Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at an Evening of Kindness event in Melbourne, Australia, organized by Edgar’s Mission. I spoke to a roomful of animal advocates about compassion fatigue and burnout, and I offered some suggestions for self-care.
I’ve spoken on this topic for 10 years or so at various animal advocacy venues, but this time, when I addressed some of the triggers that can lead to burnout, I felt obligated to mention sexual harassment in our movement. After my presentation, the only questions and comments I got were about this topic, and they were all from women, including one who disclosed that she had experienced it. Clearly, the animal rights movement has a sexual harassment problem—and it has for a long time.
Sexual harassment occurs everywhere, but within the animal rights movement it is especially pervasive, in part because there are so many more women than men and in part because of the higher status men often have. Men are hailed as “heroes,” regarded as lending legitimacy to campaigns, and looked upon as natural leaders. Many of these men use their status to manipulate, harass, and even sexually assault female employees, volunteers, and interns within AR organizations. Women are told that if they speak out, they will be hurting the animals. In some cases, the victims are threatened with lawsuits or physical violence if they go public.
Consider for a moment the tragic irony of how sexism and misogyny (coupled with no small amount of male privilege) impact a movement that prides itself on working for liberation. Do the male CEOs, managers, supervisors, and others who treat women like objects and property not see how their attitudes and actions contradict the most fundamental philosophy of animal rights—not to mention how they’re forcing so many talented, hard-working, and compassionate women to leave?
With the growth of the #MeToo campaign, we are beginning to see certain men in power (and men almost always hold the power over women) held accountable for their behavior and crimes within politics and the entertainment and media industries. That rising tide seems to be lifting the animal rights movement, as well. Men are being terminated from their positions within animal protection organizations for harassing women—something I cannot imagine would have happened even a few years ago. Pressure is coming from donors, too. Tofurky, for example, now requires nonprofits that want a donation from the company to show they have a written policy for dealing with sexual harassment and protecting whistleblowers.
If you’re a man (or you identify as a man) in the animal rights movement, and you truly respect women and value them as colleagues, please:
- Be a strong ally.
- Believe them when they tell you they’ve been harassed or assaulted.
- Ask what you can do to support them.
- Do not tolerate sexist jokes or campaigns.
- Respect women’s boundaries.
- Do not normalize the behavior of abusers by making excuses for them or giving them a platform.
Remember, men, that you are fighting injustice; campaigning against one form of domination while participating in or allowing another perpetuates systemic oppression. Women drop out of the movement because of this.
I cannot overstate how serious or pervasive this issue is. Please take some time to read these recent blog posts by longtime animal activists lauren Ornelas, pattrice jones, and Carol J. Adams. These are very illuminating reads.
Finally, if you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault (or you’re not sure if you have been victimized), there’s a new resource called the Coalition Against Nonprofit Harassment and Discrimination that you can turn to for guidance.
You are not alone.