Warning: Sexual assault/Domestic violence triggers ahead.
“Assaulting Women: Veganism, Manarchism, and the Politics of Support”
By: Aaron Boeke
I had thought that I would never again be shocked by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I refer, of course, not to their undercover video work in research laboratories, fur farms, and animal feedlots, but to their years long campaign of sexist publicity stunts. After placing “hot” naked women in gestation crates on the streets of London, and encouraging women to go hairless “down there” to protest fur, I was at a loss to think of how they could surprise me yet again with their unabashed misogyny. Defying the will of decent people everywhere, they called my bluff. Their newest video campaign features a thin young blonde woman in a neck brace limping down the street. The voice-over explains that she has been the “victim” of her boyfriend’s newfound sexual prowess. After going vegan he became such a “tantric pornstar” that he “knocked the bottom out of [her].” Upon returning to the apartment she finds him in the bedroom plastering over the hole created when he put her head through the wall. In the final frame her pained expression finally lifts as she stands, in bra and underwear, with a look of arousal on her face. The stomach churns. The mind reels.
Perhaps more disturbing than the video itself has been the split reaction it has garnered from the feminist and animal rights communities. PETA long ago proved that they were more than happy to push the normative view of women as mindless sex toys, but crossing the line into an endorsement of sexual violence seemed like it would be the moment in which even ardent supporters could no longer claim that this was just savvy marketing, or give “yes, but” approval to their vile misogyny. The ensuing social media flame wars made short work of that sadly misguided hope. How to engage with a population who refuses to acknowledge that consensual sex does not end with a trip to the hospital is an important question, but it is not the one I am ready to ask.
“Manarchism” was coined to describe the (often) straight, white male “revolutionary” who believes that everyone should be equal but that women should still be responsible for the toilet cleaning and blowjob duties. Because, you know, they’re better at it. It is a term that embodies the exhaustion so many of us feel by the seemingly constant betrayal we experience at the hands of our “friends.” PETA’s ad is just one of many recent examples that spring to mind. The Human Rights Campaign just made Lloyd Blankenfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, their corporate leader of the year. I suppose we no longer need to ask whether the gay corporate elite feel comfortable throwing the rest of the rainbow under the bus.
The silo effect in progressive activism is well known, and again not something I am going to address here. Instead I would like to declare my own commitment to allies over issues. Too many of us are too often left reeling when our personhood is challenged or our safety threatened by the very people we should look to for support. Solidarity for one another across movements must be prioritized over cohesiveness within them. My politics are as complex as my identity, but when PETA attacks women I am a feminist first and a vegan last. Full stop. We can talk about vivisection later. Today remember that I support you. I believe in your right to exist and identify on your terms. And I’ve got your back.