Women and the Animal Rights Movement

Women and the Animal Rights Movement

Women and the Animal Rights Movement

Women and the Animal Rights Movement


Animal rights is one of the fastest growing social movements today. Women greatly outnumber men as activists, yet surprisingly, little has been written about the importance and impact of gender on the movement. Women and the Animal Rights Movement combats stereotypes of women activists as mere sentimentalists by exploring the political and moral character of their advocacy on behalf of animals.

Emily Gaarder analyzes the politics of gender in the movement, incorporating in-depth interviews with women and participant observation of animal rights organizations, conferences, and protests to describe struggles over divisions of labor and leadership. Controversies over PETA advertising campaigns that rely on women's sexuality to "sell" animal rights illustrate how female crusaders are asked to prioritize the cause of animals above all else. Gaarder underscores the importance of a paradigm shift in the animal liberation movement, one that seeks a more integrated vision of animal rights that connects universally to other issues--gender, race, economics, and the environment--highlighting that many women activists recognize and are motivated by the connection between the oppression of animals and other social injustices.


People pay less attention and respect to animals, children, women,
and people of color, et cetera, and I see it all as part of the struggle.


A line of protestors formed on a sidewalk along the road. The signs they held were simple and straightforward: “Stop Animal Abuse: Boycott the Circus,” and “Cruelty Is Not Entertainment.” A smiling woman offered leaflets to motorists stopped at the red light. It’s not everyone’s idea of a good way to spend a Saturday morning. But for this activist, it was a meaningful day’s work. “If I can persuade just one person not to buy a ticket, or even to start thinking about the issue, it’s totally worth it,” she told me. It was a scene typical of social protest across the nation, with one difference common to those advocating on behalf of animals: the protestors were mostly women.

Known for passionate protests and sometimes-controversial tactics, one of the most striking characteristics of the animal rights movement is that women make up the majority of its ranks. Women have been at the forefront of animal advocacy since the late nineteenth century. So positioned, they have marked the movement with a particular sense of ethics, empathy, and action. This book is about the lives and work of women who are animal rights activists. Often viewed as radicals, troublemakers, or overly sentimental, these women hold beliefs outside the confines of mainstream society and undertake personal and political action on behalf of animals.

This book focuses on two dimensions of women and animal rights. The first is a biographical snapshot of women involved in animal advocacy. It charts their histories, influences, and pathways to animal rights activism. Drawing from these narratives, I analyze how women activists talk about gender to make sense of their majority status in the movement.

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