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Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Joint Statement by a Group of Abolitionist Vegan Feminists for International Women's Week

As abolitionist vegans and feminists, we oppose the use of sexist
tactics in the animal advocacy movement. Ethical animal rights veganism
is part of the logical conclusion of opposition to the exploitation of
all sentient beings -- both human animals and non-human animals.
Opposing speciesism is incompatible with engaging in sexism or any
other form of discrimination, such as racism, heterosexism, classism,
and other forms of oppression.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed many female activists saying that there is nothing
wrong with using "sex" as a tool to get our message across, using
various arguments to try to justify this view. Further, other advocates
have been unfairly attacked for "sexism" because they are openly
critical of sexism and sexist choices in the movement. Neither should
be acceptable to advocates who take anti-oppression work seriously.

Some advocates defend the use of sex by accusing us of being "anti-sex" or
prudish. Abolitionist vegans are not prudes by any means, however, we
see that the way sex is used to sell things in our patriarchal society
reinforces a view of women as commodities. For example, just take a
look at the way in which PETA uses sex in its campaigns - they
reinforce harmful Western beauty standards by mostly using thin,
large-breasted women, who tend to be posed to appear vulnerable and
alluring to the (heterosexual male) intended viewer, as well as mostly*
using men who are muscular and trim and posed to look powerful and
self-assured. When sexism is being used to try to "sell" justice for
non-human animals, at the expense of reinforcing harmful attitudes
towards human women, the irony is clear. The seriousness of the
injustices committed against both non-human animals and human women in
this world are cheapened by the use of tactics based on inane and
harmful stereotypes; far from challenging the issue of animal
exploitation, this kind of approach reinforces the very stereotypes
that have harmed human women and non-human animals alike.

Some of the activists defending the use of sex believe that showing our
sexuality will call the attention of potential vegans by appealing to
their own self image, implying that when they see how sexy being vegan
makes us, they will want to become vegan too. This notion is not only
misguided but also detrimental to the actual message we should be
getting across. Veganism is about animal rights, not about feeling
sexy, or having better sex (characteristics we all know have little to
do with being vegan or not, but with each individual's lifestyle and
well-being) and it is most certainly not about "looking better" than
people who eat meat.

Promoting veganism as a way to become "sexy", which unfortunately is almost always equated with "losing
weight" in our society (for example, the book "Skinny Bitch" comes to
mind), further reinforces prejudices against larger or overweight
people, which harms both women and men in our society, but particularly
women. Not to mention that veganism is not some magic bullet to lose
weight - there exist plenty of vegans who are far from "skinny", who
are essentially being given the message that they are failures by these
sorts of campaigns that imply or flat-out promote veganism as a way to
achieve western beauty standards. Appealing to these harmful standards
not only reinforces them, but draws attention away from the true reason
people should go vegan, which is to acknowledge the moral personhood of
non-human animals.

Many of these activists defending sexist tactics claim that they are not, in fact, sexist tactics, that they
"empower" the women who choose to participate in them, and so that
criticizing these campaigns is disrespectful to these women - some even
claim that to criticize them is itself sexist. These arguments are
false for a number of reasons. First of all, these claims are usually
made to male activists when they criticize such campaigns. But one's
gender does not in and of itself make one more or less qualified to
speak about sexism or feminism.

There is a real "men should shut up and listen to women" attitude in these claims that seeks to replace
the egalitarianism that feminism demands with a hollow and
biologically-based authoritarianism. As bell hooks suggests, while
sisterhood is powerful, feminism is for everybody. As abolitionist
vegan women, we are extremely glad to have as allies men such as Gary
L. Francione, among others, who has been denouncing sexism in the
animal advocacy movement and consistently speaking up for feminism for
years. While we do of course believe that women should be listened to
and taken seriously, listening does not equate to agreeing with or
accepting someone's arguments simply because that person is female;
disagreeing with those arguments and presenting logical
counter-arguments does not equate to being sexist. It is unfortunate,
but sexism is so pervasive in our society that some women do not even
believe that it's still an issue, do not see how sexism has an impact
on their lives, and do not feel that feminism is relevant to them. Some
male feminist allies have spent years studying feminist theory; just
because they're male doesn't invalidate this expertise.

Furthermore, the view that anything a woman chooses to do "empowers" her is
simplistic in that it ignores the patriarchal context in which those
choices are made. Yes, the women who participate in the campaigns we
are criticizing have chosen to do so voluntarily, and some may feel
liberated, or feel as if their choices are themselves a challenge to
female objectification, and we do recognize that they feel this way. We
are simply asking them to seriously consider that these campaigns are
both harmful to women as well as ineffective in challenging the
exploitation of non-human animals, and that, in view of this, women
should no longer support or participate in them.

