PETA’s latest fail: animal cruelty is just like slavery

PETA Glass Walls display
Image via BET.

I am getting pretty tired of calling PETA out for their offensive ad campaigns. The latest, which premiered on the National Mall last week, is called Glass Walls and features the prominent endorsement of Paul McCartney. Nifty. Less nifty, however, is that it equates animal cruelty with slavery, among other systems of oppression. The display features graphic images of animal cruelty next to graphic images of human cruelty, including images of slavery from the nearby Natural History Museum. From NBC Washington:

“Child labor, human slavery, and the oppression of women all came to be opposed by our society, thanks to the passion and hard work of human rights activists,” said PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk.

“We hope that PETA’s display will help people see that nonhuman animals suffer today just as humans once did, and that we can all make small changes in our lives to help make animal oppression a thing of the past,” she said.

Ugh. Equating animal cruelty with slavery, child labor, and oppression of women is literally dehumanizing.

Of course, PETA’s been alienating folks with these sorts of offensive ads for ages now. I see it as one of the clearest examples of how nonprofits can go bad. PETA gets attention in the media, which makes their donors happy and brings in the dollars. Forget that this is turning decent people off from the message.

Fuck you PETA. Fuck you very much.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Sam Lindsay-Levine

    Equating animal cruelty with slavery, child labor, and oppression of women is literally dehumanizing.

    Isn’t it literally humanizing, explicitly suggesting as it does that we should be as horrified by slaughter and cruelty to animals as we are of ill treatment towards human beings?

    It seems to me that it is only necessarily dehumanizing if you start with the firm conclusion that non-human animals are qualitatively more unworthy of moral consideration than humans under any circumstances, which is begging the question.

    • Matt

      Vegetarian here, and in total agreement that animals deserve equal consideration.

      But I think the problem still exists that PETA is trying to piggyback on and appropriate the rhetorical framework established by hard struggles for anti-racism, and anti-sexism, without giving anything back! This is not an uncommon phenomenon across many political efforts.

      Look at how the message is framed, specifically this sentence:

      “We hope that PETA’s display will help people see that nonhuman animals suffer today just as humans once did” (emphasis mine).

      REALLY? Women and people of color ONCE suffered? Yet another example of a group implying that our efforts against racism and sexism are somehow over, everything’s all better now.

      Secondarily, the message strikes me as being directed towards a white audience referring to people of color, rather than an audience that includes people of color who have just as much of a reason to hear the message about animals. I think a good standard is, if there is any doubt as to whether what you are saying is marginalizing, it probably is.

      Racism, sexism, and cruel treatment towards animals are all different types of manifestations of a willful blindness to the interests of others – they have that in common – but racism and sexism do require really different arguments than advocating ethical treatment of animals. A stance against causing suffering, and care for all interests, leads to including animals in ethical concerns. But anti-racism and anti-sexism are about shutting up and letting people of color and women speak rather than just doing what you think is in their interests; it’s substantively different, and certainly a step farther.

      • Lissla Lissar

        Matt, thank you for your reply here. I think you are making really important points.

  • Daniel Ballow

    If you believe that humans are animals, or that animals and humans are equal, then it’s logically consistent to equate those kinds of cruelty with animal cruelty.
    I don’t agree, but it least it’s self-consistent.

    Can we not be offended?

  • Jacob

    Listen, PETA loves shock value. And while I disagree with many of their campaigns, like going naked instead of fur, I think you telling them to fuck off is pretty pretentious. I happen to agree that keeping animals caged for testing and consumptive purposes is slavery. Is it worse than slavery of other humans? No. Is the slavery of humans worse than the slavery of non-human animals? That’s easier to say yes. But still, it’s a rather anthropocentric assumption that they are saying human slaves are being dehumanized. They are saying non-human animals need to be respected as much as humans. Isn’t the basic goal of feminism to bring everybody up together? That’s what I’ve always believed. That’s the basic goal of animal rights movements as well. Bring non-human animals to the same level as humans. Respect their rights to live and be free.

    • Cat

      Is the slavery of humans worse than the slavery of non-human animals? That’s easier to say yes.

      How do you base this opinion? Are you a chicken who from the beginning of life, have your beak burned off, put in a cage where you can’t move, never see the light, and make eggs until your spent. Then your reward is a wooden crate put in a chipper, with you in it along with other hens.

      How about, a pig. Yes, lets casterate you without sterlization or pain medication, have your tail cut off. Then lets put you in a box where you can’t move until its time to kill you. Then its torture torture torture, your whole life just to be filled with pain, panic and a barbaric death. Don’t kid yourself. I’ve researched this. Have you? Then there are the dairy cattle. To get your precious milk, that should go to their babies you have to be raped first, and impregnated. You have your baby but it is removed from you. You cry for days and days and days for your baby. The baby is then either clubed in the head with a hammer (bullets are too expensive) where you might die right away or not, a day or two you are left there to twitch and suffer in pain, shipped off to become veal, (Male cattle don’t produce milk you see). Dairy cattle are given hormones to produce more milk so their utters can be 50 lbs. Have that hanging from your groin. You are standing all the time in sheds, never seeing the outside except for your ride to the slaughterhouse, your reward for all that milk. You suffer infections and problems from the treatment, feed never mind the abuse from the handlers. Its all ugly, it is slavery and it is as equal if not worse than what we do to humans. This is the whole life of a farm industry animal. Research it yourself, its brutal.

