Sexualized images of women are being increasingly used in animal rights activism as a way to grab attention and gain publicity. Frequently, women are featured because these protests are often done to bring attention to the parallel between seeing women as ‘pieces of meat’ and seeing animals as ‘pieces of meat’. For a feminist who is also an animal rights activist, this poses a big question: “Should activists use sexualized images of women to sell animal rights?”
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with nudity or expressing oneself, we need to remember that we do not live in a vacuum where sexism is not a reality. We live in a patriarchal society that views women as objects. Nudity is beautiful, but it is not effective as a tool for animal rights advocacy. Here’s why:
When we objectify women in animal rights campaigns, we give society permission to continue objectifying all beings because we cannot eliminate the objectification of one group by perpetuating the objectification of another.
How do we expect people to stop seeing animals as commodities if we are still portraying women as commodities? Society won’t stop objectifying women unless we stop objectifying ourselves. Ultimately, we are the ones in control of whether we will allow our objectification to occur. We can say “NO”.
One does not have to literally “go naked rather than wear fur” to prove this point. Our words and our message should be compelling enough to gain people’s interest. I can grab people’s attention without having to be naked.
I am in no way saying that women should attend demos covered in clothing from head to toe to avoid possibly coming across as “alluring”. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t attend demos dressed in a particular way in order to get that kind of attention.
“Slut-shaming” is wrong and there is nothing wrong with dressing in a revealing way or promiscuity and neither one necessarily has anything to do with the other. But when we are on an activist platform we need to be cognizant of the way the masses perceive us, wrong as those assumptions may be. We are trying to get through to people. Outreach is a form of activism weighted very heavily on good PR. They won’t respect our message if they don’t respect US.
We have to remember, it’s the context that matters. Though a female activist may be wearing roughly the equivalent of a bikini, she isn’t on the beach, therefore having a reason to be in a bikini. She will most likely be on the street, with nothing but lettuce, paint, or cellophane covering her body with the specific goal of drawing attention to herself because she is nude (or close to it).
In addition to these campaigns being sexist and objectifying, they are also confusing and distracting. Using sex as a way to raise awareness for the cause of animal rights takes focus away from animals and shifts it to things that are often so far removed from the original point the activists are trying to make that they become confusing.
Our focus should be on animals, not on spectacles that only steal attention away from the real issues and rob the movement of its morals.
If you are currently supportive of campaigns like PETA’s Lettuce Ladies (right), the “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign, or the “PETA porn” idea because you want to attract much needed attention and awareness to the cause of animal rights, why not instead point to the horrendous atrocities we are trying to put to an end? There should be plenty of material to get people’s attention. What happens to animals on farms and in labs is the only shock value we need. We don’t need to confuse the situation by distracting people from the real issues by shoving tits and ass in their face.
There are certain occasions where nudity is not effective. Politics is one. Activism is one. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with nudity itself, just that those platforms are not benefited by nudity and are actually negatively affected by it.
Would Rosa Parks approve of black women going naked rather than sitting on the back of the bus? I don’t think so. Why? Because it’s completely illogical.
If your message is strong, you don’t need to rely on cheap tactics to get attention. The case for animal rights is strong. The animals deserve better than “lettuce ladies” and “peta porn”.
I don’t know of a single person who saw a naked woman and thought “I think I’ll give veganism a try”. We, as activists, need to remember that animals should be our focus and the focus of our movement.
Case in point: using sexualized images of women to sell animal rights is very cheap and quite frankly, the animals deserve better.
(Maybe something more like this.)