As stated above, the view that women are "empowered" or "liberated" by choosing
to commodify themselves ignores the structural dimension of sexism in
our patriarchal society. Whether we like it or not, our choices to try
to "take back" patriarchy's commodification of women by participating
in it voluntarily affect the lives of other women, especially women
with less power. In a culture that still views and presents women as
sex objects on a daily basis, the "taking back" or "reclaiming control"
intent of these choices is entirely lost to the greater public, and the
objectification and commodification is simply reinforced. When this
sexism is reinforced as being acceptable or no big deal, the overall
effect is to reinforce the attitudes that allow the trafficking, abuse,
and other forms of exploitation and violence that are inflicted on
women in poverty and of lower socio-economic status around the world
every day.

Some claim that these campaigns are necessary to get the attention of the public. As we mentioned above, this draws
attention away from the real reasons behind veganism: the rights of
sentient beings not to be considered property. Getting attention at all
costs is not the way to promote a serious issue such as violence
against animals; in a world where this violence is already not taken
seriously, attention-at-all-costs tactics only serve to further
trivialize the issue. PETA's sexist campaigns do get attention, but
overall it is attention for PETA, not for the real issues. It's a
guerrilla marketing tactic designed to get people talking about PETA so
that the donations keep flowing. (And look, it's working, since here we
are talking about PETA, but we felt we couldn't discuss this issue
without mentioning the largest and worst offender, unfortunately.)

Even more disturbing are the video campaigns that juxtapose sex and
explicit, gory images of violence to animals, purportedly to grab the
attention of young heterosexual men and then to inform them about the
treatment of non-human animals. For example, PETA's "State of the Union
Undress 2010" features a woman stripping "for the animals", after which
a second video automatically begins playing, depicting graphic violence
inflicted on nonhumans. How exactly is getting men to associate these
sexually arousing images with gory images of violence going to help

The campaigns that blatantly use sex and Western beauty standards are not the only sexist tactics used in the animal
advocacy movement. For example, the longstanding campaigns against fur
have a distinctly sexist element. By singling out fur, advocates are
not only implying that there is some moral difference between fur and
leather or other types of animal-derived clothing, which there is not,
but they are also singling out those humans who wear fur while ignoring
or minimizing the actions of those who wear other types of animals.
Most fur in our society is worn by women. Effectively, these campaigns
single out as morally wrong a particular use of non-humans mainly by
women, while minimizing other equally morally wrong uses by all
genders. Does pointing out that a little old lady in a fur coat is
wrong to use animals while ignoring a biker in a leather jacket really
help anything?

Also worth mentioning are the gender issues involved in animal exploitation. The animals exploited specifically for
their milk and eggs are, it should be obvious, females being exploited
for their reproductive cycles. They are repeatedly forcefully
impregnated in the case of cows and other mammals used for their milk,
i.e. raped, then their babies are taken from them, which causes extreme
distress to mother and baby. Both mammals and birds are killed once
they reach an age such that their reproductive cycle slows down or
stops, and they are no longer profitable to their owners. Similarly,
female animals of most of the species exploited by humans are used as
"breeding" animals, forced to have litter after litter of young, and
discarded when their usefulness for this purpose wanes.

While, as is to be expected in our speciesist society that considers
non-humans property, feminism and sexism have always referred to
humans, when looking at it from a perspective that is both abolitionist
vegan and feminist, this exploitation of female animals' "femaleness"
could be seen to fall into the intersection of these two struggles. It
is odd that some people claim to be vegetarian (but not vegan) for
"feminist reasons" - one would think that if someone believes the
eating of animal flesh to be connected with the treatment of women
"like meat", that they would also see the use of animal products that
come specifically from female animals' reproductive cycles as being
connected. Feminism is not merely a matter of having a vagina and a
monologue; it is a daily lived practice, a dynamic force for change and
liberation, a dialogue, a community, and a social transformation
embodied in words and actions every turning moment of our lives.

If feminism is for everybody, that includes nonhuman animals. As animal
rights advocates, whether we are male or female or genderqueer, it is
our responsibility to oppose the exploitation and oppression of all
sentient beings. This will be achieved by educating others in a
creative and objective manner. How can we presume to end the
exploitation of non-humans while encouraging or accepting the
exploitation of our fellow human beings?

The bottom line is: commodifying ourselves does not truly "empower us". We can't use sexist
methods to further a social justice issue. All exploitation of sentient
beings is related; we're not going to end speciesism, the oppression of
non-human animals simply because they are not human, without a firm
commitment to ending sexism as well, and certainly not with the kind of
attention-at-all-costs opportunism engaged in by certain activists at
the expense of other oppressed groups.

Ana María Aboglio
Paola Aldana de Meoño
Jo Charlebois
Elizabeth Collins
Vera Cristofani
Karin Hilpisch
Mylène Ouellet
Renata Peters
Trisha Roberts
Kerry Wyler

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