ARE THERE GLASS CEILINGS IN ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS?

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To be continued at a more reasonable hour with fresh coffee at my side.

OK, I’m back. Two days later, but after being out all day Monday and Tuesday I woke up yesterday morning with the “RA Flu.” Fortunately the misery only lasted 24 hours. Golly, RA’s exciting! Anyway, it’s 5:30PM and I’ve my trusty water bottle at my side so let me finish what I started (’tis a rare and beautiful thing).

This past winter I helped a fellow vegan friend celebrate her birthday with a few other vegans at Native Foods. Lovely time. As we walked back to the metro, I mentioned seeing an anti-HSUS (The Humane Society of the United States) poster on one of the trains. What was that all about? The organization responsible for the ad was HumaneWatch.org, “a creation of the Washington PR guru Rick Berman, who runs an array of corporate-funded front groups targeting public-interest outfits, unions, and other organizations that pose a threat to the bottom line of Berman’s clients.” (http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/02/rick-berman-funded-oscar-night-slam-humane-society)

From what my friends told me, HSUS had a few blemishes on its record but nothing comparable to what Rick Berman spewed out from this particular front group. Whew, I was relieved as I’d supported HSUS in the past (I was the animal advocate newbie in this group of veterans; still am but working on it). Then the subject turned to who headed HSUS, with the birthday girl stating that the majority of leadership positions at animal rights organizations were men. Why was that, I asked, when 80% of vegans are women? We grumbled about it, coming to the conclusion that women bumped their heads on glass ceilings across the board.

Fast forward to this past Monday morning when I met Bruce Friedrich, the fellow vegan and Christian co-author of The Animal Activists’ Handbook (which I’m reading now, scribbling important passages from practically every page; highly recommended for those interested in becoming a confident, effective animal advocate). By the way, Friedrich’s co-author, Matt Ball, along with Jack Norris, formed Animal Liberation Action, which became Vegan Outreach. (The Animal Activists’ Handbook. p. xvi.) You’ll see Jack’s name again.

Bruce seemed to know everyone in the Animal Rights community and I wish I’d taken notes as he rattled off names and gems of wisdom. I knew how fortunate I was to meet and talk with him about my solo mission with area places of worship and faiths. As when asked why I became a vegan, I don’t know why the “glass ceiling” quandary came to mind later that day. I decided to look up the heads of as many vegan/animal rights organizations that came to mind. My findings:

Nick Cooney (Founder and Director) The Humane League; (Director of Education) Mercy for Animals;

Nathan Runkle (CEO) Mercy for Animals;

Erica Meier (Executive Director) Compassion Over Killing; she’s doing an incredible job at the helm; Paul Shapiro founded and was Campaigns Director of COK before moving on to…

Wayne Pacelle (President/CEO) The Humane Society of the United States; Shapiro is HSUS’s Vice-President, Farm Animal Protection (the top four positions at HSUS are men);

David Coman-Hidy (Executive Director) The Humane League;

Matthew Bershadker (President and CEO) American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA);

Ingrid E. Newkirk (Cofounder and President) PETA;

Dr. Neal Barnard (Founder and President) The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM);

Gene Baur (Cofounder and President) Farm Sanctuary;

Harry P. Lynch (Executive Director and CEO) Farm Sanctuary;

Ethan Wolf (President) Sea Shepherd;

Captain Paul Watson (Cofounder) Sea Shepherd;

Jack Norris (Cofounder, President and Executive Director) Vegan Outreach;

Jon Camp (Executive Vice President) Vegan Outreach;

Jasmijn de Boo (CEO) The Vegan Society.

Three women hold leadership positions out of this “off the top of my head” list of fifteen (not counting those with executive positions at other animal rights organizations). I let that sink in for two days, then wrote this in my new crap discounted journal (never again, Ecojot!):

“It is strange, isn’t it? Are animal rights women (or men) aware of it? Do they have any clue, given any thought as to why so few women head animal rights/vegan organizations? I guess I’ll send an email to the leadership list (and Bruce) asking for their opinions on why this is the case. (I haven’t yet ’cause I’m not sure what difference it would make; remember, this is “stream of consciousness writing.”)

