

Setting aside Yourofsky’s comment that he wants people’s minds, his occupational profile fits that of many cult leaders who were writers, salespersons and carnival workers prior to leading their cults. Most notably, Yourofsky worked as a paid spokesperson or lecturer for PeTA between 2002 and 2005. The common thread is that these jobs all involve persuasion, a key skill requirement for someone trying to sell others on a particular dogma (Sagarin, n.d.). Any denial of political activity—using power to effect change—or working to sell people on his ideas is a direct contradiction of what he does every single time he takes the stage to speak. His denials are, however, a persuasive rhetorical technique, an attempt to show he has nothing to gain on a personal level. Nothing, except the notoriety that guarantees his voice will be heard over the voices from marginalized groups!

Internet culture brings with it new opportunities for cult formation and their sustained activities. Their work is often measured by the number of memes or YouTube videos they produce and disseminate, as well as the number of ‘likes’ these products receive on websites such as Facebook. There is also an unrelenting willingness of supporters to defend leaders, including Facebook page owners and moderators, no matter what they might publish. Public objections are frequently deleted and those who question authority are banned from the site. Still, the following general definition of cults remains the same for all types of cults:

• The leader is best classified as an authoritarian; simply put, it is the leader’s way or the highway
• The beliefs of a cult are different from the mainstream and often narrowly focused; they have the potential to be dangerous or even false; a cult often suggests that nothing matters except focusing on gaining converts
• Demanding changes in lifestyle for followers, e.g. a demand to cut off communication with family members who don’t show proper support
• Cults emphasize recruitment, soliciting money or other needed resources, and finding opportunities to make the cult’s videos or products available to the public
• Cults have distinctive ways of getting all members on the same page, of getting them to think the same way
• Insiders in cults are clearly distinguished from outsiders, sometimes with the use of insider language or symbols; outsiders are often attacked, and they are abused psychologically or physically (Nassim, 2013)

A friend once observed that the best way to handle cult leaders and the claims-making of cult members is to ignore them, to stop feeding their egos. Cults are more than the manifestations of any leader’s ego. Cults have to be seen in relation to the patriarchal institutions and oppressions of our social world. They do not exist in isolation of sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, classism or speciesism. It requires critical thought and questioning of cults in order to dismantle them or at least defuse their incessant attacks on those outside of the cult. Every time someone outside of the cult hedges their criticism of the cult they inadvertently support it. Yourofsky’s misogyny is often criticized, but the criticism is mitigated when it is promptly followed with praise, e.g. “But he does do a lot of good for the animals.”

Gary Yourofsky

Critical thinking involves revealing contradictions in interactions or public discourse, e.g. how can cult leaders claim to not care what people think about them, but then try to defend themselves from criticism? Critical thinking aims to expose relations of power and to challenge oppression. When it comes to an examination of the hate speech and the promotion of violence by Yourofsky here are a few questions grounded in critical thinking that must be asked:

1. Who or what group benefits from using violence—threats, bullying and verbal abuse—against humans as way to end violence against other animals? What is gained from threatening violence or violent acts? Psychological dominance? Financial power? Publicity?
2. Through what social processes have cults become a normalized part of the animal rights movement, normalized to the point that their role in promoting oppressions is rarely challenged?
3. Many movement members who are not involved with any cult insist they could never be cult members, following the pattern of the self-serving bias. To what extent is it an example of the self-serving bias that so many movement members try to excuse the problematic actions of cults by saying, “Well, at least they’re doing it for the animals”?
4. Whose voices are silenced by cults? How are they silenced? How do cults socially reproduce or reify existing structures of racism, sexism, ableism, classism, ageism and speciesism?
5. To what extent do members of animal rights movement cults lose their psychological autonomy? Especially the women who follow a man centered leadership?