  • Sabrah

    I have some issues with your analysis. Many people, including myself, feel that animals are just as important as human beings. They feel pain, they feel sad, they feel happy, they feel fear. Have you ever seen a video of a slaughter house? Have you ever seen pictures of cows shoved into small areas for transport so that by the time they get to their destination some have died due to the trauma and stress? The fact that pigs are made to be locked up in a cage so small they cannot move their entire lives, the offspring taken from them early on, only to be brutally slaughtered is not even a little like slavery (the tactics, I mean)? I’m not saying humans are the same as animals (I especially understand the societal connotations of likening animals to people of color as a tactic of racism which is cruel AND dehumanizing) but I am saying that suffering is still suffering. Pain is still pain. I am not a supporter of PETA but I am a supporter of animal rights and human rights and I do not think specisim is any more ok than racism, sexism, hetersexism, etc. I’m not trying to come across as rude but I have a great passion for this issue. I’m a domestic violence victim’s advocate and I have seen victims brutally criticized because they stayed in a relationship to protect their dog. They were labeled stupid and naive. I really feel that we cannot allow people to treat animals as less important because whether they can reason, talk, whatever, they can still feel pain and still deserve compassion. I appreciate any responses that facilitate a compassionate, respectful conversation that will allow me to see a different perspective. I have read a lot of feminist articles that I feel down play animal cruelty and that confuses me because I would think that feminism and animal welfare or rights would be closely related.

    • Napoleoninrags

      And those “many people” who feel that animals are just as important as people scare the ever-loving shit out of me.

      • unequivocal

        Oh? Because (while I disagree with them on this topic) most of the people I have met who feel this way are some of the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate folks I’ve met.

        As noted above, this mindset is predicated on the idea that “people are more important than animals.” While I personally think that there is a strong case to be made for this, it is hardly axiomatic.

        I’d love to hear you explain to my vegan yoga instructor exactly *why* her belief that animals are as important as humans scares the ever-loving shit out of you.

        • Lissla Lissar

          Because in many people’s experience, it leads to those “compassionate” folks in fact prioritizing animals over humans, to the point where they start comparing the very real and unique oppressions faced by POC now and in the past to animal cruelty? You know, like what’s happening in most of the comments here?

          I promise you that you can advocate for animal rights without offensively comparing animal cruelty to racial oppression or the oppression of women.

          • Gem

            As a woman of color who happens to be a Muslim to boot, I do not find the comparisons in any way offensive.

          • unequivocal

            Fantastic. If that is, in fact, what happens (prioritizing animal rights *over* humans), we can then talk about that. In the meantime, let’s stick to the topic at hand.

            Why exactly is it terrifying that some people may consider animal suffering to be as important as (not more important than) human suffering?

            If the only answer is “because it leads to prioritizing animals over humans,” then I’d like to see some evidence of the inevitability of that progression.

  • nazza

    Sad to say, PETA refuses to see the problem. In some ways, they’re like a kind of trendy fundamentalist group.

  • Sarah

    Alright. I am not in the business of defending PETA and I am very angered by many of their tactics. However, humans are mammals and PETA does correctly distinguish between human and nonhuman animals. Also, there is a school of thought in Ecofeminism that argues that the hierarchy which always places humans above nonhuman animals is problematic and actually contributes to the ideaology that upholds things like sexism. In other words, this teaches intersectionality not just with things like racism but also with the domination of animals. This thought doesn’t try to say that women’s or child laborer’s status isn’t problematic it simply tries to erase the assumed hierarchy between all human life and nonhuman animal’s life. Essentially, it makes the idea of dehumanization null – but it is really important to understand that it aims to do so without forgetting that degradation still exists on many planes. Ultimately, it does come down to how you feel about human status in relation to nonhuman animal status. And I’m not really attempting to argue one way or another (at least not at this moment) but I would like to point out that this critique of PETA lacks some important understanding and nuance.

    All that being said – what I do find problematic here is that PETA seems to be posturing to claim that humans in these groups no longer suffer. That, of course, is simply untrue and problematic and erases a wide range of intersectionality in the name of one particular cause.

    • Jacob

      This is amazing.

      • Sarah

        Well I was giddy to see someone else use the word anthropocentric – not a word you hear all the time. So right back at ya! :)

    • HolyMoly

      I always thought it was problematic to support the “liberation” of one type of exploited group while actively engaging in the exploitation of others. Great comment. :)

  • Harmony

    I disapprove of PETA tactics as much as the next person, but I don’t think there’s anything offensive in the anti-species-ist position. You may disagree, as I do, with the idea that animals and people are morally equal, but given the position that this campaign advocates for: that animals and people are NOT morally different (look up: speciesism), it makes logical sense to compare human oppression to animal oppression. This takes the matter beyond race or gender- it’s about species.

  • Shannon Drury

    PETA is why I feel embarrassed to admit that I’m veg. They make the rest of us look like idiots.

  • Teresa Valdez Klein

    PETA does a lot of misogynistic, racist and other reprehensible things in their publicity campaigns – that’s why I’m a PAWS supporter rather than a PETA supporter – but I must admit to seeing a sliver of truth in this particular argument.

    It seems to me that it is the very same lack of compassion in our global society that is responsible for slavery, the degradation of women, war, myths about masculinity, hatred of gay people, environmental destruction, the abuse of trans people, cruelty toward animals, and just about everything else that causes the suffering of all living beings on our planet.

    Ranking any one of those particular causes of suffering as any more or less important than another seems to be a mode of ignoring the root cause while trying to cure the symptom.

  • Daniel Ballow

    And how is it sexist if the women in those ad complains VOLUNTEER to do those things for the cause?

    • Sarah

      Nobody ever said women can’t be sexist too by simply upholding the practices of sexism.

      • Daniel Ballow

        Showing one’s body in sexualized way is inherently sexist?

        It’s dehumanizing to deny the fact that we’re all sexual creatures.

        There’s no dichotomy between the person and their sexuality.
        It’s a PART of their person.

        And don’t tell me about the history of the attitudes about female sexuality.
        The attitude someone has about something they’re looking at is removed from the intention of the thing they’re looking at.

    • Danny

      Following that logic than how are rap videos sexist if the women dancing around scantily clad and being objectified are the of their own free will as well? Just because someone is volunteering to be involved with these kind of things doesn’t mean that the message behind the campaign isn’t sexist.

