“Go home, kitchen bitches.” That’s the banner that greeted animal rights activists from all over the country when they gathered in the tiny town of Hegins, Pennsylvania, years ago to protest its annual pigeon shoot—an orgy of violence that involved catapulting pigeons into the air, where they were immediately gunned down by hunters.
An iconic image from this protest shows PETA President Ingrid Newkirk being hauled away by police officers after she and others rushed onto the field to free the pigeons:
In celebration of Merriam-Webster’s choice of “feminism” as the word of the year, here is Newkirk reflecting on the unique ways that women can relate to—and help—animals.
Having been subjected to discrimination, oppression, and violence throughout the ages simply because of their gender, women can easily relate to the plight of animals, who are exploited simply because of the number of legs, fins, or wings they possess. “Discrimination is discrimination, and it’s wrong, whether you’re a woman or a chicken,” says Newkirk.
But, she says, women can actually use gender stereotypes to their advantage. Women can capitalize on society’s willingness to allow them to openly express their emotions and compassion by speaking out against cruelty. “We, as women, can do all that. And we should. We shouldn’t try to ‘man up,'” Newkirk says.
As the crude banner in Hegins demonstrated, acting for animals can ruffle some people’s feathers, but Newkirk looks at it philosophically: “They’re not really attacking you. They’re attacking your message. In fact, if they’re rude to me, … I must have struck a nerve, and then I’ve won, haven’t I?”
That was true in the case of the Hegins pigeon shoot: After years of protests, the shoot was ended permanently—proof that persistence pays off and can save lives.
“We have our voices for a reason,” says Newkirk. “[We have] endless opportunities every single day to open somebody else’s eyes, to open their heart, to open their mind, to educate them to who, not what, who animals are. And all these animals are depending on each and every person to never shut up, to always say something.”