An important point to consider in trying to end the influence of cults within the animal rights movement is that they are a reflection of our patriarchal social order. Without patriarchy and the acceptance of sexism and misogyny throughout society, cults would have a difficult time forming, much less gaining momentum. It may be frustrating to think about how cults make the animal rights movement look to the outside world, and to encounter the lies, exaggerations and misrepresentations vocalized by cult members; however, ending the influence of cults depends on identifying and challenging them with critically grounded questions. The demand made by cults to focus only on the animals does indeed sound noble and even desirable, but it is also a way of deflecting criticism by presenting a worthy goal, AND it is a way of isolating the membership from the pervasive oppressions of the social world. Cult followers are repeatedly told that there is no point in addressing racism or sexism, for instance, and that veganism is all that matters. Any plans for an inclusive animal rights movement, one that addresses social justice, will depend on a clear message that focuses on how speciesism cannot be eliminated by turning our backs on human oppressions.

 

References

Darom, N. (2102, September 6). Is vegan superstar Gary Yourofsky an animal savior or a mad militant? Retrieved from HAARETZ: http://tinyurl.com/q2hdmkw

Langone, P. M. (2013). Who Joins Cults and Why? Retrieved from ICSA International Cultic Studies Association: http://csj.org/studyindex/studycult/cultqa4.htm

Nassim, A. (2013, September 2). Online Cults. Retrieved from Internet Ascent: http://internetascent.blogspot.com/2013/09/online-cults.html

Neiman, R. (2014, February 6). What Israeli Vegans Eat – And Why. Retrieved from Israel 21c: http://www.israel21c.org/israel-in-pictures/what-israeli-vegans-eat-and-why/

Rhoads, P. K. (n.d.). Cults: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from Working Psychology: http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html

Sagarin, D. (n.d.). Cult Influence Tactics. Retrieved from Working Psychology: http://www.workingpsychology.com/cultdef.html

Yourofsky, G. (2010). The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear. Retrieved from YouTube: http://tinyurl.com/mkpoon4

Yourofsky, G. (2015, May 17). The Real Gary Yourofsky’s Photos. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/therealgaryyourofsky/photos/pb.772568189464273.-2207520000.1432180346./822615614459530/?type=1&theater

Yourofsky, G. (n.d.). Gary Yourofsky speaks to 450 students at Ben Gurion University. Retrieved from YouTube: http://tinyurl.com/m2qwhrg

 

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

Gary Yourofsky: Is The Backlash Warranted?

By Michele Kaplan

TRIGGER WARNING: The following article is in response to a video posted by Gary Yourofsky. It contains quotes from Yourofsky that reference violence, sexual abuse and rape. The video also contains ableist language and makes the inaccurate claim that every person on death row is guilty. (#FreeLeonardPeltier! #FreeMumia!) Lastly, it contains a great deal of macho posturing, aggressive, graphic and at times disturbing language which may be triggering for many people.

NOT SAFE FOR WORK: Contains foul language.

Screencap from video showing Yourofsky explaining himself

“After 18 years on trial, the verdict is finally in!” Gary Yourofsky recently declared on social media. “I’ve been found INNOCENT on all charges of supporting rape!”

This being in reference to the backlash from his infamous quote: “Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.” The “testimony” (which was in the form of a 28 minute video) goes into great detail as to why he feels he has been treated unfairly.

It should be noted this is not an actual trial. Yourofsky has also declared himself “the judge” (thus his innocence) and ends his testimony by saying “Vegan love to all my supporters who refused to believe these psychotic defamatory lies about me. And finally, to all the organizations and people who have attacked me, claiming that I support rape. I hear by challenge you to top my anti rape position. Go ahead. I dare ya.” He pauses for a moment and then continues in an aggressive posturing “What?! Yeah, I thought so. As usual, I win! Checkmate! You lose!! Fuck you!!”

Yourofsky goes to great lengths in the video to show just how much he despises rapists: “This is what I think should happen to rapists.” He says “Even somebody who rapes a woman in a fur coat (if that ever happens).”

According to Women Organized Against Rape, 1 in 4 human women and 1 in 6 human men will be raped by the age of 18. Considering how much of the norm wearing fur is in our culture, the chances that a fur wearing human being raped, is highly likely.

He continues:

I think his penis and balls should be seared off with a cuticle remover slowly, and then I think two skewers should be shoved into their eye sockets, dragged into another room. And then I think their penis and balls should be dipped into diarrhea and puke. They should be given the option of eating that and then they can save their lives. And if they do eat it, I want to take a gun, put it between their eyes and say ‘I was just kidding’.

