Our society operates with relatively strict gender role expectations. Men, however, are more restricted than women—that is, the social costs of deviating from attitudes and behaviors deemed masculine are much higher (Consider what it means to be a “tomboy” versus a “sissy”). Such restraints can be unrealistic and emotionally damaging. Men must be breadwinners, men must attack threats to their masculinity, men can’t show emotion, etc. Understandably, this can be very draining on men. Stereotypes hurt everyone.
Unfortunately, another expectation for masculinity is an unapologetic domination of nature and everything in it—including nonhuman animals and women (women are traditionally associated with the “earthly world”). Animal people know this, and they’ve exploited it willingly. Case in point: a vegan strip club has opened in Oregon and PETA’s ubiquitous Lettuce Ladies, “I’d Rather Go Naked…” campaign, and new porn site. The strange and twisted assumption here is that by tapping into gender roles for men (as sexually aggressive dominators) and women (as sex objects to consume), veganism can somehow be popularized. Obviously, this trivializes the very serious issue of nonhuman animal liberation. However, it also has damaging implications for the women who are objectified and the men encouraged to consume them for pleasure.
Veganism and participation in the nonhuman animal rights movement can be a hugely fulfilling experience. It can be emotionally beneficial as we empathize with others, break down prejudicial barriers, and work towards a more peaceful world. But when men’s responses to outreach are restricted to ogling women’s bodies and contemplating a better sex life and more erections, the animal movement has shortchanged them. Instead of experiencing the huge rewards veganism has to offer, men are restricted to those same old tired gender roles that stunt their full human development.
Vegan strip clubs and PETA’s campaigns featuring naked and nearly naked women hurt everyone. Gender roles are arbitrarily constructed and they reproduce hierarchies of power: men are in control, women are subordinate. The privileged positions that men hold are also hugely limiting in disallowing men to break free from stereotypes and express concern for the vulnerable. Their emotional experience is stifled. Meaningful relationships with women, nonhuman animals, and other men are deterred.
The aim of sexually exploitative outreach is apparently to use the system from within to advance the cause—but the system is so hugely problematic and unequal, why would we want to reinforce it? Not to mention how extremely counterintuitive it is to promote the oppression of some in order to destroy the oppression of others.
The push for nonhuman animal rights is undoubtedly a woman’s movement and this association is traced to long entrenched gender roles: women nurture, men dominate. But remember that gender roles are social creations, and, in that, they are inherently malleable. There is nothing genetically preventing men from experiencing emotions and challenging the subjugation of others. Men are complex human beings with interests and contributions that extend well beyond their sex drive. Men were not born to dominate, they were socially encouraged to do so. Why don’t we challenge that and welcome men to participate in ways that don’t degrade women or men? Nonhuman animal activism for men should include something beyond hitting the strip club or logging into porn sites.