This essay was originally published on Ecorazzi.com
I have written before about how justice for only some is no justice at all. In the first part of this essay, I detailed some examples of how the large animal organisations perpetuate speciesism through many of their tactics and campaigns. Similarly, animal organisations often perpetuate tropes that are, and have been, used to oppress humans, and in doing so they are participating in injustice. We can never justify harming humans in order to seek justice for nonhumans, and we must be careful, in a world where many humans are enduring oppression, not to perpetuate oppression.
In the 1990s, PeTA initiated its “I’d/We’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns, using the advertising mantra of “sex sells” to try to promote an ethical issue. Campaigns targeted against fur are, by default, campaigns targeting women. Fur wearers are usually women, and women are easy targets for paint-throwing and sexist and abusive insults because, as Gary Francione notes, they are not as likely to react in the same way as leather-clad male bikers. PeTA has long objectified and commodified women under the guise of attempting to end the objectification and commodification of animals.
PeTA often uses naked or scantily clad cis-passing, white, able-bodied, slim young women to “promote” its campaigns. Whether standing on the street in lettuce bikinis handing out leaflets, behaving suggestively with vegetables, or removing all of their clothes for PeTA’s State of the Union Undress, women are treated as little more than props in PeTA’s campaigns, and patriarchal ideas of “womanhood” are upheld.
PeTA frequently eroticises scenes of violence against women to highlight violence against animals. “Shackled, beaten, abused. Stop cruelty to elephants” reads one poster of a woman in chains and manacles with torn clothes, with two people of colour (we’ll get to that in just a moment) approaching her threateningly from behind.
“All animals have the same parts” reads a poster of scantily-clad Pamela Anderson whose body is marked into pieces like “leg”, “round”, “rump”; as Francione writes in criticism of similar stunts, “As long as we continue to treat women like meat, we will continue to treat nonhumans as meat.”
A woman at a dining table looks terrified as she, tied up and bleeding from the mouth, is being force fed through a tube topped with a funnel by a man who is holding her by the throat in a campaign against foie gras.
One of PeTA’s videos is a parody of a PSA about domestic violence, with a woman whose boyfriend went vegan and had so much stamina and energy that she ended up in a neck brace. A fur ad shows a woman beaten to death in the street and her fur coat ripped from her body. I’m hoping I don’t have to explain why this is unacceptable.
Many of PeTA’s campaigns also instrumentalise racial trauma. In 2009, members of PeTA dressed up as the KKK to protest the American Kennel Club. The group has compared factory farming to the Holocaust with the slogan “To animals, all people are Nazis”. A 2005 travelling exhibition entitled “Are Animals the New Slaves?” juxtaposed images of lynched African-Americans and Native Americans with images of exploited animals. And PeTA used the shooting of Trayvon Martyn to advertise its “Never Be Silent” campaign to highlight issues of animal treatment. PeTA all too often uses human tragedies and rights violations as marketing tools.
PeTA’s approach is often to put nonhumans first. For example, the group sent help for the animals affected by Hurricane Katrina but is reported to have left humans affected by the disaster to fend for themselves. It has also praised the anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for switching his prisons to a vegetarian menu. Arpaio’s department has a very poor human rights record to put it mildly (see here).
PeTA has engaged in body shaming (for example, its deeply offensive “Save the Whales. Lose the blubber” campaign or its pictures of female body hair with the slogan “Fur trim: unattractive”), homophobia (“Be a little fairy for the animals”), transphobia (“Fur is a Drag”) and even autism pseudoscience, curism and fearmongering with its horrendous “Got autism?” poster.
PeTA is not alone in these tactics, though. I’ve written before about the prevalence of body-shaming among vegans, and by doctors who work with and back large animal organisations. There are many groups that send to protests women dressed in flesh-coloured body suits, covered in fake blood and lying in cellophane. Protests organised by such groups frequently depict women as animals, chained, caged, or on all fours as though they are cows waiting to be milked. Women’s bodies become sites for the re-enactment of practises of animal use, whether staged beatings, vivisection, confinement. Many groups draw on (and thereby perpetuate) the racial trauma of the Holocaust or of Black slavery to highlight the systemic rights violations of nonhuman animals. Most animal groups often focus on the practises of one group of people in their single-issue campaigns, thereby perpetuating sexism (fur, for example), ethnocentrism (Yulin dog meat festival; Taiji dolphin slaughter; Kapparos), and other form of oppression. Animal activists use “animals first” rhetoric, proclaiming forms of discrimination that they have never experienced to be outside of the sphere of concern of animal advocates. They thereby justify the perpetuation of tactics that harm humans in order to “liberate” animals, as though we can ever achieve justice from a perspective that dismisses the forms of injustice endured by others.
There is NO corporate animal charity that does not sell out interests of at least some groups (and always the animals) in order to appeal to its donor base. Grassroots vegan education is where we need to place our hope for a vegan world, and that starts with you. Get out there and advocate for a just world for everyone, because advocating for only some is unfair, unworkable, and unjust.