1)        Why hasn’t the animal rights movement dealt with the sexual abuse and exploitation in its midst?

When The Sexual Politics of Meat was published, I immediately heard from three kinds of animal activists. The first thanked me for making connections between other social justice movements and the animal rights movement. The second sent me images that further proved the ideas in the book, in which women are shown as animal-like and animals are shown feminized and woman-like. Each oppression is intensified by reference to the other.  The third group of activists was women who confided to me experiences of sexual exploitation from men activists in the movement. For almost thirty years, I have received numerous personal reports from victimized animal activist women.

Sexual exploitation can take place in many arenas, but one popular and confusing arena is the conference circuit.

For more than forty years, animal activists have largely avoided the question of how the system of human dominance and animal subordination tracks, intersects with, and diverges fromdominance by elite white men and subordination of those “othered” by elite white men. Despite the work of feminists to identify the linkages between the oppressions of women and animals, establishing the common patriarchal roots of both groups’ subjugation, a feminist perspective has yet to be incorporated into the theory and practice of the mainstream animal movement.

Sexual inequality is one of the defining elements of the animal movement, defining both the status of animals whose liberation is sought, and the status of the women within the movement.

In The Sexual Politics of Meat I proposed that animals are made into absent referents who disappear to enable the consumption of their flesh. Then I said that women, too are absent referents through sexual objectification, and that women and animals become overlapping absent referents in a patriarchal society.

One common way that sexual inequality is imposed on farmed animals is through advertisements that sexualize meat. Conventions include fragmentation (“are you a breast man or a leg man”?) and consumable females (such as barbecued pigs as sexy females with thrusting hips and pendulous breasts). For the sake of brevity, see my website for more examples.

The question of “manhood” clearly enters into the politics of the animal movement at all sorts of levels.

2)         Why are men promised that they will still be strong, maybe even more masculine, if they become vegans? Why is there an attempt to wedge veganism into the established gender roles of our dominant culture? Why do we have to be “plant-strong?” What if veganism, as I argue in The Sexual Politics of Meat threatens the patriarchal world and helps to dismantle dominance. Why not encourage everyone that caring is strength, and compassion is transformative? Why uphold regressive sex roles in promoting veganism?

3)        Why do some men in the movement target feminists and women, announcing that dairy is rape? It is one thing for rape survivors to chose to do this; but that is for them to decide. Why not let feminists talk with feminists? There are alot of other people for these men to talk to.

4)        Why do we tell new members of the animal rights community that it is important to watch disturbing films? It is said, “If the animals can experience it, we can watch it.” But why? Is this another way to “man up” the movement. If we’ve seen it and we know it; we’ve seen it and know it. Why advocate re-traumitization?

5)         Why does at least one animal rights leader rile up his base so that they racially sexually harass African American activists who are women? Why empower abusive and trolling behavior against women of color, making them feel unsafe as they travel around the country speaking up? Is this a sort of white manning up? We are asked “why bring race into it?” Because race and animality are linked. See the important book Aphro-ism to understand this important claim.

6)        Why are there glass ceilings in some organizations that keep women from progressing within that organization?

7)        Why do some groups sell the animal rights messages through the exploitative use of women’s bodies and through metaphors of violence against women? Why is this said to okay if for “helping the animals”? Women are animals too.

8)        After almost thirty years of hearing about women who were sexually harassed, raped, victims of serial sexual exploiters by men within the Animal Rights movement, I wonder do women function as absent referents in the animal rights movement? We are present, but made absent in a variety of ways, especially through exploitation, that strengthens “manhood” in the movement.            

9)        Why do some leaders of the animal rights movement animalize women by viewing and treating them as bodies available to them? Women are “animalized” when men in Animal Rights organizations including writers and “leaders” of the movement, violate sexual boundaries yet are protected while women are ignored.

Last year, we learned that then-candidate Trump admitted to sexually assaulting at least one woman; through the electoral college — a legacy of slavery — he was elected to be President of the United States.

In our movement, men who have sexually assaulted, stalked, sexually come on to, or inappropriately violated sexual boundaries, have also moved up the leadership hierarchy. They don’t have Billy Bushes per se, but they have friends who protect their positions — or give them new ones — and publish their works, or give them awards.

Feminists in the animal movement have discussed the inappropriateness of calling serial sexual exploiters predators. To use the term predator for such behavior applies a negative meaning to actual predatory animals. Serial sexual exploiters are not acting as “nature” would have it but in a socially constructed way, and they can and should change. Instead, they refuse to act justly toward women. But they become surrounded by the movement’s version of Billy Bushes.

The serial sexual exploiter benefits from the traumatized state of his victims; his allies help to perpetuate silence and protect him. His life is not shattered by the experience; it is enhanced. He can continue to behave as always, while the victim is putting the pieces back together, trying to maintain her work on behalf of animals. When victims are told they shouldn’t speak up and hurt the movement because “the animals need us” and because the serial sexual exploiter is too important to the movement, the message is that women are less important. Not wanting to put the movement at risk by attempting to hold him accountable, she remains silent, and he moves on to his next target.

Men who conduct serial affairs and discard women, men who rape or sexually abuse, why aren’t they recognized for hurting the movement, as putting the movement at risk? Instead it is her speaking up that is seen as hurting the movement. And then, whether believed or not, women often leave the animal rights movement, taking their energy and talents elsewhere. (If you have been sexually victimized within the animal rights movement, please consider sharing your story here:

10.      What would our movement look like if women driven out by the glass ceiling or fear of retaliation or by someone who claimed “you are the only one” so that he could get a one-night stand, what would our movement look like, what priorities would our movement have, if these women hadn’t left and their voices were still a part of shaping the movement’s goals and strategies?

In making veganism a political decision, animal activists rightly draw attention to the relationship between the personal and the political. However, the movement has remained extraordinarily indifferent to the ways in which the seemingly impersonal structures of patriarchy introduce patterns of sexual dominance and submission within the movement itself, patterns which inevitably play out in workplace conditions and interpersonal relations.

So long as the movement fails to address the problem of sexual inequality, it is endangered by the dominant patriarchal culture, colluding in a regime of sexual hierarchy and domination that hurts women and gender nonconforming men—as well as non-human animals— and damages its own radically transformative potential.

Each activist should be asking, “Am I defending objectification and protecting men who abuse and harass women or not?”

When will we have an ethical commitment to women’s equality in the animal rights movement?

For feminists, animal activism’s failure to confront sexual inequality is tragic; but for animal activism, this failure may be fatal.