PETA misogyny strikes again

This time with a naked pregnant woman in a cage.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that sexualized stunts get attention. Fine. But really, PETA, why do you always have to use women’s bodies to make your point? A major feminist critique of advertising in general is the fact that images of women serve as stand-ins for sex itself, leading to a greater cultural understanding of sex as something that women both “have” (and that men are trying to get) and physically embody. That’s incredibly problematic — and (perhaps ironically), it works itself into the way that meat-eating is masculinized and vegetarianism is feminized and de-valued (just read Carol Adams, since she explains this better than I can).

Animal liberation theory does intersect with feminist theory, and our cultural understanding of animals and food (and animals as food, and women-as-meat) is heavily gendered. But PETA is promoting animal rights at the expense of women’s rights — and that’s not only simplistic, but it’s bad for everyone involved.

If you want to draw attention to the plight of animals by humanizing them, go for it. But you don’t have to de-humanize women in the process.

Image below the fold.


peta_pr.jpg


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Animals, Feminism, Food, Gender and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to PETA misogyny strikes again

  1. Doug says:

    Stunts like this has a tendency to overwhelm the message a group is trying to put forth. For a couple years in a row right after I moved here, PETA protested the circus by taking a couple topless women, body-painting them up in tiger stripes, and putting them in cages in the Five Points district (my neighborhood). The typical post-lunch conversation in my office would go something like this:

    A: Dude, did you see the naked chicks in Five Points today?

    B: Naked chicks? Where? What were they doing?

    A: It was some PETA protest — they had naked chicks painted up like tigers and put in cages up by Joe Muggs.

    B: Wow. What were they protesting?

    A: Oh, hell, I don’t know.

  2. r.tavi says:

    just a heads up: image is acutally above the fold

  3. KevinQ says:

    I think that PETA has long been out of the business of promoting animal rights, and into the business of promoting PETA. Each stunt seems designed to get people to talk about PETA, and not about their cause.

    K

  4. Mwezzi says:

    PETA doesn’t even seem to get that their ‘naked women’ stunts completely detract from the message they’re sending. People just objectify the woman even more (‘I’d love some of THAT meat’ kinda thing) and comment on their bodies. So the stunts do little to raise awareness and a lot to further the degradation of women’s bodies everywhere. This is a prime example of that.
    The comments that the stunt got were nearly all to do with how disgusted people were by the woman’s body. ‘Saggy boobs = kinda gross’ and ‘Why did they use a tubby chick’ were among them – I was shocked that they felt so sickened by a pregnant woman’s body. I ended up explaining that her breast are only ‘saggy’ because they aren’t an unnatural bra-shape and that all breasts get bigger when a woman gets pregnant. It was as if people thought all pregnancies look like the airbrushed Britney Spears picture.

  5. Bitter Scribe says:

    As far as I’m concerned, those people lost any credibility they ever had a long time ago.

  6. preying mantis says:

    “People just objectify the woman even more (’I’d love some of THAT meat’ kinda thing) and comment on their bodies.”

    Well, yeah. I mean, this stuff is basically mainstream porn as usual, so that’s how a lot of people react to it.

  7. Showing how cramped the cages are is a good idea, but nobody is going to pay attention to the cage or the message if there’s a naked pregnant woman inside the cage! A display of several cages, each with a clothed human (male and female), trying to do “normal things”, to indicate that the pigs’ lives are restricted to this tiny space.

    I have very little respect for PETA. Too much self promotion, too many indications of hypocrisy. There was some story I read about PETA activists “freeing” a bunch of experimental subjects (cats and dogs), then they realized they had no facilities to house and treat the liberated animals, and dumped many of them in an isolated area. I don’t know how true this is, however.

  8. Lazer says:

    I’m a vegetarian and I can’t stand PETA.
    They’re the Christian Right of the animal rights movement.

  9. Bryan says:

    Ahhh, PETA strikes again… This is one(of many) vegan(s) that is pissed off to no end at PETAs actions. Fuck Peta.

  10. exholt says:

    The PETA chapter at my urban public magnet school tended to be such sanctimonious moralizing assholes that many vegetarian classmates I knew felt the need to distance themselves and denounce their tactics.

