One of our readers sent a letter to PETA voicing his concern about their sexist ad campaigns, and he got a pretty surprising response from PETA. David was kind enough to send this in.
PLEASE STOP all the sexist ads that degrade and demean women. Women are displayed 3/4 naked or more, ads with vile and suggestive catch phrases, again that include mostly nude women. The most recent ad refers to women as “beached whales. PETA is supposedly a progressive organization; so why then do so many of its billboards-ads and media campaigns depict women in sexist-degrading and offensive ways? you will get NO $$ from me until the sexism stops
Here’s PETA’s response to David.
Thank you for your letter sharing your thoughts about our ads and campaigns. We appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns.
First, please know that, as an organization staffed largely by feminist women, we would not do something that contributed to the serious problems that women face. We feel that there is nothing shameful or “wrong” about being naked or choosing to use one’s body, and we believe that women—and men—should have the choice to use their own bodies as political statements. This tactic has been used since at least the 11th century, when Lady Godiva rode naked on a horse to protest taxes on the poor. Far from being exploited, our “naked” demonstrators and billboard models choose to participate in our actions because they want to do something to make people stop and pay attention to animal abuse.
Take Traci Bingham, for example, who posed for our “All Animals Have the Same Parts” ad campaign. She is a deeply committed vegetarian who is known to millions for her television work, such as beating out a platoon of men to excel in an endurance test called Boot Camp. She chose to use her body to bring public attention to a serious animal issue. In this case, Ms. Bingham felt offended by the traditional “meat” posters that treat animals as “parts,” and she wanted to make the point that neither they nor women should be viewed as parts—we are all precious.
Consider that it is the societies that allow women to wear revealing clothing in which women have the most rights and the most power. Likewise, it is the societies that punish women for wearing revealing clothing in which women have the fewest rights and the least power—they are considered chattel who must do as they are told. Isn’t it dangerous to tell young women that their bodies and sexuality are shameful and must be hidden or repressed? Should women only be allowed to participate in activism if they promise not to show their bodies or use them to make social statements? If a person chooses to use her physicality to convey a message of his or her choosing, aren’t those who would censor him or her—even if their motives are well-intended—also somewhat guilty of disrespect and repression?
Although our use of “nudity” is attention-grabbing, we don’t rely on it for the majority of our outreach, nor do we use it gratuitously; it is intended to underscore our message, whether it is “I’d rather go naked than wear fur,” to emphasize the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, or to show the vulnerability of animals in laboratories or circuses. We would also like to note that we do not feature only women in our more provocative ads; please see the following examples:
Our purpose is to stop animal suffering, and we use all available opportunities to reach millions of people with powerful messages. The current situation is critical for billions of animals, and our goal is to make the public think about the issues. Sometimes this requires tactics—like naked marches and colorful ad campaigns—that some people find outrageous or even “rude,” but part of our job is to shake people up and even shock them in order to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and of course, action. After PETA publicized our 2007 “State of the Union Undress,” for example, we were rated the number one “mover” on Yahoo’s search engine, meaning that PETA received the greatest percentage increase of terms searched that day. We have found that people do pay more attention to our racier actions, and we consider the public’s attention to be extremely important.
Although we understand that some consider our projects that include nudity to be controversial, many express support for these tactics. However, PETA does make a point of having something for all tastes, from the most conservative to the most radical and from the most tasteless to the most refined, and this approach has proved amazingly successful—in the more than two decades since PETA was first founded, it has grown into the largest animal rights group in the world, with over 2 million members and supporters worldwide. For more information about PETA’s vital work for animals, please visit http://www.PETA.org/about.
We respect your right to disagree with our strategy but hope that you will continue to work for the animals in whatever way you feel comfortable (http://www.PETA.org/actioncenter); they are counting on all of us.
Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to explain our position on this important topic and for all that you do to help animals.
The PETA Staff
First of all, kudos to David for sending PETA a letter.
Secondly, they may feature men in some of their ads, but this doesn’t erase the fact that they objectify women in their “I’d rather go naked,” ads. They specifically chose Playboy models and other women who fit a very patriarchal notion of beauty. They have historically sponsored events on college campuses, like tofu wrestling, to encourage people to go vegan. Who is going to be persuaded by scantily clad sorority girls wrestling in tofu? The intended audience here surely isn’t progressive men and women. This tactic appeals to frat boys. And let’s be honest, they’re just as likely to become vegan as Glen Beck is to be the Grand Marshal of a gay pride parade.
Third, I guess PETA hasn’t read Carol Adams’ book The Sexual Politics of Meat, where she nicely lays out the theoretical justification for a feminist ethic that includes veganism. Adams argues that the consumption of animals is inherently tied to the consumption of the female body. When the animal is objectified and deemed as “other,” it allows us to minimize the psychological impact of eating the animal. Adams points out that magazines like Hustler often depict women in animalistic poses, and that the magazine actually used to be a catalogue for the meat packing industry. Read the book, PETA. The connection between animal liberation and the women’s equality is pretty linked.
Finally, I’m all for smut. I’m not anti-nekkid. But there’s a big difference between smut for smut’s sake, and the anti-fur campaigns. When I watch porn, it’s because I want to get off. When I look at a PETA ad, I should be thinking about animals and compassion. These are the reasons that people should go vegetarian – because it’s the compassionate, right thing to do. Not because a Playboy model told me to do it.
As for the fat shaming campaign, PETA can eat me. I’m fat and fabulous, and I’m not about to be shamed by somebody because they think it’s going to motivate me to change my diet. I’m already as close to vegan as you can get, and I’m still fat. Nothing beats a vegan cupcake and a scoop of Soy Delicious ice cream (which I am going to have to abandon now that I have a soy allergy).
Thanks for sharing your letter with us, David. I’d love to hear what everybody else thinks about PETA’s weak sauce defense of sexism.