There are videos on social media of women being followed and shouted at in the street because they’re wearing fur. The activists often become aggressive, shouting things like “Shame on you!” and “Animals were anally electrocuted for your coat!”
The fur industry is deplorable and should never be defended. However, I think it’s highly problematic to target specific people who are wearing fur.
For one thing, there’s always a chance that the person doesn’t know what they’re wearing. They may have assumed it was fake, or they may not be aware of the horrors of the fur industry. It’s amazing how many people have simply never thought about where their clothes come from. Also, faux fur is now so realistic that it’s hard to be certain someone is wearing real fur.
Even if the person is fully aware of what they’re wearing, publicly shaming them is unlikely to be productive. It only fosters resentment towards activists and makes them look like extremists. The person may stop wearing fur, but only out of fear of being shamed again – there is no change in their underlying attitude. Moreover, they will likely tell friends and family about the harassment they experienced, prejudicing more people against animal rights activists.
Instead, wouldn’t it be preferable to politely approach the person, ask if they’re wearing real fur, and explain how cruel the industry is? Giving them a relevant leaflet is a good option. Some people won’t care, but others will likely be shocked and receptive to the message.
I previously mentioned a direct action group who marched into meat markets chanting “Shame on you” at the butchers. This is another example of a situation where shaming is ineffective. It merely made the butchers resentful, and they began mocking the activists. Members of the public simply looked confused, and likely thought the activists were extremists. Doing an Earthlings Experience outside the market, or leafleting and talking to the public, would have got the message across in a peaceful and constructive way.
Whilst I disagree with targeting individuals, I don’t have an issue with shaming corporations – in fact, I think it can be pretty effective. Making the public aware of companies’ unethical practices affects their profits, which is usually the only thing that motivates them to change.
However, industries which exploit animals are violent and aggressive; I don’t think we can counter this with more violence and aggression. A peaceful and non-judgemental approach can be highly effective, and education is often all that’s needed to create change.
Vegans have a bad reputation partially because many of us do act in judgemental ways. Though it comes from a place of frustration rather than spite, it ultimately hurts the movement and therefore animals.
Imagine the changes we could make if we all engaged in peaceful activism and outreach. And imagine if vegans had a reputation for being peaceful, kind and compassionate; I suspect far more people would want to join us, and we’d be much more respected.
Do you agree, or do you think there’s a place for activism that targets individuals? I’d love to hear your thoughts.