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Why Sex Doesn’t Sell Animal Rights

sex doesnt sell animals rights

In a previous article with One Green Planet, I documented the rising incorporation of sexist tactics and sexual objectification of women in Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy.  Beyond the well-known and infamous PETA naked campaigns, more and more advocates are turning to the female body to promote veganism and rights for other animals.

In February 2013, a vegan pornography site “Vegan Pinup” relaunched brandishing the slogan:  “Because veganism is beautiful and sexy!”  Like other vegan pornography sites, Vegan Pinup justifies the sexual objectification of female models with the presumption that images of “beautiful and sexy” naked or nearly naked women put veganism in an attractive light.

The website is set up like the popular alternative-lifestyle pornography site Suicide Girls, which runs on volunteer female models who submit their own images with varying levels of nudity based on the model’s comfort level.  The model pays for the photographer, spends her own time having the photos taken, processed, and sent to the webmaster, and the webmaster then displays them on the website for paying customers.  The models receive minimal compensation.

Vegan Pinup does not profit from customers who must pay to view the photographs (the photos are free to view), but they do profit from an extensive merchandise store.  Unlike Suicide Girls, none of the vegan pinups receive compensation.

Essentially what has happened is that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, a serious movement advocating for social justice, has been co-opted by pornographers and mainstream sexism.  The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is comprised of 80% women, yet it is led mostly by men.  Men construct the theory and men dictate the tactics.  Advocacy on behalf of other animals has become sexualized.

Women are being told that to advocate for veganism or Nonhuman Animal liberation means taking off their clothes and indicating sexual availability.  Activism is no longer about discussing ethics, it’s putting the female body on display for male consumption.   Veganism is now about sex, not social justice or political engagement.

Of course, body image is an important factor as well.  While the website explicitly states that all body types are welcome, at this time, only thin women are pictured.  More telling, Vegan Pinup repeatedly states the requirement that all models must demonstrate healthfulness ..they must look “healthy.”  This has implications not only for body weight (it is unclear how the webmaster decides the cut off on an “unhealthy” looking woman) but also for sexual availability.  A pornography site can’t function unless it’s models appeal to men’s sexual appetite.

Sex cannot sell our movement…it can only sell out our  movement.  The proliferation of websites and tactics like Vegan Pinup speaks to the patriarchal infiltration of what was once a powerful site of female political presence.  Encouraging women to strip for Nonhuman Animal rights is encouraging women to strip their personhood and become sexual objects.  Instead of gaining empowerment through political action, women are told they are empowered by disrobing and looking “beautiful and sexy” for men.

A plethora of research has demonstrated that the prevalence of sexually objectifying media degrades women’s self-esteem and can lead to mental health issues and eating disorders.  A recent study in Psychological Science, however, has even asserted that sexual objectification leads women to internalize that objectification to the point of impaired self-efficacy.  Women who are socialized to believe they are objects, in other words, are less likely to engage social activism that challenges that oppression.  For a mostly female movement, increased objectification and reduced efficacy could prove disastrous.

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11 comments on “Why Sex Doesn’t Sell Animal Rights”

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Harris Ntasha
1 Years Ago

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5 Years Ago

Reading these kind of articles is just tiring. Basically you're repeating the feminist mantra that women are the victims and men are to blame, which is the way of explaining every issue by conservative feminists. I find it simply narrow-minded and sexist and doesn't help to promote the issue.

Corey Lee Wrenn
22 Mar 2013

Hi Jade, You know what's tiring? The animal rights movement treating female advocates like a set of orifices to be sold to male viewers at every turn. It's also tiring that our movement is so often hostile to critical feminist voices. Calling feminists "sexist" (or "man-haters" or "feminazis," what have you) is not clever...it's not even correct. "Reverse sexism" cannot be wielded by women, who are an oppressed group, in a patriarchal society that privileges men. The "reverse sexism" card has one purpose and one purpose only--to derail the conversation and redirect attention from the privileged group that so often goes unexamined and refocus it on the oppressed group. It's not helpful in the least. I never "blamed" men, I'm simply pointing out the complete dissolution of a powerful political movement into just another site of misogyny and oppression intended to benefit men. It's not about pointing the finger (though Vegan Pinup would do well to seriously reevaluate their mission), it's about raising awareness and hopefully encouraging all of us to take a collective stand against sexism and oppression. Labeling women who are struggling to be seen as equals "sexist" because they are outspoken about the injustice they face is not helpful....it is a silencing tactic.

25 Mar 2013

I agree that its narrow minded. Women have a right to be sexual, and however they want to express their sexuality, its their right. Its an aesthetic, a sense of sexuality that is particular to each and every person. To classify a woman's sense of sexual expression as patriarchal and an archetype that is forced upon them by society is really minimizing an individual's self expression. Some women love wearing lingerie, why is that wrong? Again, live and let live, what makes one person happy is not what will make another happy, not everyone has to agree with your sense of what is sexual and what is not. Its not feminist to criticize other women's sense of sexual expression, its another form of repression, and frankly, yet another judgement women have to live with. And no. we're not all "victims of patriarchy". Some of us can be feminist, and want to be a pin-up. They are not mutually exclusive.

5 Years Ago

meh. Lets's be real here, a lot of the vegan pinup pictures are girls smiling with bunches of kale. I say, live and let live, if a vegan woman wants to pose as a pinup, that's their prerogative. Animal rights is filled with very grim, very sad, and very disturbing images, statistics and truths, a little levity helps women and men deal with all the horrors.

Corey Lee Wrenn
19 Mar 2013

Hi Teddie, to say "if a vegan woman wants to pose as a pinup, that’s their prerogative" demonstrates classic oppressor ideology...we like to think those we degrade and exploit "love it." Slave-holding whites thought the same about their human commodities as well. People who ride horses justify it with a similar justification "They love it!" In a patriarchal society where women's worth is tied up in her sexual availability and servitude to men, women are socialized to engage these behaviors. Giving it all a green light because "women enjoy it" demonstrates a lack of critical thinking. Pornography has been shaping human sexuality for decades now, training men to have aggressive sex with women, to find degrading women a turn on...and what's worse, women are being trained to accept these things that are done to them as "normal", or even learn to enjoy them.

Ms Vanilla Rose
19 Mar 2013

I personally do not have a problem with the women wanting to pose, and do not agree with the notion that they deserve compensation (as if they had been injured in some way). I also wish to point out that not all of the women on the site are skinny. However, I am very uncomfortable with the way that the site appears to try to promote veganism as "healthy" and "sexy" rather than on being the right thing to do. I very much wish that Vegan Pinup were merely a site for vegans who happen to participate in pin-up culture. Also, this must be seen in the context of PETA and its obsession with almost-naked women. It appears virtually incapable of launching a campaign which doesn't use sex or nudity. In my opinion, the way forward involves trying to present a wide variety of images of female vegan activists. Not in getting rid of pin-up pictures, but in making sure that we also show photographs or illustrations of women in other roles. Maybe competing in sport or doing sponsored events, or educating. And of course things like depicting men as well as women cooking delicious vegan food.

22 Mar 2013

I agree. It will probably help get rid of the idea that all vegans are hippies who don't wash our clothes or shave our nasty bits.

5 Years Ago

"The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is comprised of 80% women." Where did you get that statistic? I'm wondering because I've been doing some research along those lines and I'm very interested. I also note that on the other side of the coin, animal cruelty occurs much more highly among males. Can you point me towards some good research on this?

Corey Lee Wrenn
19 Mar 2013

Emily Gaarder "Women and the Animal Rights Movement" 2011

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