I know it’s almost Friday and everyone’s ready for the weekend, but I have one last assignment for you all. Go to Google and type “PETA” in the image search bar. It’ll only take a minute, I promise. Notice anything strange? The entire first page (and pretty much every page after that) is filled with scantily clad women and men, modeling for advertisements with sayings like “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” and other such anti-animal cruelty statements. While there are a few men portrayed, the pictures are primarily of young, attractive, and thin women is poses seemingly straight out of a Playboy magazine – indeed, former Playboy stars Pamela Anderson and Holly Madison have appeared in several of PETA’s ad campaigns.
(EDIT: It occurred to me that I should really mark some of these as NSFW… and if that doesn’t sum everything up right there, I don’t know what does.)
Now, I would like to say a few things before I really get into this. First, animal cruelty is a real problem in our food system and society, and in that respect People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a very worthy cause. I adore animals (I’m a biology major, I even think mosquito larvae are cute) and fully agree that we need to ensure that they are treated humanely. Secondly, I am not against nudity. The human body is fascinatingly beautiful in its variety and practicality, and because of this no one should feel ashamed of their own appearance. Men and women alike should be able to celebrate and utilize their bodies or sexuality in healthy ways, and that includes their right to protest.
It is this “healthy” part that has me concerned when it comes to PETA’s infamous advertisements. Let us return to that page of image results and the slim, attractive models doing sexy poses. When it comes down to it, all of the advertisements show the same stereotypical image of beauty – very trim waist, perfect features, an alluring figure, and almost invariably white skin. Well, there’s at least Khloe Kardashian’s (NSFW) glowing tan to diversify the ad campaign. Interestingly enough, Khloe herself mentions this phenomenon, saying, “I am so honored to have been asked to do this PETA campaign. Women such as Eva Mendes, Christy Turlington, Holly Madison, and Christina Applegate all have done this campaign, and to be in the company of these beautiful women is an honor!” That’s exactly it, Khloe – beautiful women like them are the only ones the public sees going naked or wearing lettuce bikinis (NSFW). In fact, one of the only advertisements featuring a woman that deviates from this standard of beauty is at the complete other end of the spectrum – the Florida ad showed the backside of an overweight woman in a bikini with the caption “Save the whales: Lose the blubber, go vegetarian”. Luckily, the city took the beach-side billboard down after the uproar that ensued.
These ad campaigns don’t only feature women, though, and I would be doing you all a great disservice if I made you think so. Why, there’s a squash-playing man promoting a healthy vegetarian lifestyle, another man holding an adorable chicken holding an adorable chicken, and even Sir Paul McCartney himself there to spread the virtues of a meatless lifestyle. It’s not objectifying and demeaning if BOTH genders are involved, right? Not so fast. Let’s look at how these men are shown – the three ads above, for example, all show clothed men known for doing active things like squash or performing. The few pictures of unclothed (young, attractive) men are mostly shot from above the waist, and include active poses like jumping and playing sports. In comparison , the women in PETA’s media releases are rarely clothed and almost never doing anything (the only real example I came across was of Jorja Fox, an actress from CSI: Las Vegas, at a crime scene ). They simply undress and pose their attractive bodies, in stark contrast to the men who are shown actually utilizing their bodies for things like sports and music. This is more widespread in media than just PETA, but it’s so strange that they’re the most in-your-face about it. You’d think that this progressive animal rights group would be trying to foster equal rights for every living creature, but their advertisements clearly show that they think more of the animals they’re protecting than the women of our society.
This hasn’t even taken into account PETA’s various public events and stunts, which are known for their shocking and often discriminatory nature. For example, the group recently sent a letter to the owners of Ben & Jerry’s asking them to replace the cow’s milk in their ice cream with human milk. Yes, the process behind the mass production of some milk is absolutely horrible, but I hardly think that the answer is taking advantage of women’s bodies instead. While our aversion to the very idea of breast milk is interesting to ponder, this still doesn’t validate this extreme publicity stunt. At least, I hope it’s a publicity stunt – it’s basically inevitable that less wealthy women might spend more time breast feeding her children, have more children than she otherwise would have, or use hormones to induce lactation. It is one thing to do these things to cows, but suggesting that women take their place is crossing a very clear ethical line.
As with all PETA projects and initiatives, I firmly believe that their basic premise – that animals are deserving of respect and human treatment – is good. However, I also find their media gimmicks to be overblown and repulsive. What does showing naked women do? It shocks, offends, and draws sexual attention, but hardly gets its message across. The same is true of wanting breast milk to replace that of cows. People are disgusted and offended, and the original intent (to say “Hey, if you think that’s so bad to do to people, why do it to cows?”) is lost. The group completely loses sight of the middle ground, too – why can’t we encourage safer, cleaner, and healthier milking practices, or have pain-free slaughterhouses? I think it’s pretty safe to say that everyone loses sight of the entire issue when there are advertisements like this one (NSFW! Plus, extra points if you can explain to me what that picture is of, if not a pornographic film. Seriously.) trying to be the ones starting the discourse. PETA’s sexist, anti-feminist practices have alienated a lot of their potential supporters, and their plethora of other questionable campaigns have only given them (and much of the animal rights movement) a bad name .
And yes, you can assume that most of those last links are not really SFW either. When your advertisement campaign contains that many naked people/racism, you know you’re doing something wrong.
Still want to help animal rights, but aren’t a PETA fan either?
Feminists for Animal Rights A great source of information about the humane treatment of animals and alternatives to PETA.
U.S. Humane Society