  • feminismforever

    I’m no fan of PETA, and I generally agree with you on them, but I cannot agree with this. This campaign is only offensive if you start from a place of non-human animals being inherently inferior. In that case, being compared to them is offensive just as being compared to gays, or women, or other oppressed groups is offensive to many. If you believe that animals are different, but equally deserving of not being exploited, than this is not offensive.

    I believe that feminism involves looking critically at all oppression and exploitation – including that of non-human animals – and that engaging in and supporting oppression of any kind undermines feminist goals. While I understand that this is not a common view, it is a legitimate one.

    For good analysis of the intersection of feminism, racism, and specism, check out Vegans of Color ( or Animal Rights & AntiOppression (

  • Renee

    Insert requisite comments about not liking or agreeing with PETA in some respects here.

    Plenty of people have already really intelligently addressed the ignorance expressed in the initial post. I’m glad. PETA did not “invent” the connections between the oppressions of human and non-human animals.
    Smart people, including women and people of color, have written a great deal about it, and I recommend, before jumping to conclusions about dehumanization (and, please, let’s remember that the category of “human” has been in flux throughout history) that people read any of the following scholarly and bloggy literature on the topic:
    The Sistah Vegan Project
    Carol Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat
    Gary Francione’s The Abolitionist Approach
    Vegans of Color
    These are just good places to start educating yourself about these issues before clamoring for outrage.

  • Carol

    OK, so in that case is taking kittens from mama cat to be adopted the same as selling a couple’s children into slavery hundreds of miles away? Is spaying a pet the same as forced sterilization of women?

    We can and should campaign for compassion for animals, respect for all species, without pretending that there are no differences. Is the difference between human and cow just as artificial as the “differences” between ethnic/racial groups? Is eating a burger equivalent to cannibalism?

    And if there is no real difference, where do you draw the line? Is killing snails in my garden the same as killing in war?

    • Gabe

      Like everyone else here, I don’t like PETA and am not wholesale defending them.

      But I don’t think they’re saying there’s no difference. I think they’re asking people to see the parallels. It would be absolutely and obviously wrong to fail to prioritize the human right in question over the animal equivalent, but that’s not really what PETA is asking people to do.* They’re pointing out that this thing is wrong when we do it to humans, and so we should be uncomfortable about doing it to animals too.

      I’ll never be primarily an animal isuses activist, because, yes, I think people are more important. But I am a vegan, because I think it’s suspect to draw a bright line between what people deserve and what animals do. If I took the position that the exploitation of human beings was really awful, but refused to apply the same analysis to animals, I’d have to wonder how serious I actually was about my principles.

      * PETA gets up to a lot of sexism fail, etc., but I don’t think that’s a consequence of their animal rights positions.

  • luggageandsouls

    PETA consistently fucks up.

    However, I believe the equating of factory farming to human slavery isn’t unfair.

    Jos, I have to ask, are you entirely familiar with the conditions under which factory farmed animals are treated? They’re literally as bad as Africans being brought over in slave ships, except its for an entire lifetime. Packed tightly together where they can’t move, others dying around them and living in their own shit. The most they ever get to move is when they’re being brought to their deaths. They’re artificially inseminated, and their offspring are traumatically removed from them almost immediately after birth.

    To say it dehumanizes someone to liken their suffering to the far worse suffering of a non-human animals essentially objectifies the animal, turning it into nothing more than a toaster or coffee table. There’s no scientific reason to believe that mammals and birds don’t experience pain. In fact there is substantial scientific reasoning to suggest they suffer both physically and emotionally.

    • Napoleoninrags

      They’re literally as bad as Africans being brought over in slave ships, except its for an entire lifetime.

      yeah, except THEY ARE FUCKING ANIMALS and not human beings!

      • Ritch Ludlow

        Homo sapiens is a species of animal…we’re all animals.

        • davenj

          But homo sapiens is an animal that, in most instances, has moral agency.

          • Gem

            Non-human animals also have agency. Put them in harm’s way and they will attempt to find a way out. That shows a level of awareness and self-protection. If a living being displays an interest in avoiding harm, then it has a right to pursue that interest. I know, I know, people don’t want to acknowledge things that may challenge their right to eat cheeseburgers and take their kids to watch elephants in tiaras stand on their hindlegs, but that’s the truth.

            I wish you could all see that we are not saying animals and humans are exactly the same. We are saying that animals also have a right to live their lives free from human persecution and interference. They don’t have the same rights as humans, obviously an elephant has no interest in voting or freedom of speech. But she sure as hell has an interest in not been beaten, chained and forced to entertain humans seven days a week.

            And I wish you could all see that it is exactly this sense of superiority you are lording over the animal world that those humans who persecute other humans draw on to justify their actions. “Their only fucking animals” is not such a big step away from “their only fucking Muslims” and “their only fucking Jews” and “their only fucking women”.
            All begin with a basic lack of compassion and a attribution of value depending on whether or not the being in question meets the minimum requirements for respect and acceptance, i.e the right skin colour, the right genitalia, the right religion, the right species.

          • Gem

            Oops. Apologies for the terrible grammar. *They’re* not *Their*. That’s why I’ll never be a sub-editor, *sigh*.

  • Amanda

    I think the real problem with this (and many, many of PETA’s other tactics) is that they are speaking out against the exploitation of animals and using heated rhetoric (“slavery,” “oppression”) but see nothing wrong with exploiting women in so many of their campaigns in order to get their point across. I do think animal cruelty is a system of oppression- our society exploits animals for food, clothing, medical experiments, entertainment and more, despite the fact that animals are sentient beings. However, it’s wrong of PETA to claim that they care about oppression and exploitation when they’re constantly running campaigns in which women take their clothes off to somehow further the cause.

  • Jos

    I am very opposed to our massive industrial food system and the animal cruelty, environmental degradation, and poor health outcomes that are all part of it. And I think slavery is worse than animal cruelty.

    • HolyMoly

      “Slavery is worse than animal cruelty.”