    For this reason, I did my best to avoid the stronger more active PETA chapter on my college campus….though that was muted by other progressive groups who often called them out for their ads (i.e. Objectification of Women and comparisons to US slavery, Nazi Holocaust, etc). The few times I had to be around them in one particular class revealed most to be overentitled White upper/upper-middle class students whose classist disdain and snobbery for those who disagree, especially scholarship students such as myself were just under the surface.

  11. Dr. Confused says:

    Is it odd that I didn’t notice she was pregnant when I first saw this image?

  12. MsFeasance says:

    Seriously, the PETA nudity-and-circuses thing has been done for so long that it just feels like they’re a Barnum and Bailey side show. Nude girl in a cage on a sidewalk? Circus must be in town. It’s as though B&B’s flyers should add, “And featuring naked babes airbrushed to look like tigers, sponsored by PETA!”
    In the corporate world, when an ad campaign gets THAT closely associated with something? The fucking campaign gets changed.

    Also, I just adore how PETA picks and chooses (female) celebrities to promote certain causes within the movement. They’ll splash paint on people who wear fur, but when Dita Von Teese posed in an ad objectified herself for them to promote animal birth control, they glossed right on past the fact that she uses real fur in her act.

  13. Astraea says:

    It would be worthwhile to demonstrate how cruel the meat industry is to animals by tapping into empathy, using humans to draw a parallel. But the thing is, you have to do something that evokes feelings of outrage and shock. To draw the parallel, the viewers have to feel empathy for the human stand-in in order to then apply that to animals.

    That’s not accomplished with putting women naked in cages or painting them up like tigers. In a society in which that is so closely related to images in a great deal of pornography, the display is likely to elicit sexual excitement or moral scolding than outrage on the behalf of the woman.

    So even in my mind the woman in the cage and the “Go Vegitarian” message don’t quite compute, because my outrage is so disconnected from the analogy they’re trying to set up.

  14. anna says:

    See, I actually like the idea of showing people as animals for the shock value, but I think in order for it to work and not be objectifying the people need to be clothed and they need to be people of all sorts, not just beautiful women.

  15. Astraea says:

    Anna, I agree. In addition, I’d say they shouldn’t be appealing at all. They should look like they’re actually suffering.

    Otherwise, there’s no point and it’s just sexist objectification.

  16. CartoonCoyote says:

    For about five seconds I was sure that was Helena Bonham Carter.

    One thing I’ve wondered about from time to time: When PETA does the paint-throwing on furs, have they ever nailed somebody who turned out to be wearing fake fur? I genuinely don’t know how distinguishable it is from the real thing, so I’m curious what would happen in such a case.

  17. Betsy says:

    We should start a club – vegetarians and vegans against PETA. I bet we’d get a lot of members. I’m a vegetarian, many of my friends are vegetarian, and we all loathe PETA. I went veggie despite their tactics, not because of them.

  18. Astraea says:

    Betsy, I’ve also heard a lot of people bring up PETA just to discredit any idea that PETA supports, might support, or is associated with. I usually defend groups like the ACLU that the opposition uses as a code word to discredit ideas or actions without any further argument. Maybe I’m just not seeing it, but PETA is also turning off a hell of a lot of their allies with tactics that serve no constructive purpose.

  19. Hector B. says:

    Here’s a column from the San Francisco Chronicle listing some PETA anti-animal activity.

  20. Sniper says:

    See, I actually like the idea of showing people as animals for the shock value, but I think in order for it to work and not be objectifying the people need to be clothed and they need to be people of all sorts, not just beautiful women.

    No kidding. How thought-provoking would it be to see, say, a miserable-looking guy in dockers and a polo shirt trying to type on a laptop while in a tiny cage? I mean, if PETA is trying to equate animals with human beings, they should at least use the beings most often treated as fully human – white guys.

  21. Diana says:

    Umm, there is a really troubling ad for Filipina mail-order brides right below the picture. It says “View 1000s of Beautiful Filipina Girls”, underneath which, it mentions three galleries of pictures.

    Just thought you should know.

