Activism / Animal Rights

Even A Little Sexism is Never Okay

I recently came across a post written by James McWilliams, a person whose writings I often find myself in agreement with.  While I understand that two people can’t expect to agree on everything all the time, this particular post left me very disappointed.  It was a post about PETA’s sexist advertising campaigns — a subject I’ve written about before here.  Since writing the post, he has come under fire from many people calling him sexist and other things.

This is the comment I left on his blog:

(I also left a similar comment on my friend’s blog, Vegan Feminist Agitator, who wrote a great post about this issue, which I highly recommend reading.)

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You write:
“Sex does sell, there is no doubt, and perhaps it’s overly ambitious to take on the evils of speciesism and sexism at once, especially if a little sexism can help alleviate a lot of speciesism.”

I have a big issue with this, and hope you will understand that I do not mean to offend, only to express my own view.

I have experienced being sexually harassed in public, a few times when I was still in high school by men on the street, grabbing at my boobs and butt, groping me, catcalling, and do you know what the people standing by did? Usually nothing. Sometimes though, they would laugh. Laugh. They could see I wasn’t comfortable with it, but it amused them because it’s “normal” in the patriarchal sexist society we live in that tells us that women actually want to be reduced to an object for the purpose of male sexual gratification.

The amazing thing was that when I was younger I actually felt like speaking up or saying “stop” was rude. Rude! To the person who was sexually harassing me!

This is what happens in a sexist society that refuses to acknowledge that sexism exists, is objectifying and oppressive. It took a lot for me to finally be able to speak out and not be the acquiescent female body with a neon sign over me saying “use me as you will”.

Pretty much all of the confidence I have today came from learning about feminism and its link to animal rights. There are many women around the world in varying socio-economic situations who are negatively impacted by sexism — including sexism done by PETA, because sexism is sexism regardless of who it’s done by or what it’s done for — and it affects all women.

So when people say that “a little sexism” is okay if it’s used to advance animal rights, they’re basically saying that “a little sexual harassment”, “a little child molestation”, and “a little rape” are also acceptable.

James, I have respect for you and what you write and I feel that you are better than this. I know deep down, you understand that using sexism to eradicate speciesism is completely illogical and only damages both causes at the same time.

If we believe that oppression is wrong, we can’t pick and choose which ones are acceptable and which ones aren’t, just like we can’t choose which are worse than others. As a white woman, I will never understand what a black man goes through, and saying that what he endures is somehow less “wrong” is wrong in itself.

But it’s very hard to get someone to recognize oppression they benefit from, which is why I believe a lot of men just can’t see the problem with using sexism in animal rights activism. (There are, however, a very good amount of men who do understand the link and choose to oppose all forms of objectification because of this understanding.)

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In a recent post, James has written that because of the backlash he has experienced, he will be taking a permanent break from blogging.  Personally, I feel that this is not the best reaction to have.  It’s an embarrassment, yes, but who hasn’t said something they regretted at some point or another?  What matters is what we say and do after we make a mistake like that.  Rather than running away from the problem, it would be so nice to see him come back, take ownership of the situation and apologize, if that’s how he truly feels, of course.  I don’t believe that one slip should invalidate an entire lifetime of meaningful work, especially if the person is remorseful for their mistake.

So, James, if you’re reading this, please come back to the blogosphere and keep doing what you do.  At least in my opinion, I feel you deserve a chance to make things right.  I believe you still have much more to offer the blogging community.

Ultimately though, James will do what he feels is right for him and I understand that.  I’m sure he will continue to be a great advocate for animals in whatever avenue he chooses.

PETAjoannaFURTRIM300It’s of paramount importance that we never forget that sexism and speciesism are linked.  All forms of oppression are connected and we cannot hope to end one while participating in or allowing another because doing so is counterproductive.

When we condone even “a little sexism”, we are causing more harm than simply advocating for women to be viewed as objects — we are advocating for women to be treated as objects.  We are advocating more than an idea, but an action.

We are allowing society to continue to see a woman in a short skirt and call her a “slut”; to continue to hear of a rape on the news and ask why the woman allowed herself to get “that drunk” in the first place; and to continue to make sexually abused women feel as though what happened to them is their own fault.  Sexism has real, flesh and blood victims.  To say that even a small portion of the sexual abuse that 1 in 3 women will endure in their lifetime is acceptable for any reason is irresponsible and absolutely disturbingly wrong on every level.

