MOVEMENT WATCH is an update on recent and current campaigns in the animal advocacy movement, with brief, rights-based analyses. MOVEMENT WATCH does not provide a full overview of any listed advocacy group’s work. Campaigns and news items are selected for their legal and social significance.
The Shape of the Movement
July, 2002: The “U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame” dinner. Cattle-rancher-turned-vegetarian Howard Lyman stands in the McLean Hilton’s banquet room, introducing Miss World USA 2000: “There have been a number of speakers at this conference who have alluded to the shape of the movement,” says Lyman, turning to Natasha Allas. “I would like to introduce you as the ideal shape of the movement.”
As the presentation continues, Charlotte Ross, a celebrity who once posed nude for an anti-fur advertisement, walks off-stage. Lyman turns to the audience and asks: “Is there a bit of a doubt in your mind about the shape of the movement?”
A handful of diners heads for the hallway. One quietly returns to the banquet, approaches Lyman’s table, and explains that the remarks have offended some people. Lyman waves the messenger away.
Minutes later, a few conference attendees materialize on stage. They interrupt the normally scheduled events to read a message denouncing sexist conduct. Outraged at the impromptu declaration, some observers in turn denounce these “thought police” who would reduce the movement to “nothing but marginalized left-wingers.” Alex Hershaft, chair of Animal Rights 2002, would add that it was “inappropriate to come to an animal rights conference and bring another agenda.” And then he banished them.
Missing the Irony
And thus it was that, at a conference designed to teach activism, a positive example of activism was quashed by the people who thought they were the teachers.
But the conference chair experienced AR 2002 as a personal wound:
“[T]his was a thoroughly discussed, collective, deliberate act of self-indulgence, disrespect, and offense to the MC, to me, to the conference, and to the participants by six intelligent individuals who knew full well the devastating consequences of their action and apparently just didn’t give a damn. Three of them had been given speaking engagements at the conference. Two had been close associates of mine. That really hurt. To this date, not one has expressed any regrets to me over their action.”
Hershaft could not comprehend why such intelligent individuals would fail to be enlightened when he told the audience: “I want to assure everybody that all rumors to the effect that the MC is a sexist pig are totally unfounded. He is not. He adores his wife and he adores women.” Hershaft later explained Lyman’s comments as products of a “jocular” mood.
Hershaft later established an Internet “Memories Board” to encourage attendees to reminisce about AR 2002. Almost immediately, one subscriber complained of the conference’s “misogynistic atmosphere” and stated: “We will continue to fight for the animals, but we can no longer do it with this organization or the men who dominated the conference.” Hershaft responded by banning Barbara Chang from attending AR 2003, and admonished other participants to ignore Chang’s messages. Within days of opening the forum, Hershaft announced: “I must regretfully announce that individuals who repeatedly disrupt the rules and purpose of this Board will be banned from Animal Rights 2003.” Lamenting participants who “hold hate,” Hershaft closed the Memories Board.
Hershaft acknowledged his “dictatorial” approach to running the conference, but justified that by observing that conference fees continued to flow into his Farm Animal Reform Movement. Several of the banned people insisted upon being admitted to AR 2003. And although Hershaft banned the current executive director of EarthSave International, another representative of EarthSave nevertheless appeared at AR 2003 as a workshop host. Furthermore, although Hershaft banned a representative of In Defense of Animals, that group never interrupted its sponsorship of the conference. Oddest of all, key speakers for this year’s conference included at least three people associated with the group Feminists for Animal Rights, and another from an ecofeminist group of Boston. Thus, when answering criticisms about banning people, FARM’s “conference management” could and did defend the conference against allegations of sexism by pointing out that sessions on feminism were, after all, a scheduled part of the conference.
In any case, Hershaft maintained, Ross or Allas themselves were not upset by Howard Lyman’s manner of referring to them. Stated Hershaft:“I doubt very much they will be offended. After all, their careers are built on their shapely figures.” The statement exposes a kernel of truth. Priscilla Feral observed the irony in the persistence of feminists in continuing their “co-dependent relationship” with the conference, given that “if one attends an event in which a beauty contest winner is presented as such, then one might well expect that sexist remarks and conduct would ensue.”
One Year Later
Looking at “the shape of the movement” today shows not only a need for improvement, but indicates that this conference can hardly claim to represent a social movement at all. The more recent conference, AR 2003, was defended by its attendees for having a few rap sessions and custom-made badges that say the animal movement has no room for sexism. Can we say we actually understand the meaning of that statement, if we do not know what sexism is? The alphabetically-ordered list of AR 2003 presenters began with the name “Carol Adams (Author, Sexual Politics of Meat)”, followed immediately by “Natasha Allas (Former Miss World USA).”
