by aga Content Warning: Discussion and depiction of violence towards women
This article shows firstly, why reproducing violence towards anymals, that is towards ‘any animal who does not happen to be the species I am’ (Kemmerer 2006) on the bodies of women is counter-productive to our movement and secondly, what alternatives we have to effectively bear witness to anymal suffering and reach out to those humans who are still convinced of the carnist myths that eating anymals is normal, natural and necessary (Joy 2011). Just as an inspiration, we offer 4 alternatives (all of which you know already) to make your activism safe for women and MOGAI folk.
We are not only easily able to do so without jeopardising women’s safety but we even have an obligation to refrain from tactics that harm marginalised humans in the fight against speciesism.
Sexist Animal Liberation Tactics
We have all seen or heard of protests that include a naked woman, either in a salad bikini handing out vegan leaflets, or wearing underwear, her body splattered with fake blood whilst she is lying on the floor. Peta are the masters of cheap, attention seeking protests like that, as these two pictures show:
PeTA are a big name and unfortunately have often come to represent the whole animal rights movement for people who look at us from the outside. Many local animal rights groups are modeling their own tactics on them, believing that this is not only what made PeTA a household name but also what leads to animal liberation. However, this sort of theatre does more harm than good.
Let’s take a minute to uncover the danger of tactics like these. How is the presence of a woman in a bikini going to make anybody go vegan and even organise against animal exploitation? Where is the logical connection here between the two? The people who will join the movement because they are attracted to it by naked bodies, are nothing more than predators. Of course, women should wear what they want when doing outreach and protesting but they should not be utilised by an organisation or even a whole system that only exploits their bodies for purposes of grabbing attention. Women are already objectified in kyriarchy. So why would we perpetuate the same process when being active for anymals who are also just seen as objects?
Especially the theatrical stunts of women covered in blood are harmful to our own movement. We consist widely of women. Most animal rights demos, conferences and gatherings you go to, you will notice an overwhelming majority of women. Yet very often men are taking organisational and even leading roles (in my experience, the idea of leadership in women’s circles is far less popular and structures are often horizontal). With stunts like the blood-soaked woman in her underwear, lying supposedly dead on the floor, we simply perpetuate patriarchal values of the (metaphorically and literally) battered and dead woman, who represents submission, passivity and nothing more than ‘a piece of meat’ (this expression is the epitome of the intersection between the sexualisation and the animalisation of bodies). And it really doesn’t matter here if the woman herself decided to enact this or a man organised the stunt. All the passers-by see, is the normalisation of violence towards women that we so often see elsewhere, be it in films, adverts or in our own real lives.
Further, when we depict violence on the bodies of women we not only perpetuate the misogyny of patriarchy but we also run the risk of triggering trauma in other women. This must be reason enough to refrain from any depiction of violence towards women. We do not want to distress women inside and outside our own movement and we do not want to alienate possible future anti-speciesists either. The blood-soaked woman stunt is harmful to women who experience harassment, assault and all kinds of violence on a daily basis and it is counterproductive to our movement.
These tactics are often justified by firstly, the rationale that we need to bear witness to anymal suffering and secondly, the idea that carnists will respond more sympathetically to a blood-soaked woman on the street than to the truth about the dead bodies they ingest. This logic is flawed and actually not only sexist but absolutely speciesist.
I cannot conceptualise how a passerby who will see a blood-soaked woman on the street in one moment, should get an epiphany about the corpse on their dinner plate in the next. The speciesism of tactics like that lies in the assumption that anymals are othered (that is made out as abnormal deviants) to such an extent that their desires and emotions are completely inconceivable from a normative (human) standpoint. Thus we anthropomorphise their experience. We do so by translating their suffering into a human world through which we rob them even more of their intrinsic value and their right to a dignified existence without human interference.
These tactics are simply disrespectful, harmful and cheap. Stunts like these, including the backlash we get from speaking out against them, indicate that neither women’s experiences nor those of anymals are valued in our own movement. Neither women’s nor anymals’ voices are regarded as worthy of moral consideration, when opposition to these tactics is dismissed.
Instead both experiences are cheapened and commodified as spectacle. Guy Debord wrote in his Society of the Spectacle (a short and valuable read) that the spectacle emerges when ‘all that once was directly lived has become mere representation’. This is precisely what we do to an anymal’s experience when we recreate it as a cheap eye-catcher. We deprive the anymal of their intrinsic value and deny them any form of agency. We do not let them communicate their truth and reality. Instead we represent it under our anthropocentric conditions. And, as Debord writes, ‘passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity’, meaning that those humans who witness the mockery of the anymal’s suffering don’t even have an opportunity to engage critically with the anymal’s experience in any depth. They will just consume it like any other commodity and move on with their lives.
The question now arises of what tactics are more fruitful and don’t inhibit our striving for total liberation. In a kyriarchal world, that influences all of us, it can be hard to see beyond the normalised behaviours we have all learned. We need to try our best and dismantle these behaviours though and actively seek out tactics for our activism that do not harm other marginalised groups.
If it is vital to your action to depict an anymal in suffering, do so by holding a tablet or laptop screen with a slide show or video. You can also use a projector in an open space outside somewhere. It is essential that you give people the opportunity to not look at the footage you are showing, so as not to inflict unnecessary trauma. Remember to leave enough space for people who use wheelchairs or crutches. Those who already have an open mind will approach you or do their research in their own time.
Good old-fashioned placards are always a good idea. You can print things such as “Earthlings” or “Melanie Joy Carnism” on them and be sure that people will be curious enough to google those phrases. When you print pictures, consider if it might be a good idea to honour the anymals in a way that shows them dignified and in peace, instead of depicting them at their worst moment in their lives.
You don’t necessarily need a megaphone, Just standing firmly in a public space and speaking the truth about how we treat anymals is a powerful statement. Again, make sure there is enough space for people to navigate around you. You can speak freely or read a script. It is always good to have a couple of people who you know in the audience so you can focus on them and get positive affirmation from them whilst you speak. Public speaking can be very scary! So for everyone who is in the audience, nodding and smiling at the speaker goes a long way!
4) Visuals to Attract Attention
If public speaking is not your thing, you can also have a silent demonstration. These are nicely accompanied by either posters or films and you can easily incite people’s curiosity by using visual props such as candles or torches for when it’s dark, for example. If you have a larger group you could also consider some kind of uniform (t-shirts with the same print, overalls of the same colour or even masks). That is sure to grab people’s attention and lure them towards your message.
There are a million possibilities to get creative in order to get people’s attention without utilising already objectified bodies. Get creative and think outside the box! There’s so much more to life than naked women and fake blood!
Debord (1967) Society of the Spectacle Available: [http://www.antiworld.se/project/references/texts/The_Society%20_Of%20_The%20_Spectacle.pdf].
Joy (2011) Why We Love Dogs Eat Pigs and Wear Cows.
Kemmerer (2006) Verbal Activism: “Anymal” Available: [http://www.lisakemmerer.com/Articles/593_sa1413%20-%20Copy.pdf].