      Cruelty is cruelty. Period.

      We all have a responsibility to be cognizant about the effect we have on sentient beings – human or otherwise.

      In addition, animal cruelty is most definitely a feminist issue – whether it comes from calling the racks where female cows are forcibly impregnated “Rape racks” to diminishing the bonds between mother and child – making exceptions for any type of cruelty is a slippery slope to walk on.

    • Renee

      Jos, with all due respect, your response does not address any of the incredibly thoughtful and intelligent replies you’ve gotten, especially those that make the (very important) connections between animal rights work and feminism.
      Do you see these connections and theories as invalid?
      Of course, there are a million ways to disagree with PETA’s stance (and the stance of the many other abolitionists and animal rights activists who share it) but are you, after reading some these replies, willing to consider a more nuanced view? Is it just PETA’s presentation you have a problem with or the whole outlook?

  • HolyMoly

    I am really saddened that so many feminist blogs will attack PETA (and they deserve), but offer no analysis on exactly why and how animal rights intersects with human rights (esp. those of women and minorities).

    In my experience, animal rights makes feminists very uncomfortable as it forces them to acknowledge that they, themselves, are contributing to a form of exploitation…but those conversations need to happen. And I look forward when activists can put down their love of the cheeseburger and open their worldview to all sentient beings, and realize and acknowledge that it doesn’t diminish what they’re working towards, but strengthens it.

  • Maeve

    I’ll start by saying that I’m not ok with everything PETA does. I have problems with a lot of their tactics. Also this is very rambly and I’m sorry.

    However, in most social justice movements there is a period of time where people advocating for rights for a marginalized group are seen as crazy, irrational, too radical, etc. Straight white feminists have tried to distance themselves from the LGBT community and from issues that women of color face. Lesbian and gay advocates have distanced themselves from trans issues. They’ve seen their social justice issue as more important, and other issues as just too out there, Hopefully we can all agree that these are bad things. Nonhuman animals are an extremely oppressed group, and many activists who advocate for marginalized humans also actively engage in their oppression. I really hope that will change soon. I think we’re just at a different place on the timeline of the animal rights movement. (I’m absolutely NOT saying other movements I’ve mentioned are “finished” or anything, there is still so much work to be done, but I do think that they are seen as more legitimate by the general public by varying degrees, if that makes sense.)

    I do think it’s important to be really careful when making these comparisons, and aware of how privilege affects how you perceive them. As a white person I think slavery is absolutely horrifying but my gut emotional reaction to it might be pretty different from that of a Black person. I don’t think it’s inherently a problematic discussion, though, and plenty of Black animal rights advocates have tackled it.

    I really recommend reading Sistah Vegan and watching Earthlings (it’s free online at Green is the New Red has some pretty relevant stuff too.

  • Ragnar

    The primary aim of the PETA campaign is to reiterate how speciesism is, at the heart of it all, a systematic mode of oppression akin to sexism, racism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism and the numerous other systems of oppression maintained by majoritarian or dominating tyranny. Advocacy for the reparation of all social injustices, a philosophy that should view all forms of societal oppression as equal, is an imperative for any activist defending the oppressed: otherwise, there is a clear discrepancy in ideology, an unstated approval of intersectional hegemony, as well as an implicit Othering of minorities that diametrically opposes (rather ironically, and sometimes hypocritically) and somewhat delegitimizes the stances that they hold. I’m not necessarily saying to all and any who read this that Veganism is the only way to uphold an ideology of surmounting the numerous modes of oppression existent in society; but rather, that perhaps we need to evaluate, once more, our ideological assumptions, and step away from the narrow-minded activism that so often completely hinders the credibility of the very term “activist” by not being all-inclusiving in defending the systematically subjugated.

  • Rachel

    wow. yeah, how about we just don’t ever equate anything BUT slavery with slavery? that seems like a great place to start generally. That’s just me, I cringe when Jewish friends say “we were slaves in Egypt” yes, yes… I get it, thats the story, its part of the tradition but.. srsly folks. Its not too crazy to just NOT equate anything with slavey that isn’t slavery. Just like we should likely avoid equating with the shoah anything that just aint… Factory farming sucks, animal cruelty is real. No need to start with the slavery comparisons. Suuuuuuper offensive.

    • Lily Bryan

      I agree that it is not constructive and offensive to compare anything BUT human slavery to human slavery, especially as quoted above that “nonhuman animals suffer as much as humans ONCE did.” This clearly negates all current human suffering, slavery, trafficking, genocide, etc. Whether or not animal cruelty is cruel is as cruel as human slavery does not concern as me as much as how PETA seems to think humans no longer suffer.

      However, I find it even more upsetting that you–who seeming dislikes comparisons of suffering–would throw in a comment cringing at a Jewish claim to history. Just because Jewish slavery was thousands of years ago and mainly exists in religious texts does not mean it does not resonate traditionally and culturally with Jews today in a very serious way. It is only one of the countless ways Jews have been persecuted and discriminated against in the thousands of years since, and still today.

      When your Jewish friends say they were slaves in Egypt they are appreciating their history and learning from it in order not to make the same mistakes in the future. I am not saying that the African-American and Jewish experience are the same, they are extremely different, as are their experiences with slavery. But just as slavery is something not to be lightly compared to, you should not belittle the Jewish experience because it does not carry the same weight in the U.S. No person’s suffering should ever be considered not terrible enough.

    • Gem

      What would you call imprisoning living beings against their will, forcing them to work to the brink of exhaustion, and killing them when they are no longer useful if not ‘slavery’?

      • Lissla Lissar

        Animal cruelty? Words mean things and sometimes those things have a cultural context. You don’t get to appropriate the idea of slavery for your cause when you can easily make another term for it. Just like you don’t get to use “holocaust” any way you like, or compare other forms of cruelty to rape, or any number of things that already have a cultural meaning that you do not own.

