Activism / Animal Rights

Because Apparently You Should Respect Animals, Not Women

peta sexist advertisement elephantsHyper-sexualized images of abused women are being increasingly used in animal rights activism as a way to grab attention and gain publicity.  Frequently, women are featured because these ads 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 brutalized 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.  There is a big difference between an image of a naked woman and an image of a naked woman who is chained, bruised, and cowering away from the camera in the context of the society we live in.

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.

racism = speciesism = sexismHow do we expect people to stop seeing animals as commodities if we are still portraying women as commodities?  How do we expect people to stop brutalizing animals if we are further normalizing the brutalization of women?  One does not have to literally “go naked rather than wear fur” to prove this point.

“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.

In addition to these campaigns being sexist, 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 not only steal attention away from the real issues but trivialize them.

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.

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.

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55 thoughts on “Because Apparently You Should Respect Animals, Not Women

  1. The timing of this important post is impeccable. Tomorrow morning, the Pittsburgh Vegan Meetup Book Club is going to be discussing “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” the classic Carol Adams book.

    BEH will share this post with the group. It will add an interesting twist to the discussion.

    • Thank you BEH! “The Sexual Politics of Meat” is one of my favorite books and a must-read for all animal rights activists and feminists. Let me know how your book club discussion goes!

  2. Thank you for writing this. I’ve long been leary of notions that (outside of avoiding obvious ridiculousness) that suggest that “messaging” or any other such euphemisms for manipulation are the way to go to try to get a point or idea into general consciousness. We’ve theoretically sashayed ourselves into this “consumer” society aided by commercials and messages designed to shape and “influence” our behavior. Maybe so….nevertheless crap is crap and that remains the same. And if we came to this orgy of destruction known via commercials and “messaging” maybe one of the things we need to learn is to not listen to such dreck and instead pay attention to what we feel and know instead of some slick “message”.

    Does anyone seriously think that the folks advocating against human slavery in England in the 1700s were using naked models or were spending lots of time “crafting their message” as they pushed for reform? Does anyone think that any of the great notions of progress and kindness and wisdom (few though they are) that we as a species have come up with…does anyone really think they came into fruition and practice because of “messaging”? Give me a break, please.

    Invoking change using modes supportive of the antithesis of the change you’re wanting to make seems grotesquely counterproductive and sad…as you eloquently point out in your post. Clear and concise and truthful presentation of an idea or a truth is not the same thing as “messaging” or manipulation or gimmickry.

    • I totally agree. To argue that the objectification of women helps end sexism (as well as any other rights issue) is like arguing that eating meat helps end animal exploitation. Where is the logic?

    • Yes you are completely right, reform does not come about by superficial means but by really getting through to people and as you say nudity was not used to stop human slavery so why is it being used now?

  3. Great blog Kara! I agree 100%, I have nothing against modelling or stuff like that, I have some friends on that industry and is not just looking good, but f.e. I don’t agree with the way PETA uses sex to make people go vegan! I mean, we want smart and competent vegan guys that go vegan because of ethics, science and health, not dumb and drunk guys going vegan JUST because they want to get laid! I like PETA, I support the amazing job they do for animals, but I can’t endorse the way they use women, even if those ladies want to do it, it has nothing to do with that, it has to do with ineffective marketing and using women on the wrong way.

    Now, I’m not going to deny as a man that I like the way women look, that would be hypocrite for myself, BUT there is an ethical boundary that should be respected, as I said before, I have nothing against modelling, I respect REAL and SERIOUS model, I know it’s not work on the park, but I can’t endorse an organization as PETA claiming respect for animals yet using women as a marketing tool.

    • I love where you write: “we want smart and competent vegan guys that go vegan because of ethics, science and health, not dumb and drunk guys going vegan JUST because they want to get laid!”

      I showed my fiancé the above photo of the lettuce ladies and asked him “Think back to before you were vegan. If these women handed you a flyer, would you consider going vegan?” To which he replied: “Sure, if it meant I had a better chance of hooking up. Back then I didn’t look at it the way I do now that I’m vegan”.

