The problem with PETA

Pamela Anderson's "Go Vegetarian" PETA campaign.

Pamela Anderson's "Go Vegetarian" PETA campaign.

Last week PETA launched its latest campaign against cosmetic testing on animals. The caption for the ad reads, ‘No bunny should have to suffer for beauty’ and sure enough, it stars an actual bunny rabbit and a bunny of the Playboy variety, Jessica-Jane Clement.

 

In typical Peta fashion, Clement is pictured naked, with coyly curled legs and a strategically placed bunny on her breasts. And so PETA continues its long history of undermining women to promote animal advocacy.

Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly in her PETA print ad.

Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly in her PETA print ad.

 

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In 2009, PETA abandoned its ‘Save the Whales’ billboard campaign after intense criticism. That poster featured an obese woman in a bikini with the tagline, ‘Lose the blubber: go vegetarian.’

 

Jessica-Jane Clement's new PETA campaing was launched last week.

Jessica-Jane Clement's new PETA campaing was launched last week.

A 2010 campaign saw long-time supporter Pamela Anderson dressed in a bikini, her body depicted as a butcher’s meat chart complete with labels such as ‘breast’, ‘rump’ and so on. The caption read, ‘All animals have the same parts. Have a heart: go vegetarian.’

 

Yes, it’s true. All animals do have the same (or at least extremely similar parts). This is the reason that I myself am a vegan, because animals, like humans, experience emotions, thoughts and pain and don’t deserve to suffer. Quite simply, I just don’t think we humans have any more right to treat animals as objects than men have the right to treat women as objects.

British-American TV personality Layla Kayleigh in her PETA ad on animal testing.

British-American TV personality Layla Kayleigh in her PETA ad on animal testing.

 

I also think the key to improving the lives of animals is to change people’s perceptions of the animals themselves. I can appreciate that this is what PETA thinks it is doing, that by equating animals with women, they are encouraging people to view animals as human-like.

 

However, what PETA seems to be forgetting is that we live in a world where women themselves are still largely regarded as inferior. PETA’s approach is doomed to failure because it fails to acknowledge that inequality still exists between humans.

 

This willingness to objectify women, even as they attempt to convince the rest of humanity to stop treating animals as objects, has long attracted the ire of feminists who accuse PETA of placing the rights of animals above the rights of women.

 

But that’s only the half of it. PETA’s approach to animal advocacy has the unintended consequence of undermining, not only women, but also the animals they are trying to save because it ignores the history and nature of women’s oppression.

 

Historically, being equated with animals is how women were marginalised. Men were considered creatures of intellect and reason and women placed in the realm of animals and nature. Philosophers such as Aristotle clearly stated that women were not human, a perspective more or less shared by the medieval Church.

 

When Mary Wollstonecraft published what is regarded as the first feminist text, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in 1792, the writer Thomas Taylor responded with A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes. The concept of women having rights was so ludicrous, he argued, that we may as well extend rights to animals, ‘vegetables, minerals, and even the most apparently contemptible clod of earth.’

 

I’d like to say that all this is in the past but it isn’t. How many times have sexual assault victims complained that their attacker made them feel ‘like a piece of meat’?

 

With women already unfavourably compared to animals, PETA problematises things further by sexualising the women in their ads. Well, guess what people associate with sexualised naked women? In 2010, Italian researchers at the University of Pardova found that sexually objectifying women leads both sexes to imbue women with animalistic qualities. When exposed to images of women, half of which were sexualised, researchers found that the sexualised images ‘were rated by both men and women as more animalistic (less human).’

 

When simply viewing a sexualised image of a woman leads people to view women as less human, how much greater is the damage when this naked woman is pictured with and referred to as an actual animal?

 

To be clear, I have no objection to comparing the human race as a whole to animals. In fact I think part of humanity’s problems stem from the fact that we have forgotten that that’s exactly what we are, one species of many sharing the same planet.

 

However, given that our society draws a strict demarcation between animals and humans, given that women have long been associated with animals as a means to demean them, and given that women are still fighting for equality, deliberately equating the two does not ‘humanise’ animals so much as ‘dehumanise’ women.

 

Far from changing the way we view animals, the most powerful animal rights group in the world is reinforcing a centuries-old message: that animals and women are the same and both are inferior to men.

 

I share pretty much all of PETA’s goals and I agree with some of their campaigns but equating women with animals in a world that respects neither simply betrays both.

 

27 comments

  • The problem with these ads, IMHO, is it makes me rank the intelligence of their message somewhat below that of Lynx deodorant ads and Zoo magazine.

