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Oppression and Discrimination Within the Animal Movement

Oppression and Discrimination Within the Animal Movement

| by Rebecca Hewson

Take a look at these campaigns by; what do you see?



Answer: They are all animal campaigns by PETA with the aim to get people to give up using animals as commodities…. but also they all hold a sour second message.


PETA, the organisation which is for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and focusing their attention on areas such as the food industry, clothing trade, laboratories, and the entertainment industry; areas where animals suffer intensely (, campaign in the attempt to liberate animals and bring an end to speciesism. However, in their attempt to do so, their campaigns accept and use other forms of oppression and discrimination.


Here are three examples of how they have done so.


Sizeism in Animal Campaigns

PETA constantly uses thin, white and young women, because these women are what society considers being sexy and appealing and routinely ignores the fact that there are numerous types of bodies which differ in shape, size and structure that are appealing too.


Through their use of only using these women in their campaigns, PETA is conforming to the belief that these women are the only example of what is beautiful, resulting in countless women who do not look like the campaign women, feeling negative about themselves.

Take this woman’s reaction to when she saw the ‘Save the Whales’ campaign in Florida. She says:

“I was planning on taking my family to the beach to enjoy the beautiful day when I saw a billboard that made me want to cry My family all sat there and stared at it for a minute and everyone in the car was silent. No one wanted to mention my weight. I laughed it off as usual, but it really made me so embarrassed, so self conscious and so ashamed about my weight that I dropped off my family at the oceanfront and left to go home, making the excuse that I wasn’t feeling well.”



Ashley Byrne, a senior campaigner for PETA, told the Huffington Post that “Vegetarians look and feel better than meat eaters.” claimed that their campaign is “a life-saving message” and that “[Their] goal is to help overweight … residents - [with] the best way to do that is [being] vegetarian. We’re not trying to insult anyone”. (


But the truth is that in their attempt not to insult anyone, they have insulted many through their purposeful targeting of individuals of a particular physic in the effort to get them to consume an animal-friendly diet.


PETA’s attempt for animal liberation through the ‘Save the Whales’ campaign has been attempted in a way that has conformed to sizeism and contributed to the oppression and discrimination of individuals, with those individuals, as usual, being women.


Sexism in Animal Campaigns

In campaigns such as ‘Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur’ PETA uses nude ideal bodied women as a way of gaining public attention. PETA are not the only animal activists doing this though; for instance, vegan bodycare ranges have been known to use uses sexualised commodification of women in their marketing because it grabs headlines and because ‘sex sells’.


By doing this PETA and others are contributing to the oppression and discrimination of women in their efforts to achieve animal liberation because their campaigns display the message that it is ok to objectively use women in order to achieve animal liberation.


The Vegan Box commented on the practices of these organisations and said “It is never ok to objectify women; to commodify them for the purpose of attracting attention to the plight of animals; to emulate acts of violence on them to make a point about animal abuse or to use their form to sell a product or compel someone to change their worldview.” (


The Vegan Box could not be more right.


Racism in Animal Campaigns

The vast majority of PETA campaigns contain white women. They very rarely include any people of colour, except in campaigns which are focused on bringing an end to speciesism for exotic animals. And what this achieves is a stronger belief in the public that veganism is only for white people.


Take Aph Ko for instance; a black, feminist, vegan who blogs, performs and works as an independent digital media producer. In an interview with Female First, she said, ‘I thought black vegans were mythological beings.’ and that she remembers when ‘[Her] sister Syl went vegan … that was the first time [she] ever heard of a black person practicing veganism.” (


Veganism has no race. But it is, unfortunately, true that the vegan activism by people of colour is ignored, and those individuals are largely marginalised. Therefore, it is no surprise that many people of colour feel and see veganism as something that is only being for white people.


Consider this image I found on the Facebook. “One Movement, Many Voices” ……. Where is the inclusion and acknowledgment of the voices in this movement which come from those who are people of colour?



In 2015, Aph Ko created the list ‘100 Black Vegans’ with the intention of it ‘[serving] as a commentary on the ways that we talked about whiteness in the movement, and it urged people to act, rather than just re-centre whiteness by talking about it over and over. By privileging black and brown perspectives, we ARE de-centering whiteness.’ (


Aph is de-centering whiteness and making an effort to de-marginalise many people of colour within the vegan movement, to show that veganism is for all. But by Animal Rights groups like PETA using mostly white women in their campaigns and only using women of colour in exotic animal campaigns, they are jeopardising the efforts to liberate people of colour made by Aph Ko and others alike, and they are also contributing to issue of racism; with their white supremacy within the movement.


So what would be a better approach?

From what we have seen here, PETA is fighting for the liberation of one, in a way that contributes to the oppression of others. They are completing their activism through methods that should not be used if they want to achieve liberation.


We can support the animals rights movement in their attempts to bring an end to speciesism, without being accepting of the use of other oppressions to do so and we can do so through taking an intersectional approach. Because the truth is if we do not take this approach, liberation is not going to be achieved.


Christopher Sebastian McJetters sums it up well with this quote:

“If you only care about human issues but can't be bothered to care about other animals, you're only doing half the job. If you only care about animals and don't care about humans, you're also only doing half the job. Unless we learn to consider how oppression affects EVERYONE, then we're not really ending the conditions that create oppression in the first place for ANYONE. That's all this intersectionality business is, folks. That's literally it.”

- Christopher Sebastian McJetters (


NOTE: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the editor or VegfestUK.


About the author

My name is Rebecca Hewson; I am a Kingston Upon Hull born twenty-two years old and, a student of Bath Spa University with three years of studying BA (Hons) Religions, Philosophies and Ethics under my belt.


My main project is currently the placement that I am on with the VegfestUK Team; working as a Social Media Assistant and Blog Researcher.


My interests and passions fall amongst Veganism, Sustainability, animal shelter volunteering, vlogging and, watching a good old quirky, insightful documentary here and there!



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