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.



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.