In another quote he states that, “Since 1997, thousands of people (mostly vegans) have accused me of condoning rape” and that he has been “continuously harassed with false statements for 18 years.” Okay, so it is clear he does not like rapists. Is he also saying that he never said the infamous rape quote?

Yourofsky

“I need all of my supporters to start condemning the liars and deceivers,” he says in the video “who claim that I support rape because I wished it. And I repeat: wished it, upon men and women who actually support rape and murder by draping themselves in fur coats.” He then goes on to say that there isn’t one person on this planet (including a rape victim) who is more against rape than he is.

And while it’s safe to say that someone who has actually survived rape would disagree with that last claim, let’s just move on and focus on what he is actually saying. He does not condone the actual violent act of rape. He merely wishes it upon certain people who he feels are deserving or “evil”

And while I agree that there is a difference between saying “I wish this person gets raped” and actually physically raping someone, I find it odd that he does not understand the consequences of language, let alone the consequence of when a man talks about raping a woman (even if “it’s just talk”). That when he uses rape as a means to punish a person (even if it’s “just talk”), that this still contributes to the collective rape culture, which also impacts the animals such as the dairy cows, who are repeatedly forcibly impregnated (aka raped) in the name of a product. That he doesn’t understand how when an aggressive sounding man starts talking about his rape fantasies, that this can be incredibly triggering to victims of rape. And thus, it is odd that he doesn’t understand how this could possibly create and warrant backlash.

“Wish”

He wishes evil things upon evil and violent people. (And while this includes rapists, domestic abusers and child molesters, none are more violent in his eyes, than the people who partake in the animal agriculture industry.)

“Propose”

“Nobody disagrees with my position on violence, they only disagree who I propose to be violent for.”

“Hope”

“Deep down, I truly hope that oppression, torture and murder return to each uncaring human tenfold!” And lastly he uses the word:

“should”

“Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.” As far as rape is concerned, this is what should happen to people (as he also comments on men) who support the fur industry.

This is why people accuse him of supporting rape, and yet he fails to see that.

In his eyes, why are people focusing on his words, when the animals (deemed as food) are being murdered, tortured and in many cases forcibly impregnated (aka: rape) on a daily basis? This would not occur if there weren’t people who were financially supporting the industry. This should be the focus, not something he says.

And in this regard, he is right. There is a deep social conditioning in our society that has raised us to believe that violence against certain animals are okay. That says certain animals are here to be our food and clothing and have no other purpose. The animal agriculture industry goes to great lengths to encourage this disconnect, by hiding the truth of the factory farms and putting the image of the jolly animal on their package, to give off the impression that the animal is happy to be your food.

Advert for barbecue catering service with a cartoon pig face that is smilingAnd when we see the packages of meat, the appearance is so far removed from what the actual animal looks like, that it becomes very easy to ignore and even forget the origin. The animal agriculture industry is so freaked out about their customers learning the truth of their industry, that they have gone to great lengths to lobby the government so it becomes illegal to expose the cruelty. Furthermore, how else will you ever get your protein and calcium? We are raised to believe that we can not be strong and healthy, if we do not consume animals, which is yet another myth perpetuated by the animal agriculture industry.

And I will also agree that there is a huge disconnect regarding the issue of rape and speciesism and that many anti-rape advocates and feminists do not know (or do not make the connection) between the dairy cow and the collective rape culture. They don’t know (or are taught not to care) that the only way a cow will continuously produce milk, is if she is repeatedly impregnated against her will (aka: rape), only to have her babies stolen from her time and again. Because to the industry, her baby is nothing but veal. This happens over and over until the mother cow is so emotionally and physically run down, that she is unable to produce babies (and thus milk), and then she is slaughtered. But we are taught to not worry about that because we are told that cows (and other farm animals) are unfeeling, unloving, creatures who do not respond to their environment, which is yet another myth perpetuated by the industry.

When he makes those particular points, he is correct. However, he remains confused as to why people are so distracted by his statements and they don’t just focus on what is a far worse situation. The truth is just because something is worse, doesn’t negate the consequences. I could say, “Oh, I hope you get shot and die a miserable slow painful death”. Meanwhile genocide is occurring in another part of the world. Yes, the latter is worse, but that truth does not remove the fact that there are still consequences to what I said.

