Gender Inequity in the Animal Welfare Movement

Jen here. I recently had the pleasure of meeting (through the Internet) a fascinating scholar by the name of Corey Wrenn. She wrote a paper entitled, “The Role of Professionalism Regarding Female Exploitation in the Nonhuman Animal Rights Movement,” published in The Journal of Gender Studies.

Ms. Wrenn makes one point that it not new- that some animal rights groups get their point across by exploiting women, specifically PETA, LUSH, Fish Love, and Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV).

But she makes a larger point that is the elephant in the room: Even though WOMEN make up the majority of those who support animal welfare, it is MEN who are in the leadership positions.

does this sell our cause, or does it demean women and diminish our voice?

Indeed, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the US, the Humane Association, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the World Wildlife Fund, and many other groups are led by men and their top leadership is overwhelmingly male.

But it’s not men that are caring for animals. It’s not men who are lobbying for animals. It’s not men targeted with those emotion-laden commercials begging for money. It’s all about us then, baby.



So why are men running the show in this female-dominated arena? Why are we allowing them to market to us in a way that is demeaning? And does this gender inequity play into our inability to make meaningful changes in the animal welfare arena?

Recently I wrote a blog post where I said I wanted to work in the field of animal welfare. Many of you posted comments suggesting that I cut back on blogging and show my interest by volunteering for a rescue. Really? I scoop litter boxes every day. Why do I have to prove my worthiness to work in this field by scooping litter boxes for someone else? For free? Do you think Wayne Pacelle, when interviewing to lead the Humane Society, was asked how many litter boxes HE scooped to earn his stripes?

Personally, I’m thinking it’s time for a real change in the path this movement is taking. We need to phase out the Good Old Boy leadership. We need to stop the exploitation of women. Let’s change the face of this movement from the Crazy Cat Lady and clueless co-ed, who each need men to guide them, to that of the Old Crone, the elder who holds the wisdom of the ages.

The Wise Crone respects Mother Earth and all of her creations
The Wise Crone respects Mother Earth and all of her creations

What do you think? Is Animal Welfare rife with sexism? Do you feel women are respected in the movement, or are we used as funders and cheap labor to promote a male agenda? What do YOU think should be the face of the movement?


Corey Wrenn blogs at The Academic Abolitionist Vegan and the Vegan Feminist Network. You can follow her on Twitter @coreyleewrenn.


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32 thoughts on “Gender Inequity in the Animal Welfare Movement

  1. I totally agree. Women often think too small and are afraid to use the innate power within. Activism comes in many forms — even in leadership and blogging.

      1. There is often a reluctance to come into our power if it extends beyond care taking, but I don’t understand it. I ‘m a civil rights attorney — I didn’t buy into the pressure. You don’t have to, either. You just have to be willing to accept the criticism of others.

  2. This us a great post. Though I admit I have a vintage fur coat belonging to my grandma in the past. I too have noticed the sexist anti fur campaigns and also that many of the ladies in them wear leather as 4 the litter box comments very rude. U r education with your blog. I used to walk dogs at my local shelter and I admit i stopped I felt guilty taki g time from my own dogs this was b4 I blogged
    Urban hounds

    1. One common theme I hear among women who care about animal welfare is guilt. Im tired of women being manipulated with guilt in this movement. We are thoughtful, educated women and we deserve to be addressed as such.

      1. BRILLIANT…you got that right, guilt guilt guilt…you’re not putting the animals first, you’re not doing enough for the animals, you’re complaining, you’re whining, etc. etc. etc. All sexist tugs at female socialization to control and silence us. Thanks for covering this, I will repost with the Vegan Feminist Network and link back 🙂

  3. While it is true that the heavyweights, the pros so to speak, are dominated by men – most of whom have pedigrees in management and fund raising, not animal welfare – many of the smaller rescues and fosters are single man – and single WOMAN shops. Those of us who support this movement have a choice where we send our dollars. We can send them to the SPCA, where maybe 10 cents on each dollar actually go to animals, or we can send them to small, struggling independents, like Old Fella Burke County Rescue in Georgia, where individuals – men and women – are truly volunteering of their time, their effort and even their gas for transporting. Jack came to us, via Northshore Animal Shelter – a no-kill in Salem, MA – from Old Fella. I can’t tell you if the figurehead of that organization is male or female, but I can tell you that Jack was rescued and fostered by a woman.

      1. I fully agree. All I meant was that the face of the movement may be gender unequal, and perhaps more interested in raising money, than in saving animals. Whereas, those smaller groups, working behind the scenes, do more for animals – and treat their volunteers and employees better – than their larger, more organized counterparts.

        We can support this movement in numerous ways. One way is to send money to organizations like PETA and the SPCA. Another is to send money – or volunteer our time – to smaller, independent organizations. A 3rd way, is what we do. Blogging, thereby bringing awareness of the issue, to the public.

  4. I totally agree–aside from the fact that I think PETA’s ads only bring attention to themselves and not to any animals they are supposedly trying to help, I see far too many naked women whether they are wrapped in plastic or covered with blood or what.

