Other feminist bloggers have covered the PETA breast-milk campaign, and you should read their thoughts. And yes, it is obvious that PETA is doing its usual over-the-top schtick, and the campaign — which encourages Ben & Jerry’s to use human breast milk instead of cow milk to make their ice cream — is not meant to be taken literally.
…but so what? PETA’s point, unfortunately, is not to highlight cruelty to animals by pointing out the fact that it would be cruel to force women to produce milk for mass consumption, and that it’s just as cruel to use cows for their milk. No, as usual, PETA is going for sensationalism. And in this case, for the gross-out factor (coupled with the titty factor).
Because the reaction to PETA’s breast milk suggestion hasn’t been, “Hmm, I guess making cows produce milk for us is kind of cruel;” it’s been, “Breast milk in ice cream?! Gross!”
If that’s what they were going for, fine. But it’s not a tactic that makes anyone think about animal cruelty. It’s not a tactic that’s going to make anything think anything beyond, “Those PETA assholes are crazy.” And as Renee says, “PETA has no issue privilging animals over women. Social change on the backs of women is not social change.”
For those animal-loving feminists among us, PETA is a major thorn in our sides. The fact is, animal abuse and human abuse are related. Meat consumption is gendered, with meat-eating as something men do, while women’s bodies are literally imaged as pieces of meat. It’s well-established that people who abuse their partners and their family members often abuse the family animals as well, and use beloved pets as a way of controlling, manipulating, threatening and further harming their victims. And the abuse of animals is sometimes disturbingly sexualized (violence and sexual assault trigger warning):
On the video [of a pig farm], obtained by AP, a supervisor tells an undercover PETA investigator that when he gets angry or a sow won’t move, “I grab one of these rods and jam it in her [anus].”
“I hate them. These [expletives] deserve to be hurt. Hurt, I say!,” the employee yells as he hits a sow with a metal rod. “Hurt! Hurt! Hurt! Hurt! … Take out your frustrations on ’em.” He encourages the investigator to pretend that one of the pigs scared off a voluptuous and willing 17- or 18-year-old girl, and then beat the pig for it.
(Above links via Elaine).
This is an animal rights issue, and it’s a women’s rights issue. PETA does some great investigational work, and they deserve credit for sounding the alarm on animal abuse and for promoting cruelty-free lifestyles.
But if abuse of animals and abuse of women overlap — and I believe that they do — then I have a hard time seeing how exploiting and insulting women does much good to achieve their goals.
Feminists should absolutely be concerned about animal welfare — but we should also be concerned about women’s welfare, and we shouldn’t make excuses for groups like PETA, no matter how important their cause.
It’s not just using naked women’s bodies to promote their cause; I don’t have much of a problem with naked bodies. It’s the sexualization of abuse, and the fact that PETA uses naked women’s bodies in place of the bodies of abused and dead animals; it’s the fat–shaming; it’s the ongoing treatment of women’s bodies as gross; it’s the Holocaust, lynching and slavery exploitation; it’s the fact that they target women who wear fur, but are nowhere to be seen at leather-filled biker bars; it’s the trans-hate (link via Renee).
I’ve criticized PETA a lot on this blog, and it always makes me feel a little guilty, because the fact is that there simply aren’t enough people out there doing animal rights work. But there are also too many people doing anti-woman work, and I find it particularly disappointing when it comes from a group that could be allied with women’s rights. PETA makes a conscious decision to play not just into sexism, but into the existing sexualization and gendering of meat-eating. They also use a lot of the same tactics as anti-choice extremists; those tactics don’t become ok just because we may be more sympathetic to PETA’s larger goals.
For a lot of us, feminist theory and animal liberation theory are deeply intertwined. Even if we aren’t animal rights activists, many of us do see the overlap between abuse of animals and abuse of women; the problematic social understanding of meat-eating as masculine and necessary for strength, and vegetarianism as feminine and indicative of weakness; and the disturbing imaging of women’s bodies literally as meat for male consumption. To see an animal rights organization that blatantly feeds into those stereotypes and that consciously does harm to women (and to people of color and to transgender people and to Jews and to a whole slew of others) isn’t only disturbing and disappointing, but it’s counterproductive to broader progressive goals and to PETA’s own mission.
The fact is that PETA asks for animal allies, and then spits in the face of traditionally marginalized groups. No organization is perfect, but when groups are flat-out harmful, they lose my support.
When I was a wee activist, PETA was the first group I ever supported, and animal welfare was the first issue I ever really cared about — long before I called myself a feminist, I identified as an animal rights activist. Admittedly, my interest and activism in that area has waned, but it still informs my progressive worldview and my feminism. But PETA won’t be getting a minute of my time or a dime of my money; instead, I’ll be looking to Feminists for Animal Rights for a more holistic and productive view of animal welfare.
Also check out Friends of Animals, and feel free to leave non-sexist, non-racist, animal-friendly links in the comments. A lot of wonderful animal rights organizations exist, and they deserve more publicity than PETA. So I’ll also give a little shout-out to Anjellicle Cats, a lovely no-kill shelter in New York from where I just adopted two adorable kitties who will be coming home with me sometime this week (and yes, I will post pictures).
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