PETA put out a meme that could’ve made a good point, but even hardcore vegans are rolling their eyes at it.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group that boasts 6.5 million members, states on its website that it “focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: in laboratories, in the food industry, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry.”
All of that sounds like something reasonable people can get behind. But their latest meme veers a bit away those areas of animal welfare, focusing instead on “anti-animal language” we use in everyday speech:
Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves with it. Just as it would be…
If you’re laughing hysterically by the time you get to “Bring home the bagels,” you’re not alone. Predictably, the internet is having a heyday with the meme, and even vegetarian and vegan supporters are telling the organization that they’ve gone too far.
The thing is, they’re not wrong. Language matters. But their point gets lost for two reasons.
I’m an animal lover and someone who believes 100% that words matter. I’ve written entire articles making the point that language is powerful, and it’s vital that we recognize when common phrases might be causing harm we’re not aware of.
If PETA had simply pointed out that the phrases on the left normalize violence against animals, I could get behind that. I remember explaining to my horse-loving 6-year-old daughter what “beating a dead horse” meant and it opened my eyes to how disturbing some of our common idioms actually are.
However, that point gets lost in this post for two reasons: 1) Comparing these phrases to racist/homophobic/ableist language is way off base. And 2) The replacement phrases sound ridiculous.
While language can affect how we view animal welfare, animals are not psychologically harmed by these phrases.
Comparing “anti-animal language” to racist or homophobic or ableist hate speech is beyond a stretch. While such language may affect our societal approach to animal welfare, it’s not the same as language that does direct psychological harm. Unless there are studies I’m unaware of that show birds having a negative emotional reaction to hearing the phrase “kill two birds with one stone,” it’s simply not comparable.
There is historical, emotional, and psychological trauma as well as direct, ongoing harm to people’s psyches when racist, homophobic, and ableist language is used. Hearing hateful words or phrases causes emotional pain to individuals, whereas animals themselves are not directly impacted by hearing these phrases. Our kitten might overhear someone saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” and it’s not going to make one bit of difference in her happy little world.
So while I avoid that phrase because it’s distasteful and does have the potential to normalize violence against animals, it’s not the same as using an idiom alluding to, say, lynching or gassing humans. It’s just not.
Telling people to “take the flower by the thorns” just trivializes an otherwise reasonable point.
Again, all PETA needed to do was point out that we often use language that alludes to violence against animals and ask people to think about how those phrases might affect how we think about animal welfare. Offering the replacements that they did was a mistake. We can just get rid of problematic language without replacing it with something that sounds silly.
It’s kind of like when my mom used to replace chocolate with carob in recipes when I was a kid. The result just made us all mad. Either make something with chocolate or don’t, but don’t try to replace it with something kinda-but-not-really similar and pass it off as the same. It just doesn’t work.
Plus it just makes people’s arguments that politically correct language has gone too far sound reasonable. I’ve defended political correctness in articles as well, and even I find these replacement phrases absurd.
Sorry, PETA, but you truly jumped the shark this time.