  22. Polly says:

    Hey well my idea for tackling this is that the next time PETA do one of these press attracting stunts a bunch of Veggies turn up and eat bacon sandwiches. With T shirts bearing the slogan “I’d rather eat meat than join PETA”. Just think of the coverage…..

  23. Meredith says:

    That’s incredibly problematic — and (perhaps ironically), it works itself into the way that meat-eating is masculinized and vegetarianism is feminized and de-valued (just read Carol Adams, since she explains this better than I can).

    Irony is often the first step in subversion. Although pornifying animal rights doesn’t automatically masculinize it, the way they’re linking porn with active fighting arguably does.

  24. activist says:

    But PETA is promoting animal rights at the expense of women’s rights — and that’s not only simplistic, but it’s bad for everyone involved.

    I strongly disagree.

    The woman shown above chose to demonstrate. She is expressing her free will by protesting nearly nude for a cause she strongly believes in. She is representing pregnant sows kept in gestation crates, whose sole purpose is to breed piglets for ham and pork.

    The sows kept in similar cages do not choose to participate in our food system. They are put in those crates for their entire lives and are enslaved because of their ability to reproduce.

    The difference is a crucial one. The woman chooses and the sow does not.

    To deny the woman’s choice to use her body to express whatever social or political statements she wants is far more dangerous to the women’s movement than the display of her nude body in a cage. To reduce her courageous political activism to female exploitation is to ignore her as a human being.

    Regardless of what you think of PETA or the message, please do not treat this woman as an object by ignoring her role. Do not dehumanize her; that’s the anti-feminist’s job.

  25. Matthew Cole says:

    I’m a vegan and a proponent of animal liberation. But I have never once referred a friend to a PETA website or joined their organization. Their sexist advertising campaigns and, as an above commentor mentioned, their insistence on comparing the treatment of animals in the US to the Holocaust or the slave trade are beneath contempt.

    It makes me sad to see such things… for me, my commitment to animal rights is inseparable from my feminism. This is true in terms of my philosophy – reducing suffering is the moral imperative for me – my theory – the scaling of bodies and legitmization of exclusion functions similarly for stigmatized humans and animals – and my policy commitments – animal abuse is completely related to family violence, and taking the former more seriously would help a lot in preventing the latter.

    Too bad PETA can’t get with the program.

  26. Mnemosyne says:

    Regardless of what you think of PETA or the message, please do not treat this woman as an object by ignoring her role. Do not dehumanize her; that’s the anti-feminist’s job.

    So Ann Coulter is automatically above criticism because, no matter what she supports, she’s made her own decisions and for us to criticize those decisions is anti-feminist, even if she’s working for anti-feminist goals?

    What’s next, stripping is an inherently feminist career because women choose to do it and any feminist critique of it is actually anti-feminist?

  27. sophonisba says:

    activist, if you genuinely believe that women are “dehumanized” by other women disagreeing with them, you’re as misogynist as they come.

    I don’t think you genuinely believe it, though. I think you’re just latching onto a third-grade rhetorical tactic because you have no idea how transparent is.

  28. Banisteriopsis says:

    I gotta say, this is just bad advertising. It’s only even intelligible if you already agree with PETA. That’s why we need a peta person to explain it. Why is she naked? Why is the cage not particularly confining? Why does the tag line not even reference the imagery? Why is she wearing so much makeup??? I don’t understand at all how sexualizing the woman informs their message about victimization. If anything it would be a lot more effective if she looked unhappy. It’s an uninteresting, poorly executed idea. TRY HARDER.

    To deny the woman’s choice to use her body to express whatever social or political statements she wants is far more dangerous to the women’s movement than the display of her nude body in a cage. To reduce her courageous political activism to female exploitation is to ignore her as a human being.

    Yeah, and strippers are empowered by their nakedness.

  29. ruxandra says:

    i made an “i’d rather eat meat than support peta” banner for all veg*ans who want it. so if you’d join a vegetarians and vegans against peta club, feel free to borrow. :)

    HERE

  30. Lauredhel says:

    I’m having trouble reconciling there being everything wrong with this, and nothing wrong with sex work (in terms of it existing and being for men’s consumption, not in terms of working conditions/trafficking/etc). I have no particular dog in this fight and am not trying to be combative or argumentative. I just can’t quite see, right now, what the specific difference is that makes the existence of sex work just fine, and the existence of naked PETA activism not fine.

