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:
. . .
“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.)
. . .
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.
It’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. Portraying women as objects will not get people to stop viewing animals as objects — it only reinforces that view.
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.