Why Shaming Is Bad Activism

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.


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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I agree with you. I have mixed feelings about the direct action initiatives, I think it may do more harm than good. I’ve attended some general protests but direct action is a bit much for me. Although I can’t comprehend how some people can support such industries (& I used to be one) that exploit and torture animals, shaming one for their choices is not how to go about inspiring change. It all starts with education and awareness, however in order for change to happen the opposed party must be receptive to the message. It’s an ugly world but with compassion and the right people it can be beautiful. We can only do our best to try and reach the masses.

  2. I agree. The thing is, sociopaths are not affected at all by shaming; since they are incapable of the basic human emotion of empathy (and by extension, compassion, etc) and don’t experience guilt or shame on any level (for example, for pathologically lying to get their way) shaming has no affect. I tend to believe that, for the most part, the types of people who “need shaming” the most, are those unaffected by it on any level. For those who would be emotionally affected by shaming, I think activists should be aware that shaming people won’t help. If anything, those who are shamed (excluding sociopaths) would take a defensive position by what they would feel is emotional abuse. They would be less likely to change their worldviews and probably double-down on them, which would be the exact opposite of the goals of those activists. Better to find common ground when possible and communicate accordingly – although – even that doesn’t always work. Thus, activism is required (but not shaming).

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