Plenty of women in senior positions, just not Founder, President and CEO. Do they find that odd when 80% of vegans are women, the vast majority? Do the Board of Directors of their organizations play a role in this? Who sits on the various boards? (RA flu; not researched yet.) Is there a tacit understanding that people take male-led organizations more seriously in general? How do women holding lower leadership positions feel about this disparity, especially when there’s been so much feminist criticism written about animal rights and its link to women’s rights (and civil rights)? In Will Tuttle’s The World Peace Diet he links the subjugation of female food animals to that of women (long but powerful quote follows ’cause it’s my blog):

“Dominating others requires us to disconnect from them, and from aspects of ourselves as well. In exploiting dairy cows and hens, we dominate them not just for their flesh, skin, bones, and the other body parts that we can use or sell; we specifically exploit their uteruses and mammary glands. This inhumane desecration of the most intimate and life-giving functions of the feminine principle, that of giving birth to new life and of tenderly nourishing that life, harms us perhaps as deeply as it does the cows, though our wounds may be less obvious. Many spiritual teachers have pointed out that when we harm others, we harm ourselves even more severely. The hard-heartedness of the killer and exploiter is in itself a terrible punishment because it is a loss of sensitivity to the beauty and sacredness of life. That loss may go unrecognized, but the life itself, armored, violent, and competitive, is live as a struggle of separateness and underlying fear, and its relations with others are poisoned.”

“In attacking our own inner feminine principle, we become as a culture harder and more separate, competitive, aggressive, and self-centered. Ironically, we become commodities ourselves, controlled and enslaved by a system of our own making, yet we don’t realize it because we’ve been taught to disconnect. We learn to cover our ears to block out the plaintive cries of cow mothers on dairies. We block out the cries of human mothers whose babies are taken from them–thousands every day–by easily preventable starvation. We block out the cries of mothers whose babies are killed by bombs and bullets fired by boys serving the military death machine. Who will hear or heed our cries if we don’t heed the cries of these mothers?” (p. 130, 131)

Obviously, Tuttle wasn’t addressing women’s roles in animal rights and vegan organizations and yet, I can’t help thinking, does the “separate, competitive, aggressive, and self-centered” culture that animal advocates fight against exist in their own community?

3 thoughts on “ARE THERE GLASS CEILINGS IN ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS?

  1. Thank you for this article. I fully agree that we need to work on advancing more women both at Vegan Outreach and in the animal rights movement.

    I’m happy to let you know that Vegan Outreach has made some progress. Since I took over as Executive Director in April of 2014, our Board of Directors has gone from three men and one woman to four women and two men. In that same time, we added the full-time positions of Office Manager, Food and Lifestyle Coordinator, and Donor Relations Manager–all three positions have been filled by women. Our male Director of Finance retired from the organization and was replaced by a woman. Of the year-round, full-time positions, two are held by men and five by women. We make many of our decisions democratically, and I am dedicated to, whenever possible, hiring and advancing women in the organization.

    Thank you again for bringing this important issue to more people’s attention.

    Jack Norris, Executive Director of Vegan Outreach

  2. Some groups and people you may want to look up include:

    Jenny Brown, founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
    Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns
    Kathy Stevens, founder of Catskills Animal Sanctuary
    Pattrice and Miriam Jones, founders of VINE Sanctuary
    Jasmin Singer and Marianne Sullivan, founders of Our Hen House
    Kim Sturka, founder of Animal Place
    Ellie Laks, founder of The Gentle Barn
    Sharon Nunez, founder of Animal Equality
    Juliet Gellatley, founder of Viva!
    Christine Townend, founder of Animals Australia
    Sonja Meadows, founder of Animals Angels
    Patty Mark, founder of Animal Liberation Victoria

    You may also be interested in looking up Carol J Adams. She has written extensively on feminism and animal rights and is widely regarded as one of the key leaders in the movement. Hope that helps.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Rice. As I said in my post that list came from organizations I remembered off the top of my head. I recognize a few from your helpful list. I will see if they not only founded but hold CEO/President/Director positions at their organizations, and how many are US organizations. And yes, I know Carol J Adams’s work. As for animal rights’ link to Britain’s anti-slavery movement in the late 1700s (if you haven’t already read it) I’ll pass on this link, http://www.humanemyth.org/letsnotgiveup.htm#.VV_F9UAoOp8.facebook. It includes a four-part video presentation and companion essay by James LaVek, documentary producer and co-founder of Tribe of Heart, a non-profit organization that produces films including The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home.

      It’s a fascinating and disturbing look at the dangerous trend of “humane” farming and compromises made by several animal rights organizations in making animal welfare progress when, as I wholeheartedly agree, time is of the essence. Trendy terms like “grass-fed,” “free-range,” and “humane,” add to the confusion of a mislead majority of Americans, as mythical scenes of happy animals roaming lush green land before “humane” slaughter become entrenched in the American psyche. Again. The essay’s title says it all.

      I hope you find the time to read it and/or watch Mr. Lavek’s videos. I’ll be adding this link to a new post where I voice similar concerns as I begin working with religious leaders to include non-human animals into their “circle of compassion.” Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.

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