Granted, Yourofsky will sometimes clarify his message and say that he only wishes violence upon people who indirectly or directly partake in the animal agriculture industry, because he feels that maybe if humans experienced the level of violence that the animals experience, then they would cease to contribute to the violence. However, he only clarifies some of the time. And when he does, people have to first get past his initial statements of wishing, hoping, and proposing violence against them to get to that point. Other times he just goes off on a graphic rant about what he thinks should happen to people who are evil.

The truth is, verbally advocating for the violence against a person who isn’t vegan only works against the cause of liberating the animals. Furthermore, it is hypocritical since unless you were born vegan, you too were once contributing to the violence. I know I was. And even now as vegans, when the grains, fruit and veggies are harvested, insects and field mice are often killed in the process. When the homes that we live in are constructed, harm is also done to the animals who were already living on that land. Many vegans require medications that were tested on animals. And yes, let’s work to change the system that makes it nearly impossible to not harm animals, but the present truth is that not one person is completely innocent of this.

Lastly, as activists we must remember that there is a difference between what feels good and cathartic to express, and what makes for an effective tactic and argument. The difference between what is best to share in a diary or in a private conversation, and what we share to the rest of the world, especially to people who we’d like to join us. Because, yes the animals need as many people on their side as possible, so that the goal of animal liberation can be achieved.

Gary Yourofsky has since put out another video entitled “Palestinians, Blacks and Other Hypocrites” where he addresses the issue of people in the community “unfairly” accusing him of making racist statements. Hmm, I wonder why.

 

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on May 17, 2015.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

Dealing with Sexual Abuse in Our Community

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses sexual harassment and assault.

Not Safe for Work: Contains one sexually suggestive photograph.

I want to preface this essay by clarifying that I am not a medical professional, nor am I licensed in counseling or anything of that nature. I specialize in gender studies, feminist theory, and social movement theory with an emphasis on politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights space. This essay intends to share wisdom based on this expertise and is not meant to offer psychological or medical advice. 

Let’s start with context: the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is 80% female. A large percentage of these women are college age, and the movement specifically targets college age persons. The movement is also male-led and adheres to patriarchal norms. Masculinized violent tactics like aggressive confrontation or property destruction tend to be celebrated. As are patriarchal tactics like sexual objectification, whereby female-identified activists are pressured to sexually objectify themselves “for the animals.” So, what we have here is a very toxic situation where men are elevated for violent, patriarchal, and sexist behavior, and the movement is predominately populated by young women (a group that is especially vulnerable to sexual assault, rape, murder, and other forms of male violence) who are valued primarily as sex objects.

Group of scantily clad, sexualized women barely covered with vegetable underwear, their breasts covered with PETA stickers

Men enter the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with the expectation and understanding that female-identified activists exist primarily as sex objects. This also creates a movement culture where activists of all genders may find it difficult to believe survivors who speak out about their experiences.

The unfortunate result is that violence against women in our community is extremely common. Please review our victim services page to learn more about what constitutes violence. Readers may also want to check out Emily Gaarder’s 2011 Women and the Animal Rights Movement, which includes an ethnographic survey of violence against women. I also recommend The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (Chen et al. 2011). Abusers take advantage of social justice spaces where they know young women will be easily accessible, where survivors will be afraid to come forward and the movement will be unwilling to hold abusers accountable in an effort to protect the movement’s image.

Based on this context, activists who come across violence in our community should consider the following hierarchy of concern:

1. The victim or survivor

2. The movement

3. The abuser

Given that we live in a sexist society and our movement is a microcosm of that sexist society, advocates tend to default to victim-blaming, victim-shaming, dismissal, disbelief, etc. We need to overcome this internalized sexism and always keep the survivor first and foremost. It is tempting to be swayed by redemption narratives, especially when the abuser owns up to their abuse (which is rare, making their openness all the more alluring). But keep in mind that this is a movement with a majority demographic consisting of vulnerable persons (women), and men are, as a matter of course, elevated to positions of power and prestige. Survivors must come first, as should the safety of other women.