    And women are disregarded as “the crazy cat lady”, even if they’re not cat fanciers, long before they ever get anywhere in management in a major organization.

    Prior to moving to HSUS, Wayne Pacelle was Executive Director of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy here in Pittsburgh–a worthy organization for certain, but he obviously didn’t have to prove his chops by working his way up entirely in animal welfare.

    While, yes, most of the rescuers I know are women, and nearly all the small rescues are founded and run by women.

  5. Hi Jen. How I wish I could truly give you some advice on the matter. Right now, I am just hoping that people will start understanding that spaying and neutering are important as well as make them see that some cities have pounds where they can adopt dogs, I do hope that I can open the eyes of others in this issue.

    It’s true that most associations, whether philanthropic, for a cause or in business is often governed by men. And thank you for opening our eyes to it… I don’t know if it’s sexist but I would definitely want women to lead such associations for a change (especially since we are the ones that have the strongest drive for such causes).

    You remind me of how I look at dogs and how I couldn’t help but compare how I see it and how one of the more famous vets here in our country sees it. My sister herself told me that maybe it’s because they see it more as their profession and business rather than their cause.

    To put it simply, animal welfare takes heart! And women have the biggest ones. Just makes perfect sense if they’re put in-charge.

  6. We think the heart of the animal welfare movement is women. Like another poster said, women don’t always think big enough. Men see it from the business side.

    We do think that women have let themselves be exploited by many of the ads.
    The Florida Furkids

    1. I disagree. I am a ‘Big Picture’ thinker, and I know many men that aren’t. I do think that women not only fail to accept their own power but also try to sabotage other women who do.

  7. Yes!! And it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

    I also believe that the utter dominance of women “in the trenches” of animal welfare is one of the major reasons animal causes are undervalued in the courts and our legislatures.

    Just like nursing, elementary school teaching, and other female-dominated work keeps those professions undervalued.

    I’m not quite convinced that men dominate in the leadership of animal welfare groups. But they certainly dominate in politics. And to see major change protecting animals, we’ve gotta have a better representation in political leadership.

  8. Great post. Points out the old “women nurture and men make money” idea is still out there. Women are cheap labor (driven easily by emotion sometimes rather than money…they count on that)
    Although I have always shown up as a volunteer, I’m cautious about offering my professional skills for free – I’ve always worked as did my mother and grandmother. Women have to pay bills, too. Women have already proved career skill. It’s the presentation of that ability, the negotiation skills, and career building skill that sometimes need work.
    Women can’t wait to be noticed (too easy to group all women together into one passive image)- they have to act with confidence.
    In a bad economy, found this old advice worked: “Take the part time job and get in there and make yourself indispensable so they can’t function without you. Then take over full time and go for the corner office”

  9. This is a great post. I understand why you have so many followers.

    I agree with you, and it is even more so in the for-profit world. Women make up 51% of the population of the US and less than 1% of the CEO, chairman of the board, presidents, etc. of corporate America.

    Women make up the majority of those graduating from law schools very few managing partners of law firms. Don’t even get me started on the inequality if earnings.

  10. I find much of the media, especially women’s magazines, quite toxic. They concentrate on the appearance of women, picking up any minor flaws, as though that is all that matters. Even the more serious newspapers are guilty of it to some extent – they will comment on the shoes or the outfit a female politician is wearing, giving little consideration to what she was saying. They would never do this with a male politician. I think this can have a big impact on teenage girls and how they see themselves.

  11. I could not agree more…You’ve pinpointed something that’s bothered me for a while…for example, do they really think an ad full of naked women will make me donate? sheesh! more likely ignore the message and turn the page quickly

  12. I never really thought about it before. Nor am I recalling any animal welfare messages with any half-naked women in them. Maybe I’m just not paying attention – desensitized to it, maybe.

    I was reading about why men are still in all the power roles. One view is that while men go to college, get their degrees, and immediately enter the work force, women tend to take time off somewhere in between in order to care for the family. This gives men a generous head start. A lot of women don’t want to give up their nurturing roles in order to enter the power-hungry corporate world. I know I sure don’t. Let’s look at the way things are now from a different perspective – When we women voice our concerns for animal welfare, we are basically telling the men in charge what we want them to do. So keep speaking out. Tell men we don’t want animal abuse or sex in advertising. If they want all the great things us women have to offer, then they’ll listen… eventually.

    1. I don’t buy it. Sounds like more excuses to me. Sorry ladies, these are the rules, and the rules won’t change just to accommodate half the workforce.

      I think if women are paying for the show, they ought to be in it. Plain and simple.

  13. The animal welfare movement is no different than the rest of the world. Business, politics charities all are run by men. The “women’s” movement as such ground to a halt in the 80’s . Not much has changed and as long as we tolerate this it will continue.

  14. Had been more concerned with the lack of men doing the day to day business of animal welfare and totally overlooked this aspect until now. Thanks for making me think of it ALL differently.

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