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26 thoughts on “Even A Little Sexism is Never Okay

  1. Oh please! Grow up! Peta uses sex and other ads to put animal cruelty IN YOUR FACE so people can’t put blinders on when they are eating meat or wearing a fur coat. As someone who has survived rape and sodomy by my father as a child, I’d rather see nude humans than skinned alive animals that are still breathing. “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” Albert Scheitzer

    • I accually agree here… My own thoughts say that if you want to reach as many people as possible you’ll have to consider using the same ‘paths’ as main frame advertisers. People don’t like to view disturbing animal clips and look the other way. But you put up a tasty model… they’ll look. And at the end of the day, if that clip opens one persons eyes and they go vegetarian or vegan then it’s worth it – another fellow Earthling saved we all hope. With sexual abuse or harrassment, that’s not the ‘male mind’ but that one persons. I can look at bautiful women all day but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be dis-respectful, does it? I’m truely sorry if you have had unpleasant experiences with men – but please don’t tar us all with the same brush. Said in a lovely way, be careful – if you ‘tie the ropes to tight’ here it could be our fellow Earthlings that suffer and the ultimate goal should be to free them from atrocities that happen every hour, every day.

      • I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. I’m not “tarring you all with the same brush”. I even say in my comment to James that some men see the connection between speciesism and sexism. The point I’m making is that whether you are consciously disrespectful or not, there is inequality that does in fact exist. If you can’t see that, then you are blinded by your own privilege.

        Never did I say that every single person (or even many people) who advocate sexist advertisements (regardless of the reason) are going to participate in violent behavior toward women. What I am saying is that when men and women endorse those types of advertisements they are reinforcing the cultural norm of male supremacy that enables people who would participate in violent behaviors to do so and for others to excuse and/or ignore their inexcusable behaviors (ex. victim blaming, laughing).

        Sex does sell. But the thing is, sex sells when it has to do with what is being sold. It works for things like cars, clothes, alcohol, perfume/cologne, etc. It doesn’t work for animal rights because it has nothing to do with animal rights. Why? Because animal rights is based on a philosophy of equality between species, genders, sexual orientations, races, etc. It is about eliminating our participation in objectification and commodification of all beings — including women. How exactly do you expect to sell a philosophy characterized by abstention from oppressive acts while simultaneously and blatantly participating in and advocating for them?

        If what you’re hoping to achieve with your advertisements is gaining trend-followers, then yes, follow the fashion industry’s lead and use sex to sell animal rights (no matter how sexist it may be — and we all know how successful the fashion industry is at making women of all shapes, sizes and colors feel good about themselves). These people’s “veganism” won’t last longer than the time it takes for the next hot trend to come into the spotlight.

        However, if what you’re hoping to achieve with your advertisements is to attract people who will want to make a life-time commitment to a vegan lifestyle because it’s something they understand and believe in, then the sex appeal of veganism is completely irrelevant and thus, ineffective.

        Here’s a little exercise…

        What if instead of the quote being “Sex does sell, there is no doubt, and perhaps it’s overly ambitious to take on the evils of speciesism and sexism at once, especially if a little sexism can help alleviate a lot of speciesism”, what if instead of “sexism” we replaced that word with “racism”, “homophobism”, “ableism”, “ageism” or any other form of discrimination and prejudice? Does the meaning of the quote change? And if so, what is different about it and why?

        To me, as someone who is against all forms of inequality, I see no difference when we replace “sexism” with any other discriminatory “ism”. All are equally wrong. But many people still say that sexism isn’t as big of a problem as many feminists say it is because it has become so normalized — and that is exactly the way sexism works.

        Inequality can be loud and obvious, but it can also be quiet, almost stealthy and below the radar just enough that it is almost as if it doesn’t even exist — at least to the untrained eye (aka: an eye looking through a lens of privilege).

        • Thank you for your reply, Vegan Rabbit. And very good it is to. I have recently had my eyes opened and am a biginner in these things so would ask you to bear this in mind. :) Even by reading your post you have helped me understand more… Thank you

  2. As I have said before, PETA does a great amount of good. At what point will they can it with the female objectification routine and focus on their strengths? Their most recent achievement was banning animal circuses in India. Bravo. I would love to support them as I do with many other vegan orgs I won’t support the culture of negativity they represent. They turned me off of veganism when I was in my teens with their negative campaigning because all I had was their crappy example of people throwing paint on women with fur coats. Sure, I saw the light 15 years later but maybe had they been a better voice for veganism, I might have looked into it more deeply as an impressionable teenager. They made themselves out to be an extremist group when they were fighting the good fight. Young women see PETA ads and they feel two things: 1. people who associate with PETA is chronically angry/bitter 2. No “normal” young woman a.k.a. a woman with a non-perfect body could ever measure up to PETA’s beautifully Photoshopped models and actresses, kind of like how Abercrombie excludes the “ugly” or “fat” customers. PETA is weird — it tries to appeal to men and beautiful, thin young women when the 70% of vegans are females of all stripes, fat, thin, old, young, pretty, ugly.