Activists lined up outside of Whole Foods holding an animal rights banner. Man in front of them is yelling the message to the public.

In a movement that celebrates aggressive tactics and elevates male activists to “heroes” and leaders, a culture is created that endangers women. Groups like DXE and ALF epitomize this hyper-masculinized approach. Image from Direct Action Everywhere Chicago.

Many also pressure victims to keep it hushed because of fears about the movement looking bad. Keep in mind, however, if we have a movement where women cannot be granted basic guarantees of safety, and if those victims come forward and are not believed (or, worse, they are insulted or threatened), this makes for a very weak collective. We must put the vulnerable first, not the abusers.

So where does this leave the abuser? Given the tendency for men in female-dominated spaces to abuse their power (this has been documented in the feminist movement as well), we need to be extra vigilant about male-on-female violence in this movement. There must be accountability for interpersonal violence. For those who own up to their behaviors, that is a good start, but we should engage the admission with caution. The redemption narrative can easily be used to protect male privilege, especially when a discouraged movement desperately wants to maintain hope that a just world is possible and also wants to keep a positive outlook for purposes of sustaining morale and attracting new members. But, remember who we must keep at number one: the survivor, not the abuser. Perhaps abusers should begin to exit the movement out of respect for the safety and well-being of others. The community should support this departure. For the sake of social justice and movement integrity: survivors first; abusers last.

Those who prioritize the movement might balk at such a suggestion. Indeed, many claim we need “all the help we can get,” so anyone and everyone is welcome to participate. But there are other ways for individuals to help animals that will not involve them being in direct contact with vulnerable persons in the activist community. If we do not maintain an accountable and safe movement, we are unnecessarily weakening our movement. This is serious. Survivors can experience severe mental health issues following the incident(s) like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Some even kill themselves. Many drop out. We support incredible suffering and we lose valuable activists when we refuse to take violence seriously. If this truly is a movement that values peace, nonviolence, and social justice, we need to keep our priorities in check. Survivors first.

 

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

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.

Animal Victimization in the Service of Male Vengeance

Consider the following story line:
1. Woman is assaulted/raped/kidnapped/murdered.
2. Man goes on rampage in revenge.

How many movies (and television shows, video games, comics, etc.) can you think of that follow this plot? Bravehart? Taken? Just about every video game ever created? The victimization of women is an extremely over-used plot device meant to allow for rampant, unabashed violence from leading male-identified characters.

Taken Vegan Neeson

Feminists have taken issue with the trope, not simply because it gives a green light to hyper-masculinized violence, but also because of the ways in which women are presented. In seeing women vulnerable, victimized, dependent on men, and rarely actively involved in their own protection or survival, women become objects. Women don’t exist as persons or meaningful characters–they exist solely as an excuse for Liam Neeson to blow up half of Europe in search of his daughter, or for Mel Gibson to disembowel and behead half the English army.

Consider the impact this imagery has within a sexist culture. Imagine what it is like to be a woman in a media space that is saturated with images of women being hurt. Think about how difficult it can be to watch an action movie or television drama without being subjected to the obligatory rape scene. Media socializes not only male viewers, but female viewers as well.

Are we being encouraged to empathize with the victim, or are we being encouraged to root for the “good guy”/”hero”?  Are we encouraged to think critically about the systemic violence that the victimization is embedded within? Or are we really just pushed to unload our hatred on one individual “bad guy” and his cronies? When images of violence against the vulnerable are presented as entertainment and cheap plot devices, is this not a form of revictimization?

Lee Hall, a feminist and legal scholar in animal rights, has a chapter in her book On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal Rights Philosophy Down to Earth which questions the use of violent images of Nonhuman Animal suffering in a similar vein. Social movement scholars have pointed to the utility of “morally shocking” imagery as a motivation for becoming an activist, but at what point do graphic images simply begin to reinforce the object-status of Nonhuman Animals as helpless victims? What impact could these millions of images be having on our conceptualization of other animals?