      We want people to go vegan for the animals, not for their sex life.

  4. It is indeed a very timely post as I find the use of sex images in the movement totally counter productive. As I asked several times in a recent group, what would Dr King (or Gandhi or Chavez) do? None of the pro- “go naked” proponents would answer. I am fairly certain he would not have promoted African American rights naked. None of them would. But when it comes to animal rights, it is ok? That is a form of speciesism to lower the movement to silly tactics involving sexism when we wouldn’t do it for animal rights.

  5. Great article! PETA has always made me moderately uncomfortable, and I remember being turned off from the entire idea of even vegetarianism because of their methods. I think when I realized that most animal rights activists also shared the same aversion to PETA as I had, was I able to give the issue an actual look (and embrace veganism)! And the most powerful lesson I always come back to is just that: racism=sexism=speciesism! Oppression is oppression just the same as an apple is an apple!

    • I felt the same way before I went vegan. I always thought of animal rights activists as kooky raving naked lunatics. So much activism is so disconnected from what veganism is all about, it’s no wonder so many people think we’re crazy. I’ve often found that when doing outreach, before I can even begin to talk to people about veganism I have to answer their many questions about PETA and how they dislike them. I basically have to do so much damage control that I lose valuable time that could be better put to use by actually educating them and reaching more people.

  6. Very well said Kara, I agree 1000%. To me it’s degrading women, & the women who do it must lack in self esteem or they would think better of theirselves. I’m still trying to figure out how this is supposed to help save animals or promote veganism? To me it’s just senseless.
    Keep up the good work! :)

    • While I do agree that many women who self-objectify suffer from low self-esteem (caused by pressures from society to be “perfect” in the eyes of the opposite sex), I don’t believe that this is true of all women who participate in these campaigns. I personally know a few activists who in addition to their many other avenues of activism, have also done one or two nude demos and have very high self-esteem.

      In conversations with these fellow activists, they like to use the old “my body, my choice” reason, to which I partially agree. I say partially because while I am all for each person doing whatever they will with their own body, when we are on an activist platform, we cannot neglect that this is about more than simple self-expression. This is about working to end injustice. If our actions muddy those waters and confuse people from what we’re trying to open their eyes to, we need to rethink our strategies. Furthermore, if these actions of self-expression undermine the message we are trying to convey, then we have failed as activists for not only one cause, but for all linked causes.

  7. I think that this is a really important piece. I am not sure that the women who do it lack self esteem though. I think they probably really think this helps. There is in general a lack of thought in this movement about what actions are taken. It seems ego often drives ideology about what is successful. In a society that values women for their bodies it is not surprising that stripping down for animals feels both effective and empowering even if any critical thought on it would lead one to understand ladies in lettuce bikinis are not really so shocking (as was Lady Godiva, the image PETA regularly uses as a parallelism for their “PETA girls”) and definitely are not motivating.

    I am hands down opposed to the use of sexism in AR and abhor the lettuce bikinis and other get-women-naked-in-hopes-of-getting-some-press campaigns. There are still a lot of issues that come up with this issue, such as are individual women culpable? Particularly if they come from a point of privilege (white, upperclass, as the women in this photo and most “PETA girls”)? Is nudity okay when it is not sexualized, but demonstrative like the PETA meat package displays or some of the anti-bull fighting demos in Spain? Or would flesh colored leotards take care of the problem? I would love to take time to really unpack some of these more nuanced issues.

    I wrote a journal article on this topic discussing how these tactics are not only sexist but that they insidiously also reaffirm speciesist sentiment because our society reads sexism when we position women as “less than” by paralleling them to animals. I would be interested in your thoughts if you ever get time to read it. It’s a bit long so if you don’t get a chance, no big deal! (You can download the paper here: http://carolglasser.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Brock-Review-2011_Glasser.pdf)

    • Thank you, Carol! I happen to agree that although it is likely that many women who participate in these campaigns suffer from low self-esteem, many of them also have high self-esteem. I personally know a few fellow activists who have ‘gone naked for PETA’ and have a very positive self-image. My concern is more about society encouraging women to buy into a belief that basically says “being naked makes me look sexier, smarter, more desirable, more interesting, empowered, etc.” on the surface, but what’s really happening is women allowing themselves to be reduced to tits and ass. Nudity is beautiful, but that is not the purpose of these campaigns.