  3. Perpetuating objectification culture is the very force enabling men like MOTI’s father to feel they can get away with anything without consequences. MOTI’s sad story will repeat itself over and over until our society starts treating women as individuals instead of disposable sex drones.

  4. Wow, if I hadn’t read the title I would have thought that was an advertisement for a meat company. Consuming meat and sex are associated with masculinity that this ad probably does way more harm than good. I’d say that any meat eating male that saw this would probably go jerk off and then eat some meat. It would probably have been more beneficial to use a male in the image.

  5. I agree with you, “just a little sexism” isn’t ok. Speciesism is a prejudice – and so is sexism- we don’t want to trade one for the other, we should want to put an end to it all. Having said that, I don’t believe that every picture of a nude/semi nude female body is inherently sexist. For instance, PETA’s protest that included naked people packaged as meat (with blood) was a proper presentation of how animals are viewed and used for consumption. It wasn’t glorified in any way. Even these images you uploaded here are showing that: a person presented as a piece of meat. The concept is not sexist in itself – it’s a comparison: if (human) women were treated just like we treat non human animals, this is what it would look like. But the first image is of a famous person known for these images – and the pose is linked to REAL non-ironic objectification of women in the media, and so it becomes a problem. I don’t mind the concept, but it could have been done better, to make the message clearer. This ad makes one wonder where’s the tragedy, do they want us to eat meat? Because they make it seem that eating meat is sexy. In the second image, I don’t see a good reason for the person to be naked at all to convey the message that elephants are robbed of their freedom and beaten. But it’s not necessarily sexist. What can be argued to be sexist is a CONSTANT use of nude females in their ads, even when it doesn’t make sense for the overall message of the ad.

    Hope I make some sense! :)

    • I understand the reasons PETA uses ads like these and I happen to agree with you that some are definitely worse than others (remember the one with the woman in the neck brace?). I also agree that the campaign with people packaged as meat can be fine because from what I’ve observed, there seems to be a much more even ratio of male to female participants (though there are always more female, it seems, most likely because women are more likely to volunteer for something like this — once again, patriarchal culture in action). The point also isn’t as convoluted as some of their other campaigns.

      One of the main things that bothers me is that PETA’s ads with men are generally quite different than the ones of women. Men are portrayed as strong, flexing their muscles, leaning forward, looking intimidating as if to say “vegan men are strong, confident and healthy” — which is great! And while PETA does have a few similar ads with women portrayed in this light (thankfully), the overwhelming majority portray women as weak, inferior, leaning backward or cowering from grabbing hands and men wielding whips or tubes (ex. foie gras), which gives off a completely different message than the “stop seeing women and animals as pieces of meat” message they intend, which unfortunately gets completely lost in translation to the general population in the spectacle of it all.

      PETA loves to shock people. That’s fine. I get it. Animal rights desperately needs attention. However, I personally don’t believe that any press is good press, especially when that press only reinforces sexist views and the rape culture we live in. What we have then are people like James McWilliams (and many more) who make the mistake of believing that “a little sexism can help alleviate a lot of speciesism” and at best that sexism is of less importance than other rights issues or at worst that sexism isn’t a problem at all. PETA should stick to shocking people in ways that don’t reinforce sexist views. Personally, I find nothing to be more shocking than undercover videos of slaughterhouses, dairies, hatcheries, fur farms, vivisection labs, circuses, etc., and PETA’s undercover investigations (what I consider to be their strong suit) are incredibly eye-opening to the public, very to-the-point and very shocking.

      • ” I also agree that the campaign with people packaged as meat can be fine because from what I’ve observed, there seems to be a much more even ratio of male to female participants (though there are always more female, it seems, most likely because women are more likely to volunteer for something like this — once again, patriarchal culture in action). ”

        Sincere question: What do you find problematic about “sexy vegan/vegetarian” contests where there is an even ratio of male to female participants?

        • I think those contests are distracting, frivolous and completely beside the point. Animal rights is about helping animals, not who is “hotter/sexier” than who — contests which are often judged by how well the person fits into the ideal male/female image pushed onto us by mainstream media and advertisements. Being vegan isn’t about being sexy — it’s about doing the right thing.

          If people are vegan because they want to look a certain way or fit in with a certain crowd, they need to do some work on their own vacuous personalities before they try to “change the world” with beauty contests. If they can’t understand that animal rights isn’t about them and their own self-centered desires for recognition, affirmation and ego-stroking, they are going to keep wasting time on self-indulgent things that benefit themselves and their own egos more than animals.

          All this being said, I understand the reasons why some people agree with those kind of “competitions”, though I disagree with them. They say “we should show people that vegans can be sexy!”. Riiiight. The only people who pay attention to those contests are the people “competing” and other vegans/vegetarians. No one else gives a crap. Even if they did, if they wanted to go vegan because they want to be “hot/sexy”, their “veganism” would last as long as it took for the next diet fad to gain popularity.