To me, it seems that activists are not only blasting the public with these demeaning images, but they are also sharing them within the activist community as a means of exciting rage and desire for vengeance. Crude images of Nonhuman Animals being kicked, beaten, sexually assaulted, dismembered, etc. are shared among activists with encouragements to “GET ANGRY!” or “DO SOMETHING!”

Ecofeminist Marti Kheel has been writing about this “savior complex” in anti-speciesist spaces for decades. Instead of examining the root cause of exploitation, activists and theorists are looking for a reason to call on their inner Liam Neeson. The vegan feminist perspective, however, sees social change grounded in respect for the exploited and peaceful, non-violent education for the exploiters. Kheel explains:

Whereas nature ethicists have tended to concentrate on “rescuing” the”damsel in distress,” ecofeminists have been more likely to ask how and why the “damsel” arrived at her present plight. [ . . . ]

The natural world will be “saved” not by the sword of ethical theory, but rather through a transformed consciousness toward all of life.

“From Heroic to Holistic Ethics,” Ecofeminism,1993, p.243-4

My concern is that “victims in pictures” simply become revictimized when their experiences are shared in a matter that does not necessarily respect their personhood. In doing so, they simply become objects in the story line of activism:
1. Nonhuman Animal is assaulted/raped/kidnapped/murdered.
2. Human goes on rampage in revenge.

Given that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement already operates according to patriarchal norms and generally celebrates violent direct action, it seems quite fitting that Nonhuman Animals are presented as victims in order to allow men the justification they need to rampage. While violent activism is done in the name of social justice, the “might makes right” logic that supports this approach clearly works within an ideology of patriarchy.

Baby elephant smiles and lifts their trunk upwards towards mother, whose legs and trunk frame the shot

Popular media loves to play this victim card so that audiences can quickly “cut to the chase.” But is it wise to employ the same tactic in social justice efforts?  I think it is fair to say that the norm in other movements is to focus on the personhood of victims and survivors, instead of blasting audiences (and each other) with images of bloodied and mangled corpses or near-corpses. The video capturing the murder of Walter Scott by a police offer has gone viral in the Black Lives Matter movement’s media circles, drawing criticism from some that the revictimization of Black men through imagery mimics the same process found in pornography (an argument I have also made regarding the use of rape memes in the Nonhuman Animal rights media):

Yes, we should celebrate that even though an unarmed black man was killed, his killing was caught on film, so there’s a better shot at justice and closure. But I’m trying desperately to make sense of why watching and sharing the video that tore his mother’s heart to pieces is as normal as making your latest Instagram post. So far I’m landing at this: In a world where we are inundated with explicit content, watching black men die on camera provides a thrill that America thought she lost when popular lynchings ended with no need for a “mature audiences only” disclaimer. [ . . . ]

The black man’s death is repeated, reproduced, shared, and celebrated in a macabre way specific to the snuff genre. These films and activities have always existed, but in the past people didn’t consume them so publicly, or so proudly outside of public executions and lynchings.

Perhaps the Nonhuman Animal rights movement should take note. Instead of revictimizing Nonhuman Animals, let’s present them as persons. Let the Nonhuman Animals take center stage, not their human avengers. This is a movement that seeks to restore dignity to Nonhuman Animals. Reproducing victimization through movement media might not be sending the right message.

 

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

Ms. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and council member of the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association.

PETA Applauds Horrific Maroon 5 Video Glamorizing Violence Against Women

Trigger Warning:  Post contains images and discussion of violence against women.

Lead singer Adam Levine holds a reclining woman. Both are naked and covered in blood

PETA has a rich history of using explicit violence against women to promote Nonhuman Animal rights, a tactic that has been spreading to other organizations that follow PETA’s example.  In 2013, a PETA commercial depicted a scantily-clothed model in a locked car dying a sexy death to raise awareness for dogs vulnerable to heat exhaustion in the summer. LUSH hosted an anti-vivisection street demo featuring a woman in a nude suit enduring 10 hours of torture that culminated in her simulated death.  Animal Liberation Victoria campaigns against vivisection and whaling by positioning women in various states of undress, doused in blood for public spectacle.  Many of PETA’s print ads feature sexualized women in pain, often bloodied or dismembered.  In addition to PETA’s 20 year campaign of sexually objectifying young white women “for the animals,” it is clear that misogyny has become an anti-speciesist tactic of choice.

