This is one of a series of guest editorials I will be hosting here on my blog. As we confront the extensiveness of sexual harassment and exploitation in our culture, it is important for us to recognize how it specifically influences the animal rights movement, and those who are activists for animals. This guest editorial was written by and for women in the animal protection movement who need and deserve a voice. It is being published anonymously for the protection and safety of those who want to share their perspective and experiences.
In the wake of the recent avalanche of sexual misconduct claims being made in our society, how do we -- as individuals and collectively as advocates -- deal with this difficult and often traumatizing information, especially when we know, largely from personal experiences, that our movement isn’t immune?
As brave women in various sectors around us - from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Congress and prominent media outlets - are starting to pull back the curtains on this ugly yet pervasive truth, our movement remains relatively silent. The open secret still intact.
We are, after all, a social justice movement based on ethics and moral values. We believe in minimizing the amount of suffering we cause, we empower others to choose compassion, and we strive to lead by example, so certainly we behave better than that, right?
And we are largely comprised of women, though in most sectors of our movement, we are noticeably lacking in leadership. Still, women are the majority. So certainly, such bad behavior would never be tolerated, right?
We wish both of these statements were true, but the sad and harsh reality is that even though we as a movement condemn acts that cause unnecessary suffering forced upon non-human animals, we are grossly inconsistent with how we treat each other, primarily in regards to women. For the sake of animals, we cannot and will not continue to ignore the abused and degraded “elephant in the room”: sexual harassment and gender inequity are debilitating and immobilizing our movement. And to this we say: Enough.
Sexual misconduct, accompanied by manipulation, abuse of power, deception, and blame-the-victim mentalities are alarmingly pervasive in our movement. There is a boy’s club culture that circles its wagons whenever it feels threatened and ousts those who attempt to expose even the mere existence of the boys club, let alone the inappropriate behavior by some of its members. Groupthink identity is dangerous, whether it’s applied to the consolidation of movement strategies or used to dismiss individual responsibility in favor of the so-called “greater good.”
Some may be skeptical and others may deny these claims, perhaps to protect themselves, others around them, or their image of the movement. Some may refuse to read this, or may stop reading it, preferring to ignore the truth because it is too difficult to accept.
Still others reading this may begin to find some kind of relief. It’s the right time to shine a light on the painful truth about the inappropriate, abusive, and harmful behavior in our own movement that has claimed countless victims: many of whom have suffered in silence, too afraid to speak up; or have been ignored, ridiculed and shunned; or have made the difficult decision to leave our movement in order escape the pain, frustration, and humiliation in search of a more supportive environment.
For each person who must stay silent to remain in the movement, who has chosen to move on, who has been bullied out, or who has walked away after getting a glimpse of our movement’s sexist dysfunctionality, we have lost an intelligent, passionate, and creative voice for animals.
This is a space for truth. For justice. For strength and compassion. It’s an uncomfortable conversation, one that has been successfully suppressed for years with an arsenal of unjustifiable excuses. But to grow and become stronger, we must step outside of our comfort zones; what makes us comfortable and what is necessary for our movement to be safe may be in opposition to each other.
We also acknowledge that while no one is perfect, it’s not our mistakes that necessarily define us, but rather how we respond to and learn from them that matters most. Continually making the same “mistakes” however, becomes a conscious choice, not a temporary error of judgement. We don’t view sexual abuse or sexual harassment as a “mistake.” Rather, these acts are purposeful decisions to diminish, degrade, and objectify another for the satisfaction of one’s own desires. But we do see mistakes being made in the way our movement has responded to the knowledge that this treatment exists.
In order to learn from our errors, we must first be willing to face them: Our movement is publicly urging justice and compassion while acting in stark contradiction to those beliefs by harboring a culture of exploitation and denial within itself. What has been deemed acceptable is in fact unsustainable. The view that protects exploiters and abusers for the “sake” of the animals or for lack of imagination in holding offenders accountable, actually keeps our movement in an alarming state of stagnation, which not incidentally harms the animals we strive to protect.
This is not about singling out individuals or naming names, though that may be necessary.
Rather, it’s about speaking out against injustice in order to create change. It’s about bravely facing the truth, no matter how painful or heartbreaking, so we can begin to right our wrongs as a movement -- and so we can move forward together.
We believe in a diversity of voices, strategies, and perspectives that includes critical yet productive dialogue. This can only succeed if it’s built on a foundation of mutual respect.
We do this for women and gender nonconforming men who have been victimized: we hear you, we believe, and we stand with you.
We do this for our movement and for animals, so we can all be stronger, braver, and more effective advocates.
P.S. Until our organizations and work environments become the safe and productive spaces they should be, this website is our safe space. We hope you’ll feel safe to share your story here and take this survey about your experiences.