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PETA and Feminism Don’t Mix

By November 2, 2009 2 Comments

I love the satirical newspaper The Onion. Their sharp and hilarious cultural criticism makes me laugh and makes me think. A little while back they featured this video about how People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) uses the objectification of women in their advertising:

I’d always ignored PeTA’s sexist advertising because I agree with the vast majority of the causes they’re fighting for. We do need strong action to end cruelty to animals and promote vegetarianism for ethical and environmental reasons. The causes PeTA champions deserve urgent attention. But other organizations, like Earthsave and Mercy for Animals, don’t use these tactics–so is misogynist advertising the way to go about gaining rights for animals?

Obviously the Onion video is satirical, but there’s a lot of truth in what they say. This PeTA ad was released in 2000 and quickly made sexist advertising offenders lists everywhere:

Ms. Magazine took issue with this ad that targets women who don’t meet a beauty ideal, as much as it targets the wearers of fur

Ms. Magazine took issue with this ad that targets women who don’t meet a beauty ideal, as much as it targets the wearers of fur.

And if feminists thought it couldn’t get much worse, it has. In addition to a bevy of ads featuring objectified nude women, PeTA has glamorized violence against women with ads like this one from 2007:

PeTA ad portrays a woman in a powerless position

PeTA ad portrays a woman in a powerless position

Maybe we should target individuals who wear fur, but is running a series of demeaning ads (most of which were banned) called “Woman in Fur Coat Pees in a Litterbox”, and “Woman in Fur Coat Drinks from the Toilet” helping the cause?

And why do we see so few ads targeting male meat-eaters and leather-wearers from PeTA?

PeTA posts all their banned ads on their website. The one that shocked me most was one called “What if You Were Killed for Your Coat?” where, in PeTA’s own words ,“a man clubs a woman unconscious and then rips her fur coat off her body”.

Maybe the women who pose nude for PeTA in advertising and public demonstrations find it empowering. I won’t argue against that, but the message the public receives seems to be more about reinforcing unrealistic ideals of female beauty rather than promoting the ethical treatment of animals.

Some feminists argue that PeTA is making a clever link, showing how both women and animals are exploited in a tongue-in-cheek way. But I doubt the average audience member would get that message even if that’s the intent. Even the Huffington Post had a poll earlier this year encouraging readers to vote on the “Sexiest PeTA Ad of All Time”. The winner of the poll was this naked picture of NYPD Blue star Charlotte Ross:

Is it feminist if the audience doesn’t know it?)

Is it feminist if the audience doesn’t know it?

Is treating women like meat ever justified if the cause is important enough? I’m open to discussion, but it seems to me like PeTA could get more people on-side if they worked to make feminists allies instead of enemies.

–Jarrah