        • Gem

          I’d be careful with that argument if I were you. Words mean things and have a cultural context? Just like the word ‘marriage’ means things to white, straight, Christian folks who think it is ‘theirs’ and gays will just have to find another word for their unions rather than ‘appropriate it for their cause’. It is not ‘appropriating’ to draw attention to the fact that animals are, from birth to agonizing death, used, abused, forcibly impregnated, worked to the brink of exhaustion, separated from their families, imprisoned, malnourished, generally mistreated until they are finally killed for their meat and/or hide. They may not have our intellectual capacity, but animals are intelligent, sentient beings who are fully aware of the injustice that had been dished out to them against their will.
          ‘Animal cruelty’ does not cut it because it implies that if we were just a little kinder to the animals it would still be ok to use them in this way. It is not. You can call it what you like, but I call it slavery. And the next great feminist issue.

    • Matt


      Just don’t equate different kinds of oppression with each other. Don’t oppose heterosexism because it’s “like racism” or racism because it’s like “male privilege.”

      These things are all bad because they’re bad on their own.

      When you do equate or compare, you always end up putting words in somebody else’s mouth.

      Good summary.

  • Joshua

    It strikes me that any accusatory comparison of oppression is typically not very helpful, particularly when you are part of the oppressors rather than the oppressed. It’s one thing for say a Japanese-American “internment” camp survivor to find solidarity among concentration camp survivors. It’s entirely another thing though for a human organization (whose spokespersons tend mostly to be white) to say that victims of white American oppression have a certain solidarity with oppressed species. PETA as an organization, for better or for worse, tends to signify a sort of top kyriarchical lifestyle to many people–white, middle to upper class, American vegans. Sadly, PETA does little to dismiss this stereotype but has tended to showcase itself in this sort of image (this probably has to do with its contributors falling into a stereotype).

    All that being said, it is ridiculous for PETA (as a perceived rich, white organization) to even think it has the right to invoke images of race induced slavery wherein they represent the oppressors–regardless of if the level or kind of oppression being paralleled is justified. PETA does not speak on behalf of those whose history is born out by race-induced slavery nor for non-human species as a whole. It is arrogant and, to be fair, cheap to do so.

    • Gabe

      This is a fair analysis—better than Jos’s, I think (sorry, Jos), in getting at the actual problem.

      I became vegan because I couldn’t shake the parallels between the human oppressions I opposed and their counterparts as applied to animals. It was because I felt the human ones were so unacceptable that I felt the need to oppose the animal ones. I don’t think anyone will begrudge me that. I don’t think anyone will say it’s trivializing of human slavery, and other forms of human exploitation/coercion, to not want to participate in something for looking too much like it. But your comment does draw out why it’s problematic for PETA to make use of those comparisons in its advocacy.

      So imagine you’re me, a white person who feels driven to act against animal exploitation, but who doesn’t want to use narratives or images he doesn’t have the right to. What would you do to convince people to make the kinds of connections I make—which, again, I believe are unproblematic when arrived at from the right direction—without saying anything with messed up implications about race or sex or whatever else?

      • Puck

        It’s easy. Tell the truth. The truth about animal cruelty is nasty enough and everyone can identify with the sorts of sensations and experiences animals in agricultural captivity are subject to without comparing it to instances of specific human suffering.

        For example, “Cows are forced to give birth in order to start producing milk. Then, their children are taken away from them and they are harnessed to machines that try to get every ounce of milk from them, all the while being injected with hormones and antibiotics and living in their own shit.” I’d say that’s pretty horrific on its own.

        Or you could take the route of describing the kinds of foodstuffs this produces (like in KRS One’s 1990 track Beef) and how disgusting that is, without even touching on the horrors of the lived experiences of animals.

        There are plenty of options out there that don’t involve appropriating the ongoing struggles of people who are not you. Just use some imagination.

        A friend of mine (who now works at Planned Parenthood, but used to work at Farm Sanctuary, both organizations that folks should get into) wrote this to me recently, on a similar topic:

        Every animal has their own unique experience of the world. A cow wakes up in the morning, seeing with her own eyes, hearing with her own ears, smelling with her own nose, and feeling with her own body. The pain and fear she experiences in the course of her “production” is as real to her as my (less frequent) experience of pain and fear as a human being. And I don’t want to be a cause of pain and fear for the sake of ‘this thing tastes good in my mouth for 15 minutes.’

        Pretty simple and pretty powerful.

        • Lissla Lissar

          Puck this comment is awesome! You are making a great point here and I hope people listen.

  • Julia

    I think you’re blowing this a bit out of proportion. PETA didn’t claim that animal cruelty is something worse or even equally bad as cruelty towards various groups of humans, it just said that people are fighting for animal rights similar to the ways people have traditionally fought for human rights. Really, it’s not comparing situations so much as tactics; the first step towards fighting for human rights is showing others that these groups are being oppressed and that they shouldn’t be, just like many animal rights activists are working to help others understand that animals are being treated cruelly and that they shouldn’t be.

    Also, rather than trying to dehumanize any group of people, I think PETA’s goal was to humanize animals. It’s not saying that child labor, human slavery, and the oppression of women are trivial, it’s saying that the suffering of animals is much more important than most people seem to think it is. No, animal cruelty isn’t as bad as human slavery, but most then again most things aren’t. Women once not being allowed to vote and gay couples currently not being allowed to marry also aren’t as bad as slavery, but it doesn’t mean that both of those things aren’t also horrible and that some sort of comparison cannot be made.

