Lack of diversity in the ranks as well as a failure to resonate with disadvantaged groups and other anti-oppression movements has been cited as one important barrier to the American Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s success (Kymlicka and Donaldson in Animal rights, multiculturalism and the Left. The Mellon Sawyer Seminar at the Graduate Center, CUNY. City University of New York, New York, 2013). It is possible that social movements are actively inhibiting diversity in the ranks and audience by producing literature that reflects a narrow activist identity. This article creates a platform from which these larger issues can be explored by investigating the actual demographic representations present in a small sample of popular media sources produced by the movement for other animals. A content analysis of 131 magazine covers produced by two highly visible movement actors, PETA and VegNews, was conducted to demonstrate that activist representations in at least some dominant American Nonhuman Animal rights media are mostly white, female, and thin.
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While not all vegans are activists for other animals, and not all activists are vegan, this study explores Nonhuman Animal rights media which is grounded in ethical veganism (veganism that is engaged as a political action against speciesism). The Nonhuman Animal rights movement tends to situate veganism as an idealized lifestyle for advocates, meaning that anti-speciesist and vegan rhetoric often overlap. Therefore, the terms will sometimes be used interchangeably.
Scholars acknowledge a distinction between those who advocate politically for Nonhuman Animal rights and those who are vegan or vegetarian for cultural or religious purposes.
By way of example, PETA often employs nude or nearly nude Playboy models and volunteers to hold signs or hand out literature and food samples in public spaces. PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than” ad campaign, featuring pornified images of women, has been a primary tactic since the early 1990s. Smaller groups that have mimicked the PETA approach include Animal Liberation Victoria, Citizens United for Animals, Fish Love, and LUSH Cosmetics Fighting Animal Testing (Wrenn 2015).
Importantly, this data may be skewed due to the small response rate of non-white participants.
This organization has since rebranded itself as Faunalytics.
Much of this research speaks to the “stereotype threat,” whereby stereotypes are internalized by marginalized groups. This is thought to negatively impact their attitudes and behaviors to the effect of fulfilling the stereotypes (Steele and Aronson 1995).
Many times “gender neutrality” centers boys and men as the default for humanity.
See Dr. John McDougall’s 2008 essay “The Fat Vegan” in the McDougall Newsletter 7 (12) for an example of how thinness is encouraged as a positive representation of the vegan movement.
Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain demographic information regarding readership, as PETA does not make this information available. Animal Times has an international readership, but it is produced in America and prioritizes Western culture. VegNews explicitly states on its website that reader information is never shared.
Hatton and Trautner’s scheme allows for 23 total points on a sexualization scale. These are grouped into sections on clothing and nudity, touching others or self-touching, pose, position of mouth, exposure of breasts, chest, genitals, and buttocks, nature of accompanying text, head versus body shot, demonstration of a sex act, and sexual role play. Each of these sections accounts for a number of possible indicators that can count towards a point. If five or more points are scored, the image is considered sexualized. If 10 or more are present, it is considered hyper-sexualized.
The secondary researcher enlisted for reliability check is a coauthor for a similar study on social movement media that compares data in this study to that of comparable social movements. The researcher is therefore familiar with the study and sampling method. Unfortunately, the identity of the secondary researcher overlaps considerably with that of the primary researcher. Both identify as white cis-gender American women in their early thirties. Due to the similarities in identities, any diversity of interpretation would be limited.
The 10 % sample was chosen randomly from each magazine sample. Because race resists categorization and the coding disagreement spoke to racial ambiguity, the researchers were not able to agree on a means of clarifying race categories. No major changes were made to the categories utilized by the primary researcher other than a slightly stronger reliance on the “other/unknown” category.
This study included only women, who are more prone to weight gain. This figure also includes semi-vegetarians, which likely inflates percent overweight or obese. Another British study that looks only at obesity (rather than obese and overweight individuals) reports that 3 % of male vegan participants and 5 % of female vegan participants were considered obese (Key and Davey 1996).
See Alicia Silverstone’s (2009) The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet and Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s (2005) Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous!.
At this time I am not aware of any research that would confirm this observation, but it is offered as a general reflection on subject representations in the sample.
VegNews 2000, November/December (3); VegNews 2001, February (5); Animal Times 2005, Fall.
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This paper is part of a larger project conducted with my colleague Megan Lutz of Georgia Tech, who offered important suggestions and assistance with statistical analysis. A version of this paper was presented at the American Sociological Association’s 2014 annual conference.
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Wrenn, C.L. An Analysis of Diversity in Nonhuman Animal Rights Media. J Agric Environ Ethics 29, 143–165 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-015-9593-4
- Social movements
- Animal rights