Since 1968, the annual beauty contest has drawn specific criticism for its meat market atmosphere. Moreover, a movement comprised mainly of women cannot afford to disable its majority. Standards for “ideal shapes” have disabled millions of women in many ways, from compelling attention to frivolous, appearance-related minutiae, to inducing eating disorders, to creating the self-doubt that causes women to avoid central roles, to be so commonly deprived of recognition for the work they do, and to be ignored when the benefit of their advice would be invaluable. A vibrant movement would be one in which beauty — for all people — is the self-confidence we create through individual form and style, not a label awarded as a prize for conformity. The AR 2003 conference not only misses that point; it thwarts it.
Carol Adams has, numerous times over the years, made the point that she sees her role, in part, as spontaneously critiquing the structure of the conference. The structure has hardly turned to egalitarianism. The U.S. Hall of Fame, featured in the awards banquet discussed above, was established in the year 2000. Each one of the award’s Election Committee members — conference Chair Alex Hershaft and authors Howard Lyman and Jim Mason — had already received the award by 2001.
The awards banquet is a celebrity gala, for which attendees traditionally pay a special fee. Only conference “presenters” may vote, and those individuals are people Hershaft endorses. No requirement ensures that such people have animal rights knowledge. The 2003 list of presenters included a horse breeding and training expert, a zoo director, several television personalities, the co-designer of an “invasiveness scale” to measure stress felt by laboratory animals, and a writer for Meat Processing Magazine, as well as the winner of a beauty pageant.
This mutual back-patting enterprise known as the Hall of Fame drew criticism for its tendency to elevate already-known writers, celebrities, and heads of organizations. But rather than discontinue the showpiece event, the conference tacked on a “grass roots” award — with the annual honoree to be selected by three people: Hershaft, Lyman, and Mason.
That people from the feminist community continue to allow the use of their names in the publicity for the conference is troubling for additional reasons. One of the perennial speakers, Peter Singer, recently penned an essay for an electronic sex magazine. The article, named “Heavy Petting,” has been interpreted as condoning men’s use of animals as sex objects. Some acts of bestiality, opined Singer, “are clearly wrong, and should remain crimes. Some men use hens as a sexual object…This is usually fatal to the hen…” Singer added: “But sex with animals does not always involve cruelty” — and maintained that “occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop.”
When a few rumblings over the essay threatened a public controversy in the months leading up to AR 2001, Hershaft spoke for Singer, saying: “We both feel that it is time to stop beating up on one another and go back to work for the animals.” Notably, virtually no one in the popular animal protection discussion groups observed that Singer’s essay, and not its critics, was causing disunity.
“What I find terribly disturbing is the malice and vitriol that has been injected into some of the presentations and our propensity to gang up on one of our own who has strayed from the narrow path of political correctness, regardless of his or her past contributions to our movement.”
In conclusion, Hershaft commanded: “These fratricidal assaults must stop and they must stop now!” Nonsense. It must be made clear that an animal rights movement will not accept intellectual tolerance for sexual abuse of women or animals. We too, seek unity. But we seek a principled unity.
People for the Unethical Treatment of Women
In February 2003, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) paid $25,000 to sponsor a New York show for fashion designers Gaelyn and Cianfarani. The duo’s latex garments, reported Reuters, “more than hinted at bondage and sado-masochism.” Indeed, Genevieve Gaelyn’s fashion career began six years ago at Stormy Leather, “San Francisco’s Premiere Fetish Authority” for leather corsets, collars and leashes, whips and harnesses. Gaelyn’s fire and rubber fashion shows have appeared at New York’s “Black & Blue Ball,” which advertises itself as “[i]nspired by the well attended slave auctions at Paddles” (a New York bondage club of the early 1990’s) with the purpose of offering an “evening of entertainment for the New York City Fetish Scene.”
In bondage and sado-masochism — a lifestyle known by the acronym BDSM, for bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism — dominating partners may force “submissives” to do humiliating things, and generally assert themselves as a “higher power” in relationships. Common themes include role-playing as animal and trainer or slave and master. Typical activities include whippings, obsessions with bodily emissions, and foot fetishes. Although roles are not sex-specific, “forced feminization” is a standard category of a fetish activity. Because no established pattern humiliates people by forcing them to be masculine, stereotypes regarding female submissiveness remain intact. Some sado-masochism (S&M) participants derive pleasure from seeing others injured: One of the most notorious, if rare, variations is the “crush video” — film packaged as fetish erotica showing small animals being tortured and trampled under stiletto-clad feet.