  • Sam

    The reason that PETA is claiming that animal cruelty is on par with that of human suffering is because it is the truth. Regardless of how anyone feels about PETA as an organization(I think their sexism is appalling, and I feel that they are more of a thorn in the side of the animal rights movement than anything else) it is completely unfair to dismiss these claims. Animals feel pain, fear, love, just as humans do. Factory farms are hell on Earth, and easily equate to the miserable conditions that some human animals have been forced into, against their will. That is the biggest part of it, animals have absolutely no say in the matter. I am very glad to see that so many people seem to understand the underlying theme that has brought us all together; compassion. You can learn a ton about people and societies by how they treat the animals. Oppression of any living, breathing animal, human or not, is unacceptable. This is not dehumanizing, this is compassion on all fronts. Human beings have put each other in situations that I could never dream of, but that doesn’t change the fact that the same is happening to animals every day. This time, I would recommend looking at the big picture and how all of the points connect before simply saying “fuck you”.

  • Ritch Ludlow

    This is a video response I made to this post. I hope it doesn’t seem aggressive in anyway, I just wanted to put my two cents (or 4 minutes) in:

  • human

    I don’t know what is human about kidnapping calves from their mothers and sending then to slaughterhouses, and if it’s not rape when cows are forced to get pregnant, what else is it then??if it’s not slavery that most of the animals are stuffed into small catles and are never able to see real sunlight what is it then??

    yeah but we are humans, we are sooo great and soooo much better than animals…

    let me say it clearly again – this is rape , murder & slavery, and if you are unable to see it remove the blinders from your eyes, look at the mirror – and feel ashamed

  • Staci

    I will echo the numerous commenters who fight for animal rights but do not align themselves with PETA. Yes, PETA does A LOT wrong. But in this instance, they’re actually (for once) not completely off base.

    It saddens me that so many feminists still refuse to see the intersectionality of human rights and animal rights. If it’s not okay to keep humans in slavery, why is it okay for us to do so to animals? The same can be said for rape (it’s called a “rape rack” in animal agriculture for a reason). I think it is shameful that so many feminists can still support speciesism.

  • Katherine

    Generally, we use animals for everything, entertainment, food, clothing, products, etc. They are denied any rights. Have horrible living conditions. And many of the ones who are free are in constant threat of having their life and freedom taken.
    Dismissing this ad as “dehumanizing” fails to look at what is REALLY going on, and what PETA is wanting us to think about.
    All systems of oppression are mutually reinforcing. I am against all oppression.
    Even the words “humanize” and “dehumanize” are problematic. It keeps humans at the top of the hierarchy. There are things we can do that animals can’t, but there’s things they can do that we can’t do too. There’s nothing that makes us inherently “greater than”. We just have more power. That’s how I see it…and it’s nice to see that a lot of people agree.
    Starting to think Feministing needs to get an animal rights person on staff…

  • cath ens

    I don’t always agree with everything that PeTA does, however, when they equate speciesism with other forms of oppression that have been acknowledged (even if those oppressions have not been eradicated) they are right on the nose. the writer of this site/blog clearly doesn’t understand how oppression works and how any oppression affects us all – human and non-human animals.

  • Lissla Lissar

    Reading the comments here I feel like I have crossed over into bizarro world where nothing makes sense.

    Look, I care about animals. I don’t think I should have to list some kind of cred here, but my family has rescued dozens of homeless cats and kittens over the years, I have volunteered for many no-kill shelters, I’m against using animals for non-medical testing, the list goes on. I understand that humans are animals. I understand that non-human animals feel pain and sadness and such.

    But comparing farming to slavery is inherently wrong and offensive. It also seems very anti-science. At this point in time science tells us that there are very few non-human animals that are close to being as complex as human beings in their thoughts and emotions. That does not mean we should be cruel to them. But that also does not put them on the same level as humans.

    I would also like to ask the people saying that cruelty towards humans and cruelty towards non-human animals are exactly equivalent to take that to the logical conclusion. What would this subtract to modern science? Medical testing would be one of the first things on the block. Meaning that humans will continue to die of diseases that could eventually be cured through animal testing. Are you comfortable with that? Are you comfortable with losing your life rather than allowing animal testing? Or, are you comfortable with putting your OWN body up for potentially dangerous/deadly medical testing for the future of humanity? If you aren’t, you’re a hypocrite.

    • Ritch Ludlow

      What do you think about humans with brain damage or mental disabilities who don’t have conventional human intelligence or emotional complexity? Does that revoke their right to happiness?

      • Lissla Lissar

        This is such a strawman. You must know that especially in light of so many people in the comments here asking animal rights activists to stop appropriating the oppression of other marginalized groups.

      • unequivocal

        I think this is a really trenchant point and deserves a response.

    • Gabe

      I’d watch out appealing to “science.” Science has said a lot of things over the years that we now recognize as biased/culturally constructed/totally absurd.

      I also think it is problematic to set up a hierarchy of who and what it is okay to exploit based on “complexity in thoughts and emotions.” One, we have no way to judge the “complexity” of the thoughts and feelings of any other being (human or non-). Two, I think it can very quickly get you into some ableist territory, and I doubt that’s where you want to go with this.

    • Gem

      “Are you comfortable with losing your life rather than allowing animal testing?”


    • honeybee

      Even if that’s all true why is “complexity in thoughts and emotions” the defining factor as to who is on “the higher level”? You could just easily use any characteristic such as how big the creature is or how long it lives for to classify hierarchies and it would be just as valid (or in this case, invalid).

  • Napoleoninrags

    There is NO comparison between animal cruelty and the enslavement, forced migration, and continued exploitation of people of African descent. Anyone who believes there is is either 1)a racist or 2) so blinded by academic arguments for the supposed “personhood” of animals [or the lack of said personhood in people) that they cannot see the patent absurdity of what is being argued. Incidentally, the person in scenario 2 is still a racist, they just aren’t owning up to it.

    • Ritch Ludlow

      Africans and people of African descent aren’t the only people to be slaves. Human trafficking still happens.

      • Napoleoninrags

        Thank you so much for setting me straight. I’ll remember that when I teach my Critical Theories of Race seminar this fall.

        I think everyone here is well aware that the African slave trade and its perpetuation in American society is not the only historical instance of slavery. However, when folks in the American political sphere start comparing things to slavery you can be damn sure that it is that system that they have in mind and hope to conjure in the minds of those who hear their message.