  31. ruxandra says:

    @ lauredhel: in my opinion, the difference is that the most visible organization in the movement “for the ethical treatment” of women doesn’t use campaigns that promote the meat industry. i know that’s not exactly what you asked, but i think that’s what it comes down to – that would be the equivalent of what peta does to the animal rights movement. i don’t think any feminist would argue that promoting the mistreatment of animals is the best method to further the feminist cause, since it’s already a given in society and meat-eating etc. appeals to the majority. (or at least i hope not – though it must be said that more feminists should not participate in the mistreatment of animals, either.)

    also, i don’t think that the position in which peta puts the women who take part in their sexist campaigns is at all what sex worker rights is about. (i am changing your question a bit, because i don’t see too many feminists saying “the existence of sex work is just fine”, but i do understand your dilemma if we take into consideration feminists arguing for “sex worker rights”.) to me, one side is about embracing misogyny so that a particular organization can profit, the other is about minimizing misogyny and abuse in one of the contexts that women have to deal with in our society. i don’t see a contradiction in taking a stance against the way peta promotes “animal rights” and supporting sex worker rights: i personally think that women should be free to do whatever they choose with their bodies and i don’t boycott the women who pose for peta (at least not for posing in those ads), but i don’t think that a group “for the ethical treatment of animals” should come up with campaigns whose subtext is the systematic dehumanization of women and so as someone who supports animal rights among other issues of social justice, i do boycott peta.

  32. ruxandra says:

    or shorter me: i don’t think sex work is equivalent to a political movement “for ethical treatment,” or sex workers the spokespeople for such a movement.

  33. Lauredhel says:

    ruxandra, just to clarify (and I should have linked in the first place): I was referring to the quoted material in this post:

    The problems with sex work lie not in the work itself but in the cultural stigma surrounding it, and in the exploitive economic systems that sex work, along with most work, is performed.

    Perhaps where I’m getting stuck is that the author seems, to me, to be constructing some sort of ideal-world post-revolution (both cultural and economic) sex work industry, and then arguing, on that basis, that there are no problems “in the work itself”. Sex work seems, to me, to be quite inextricably tied up with capitalism and the patriarchal cultural milieu. Post-capitalism & post-cultural-revolution “sex work” wouldn’t be “sex work”, it would be “sex”. The only credible critiques of sex work _as an institution_ (NOT of sex workers; I’m blaming the patriarchy here) locate the work in its culture and its economy, surely? (Or perhaps this is a little circular: they’re the only critiques I find remotely credible, which would be a fair enough assessment.)

    So is the problem with naked activism (as opposed to naked work) purely in the cultural stigma surrounding it, and in the exploitative systems within which it is performed? Or is there another potential reality in which it would be ok? (And does this line of reasoning even make sense? Why or why not?)

    Addit: I get the dehumanisation/women as meat issue, and revile it completely. (IMO) It would be problematic to argue that the porn and sex work industry _as it stands_ doesn’t also involve, at least some or much of the time, men talking about women as non-people, or the construction of women as pieces of meat.

    [I’m trying to make it clear throughout that I am NOT NOT NOT arguing against sex workers’ rights or arguing for criminalisation, no way, nohow. I hope that’s been successful.]

    If this is seen as a derail rather than as a thread drift, please do ignore me, or, if you’re interested, take it elsewhere (I”m easily contactable). I’m really not committed to making the whole thread about my particular efforts to work through the analogies here, at the expense of other conversations, and I do agree totally with the post itself.

  34. ruxandra says:

    ok, looking at it, maybe the shorter version is too short. what i mean is that sex work as a whole is not presented by anyone as a political movement for ethical treatment and rights of a certain group. most people pro-sex workers’ rights don’t look at sex work or the sex industry through rose-tinted glasses at all, or pretend it exists outside the patriarchal order of things. you can be a feminist and pro-sex workers’ rights, a feminist and a sex worker, etc.. and you can say “it’s not right or effective to try to get people to be compassionate to all creatures by blatantly appealing to people’s misogyny” at the same time that you say “a woman who strips may have n reasons for doing it, but slut-shaming and -blaming are not ok under any circumstance.” in actuality, it’s the same type of stance.