Writer Jack Nichols quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once said that unconditional love “will have the final word in reality.” In contrast, writes Nichols, “S&M sets up strict conditions — scenes — before it gets started. If these are not present, S&M goes elsewhere looking for its specific sexual object, its fantasy fix.” The feminist movement observed that what we encourage in our personal lives and fantasies will affect the larger political sphere. S&M, even where consensual, both reflects and perpetuates the concept of domination which we find at the root of human slavery, of child abuse, of women’s oppression, and of animal exploitation.
A Cheap Shock Tactic with a Twist
Fur Trim. Unattractive. Over that caption, PeTA issued a photo of a woman’s genital area with pubic hair sticking out of narrow bikini briefs. Galen Sherwin, President of the National Organization for Women-NYC, wrote in outrage: “This ad basically says that women’s natural state is unattractive — hardly an original point, as that is what women are told in one form or another by countless ads for beauty products, accessories, and clothing lines. It also resorts to a crotch shot to make its point — a cheap shock tactic with a twist that adds insult to injury.”
Newkirk sniffed back: “Please stop this knee-jerk, reactionary rubbish. There are a ton of women out here, including longtime feminists like me, who don’t appreciate being ‘spoken for’ in this repressive way. We can use our bodies for pleasure, profit, and politics if we want.”
Newkirk evidently feels that the advertising is acceptable because the models chose to participate. Thus does PeTA capitulate to commercial norms which play on stereotypical notions of the difference between the sexes, combined with the idea that women enjoy their own sexual objectification.
Sexism in animal advocacy did not spring up overnight. PeTA has deliberately cultivated it over a period of years. Geov Parrish writes that PeTA has always had an “unsettling habit of pushing the envelope in inappropriate ways in order to draw attention to its issues, and of exploiting and mistreating its young, often female staffers and volunteers.” Parrish reproves PeTA for a television slot in which a man fatally beats a woman to take her fur coat, crudely subtitled “What if you were killed for your coat?” Another PeTA advertisement features Playboy Playmate Kimberley Conrad Hefner in an unbuttoned Uncle Sam outfit, captioned “I want YOU to go vegetarian” and distributed to U.S. soldiers around the world. Yet another advertisement shows a young, naked woman in a classroom, partly turned to the chalkboard on which she repeatedly writes “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” PeTA brags that the model, Lolita star Dominique Swain, is “the youngest star ever to pose au natural for PeTA’s anti-fur campaign.”
Geov Parrish comments:
“It’s more than a little surreal to have the country’s best-known animal rights group seemingly endorsing male violence in virtually all its forms: militarism, male violence against women, objectification of women, even, with the use of a naked actress associated with Lolita, statutory rape, in the service of ostensibly encouraging people not to commit violence against animals. It’s also extraordinarily discrediting, not just to PETA, but to the entire animal rights movement...The ads lend unfortunate credence to the long-standing, often spurious rap against animal rights activists, that they care more about animals than people.”
Not surprisingly, PeTA’s attention-seeking gimmicks have inspired the most ludicrous and demeaning headlines. The Canadian press proclaimed: “Baywatch babe bares all for PETA.” The continual stream of sexism is coupled with pure inanity: In the latest advertising campaign, model Carré Otis wears mermaid fins “and nothing else” in a new billboard in Nova Scotia, in order to “inspire people to relate to sea animals.”
Lettuce Entertain Serious Thought
Nudity itself is not sexism. Certain uses of nudity, however, turn women’s sexuality into a commodity. Sex sells — that is, thin, shaven bodies of “babes” sell. The Playboy model of cosmeticized nudity presents women in a way that communicates sexual availability. And justifying the most obnoxious tactics if used “for the animals,” PeTA has promoted this model for years. As early as 1994, Patti Davis, child of Ronald Reagan, agreed to donate half her fee from a Playboy spread to PeTA — and posed with Hugh Hefner’s dog. In 1995 PeTA campaign director Dan Matthews promoted organ donation with Kimberley Conrad Hefner and the slogan “Some People Need You Inside Them,” making the Chicago Tribune quotables with the remark “Just because we’re soft-hearted doesn’t mean we can’t be soft-core.”
More recently, PeTA dispatched a pair of Playboy models “wearing nothing but strategically placed lettuce leaves” to promote vegetarianism to members of the U.S. Congress — offensive on several levels, as the campaign implies that Congress is (a) male; (b) likely to be persuaded to do something if offered the sight of Playboy models; and (c) appropriately confronted in such a manner. The Washington Times could not resist goading it all on:
“PETA for once is offering, well, a feast: Playboy playmates Julie McCullough and Kari Kennell, serving vegetarian ‘Not Dogs’ to promote what they call a healthy and humane diet (Independence Avenue entrance, boys).”
PeTA’s Dan Matthews summed up PeTA’s style most concisely, telling the Times: “Playboy is helping us put the ‘T & A’ in PETA.”
Surely, the animal rights movement can do better than that.