        As with right wing political strategies that minimize the Holocaust by comparing other situations to it, this PETA bullshit UNQUESTIONABLY has the effect of creating a correspondence between slavery and animal cruelty. The result is to piss off those of us with a vested interest in keeping the historical memory of slavery and its after effects in the public sphere and to diminish that horrendous human tragedy in the eyes of others.

        Can you see now why this is racist?

        • Franzia Kafka

          I think perhaps some of the people commenting here fail to recall that this same distorted slavery metaphor is also commonly employed by anti-choicers claiming that abortion is “slavery” of fetuses, or that the same cruel, inhumane urges that lead women and doctors to have and perform abortions also led people to keep and mistreat human slaves. The logic is barely different from the animal-slaughter/slavery metaphor, since fetuses are at least as developmentally complex and sentient as many animals.

          I believe most feminists would find the abortion comparison unfair, overgeneralized, and offensive, and so I find it surprising that they would not see how it would be the same for an animal-slaughter/slavery comparison.

          • unequivocal

            this same distorted slavery metaphor is also commonly employed by anti-choicers claiming that abortion is “slavery” of fetuses, or that the same cruel, inhumane urges that lead women and doctors to have and perform abortions also led people to keep and mistreat human slaves.

            Now see, *that* is a distorted metaphor. Concerns about appropriation of culture aside, the word “slavery” doesn’t have anything to do with abortion.

            However, concerns about appropriation of culture aside, comparing the treatment of animals (forced captivity and service, removal of agency) to human slavery seems a bit more apt than comparing abortion to slavery.

  • deafbrowntrash

    OK. Let’s have a recap of some of the comments here.

    Some of you claim that animals are equal to human beings, and that animal torture is equal to human slavery. So in that case, if animals and humans are equal, then I ask:

    when are the animal rights activists and vegans going to demand for JUSTICE for animals that have been “murdered” by other animals? Tigers, lions, bears, alligators, etc.. are predators — no wait– MURDERERS — for killing poor, harmless, innocent prey animals.

    According to some of you folks, animals are equal to humans. so that means — if an animal kills another animal (either for food or defense), then that animal is a MURDERER and should be held accountable for its actions.

    Human slavery is committed by other humans against other humans. To this day, human slavery and trafficking still exist. Human traffickers and slave owners should be held accountable and be punished for enslaving and trafficking humans.

    People who commit animal cruelty should also be held accountable for cruelty against animals. But ACCORDING TO SOME OF YOU who claim that animals are equal to humans, then what about other animals who torture animals for fun (yes, such things do happen, go google it yourself) or animals who kill other animals for food or for survival??? Should they also be held accountable for their “crimes” against other animals?

    Humans oppress other humans and animals.
    Since animals are supposedly “equal” to humans, then I have to conclude:

    animals also oppress other animals. Therefore, PETA should also be OUTRAGED that some animals kill and eat their babies, that predator animals prey after smaller, weaker animals and kill them and eat them, and that some other animals rape other animals.

    Where’s the outrage over animals oppressing other animals?????????

    Animals and humans are 100%? equal? Yeah right.

    You can’t make up this shit.

    • Napoleoninrags

      This is awesome. Thank you for your sanity.

    • unequivocal

      I don’t think many people are claiming animals are EQUAL to humans. The claim being made is that animal suffering is comparable to human suffering. This just means that realistic comparisons can be drawn, and that our understanding of animal cruelty can be informed by our understanding of human suffering.

      Anyone who states that you can’t make a comparison between factory farming and human slavery doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “comparison.” One can make a comparison between apples and oranges and point out that there are certain similarities; that isn’t the same as claiming that apples are oranges.

      I obviously don’t believe that factory farming is the same thing as human slavery. I don’t believe that it was as bad as human slavery. I do believe that there are points of comparison, and I believe that a case can be made that some of the reasons people object to slavery should logically also apply to cases of animal cruelty.

      I can even do all that without making the claim that animals are as important as people!

  • Cherylanne

    Sigh…..I so much agree with deafbrowntrash and napoleoninrags…..As a black woman,
    PETA pisses me the hell off. I am stunned by the comments agreeing with their viewpoints… (shaking my head as i go away from here)

  • Julie

    Why should human animals be considered intrinsically more valuable than non-human ones? I’ll tell you why, it’s the bias towards your own species that arguably every human has to at least some degree. You value your own kind over others. It’s speciesism, and yes, that is a form of bigotry, which is ironic since you want to accuse others of racism.

    Although I’m not a huge fan of PETA for their sexist tactics, I can at least respect what they’re trying to. People have a hard time relating to non-human animals as more than object, property they have every right to abuse. By pointing out that cruelty to animals is no better than cruelty to humans, humans are made to think about animals as what they are: thinking, feeling creatures who deserve respect and protection.

    My problem with this ad isn’t that non-human suffering is being compared to human suffering, it’s that different types and degrees of suffering are lumped together as if they were all the same. For instance, although women have been oppressed for countless generations, even to the point of being considered property, and one could even argue that the patriarchal system is a form of slavery, I don’t think it compares, in every aspect, to the suffering of black slaves here in my own country.

  • Shelly

    I think some of you guys are either forgetting or are oblivious to something: PETA not only engage in sexist ad campaigns and some ridiculous tactics, but they’re also a bunch of hypocrites.

    No, really.

    They say they’re for animal rights and are against animal cruelty, but they end up killing most of the animals that end up in their shelters simply because they can’t find homes for them. (Look up PETA Kills Animals.) Because of this, I have no respect for them.

    (And of course, many celebs who have endorsed PETA have no problem eating meat or wearing leather… and PETA doesn’t care, either. Follow the money. But I digress.)

    As for this recent campaign… oi. Let’s just say I agree with Matt.