    Commenter
    Karen
    Date and time
    July 26, 2012, 9:15AM
    • Why treat animals as pieces of meat, when there are perfectly good women to treat like meat - so says PETA and Unilever.

      What are PETA trying to do - trying to lure horny men into PETA? If you don't have your message up front, then after the attraction of the sex themed ads pass, you have no one following you.

      Commenter
      ST
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 11:38AM
    • Good point and with so many ethical butchers out there now they should either stop with the vego talk or change their name. Check out Feather and Bone in Rozelle for some good meat eater rants against mass produced meat

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 12:51PM
  • The writer is admirably pro-animal AND pro-human, as opposed to PETA's rather misanthropic espousal of animal rights, the concept of which, oddly, they seem to think are of some natural ordination and not a human construct.

    Commenter
    Herbie Vore
    Date and time
    July 26, 2012, 9:23AM
    • As the writer sums up, PETA's tactic seems to be bringing women down to the level of an animal, rather than bringing an animal to the level of a human.

      With the sexualisation of todays society, and and the embracement of promiscuality, I guess it's easier for PETA to depict a woman as an object, rather than the oppisite.

      Shame. PETA will only continue to exploit women in their ironic campaigns.

      Commenter
      Ed
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 10:17AM
      • Hi Ed, just to to clarify, yes, I think PETA is lowering women to the status of animals (that is a status that humans have conferred on them as opposed to any 'natural' lower status). However, I don't think that is a tactic so much as an inevitable result. Remember, PETA is an animal rights group, so they generally don't view animals as lesser beings. The problem is, however, that most other people do, and the way PETA conducts its campaigns plays into this hierarchy of value. If PETA is to be successful, they have to work as dismantling this hierarchy, but so far, all they seem to be doing is reinforcing it. And yes, that is a terrible shame

        Commenter
        Ruby Hamad
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 26, 2012, 12:47PM
      • Yes. You're right in saying that the general population believes animals are lesser than human.
        For their own sake, they should be saying "hey, look, animals have a higher dignity than you think. We regard them the same level as humans". But what their campaign says is "hey, look, humans are lower than you think. We think they're the same level as animals".

        Instead of improving the status of one to meet the other (positive), they're reducing the status to meet the other (negative).

        (PS I am not a vegetarian, I do not value animals on the same level as human beings).

        Commenter
        Ed
        Date and time
        July 26, 2012, 2:18PM
    • I notice PETA never protest out the front of motorcycle gang headquarters for their gratuitous use of leather jackets. After all, leather jackets come from animals.....

      Commenter
      Paul
      Location
      Adelaide
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 10:24AM
      • Maybe it's just me, but I think PETA has some of the smartest advertising people on the planet. They've completely and efficiently adapted to manipulating a networked media world. The real purpose of their ads just seems to fade away behind the ostensible surface messages and responses, it's rarely noticed.

        PETA ads aren't about sexism, they aren't about outrage, they aren't about directly changing minds. They're about what is undoubtedly called 'raising the profile of the issues'.

        They deliberately choose topics and images designed to prompt responses; from people who decry their 'objectification' of the female body, to people who think they are 'loonies', to people who are disgusted by the 'graphical' nature of their ads.

        Each new ad campaign sees a flood of hundreds of articles just like this one, dissecting the subtext, expressing shock and outrage, and generating hundreds of thousands of comments and opinions.

        Thereby, PETA get exponentially increased public attention for their financial outlay, their issues and purpose get raised by and to people who would never normally pay attention, and their message gets into people's minds. Many won't change, but they will be aware, and some of them might think about and possibly alter their behaviour, even just a little bit.

        The messages of the ads themselves are secondary to making people aware that there is a message at all.

        In this age of instant information and connectivity, going from "what's that hot chick on that billboard doing dressed in bunny lingerie?" to finding out what animal testing on rabbits is really like is as simple as a google search away.

        Commenter
        DM
        Date and time
        July 26, 2012, 10:27AM
        • That's an interesting perspective and PETA are clearly proud of their ability to stay in the headlines. However, there are two problems with this: 1. PETA alienates what should be their strongest support base- women. 2. PETA may get in the news but in a sense they are preaching to the converted. There are many animal lovers out there that are willing to excuse some of PETA's more outrageous campaigns, but that doesn't translate into a real world impact. How many people's minds have been changed by a PETA campaign? Just because we are talking about it, doesn't mean the animals are suffering any less.

          Commenter
          Ruby Hamad
          Date and time
          July 26, 2012, 2:26PM

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