          • Fair enough, but in addition to being counter-productive or ineffective, do you also think these kinds of contests, in which women (like Shayna Wise) are voluntarily choosing to participate, are sexist or misogynistic, as some have claimed? I think it’s one thing to say these contests are a bad idea, but it’s quite another to say they are problematic because they’re sexist or misogynistic.

            • I think that has more to do with how each particular person views pageants in general. The same reasons beauty pageants like Miss America, Miss Universe, etc. are called sexist and misogynistic would be the same reasons someone could consider similar “vegan” contests sexist and misogynistic.

              • But the contests I’m referring to, such as the one Shayna Wise participated in, have an even ratio of male to female participants, whereas beauty pageant contests like Miss America are all female. Do you personally think those are sexist or misogynistic?

                I raise this issue because James’ “a little sexism” comment–which, btw, he explicitly qualified with “I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t,” thereby indicating that he doesn’t endorse the view–was made in the context of a discussion about sexy vegan contests. If they are sexist, then the kind of sexism James was referring to, whereby “a little” bit of it would be okay to “alleviate a lot of speciesism,” is on a vastly different order than sexism involving “a little sexual harassment” or “a little rape.” It’s the difference between sexism that women like Wise voluntarily consents to participate in and sexism that victims of sexual assault do not.

            • Spancelo: an advertisement (for instance) can have misogynistic content even if all the participants have volunteered to be part of it. If the implication of the message is that women’s worth is only in their physical appearance, or that women are represented as less valuable, less intelligent, less serious… etc… than men, THAT is obviously a problem which remains even if the actress used for the advertisement is a volunteer (as is commonly understood, although that too can be questioned.).

                • The contests for sexiest vegan or vegetarian? Yes I find those sexist because they imply a problematic notion that women are objects. And that only a certain look will do. This automatically disqualifies 99% of women. What is the goal of that strategy? Now, that’s not to say that there’s something sexist about the very notion of “sexy” (which is a matter of personal taste) only what it USUALLY implies in social contexts, such as in the mainstream media.

                  But like I said before, I believe that both nudity and sex can exist in the media without it being sexist. A naked body is not inherently sexist or provocative or wrong… But what we see in Hollywood today (Peta is just a small part of that mentality) is usually extremely sexist (and ageist).

          • Also, just to add to that, veganism is for everyone, not just sexy/hot people. I also don’t see how those competitions would convince anyone to become a vegan. (Is the line of thinking supposed to be “Gee if I become a vegan, I’ll be hot too!” or “Wow there are a lot of hot vegans!”) The problem with the second line of thinking is that there are also a lot of “hot/sexy” meat eaters.

            • The causal connection is obviously indirect. I don’t think it’s a matter of these contests “convincing” anyone to become vegan, but drawing attention to veganism in a roundabout way, similar to the way sex is often used to (successfully) sell animal products.

      • Wonderful blog and i definitely agree with the above. I wish PETA would confine itself to their undercover campaigns and promoting Veganism without the sexist crap brought into it. If they did both, they would be an incredible tool of change because they have so much notoriety. These crass campaigns which reinforces the status of women as objects (and therefore do not help getting people to see animals as more than properties either) have got to go.

  6. Hello again, we are on the same page. I wish PETA would spend their money more wisely to inform about animal cruelty, and encourage vegan lifestyle. Even the image you uploaded here says “go vegetarian”, which is one more mixed message for the observer. In my previous post I just wanted to say that nudity isn’t necessarily sexist (not that I think you said that). And I agree that the OVERALL presentation of women in their ads IS sexist. But like I said the concept behind it, isn’t, and I can imagine ads and campaigns where nudity (both male and female) could be used more wisely for the sake of comparison. But looking at their advertising strategy as a whole, the original concept is often lost on the public, because they use such cheap shots. With the wealth of information they have on animal cruelty, they don’t really to do that. But Peta is unfortunately part of that Hollywood mentality.

    I’m not really sure about the shock value approach- how far can it take us? Yet I find that undercover investigations are extremely important simply because the public has no idea what goes on in there. Some people still turn away, because they can’t stand the sight of blood, and then they go back to their big mac. But sharing information with people is the least we can do. How they react is up to them. I think you do that very well with this blog.

  7. Great article, Kara. I completely agree! Obviously a sexualized, victimized naked woman will get attention in our society. The question is why does that attract us so much? It’s rather sad, actually. We should be repulsed at the thought. If they really want the ad to get attention, they could depict a little naked girl getting molested. But, of course, people realize that would be wrong and would be crossing the line. Why don’t they realize how wrong it is to depict grown women being victimized and sexualized?

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