      Feminism aside, as activists working to influence others to act differently, our goal shouldn’t be to participate in forms of activism which society tends to view in a negative light. It isn’t about the way we view our activism, it is about the way the people we are trying to influence view it. If they are confused, put-off, or otherwise simply not convinced, we aren’t doing our job as activists. Nick Cooney goes into this subject extensively in his book Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change (which I’m sure you’ve read already). For anyone who hasn’t read it, please put that at the top of your to-do list, as it is a book that can change the way you look at activism for any cause you believe in.

      I will definitely be checking out that paper you linked to. You already know I love everything you write. I’ll let you know my thoughts. :)

      • My comment about women not having low self esteem was a direct response to Lanie V, not your post. Sorry if that was not clear.

        “It isn’t about the way we view our activism, it is about the way the people we are trying to influence view it. If they are confused, put-off, or otherwise simply not convinced, we aren’t doing our job as activists.” I actually do not think it is about a PR battle so I don’t agree with this. I do not think helping animals is a PR war. There are too many people to change to even make a dent. We need the society to understand our perspective but we need more to impact those who fund and profit off of animal exploitation. Our movement will never win if we continue to think it is only about changing hearts and minds. I did read Cooney’s book. (Look at the cover, there is a quote from me on it ;) I think it is great research as my quote suggests, but I actually disagree with many of his conclusions and the promotion of welfarism as a step in the right direction. But that is a little off the topic of this blog post ;)

        I do agree with what you have said in the post. My comment is to say that we should really unpack all the nuances of this. Nakedness isn’t always bad, and these women are not suffering a false consciousness, so I would like to tink about the difference between differnt naked campaigns-why and hos some are so sexist and others are not. I want to know why so many choose it, what they think it is accomplishing, etc. I feel a study coming on…who has funding? ;)

  8. You make some excellent points here, Kara. You and I have had this discussion before and at the risk of offending some feminists out there I am going to go on record as saying that I enjoy looking at images of attractive women, clothed and unclothed. I am a healthy heterosexual male and make no apologies for being one. HOWEVER the arguments you make are spot on, especially this: “What I am saying is that we shouldn’t attend demos dressed in a particular way in order to get that kind of attention.” I think it does detract from the crucial message, PETA doesn’t need to get attention this way and it is just plain idiotic.

    • “PETA doesn’t need to get attention this way and it is just plain idiotic.” — Yes!

      We have so many facts on our side, there is absolutely no reason to feel the need to resort to parading around naked in cheap sexist spectacles, making our movement look like a poorly-run three-ring circus when we can better spend our time educating others about real issues and real solutions.

  9. Thanks for this post – It echoes what most of us are thinking regarding the objectification of females (in or out of the “livestock” industry)…

    For 5 years now I’ve participated in the local Ringling Circus protests. My group gets the material from peta – I cringe handing them out as most people just read “peta” and then ignore the message. In this instance of creating a respectable image they are doing much more harm than good. I just wish someone could talk some sense into those who make these bad decisions. :(

    • I would suggest creating our own material if possible instead of relying on the big welfare organizations. I realize that this can be expensive for some but a good white and white flyer with the right information doesn’t have to be pricy.

    • I have noticed the same thing! When doing outreach many times before I can begin talking to people about why they should go vegan and the many issues concerning animals, I have to first do damage control for peta. Plus, they automatically assume we’re with peta (even though we don’t pass around things with “peta” on them for this specific reason) and will walk over and tell us how they dislike peta etc. I’m working on an upcoming large animal rights demo and all of us were unanimous that we did not want peta involved in any way because of these reasons. I’ve also spoken with several peta interns and voiced these concerns and they all respond that they hear that a lot but say to focus on the good peta does over the bad. Yes, peta does some good, but the vast majority of their campaigns are counterproductive and in bad taste.

