What could possibly be a more stereotypical image of animal rights activists in pop culture than that of their demonstrating outside a fur store? For almost 20 years, groups like PeTA, as Prof. Gary L. Francione recently discussed on his Abolitionist Approach website ("The State of the Movement"), have been mangling perceptions of animal advocacy horribly by nurturing this stereotype, while singling out the fur industry as particularly worthy of the ire of those who take the interests of nonhuman animals seriously. But is the fur industry really any more worthy of such ire? As one advocate recently pointed out Twitter, for instance, 'fur' is skin and hair while 'leather' is skin. To obsess over people's wearing of fur while turning a blind eye to others' wearing of leather (which is much more common and involves so much more loss of life) seems odd and illogical. Furthermore, as Prof. Francione often points out when discussing anti-fur campaigns, considering that a large percentage of those who wear fur are women, fur becomes a convenient and sexist target. After all, when's the last time you saw PeTA demonstrators bombard a leather-clad biker with paint-balls?
Single-issue campaigns are problematic on many levels, not the least of which is that in focusing on this or that thing, other equally relevant issues get sidelined or marginalized. The impression given is that the object of the single-issue campaign in question carries more ethical significance. Sometimes, the very focusing on a single-issue can even lead advocates themselves to get a little lost--to lose sight of the wider or broader reasons that campaign may have been deemed important. This all becomes so tricky in a morally schizophrenic and speciesist society where we already have people categorizing some nonhuman animals as "pets", some as "food" and some as "pests". It becomes tricky in a society where many are drawn into believing that the consumption of flesh is more ethically troublesome than the consumption of animal products like milk or eggs, and then choose to eschew one for the other and convince themselves that they're making a huge difference in the lives of those nonhuman animals.
Somewhat telling (albeit somewhat less significant when looking at the big picture) is that with all of these years of anti-fur campaigning, PeTA hasn't even managed to effect any sort of tangible and permanent change in the general public's thinking concerning the wearing of fur. A recent article in the UK's Telegraph ("Why Fur is Fashionable Again"), for instance, discusses the resurgence in popularity of wearing "vintage furs", but as the editor of Red fashion magazines states in it:
I think the wearing of any fur at all, vintage or otherwise, anaesthetises the wearer. You’re only one gold card away from a new fur coat if you’ve bought an old one.Ironically, another industry insider quoted in the article--one who admits to wearing so-called vintage fur--actually nails the problem with single issue campaigns and the resulting confusion from their mixed messages quite effectively, saying: “I can’t understand people who’ll [...] eat supermarket battery chickens, and then give me a hard time for wearing fur.” Where does this confusion come from? Animal advocates engaging in the sort of welfarist campaigning that either a) flat-out condones certain forms of animal exploitation (e.g. Erik Marcus applauding Jonathan Safran Foer, a promoter of "happy meat"-- see here and here) or b) lauds wee incremental changes to small segments of a wider-scale problem (e.g. HSUS spending so much money from its supporters to pressure restaurants to use cage-free eggs rather than educating consumers about not consuming eggs or other animal products in the first place).
More recently, the organisation Friends of Animals posted an open letter on its website to figure-skater Johnny Weir, in response to a New York Times article describing an outfit he wore at the US Figure Skating Championships as including fox fur. Priscilla Feral, Friends of Animals' President wrote:
Please consider that there’s nothing pretty about the fox that suffered and died to trim your outfit. The beautiful fox was likely anally electrocuted, or may have had its head bashed in, only to serve as decoration for someone’s performance.Feral announced on Twitter yesterday that "Johnny Weir's NEW decision to not perform in real fur at Olympics--victory for Arctic foxes, lynxes,wolves- free-living animals in nature." Um, OK... But what of the leather skates that Weir will inevitably wear, not unlike the skates worn by most professional figure skaters? Why all the fuss over one bit of skin and hair worn by a celebrity athlete, while ignoring that he and most of his fellow-skaters customarily wear skin (and otherwise consume animals)? Considering the several postings on the Friends of Animals website, the numerous tweets from Feral and others, the supposed faxes sent off hither and thither (including one to his costume designer, as reported here) and the claim that Weir's decision is somehow a "victory", one is left to wonder if the victory is more in terms of the publicity generated for the group than one for nonhuman animals.
If you buy fur, no matter what size piece, or which animal it comes from, you’re supporting an industry that has no respect for animals.
So? From this mini media blitz, the public is left confused about the ethical significance of wearing one part of one animal's body rather than another's. Where Weir himself is concerned, he's no further ahead in terms of having had his conscience shifted; the reason Weir touted as being behind his decision to forgo wearing the fur is that he's purportedly received "threats" concerning it since the blitz started. Where is the victory here? All I see is a lost opportunity to earnestly educate people about the exploitation of animals and to educate them about veganism. (Check out Gary L. Francione's blog post from earlier today on the Weird story.)
The truth is that whether one chooses to wear leather, fur or silk, animals are exploited and treated as though they're ours to use. Whether one eats flesh, milk, eggs or honey, animals are exploited and treated as though they're ours to use. It seems to me that the most straightforward, simple and honest message that we can deliver as members of the "animal movement" is this: The only way to remove oneself from the cycle of suffering into which billions of nonhuman animals are enslaved and slaughtered every year is to actually remove oneself from the cycle altogether. When we start playing fast and loose with the term "ethical" or obsessing over single-issue campaigns, we lose sight of advocating for the most logical means by which to attain the best-case scenario for nonhuman animals. Instead of spreading (or implying) the misleading message that it's worse to consume one animal product over another, why not advocate for veganism?