    • Julie

      I don’t think euthanasia is necessarily animal cruelty, if it can be done humanely. Even the ASPCA, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has to put animals down. Sometimes it just has to be done. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth.

      Shelters only have the space, funds, and staff to support a limited number of animals, and it’s neither safe for the non-human animals, or humans to let domestic animals go stray. This is especially true in the case of very old, very young, sick, disabled, or aggressive animals.

      I’m against animal cruelty, and I’ve had to put my own pets down because of illnesses. It was just more humane to euthanize them than it was to let them continue to suffer. I think it’s false to say that euthanize animals is hypocritical for an animal rights group.

      PETA, although not a perfect group by any means, at least recognize that it’s sometimes necessary to destroy animals. They believe in doing it humanely and even provide free euthanasia services in some places so that at least animals can pass peacefully by injection rather than by being shot or gassed.

  • Franzia Kafka

    I’m familiar with some of the feminist thought on the politics of food/meat-eating and the domination of animals as a symptom of a dysfunctional hierarchical social system, but I have to take a more utilitarian viewpoint on this. We live in a world which runs on limited resources. We have limited financial resources, limited non-renewable natural resources, increasingly limited renewable sources due to environmental degradation and pollution, etc. In these circumstances, I find the domestic (pet) animals kept by citizens in the global West, and the absurd amounts of money (resources) that Americans drop on them, to be a bit of a luxury at a time when there are thousands of people starving every day around the globe. We spend a lot of money and resources on our domestic animals. Further, there are SO MANY animals, especially domestic animals like cats, that no amount of resources in the world could ever take care of them. They would eat and breed everyone out of house and home. There need to be standards of humaneness and pain reduction in the treatment of animals, but we simply cannot “save” all (domestic) animals, probably not even most animals.

    Perhaps I should qualify this a bit more. There is no either/or choice between people or animals; we all know that’s not how it works. Many things could be done to improve the lots of both people and animals at the same time. Things could also be done to help animals while using only minimal resources (e.g., if the U.S. industrial-agriculture complex cleaned up its horrific treatment of slaughter animals and laying hens, or if we could stop the global demand for fur, etc.). And it would of course be unreasonable for people to stop keeping domestic animals, both because they’ve been with us throughout history as companions and helpers, and because probably none of the resources saved would make it around to the countries that needed it the most anyway, due to the barriers built into the global capitalist system. And the animals themselves are not the problem. The problem is human poverty.

    Humans have a role to play in humaneness toward animals and pain reduction. But we have humans living in desperate, destitute situations in this world, and I think it’s somewhat arrogant of privileged Westerners to claim that, as a rule, no one should kill or eat animals based on an abstract belief that humans and animals are moral equals. If I was a mother with starving kids in another country, I probably would not feel any regret at killing someone’s pet dog – or any other animal – to feed my babies. Human poverty is also a huge contributor to the fur trade and the trade in endangered species. Sometimes animals are the only or best way for people to live. At root, PETA is wrong in its claim that animal cruelty and mistreatment can be remedied by simply teaching people to be less cruel and mean. These things will not be remedied until the uneven distribution of resources and economic inequality are addressed. Until everyone has the resources to live on plant-based food, animals will be necessary to supplement human survival.

  • tino

    PETA is generally way off, but I can’t say I agree with this post either.

    As a feminist, I think the way people treat farmed animals reflects a classic case of othering for our own convenience/comfort. I’d really love to see some writing here on Feministing about the use of others’ bodies for consumption. Farmed animals are not human animals and they have their own needs and interests, and those need to be respected.

    when people use animals for our own purposes and don’t respect those needs and interests, that is a problem. One need not search too hard to find countless examples of neglect and abuse – just a few being feeding for fast growth/high “production” at the cost of animal health, or creating environments in which mutilations like the one being done to the piglet in the graphic are practiced – often not because of the animals’ behaviour, but because of the systems and environments we keep them in. I’m sick of seeing the industry fail to examine its own problems and not consider how to make positive change, and instead ignoring its own faults and causing more suffering as a result. It is not acceptable to take others into one’s care and allow things like death due to neglect, or deny access to basic medical care, proper food and housing.

    As a feminist, queer lady and someone who has a degree in factory farming (and never plans to use it), I think this issue relates hugely to capitalism and oppression, and I think many feminists, women, and marginalized people in general feel connected to this struggle. While PETA may not go about things in a constructive manner, this is a subject that deserves consideration. I would love to see more feminist analysis of the farmed animal industry on feminsiting – it’s been something I’d hoped for since my first visit.

  • Cat

    A direct quote from Ms. JOS “Fuck you PETA. Fuck you very much.”

    How can you respect anything from someone who talks this way to an organization that only wishes to stop cruelty. It is beyond me.

    Ms JOS is not a skilled, or knowledgable person on the animal genocide on earth nor does she know anything about how animals are treated. She states she’s against the ‘farm industry’ that it is cruel but can’t rub two brain cells together to figure out, it is slavery, it is cruel, barbaric, horror filled agony for animals, the pain that is caused is excruciating.

    Its called ‘speciesism’. That is when you raise one ‘sentient’ being over another. Love a dog, eat a cow. That man is black, enslave him. That woman can not vote. When people make the connection of ALL sentient beings deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and freedom to live their lives as they are designed to, the world will change for the ultimate better.

    All creatures are God’s gift. Everyone agrees, Im sure, with one of those 10 commandments, “Thou Shall Not Kill”. Well, it doesn’t say, “Thou shall not kill except for cows, chickens, pigs, horses, dogs, cats, turkeys… ” Make that connection, that is what PETA is trying to do.

    As far as JOS, I give her the same sentiment she provided for PETA at the end of her stupid rant,…. F U too.

    • Jos

      The fact that we disagree does not mean that I am uninformed. I’ve actually engaged with these issues a great deal, which I’m sure would shock many in this comment thread. I’ve just come to different conclusions than you.

      On the topic of being knowledgeable about the issue, I recommend doing some research on PETA.