  10. HI! This point may have been made but I think the main reason for these antics is simple “Get Your Attention.” To what can be debated but sadly we live in a place where “sex sales.” I do wonder why is it you do not see many men? I have seen a few ads with men but mostly what is noted are the women.

    • While there are men who participate in these types of protests, the vast majority are female. It could be caused by a variety of things combined that fall under the umbrella of our patriarchal society brainwashing us from an early age to view women’s bodies as more aesthetically appealing (why is there so much less full-frontal male nude scenes in movies compared with fully nude female scenes? Possibly because that is an industry predominately ruled by men), as well as to objectify and commodify them. These reasons could also explain why women are more likely to agree to participate in these campaigns, though one could also reason that because women outnumber men 3:1 in the vegan community that perhaps this is the reason for the imbalance (but let’s not forget that peta advocates ovo-lacto vegetarianism as well, and ovo-lacto vegetarians are about equal in their male to female ratio). Also, I don’t mean to make this about Peta specifically, though they play a major role. This is about all protests that objectify women, no matter who is running them. Regardless of all of this, objectifying one group in hopes of ending the objectification of another group will never work.

      You might find this article interesting: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=our-brains-see-men-as-whole-women-as-parts

      I understand that these displays are often purely for shock value (which has become synonymous with peta). The thing is, what we are fighting to end is shocking enough. Personally, I find movies like Earthlings, Farm to Fridge, Meet Your Meat and Glass Walls to be far more shocking than naked people shouting on the side of the street. Not only is using the injustices we are trying to end more shocking, but it is also more relevant to our message and more in line with what our movement is supposed to be about: ending the oppression and exploitation of all animals (human and non-human alike).

  11. Yes I have written to PETA before about how I felt about them sexing up their campaign, really it becomes not about the animals and about humans taking the focus of what we are trying to say. If they are trying to attract shallow people who think lettuce bikinis and being size zero is what veganism is about, they will undoubtedly be the people who will do it for a fashion and have no staying power. I think womens rights have gone backwards and now subjugation has become more fashionable than ever. Our sexuality should be a part of us, a very strong part of us, but not something you wear on your sleeve, thats not healthy and demeaning women to save animals is not a good idea, it should be about respect across the board for all sentient beings.

  12. Peta uses men sexually the same way they use women. They have many ads with men naked to promote veganism. Personally, I don’t think it’s a huge problem. Sexuality is a really complicated issue; we say that when women are dressed provocatively is exploitation, but if it wasn’t allowed than it would be sever sexism and suppression. The problem is how society receives it. A woman using her sexuality and body is not a problem, but when others decide that because she is dressed that way it’s okay to use her, then it is a problem. I don’t think this is an issue of sexism since there are ads with men also, it’s an issue of the use of sexuality. My only problem is that only certain body types of men and women are used for these ads, I think it shouldn’t limit it to super muscular men and thin women with huge boobs. It should have all healthy body types, because we want to promote healthy living. People need to be more comfortable with sexuality and nudity, we all really need to stop being so ashamed.

    • I am not offended by nudity or sexuality in the slightest. I think nudity is beautiful, I just don’t believe animal rights activism is the place for it. Yes, the women in these campaigns objectify themselves and do so of their own free will, but we cannot forget that our entire society has been brainwashed from birth to believe that a patriarchal society is normal and good — a society that teaches and encourages women from an early age to objectify themselves. We do not live in a vacuum where sexism isn’t a reality. When one woman objectifies herself she objectifies all women.

      Men objectifying themselves in a patriarchal culture is different. Those two forms of self-objectification are not one in the same because of the patriarchal society we live in. The overwhelming majority of people in these campaigns are women.

      Another concern: haven’t you ever wondered why they feature men in “Ink Not Mink” campaigns and photo shoots where they are made to look big and strong, while women are portrayed as weak an abused, chained and maimed? It is far rarer to see that type of campaign done with males as the ones who are abused and bloody.