  35. ruxandra says:

    sorry, my last comment was a an attempt to clarify myself, i posted it before seeing your longer posting, lauredhel, so it’s not a direct response to that. anyway, i agree that it might be better to continue elsewhere so as not to derail the tread and be able to go into details. i have a post that goes into some of your points/questions. (here)

    but my short answer would be that i think that there’s absolutely a difference between “naked activism” and “sexist naked activism”. this is not about nudity at all but about misogyny (and other unethical stances). in peta’s case, i think it’s particularly problematic that they are always not just relying on blatantly misogynistic imagery but actually literally encouraging the dehumanization of women. that’s the whole basis of these campaigns of theirs and they’re perfectly in line with the misogyny that drives the “sexual politics of meat.” but even if we just focus on the ways in which they rely on misogynistic images… when they’re referencing porn, of course it’s always the kind of porn that puts women in their place and shows them as vulnerable. even in a commercial in which alicia silverstone is promoting a healthier body through vegetarianism… which would almost make it ok for her to show her naked body as “persuasion”… she’s shown crawling around, filmed from above, looking coy, not exactly… in control. so what’s the point?

  36. Hector B. says:

    what the specific difference is that makes the existence of sex work just fine, and the existence of naked PETA activism not fine.

    Sex work is a way of making a living, while naked PETA activism is a way of making a point. PETA could substitute naked male bodies as a way to make its point (after all, closely confined veal calves are more likely to be male because heifers produce the milk; steers that grow up to supply meat are castrated young); while a woman sex worker can’t draft a male to earn her living for her.

  37. Mnemosyne says:

    in peta’s case, i think it’s particularly problematic that they are always not just relying on blatantly misogynistic imagery but actually literally encouraging the dehumanization of women. that’s the whole basis of these campaigns of theirs and they’re perfectly in line with the misogyny that drives the “sexual politics of meat.”

    I think that’s the difference for me. PETA isn’t in the position of the women who are doing sex work — they’re in the position of the pornographers and strip club owners doing the exploiting. They’re pimping women out to promote themselves. Arguing that the women chose their own exploitation is beside the point.

    As ruxandra says, it would make just as much sense — and probably be more effective — if PETA also put men in cages, but somehow they never do.

  38. Betty Boondoggle says:

    PETA isn’t in the position of the women who are doing sex work — they’re in the position of the pornographers and strip club owners doing the exploiting. They’re pimping women out to promote themselves.

    Prezactly. This isn’t about the woman in the picture chosing to protest like this. It’s about PETA’s history of using women to promote themselves.

  39. ruxandra says:

    yes, though lauredhel’s point was a bit more complex, as she explained. my understanding is that her question was more along the lines of whether in this culture one could ever have a campaign making use of a naked female body that wasn’t inherently misogynistic (seeing as some people argue that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the use of female bodies for sex work). but, yeah, the most basic distinction is in who’s being criticised and for what, who’s doing the “selling” and in the name of what – that’s definitely part of what i’ve been getting at too.

    ps: it actually wasn’t me who made the point about putting men in cages and actually peta does sometimes use naked men in their campaigns, too (as they will be VERY eager to point out to you if you criticise them.) the thing is, that’s an exception to the rule so it doesn’t mean much, and besides a lot of the time the men in such ads are not presented similarly to the women so the problem remains (compare this and this. even worse, when they are also sexualizing/dehumanizing men in the same vein as they do with women, it’s always men of color (i haven’t found even one exception: if they use naked men it’s either non-gratuitous/non-sexual or – they’re men of color). so, yeah. peta knows very well what it’s doing with all of this, and it’s anything but “ethical.”

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  41. Naadir Jeewa says:

    Living in the UK, I’m clearly not familiar with PETA’s ouvre of work. Which came first? This stunt, or the Arrested Development sketch when Lindsay Bluthe (Portia de Rossi) takes a little too much pleasure in being hosed down in a cage?

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