Friday, November 21, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Gendered Helping

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audience. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message. This past week I have been highlighting concepts that can help or hinder persuasion, such as yesterday's discussion of haste (busy people are distracted people and are therefore not prone to help).  Busy people are less likely to help, but helping is also gendered.

Humans help according to ascribed gender roles

Dangerous situations or situations involving strangers in need are more likely to elicit help from men (Eagly and Crowley 1986).  In less dangerous situations, however, women are slightly more likely to help and to act selflessly (Becker and Eagly 2004).  Women tend to respond with greater empathy and to devote more time to helping (George et al. 1998).  The differences in helping, of course, reflect gender norms that see men as heroic risk-takers and women as empathetic nurturers.

Gendered helping is clearly evident in activism for other animals.  Activism that is seen as dangerous, risky, and heroic--namely illegal direct action--is disproportionately undertaken by men.  The Animal Liberation Front, for instance, is dominated by men and engages in activity that risks severe legal ramifications (Hall 2006).  The groundwork of Nonhuman Animal advocacy, however, that which requires prolonged helping, is largely undertaken by women.  Indeed, as much as 80% of the animal rights movement is female (Gaarder 2011).  Traditionally confined to the domestic sphere, Victorian women were actually able to exploit their stereotype as a "natural" nurturer and use that as justification for their involvement in animal rights advocacy at a time when social activism was deemed unladylike.

Unfortunately, prevailing gender inequality has ensured that masculine helping tends to garner more prestige than feminine helping.  ALF enjoys a certain celebrity in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, and if not outright condoned, their actions are at least tolerated.1  Meanwhile, the everyday, drudgery work undertaken by the female majority goes largely unappreciated despite their more enduring contributions.  On the other hand, masculine gender norms, while favorable to an activist's status, can be particularly dangerous for men.  Not only does engaging in illegal activity leave men susceptible to enormous restitution fees or prison sentences,2 but the violence celebrated within the militant movement is also detrimental to men's mental and physical well-being.


1. See Free the Animals:  The Amazing True Story of the Animal Liberation Front by founder and president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk.

2. Under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, those convicted could face fines of under $10,000 up to $1,000,000 and up to 10 years in prison (or as much as life if anyone is actually  hurt by their actions).


Becker, S. and A. Eagly.  2004.  "The Heroism of Women and Men."  American Psychologist 59:  163-178.

Eagly, A. and M. Crowley.  1986.  "Gender and Helping Behavior:  A Meta-Analytic Review of the Social Psychological Literature."  Psychological Bulletin 100:  283-308.

Gaarder, E.  2011.  Women and the Animal Rights Movement.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press.

George, D., P. Carroll, R. Kersnick, K. Calderon.  1998.  "Gender-Related Patterns of Helping Among Friends."  Psychology of Women Quarterly 22:  685-704.

Hall, L.  2006.  Capers in the Churchyard:  Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror.  Nectar Bat Press.