Image depicts the upper body of a woman butchered and hanging on a meat hook. Reads: “Hooked on meat? Go veg.”

PETA seems pleased that others capitalize on sexualized violence against women as well.  “Animals,” a new video release by American pop band Maroon 5, has come under severe scrutiny by feminists who are aghast at the video’s glamorization of stalking and violence against women. Indeed, as the lead singer/stalker Adam Levine (People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” 2013) is also portrayed as a butcher and the sexualized body parts of the female love interest (his “prey”) are juxtaposed with the fragmented, bloody body parts of Nonhuman Animals,  the video brilliantly exemplifies vegan feminist theories of intersecting oppression.  Despite the loud outcry from feminist and anti-domestic violence communities concerned with the impact this video may have on dating norms, rape culture, and women’s safety, it turns out that images of blood-soaked naked women in danger are right up PETA’s alley.  PETA spokesperson Ben Williamson reports to MSN:

Actually, we think Adam does a very convincing job of making slaughterers look deranged… If anything, the video doesn’t go far enough in showing the bloody horror of the meat industry and the misery that animals endure before their carcasses end up on a meat hook or butcher’s chopping block… We’re all ‘Animals,’ but anyone upset by the bloody scenes in the video had better opt out of real life violence by choosing to be a compassionate, vegan animal!

Typical of sexist advocacy in Nonhuman Animal rights, PETA is pulling on misogyny to scare or shame women into compliance.  If women are “upset” by exposure to male violence, they “had better” go vegan.

Using images of violence against women should never be an acceptable form of advocacy in a world where violence against women is real, lived, and on-going.  Most women will experience violence at the hands of men at least once in their lives, and all women suffer the constant threat of it.  The statistics for harassment, stalking, assault, rape, and homicide are staggering.  Given this reality, these approaches are nothing short of unethical and irresponsible.  By stepping in to defend the Maroon 5 video (what feminists are calling “this year’s ‘Blurred Lines’“), PETA is actively aggravating the distrust many women harbor for the stereotypically sexist Nonhuman Animal rights movement.

Incidentally, PETA’s comment that “slaughterers look deranged” is extremely disableist, classist, and racist.  Slaughterhouse work is the most dangerous profession in the United States; and it is grossly underpaid with the highest turnover rate.  What this means is that lower class persons, non-native persons, uneducated or illiterate persons, mentally disabled persons, non-English speaking persons, people of color, and other vulnerable groups are pushed into these jobs.  Using disableist rhetoric to describe human victims of industrialized food systems further alienates marginalized communities and puts Nonhuman Animal rights activism in an ugly light.

With so many peaceful and creative ways to advocate against speciesism, I reject the movement’s insistence on exploiting systemic violence against women, poor persons, disabled persons, persons of color, etc. Such an approach is inherently limited and can only alienate potential allies.

Rape & Slaughter: Empirical Correlations

Slaughterhouses and rape

I had the pleasure of presenting at the American Sociological Conference last August in San Francisco with a panel of several talented female scholars in the field of Animals & Society.  One such presentation, that of Racine Jacques, a Ph.D. student at the University of Central Florida, especially caught my attention because of its implications for vegan feminist theory.  Ms. Jacques had discovered a very strong relationship between rape and the presence of “beef” slaughterhouses in the community.  This relationship remained strong even when controlling for a number of other variables typically responsible for increases in crime rates.  She reports that the presence of a slaughterhouse corresponds with a 166% increase in arrests for rape.  Her study looks at other forms of crime, but rape stands out as especially significant.

Racine Jacques

Racine Jacques

This study partially confirms what vegan feminist scholars have been theorizing for some decades:  Violence against women and violence against animals are closely entangled and likely aggravated by patriarchal rule and capitalist economics.  In a society where the bodies of women and other animals are considered commodities and resources for the privileged, it should come as no surprise to find intersections of violence.

Ms. Racine’s study, “Social Disorganization in Slaughterhouse Communities,” is due to be published in an upcoming issue of Society & Animals.  A more nuanced discussion of the race and class oppression felt by the slaughterhouse workers themselves is included in her analysis.