Exploiting women to protect animals?

The radical vegan movement uses T&A tactics like strip clubs, tarty dancers and fad-diet books.

Topics: Broadsheet, The New York Times, Love and Sex,

At first taste, Thursday’s New York Times piece about a Portland, Ore., strip club that promotes veganism seems like just another example of nichification madness. Green-haired soccer mothers who samba while scrapbooking? Give them a support group! Why not a club for horny PETA-philes who sicken at the sight of a leather thong or a juicy steak?

But the story probes a vein of the radical vegetarian movement that’s — to thoroughly mutilate my metaphors — gotten on my nerves lately. PETA has always gone to extreme lengths to get its message out, whether it meant splashing the fur coats of celebrities with blood to illustrate the cruelty of the fur industry or photographing a seminaked model in a cage to raise awareness about pig farming practices. All is fair in love and activism. But lately, with “Skinny Bitch” books promoting veganism as the new fad diet and Vegan Vixens sexing up the airways with their soy-based song ‘n’ dance, the whole exploitation of women to protect animals has gotten a bit, well, obscene.

In the Times piece, the owner of the strip club, one Johnny Diablo, calls the women who have voiced objections to his club “feminazis,” then adds with no apparent irony: “My sole purpose in this universe is to save every possible creature from pain and suffering.”

I guess this makes me a feminazi, though not a terribly outraged one — more perplexed and befuddled.

As the article notes, with only 2.3 percent of the U.S. population vegetarian, it’s remarkable that animal activists have achieved such a high profile. Maybe their prominence is the result of their T&A tactics.

I know, I know, sex sells, so whaddaya gonna do? In the article many of the defenders of using women’s bodies to promote animals rights explain that they are trying to convert he-men — y’know, those dudes who wouldn’t know grilled seitan if it slapped them in the ass. Although historically feminism and vegetarianism have often been aligned, now every movement’s on its own — each competing for eyeballs and dollars.

I think there’s a little more to the trend. These flesh-flogging animal lovers may abhor cruelty, but we’re not living in a particularly cruelty-free time. Whether it’s sarcastic blogging or negative campaigning, acting tough and a little mean has serious cultural friction. Employing hard-assed, sexy imagery makes organizations like PETA retain an aura of “cool” even though in reality they are talking about some very uncool subjects like pig farming and lost puppies. They’ve got to compensate for that! By the same token, I’ve heard a number of feminists snark about the pleasures of steak, the absurdity of animal rights. I’d guess that most women’s activists and animal activists would agree on a lot. But in a world where being naughty gets so much attention, it’s not cool to be cruelty-free about everything.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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