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In their latest effort to promote veganism to teenagers, PETA, the animal rights organisation everyone loves to hate, features a 16-year-old model, singer-actor Samia Najimy Finnerty (yes, Kathy Najimy’s daughter), rocking an acoustic guitar and a come hither look with the slogan “Vegans go all the way.” 

PETA has dismissed criticism that it is sexually exploiting the body of a child by claiming the ad is merely “playful” because, by “go all the way” Peta doesn’t mean sex, you see, it simply means going vegan instead of “just vegetarian” which is “so ‘90s”.

Vegans may go all the way but I would say it’s PETA that has gone too far if I hadn’t already resigned myself to the fact there is no limit to the depths to which PETA is willing to plummet.

This is, after all, the organisation that defended its commercial depicting a young woman wearing a neck brace and all-body bruises because her boyfriend’s newfound veganism just made their sex life a whole lot rougher, as “tongue-in-cheek”.

But where to start with the levels of wrongness for this latest campaign? Perhaps the headline on Peta’s own blog, “PETA’s Youngest Pinup Encourages Teens To ‘Go All The Way’ For Animals”? Because, obviously, teens getting it on the best way to end animal abuse, duh! 

Or the very first sentence in the accompanying article, which boasts, “PETA normally waits until people turn 18 before asking them to star in a "provocative" campaign, but not this time.” Ah, how liberating to finally free yourself from the shackles of not treating teenage girls like sex objects.

Then there is the fact that Najimy Finnerty -who, remember, is all of 16 years old- herself had to restrain PETA because “originally (PETA) put a background of a bed and sheets behind me. That was a little bit too much for me.” 

Yeah, that’s right, a 16-year-old is more mature than the adults who run the most powerful animal rights group in the world.

But perhaps the greatest signifier of the sheer ridiculousness of the campaign is the fact that Najimy Finnerty has just starred in a New York Fringe Festival play, Slutwhich explores the world of teenage sexuality, slut-shaming, sexual assault and victim-blaming. 

In Slut, which I had the privilege of watching last week, the all-female cast delves into the sexual double standards that still exist (vegetarianism is not the only thing that is so ‘90s), the pressure on girls to project sexuality even if they haven’t had sex yet, and the shaming of girls on social media by their own friends. The crux is that while young boys can party without negative consequence to their “reputation”, girls are in the unwinnable position of having to act sexually “liberated” even as they are punished for doing the same.

Ultimately, this leads to the victim-blaming one of the girls for her own sexual assault with the general consensus being that she is either lying or she should have known better than to “get herself” into that situation. “I mean, what did she think was going to happen?” one teenager asks as news of the assault spreads around the school.

It is a devastating exploration of what it means to be a teenage girl in an era when girls are expected to be “a little slutty but only in a non-slutty way”. Confused? Imagine what it must be like for them.

All of which makes it all the more incomprehensible that PETA -whose head, Dan Matthews, Najimy Finnerty describes as a “close family friend”- would embark on a campaign that basically says you should have sex to be cool. 

For all their talk of “playfulness” and “cheekiness”, PETA knows exactly what they are doing. They know that asking people to give up animal exploitation involves some sort of personal sacrifice because people enjoy using and eating animal products, so PETA essentially offers up women’s bodies in exchange.

For decades now, Peta has used the objectification of women as their primary method of animal advocacy. This directly undermines the work of vegan feminists who have long drawn parallels between the abuse of animals and the exploitation of women.

More than 20 years ago, vegan feminist pioneer Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, highlighted the ways in which meat was -and still is- associated with patriarchal masculinity. Meat is marketed primarily as a product for men and women’s bodies are used to sell it, the end result being that both women and animals are presented as mere commodities.

Rather than challenging this association, PETA compounds it by exploiting women in exactly the same way. But, rather than doing suggestive things with cheeseburgers, the almost naked women in PETA’s ads instead do naughty things with vegetables. 

In trying to convince men that vegetarianism is “sexy”, PETA merely reassures them that even if they give up meat, they can still retain their masculinity by ogling the bodies of women.

Clearly, PETA is either not familiar with or simply doesn’t care about Audre Lorde’s famous quote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” PETA’s form of activism not only does nothing to challenge the system of exploitation, it actually perpetuates it. By using women’s bodies as commodities in order to sell their animal rights message, PETA endorses the concept that some bodies exist for the benefit of others.

This willingness to sacrifice women in exchange for animal liberation perpetuates the idea that vegans are all crazy radicals who care more about animals than people, which simply makes veganism too easy to dismiss.

For many vegan feminists such as myself, there is no separation between our feminism and our veganism.  We don’t eat or use products made from the bodies of animals because we do not accept that their bodies exist for our own gratification, in the same way we oppose the use of women’s bodies for male gratification.

For all the accusations of “extremism”, veganism is no more radical than recognising that the bodies of animals belong to the animals themselves. But our work continues to be overshadowed by the likes of PETA and so we find ourselves in a never-ending process of being shocked by and then having to distance ourselves from their antics, constantly reassuring other feminists that not all vegans view women as collateral damage in the fight against animal abuse.

But by far the saddest aspect of the “Vegans go all the way” campaign is that here is a young woman who clearly has made the connection between feminism and veganism, who is herself being exploited by an animal rights organisation. Yes, Najimy Finnerty made the decision to feature in the campaign but the onus should be on those doing the exploiting to curb their objectification, something PETA shows no signs of ever doing.