      The bottom line is that if people are using nudity as a means of self-expression, they need to reevaluate why they are protesting. Are they doing it for their own selfish desire for self-expression or are they doing it for the animals? Activism should be more about helping end an injustice than simple self-expression.

  13. To me, the ends justify the means. If someone wants to become vegan because they want to have better erections, then great. I mean, it’s not the best reason, but animals are still being saved. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with sharing that veganism has good affects on your sex life, that’s a great thing to know. Everyone becomes vegan for different reasons; some people become vegan just for health reasons (and not animals)! So why not have people become vegan for a healthy sex life?

    • People adopt a plant based diet for health reasons, people go vegan for animals. There are ethical considerations vegans make outside of the scope of diet, like vivisection, fur, leather, animals used in entertainment (circus, rodeos, racing, zoos, aquariums) etc. People wouldn’t boycott those things for health reasons. They boycott those things for ethical reasons. Veganism is more than simply a diet. It is a philosophy. The lifestyle is simply that philosophy put into action.

      That being said, I’m still going to be happy that a person adopts a vegan diet even if they don’t adopt the entire lifestyle and philosophy because like you say, animals are still being saved. But like Susan says in an above comment, these people will likely “have no staying power”. I even write about this issue in a post of mine called The 1 Reason Your Vegan Diet Will Fail Every Time.

      Now about people going vegan to improve their sex lives, sure whatever floats their boat. I’m not thrilled about people adopting a vegan diet for that reason (because I believe that veganism is based on selflessness rather than selfishness), but it could open them up to the vegan philosophy down the line. The thing is, we can educate people about that without being naked or objectifying ourselves. We’re selling our movement short and not giving people enough credit for what they are capable of.

      The end cannot justify the means because the end we seek will not happen if the means we are currently using continues to be employed. Racism=speciesism=sexism. All forms of inequality are linked. Inequality for one is inequality for all. We cannot expect to end the exploitation of animals while perpetuating the exploitation of women. We need to stop giving society permission to view any living, feeling creature as a commodity or object, whether they are human or non-human.

  14. Hi! I didn’t know there was another Shannon:-)
    Just a quick note enjoying the discussion. I did come across something but it would be getting off topic. I will try to find a more appropriate blog link. Have a great one all.

  15. have very much enjoyed your blog except for this post. Who do you think you are to define what is respecting women when it comes to their own choices?! Many women feel empowered by nudity and their feminine form- they are not victims. They are not saddled with daddy complexes and psychologically unstable either. True feminism and respect of women is respecting the choices they make for themselves- including exposing themselves, especially for cause, if they see fit. YOU are the one disrespecting women here!!

    • Disagreements are common amongst people in any group, animal rights and feminism are no exception. The key is learning to treat each other with respect despite these disagreements.

      You are more than welcome to disagree with me. It is impossible to write anything that everyone will agree with 100% of the time. In fact, my goal in writing these posts isn’t to write to people who agree with me, but mainly to people who disagree with me, so that we might learn from one another, see things from different angles and be open to change. This is how progress is made.

      I strongly urge you to read my comments on this post. I’m sure you will find that I have no problem with nudity, self-expression or freedom of choice. You will also find that I do not feel that women in these campaigns have “daddy issues” or are “victims”. The point of my article and my comments on this thread are to point out that while nudity is most certainly a beautiful thing, animal rights activism is not the place for it because it clouds the message and takes people’s focus away from the real issues and onto spectacle.

      I also point out in this post and my comments the difference between women objectifying themselves in these campaigns and men, how animal rights groups use women differently than men in these campaigns and why using objectification to end objectification is illogical. After all, although we may see a naked woman and think that she is strong, liberated and confident, the unfortunate reality of the patriarchal society we live in is that most of the rest of society doesn’t agree with this view.

      Furthermore, if we are to be effective animal rights activists, we must be cognizant of the way we are perceived by society, because if they view us in a negative light they will be less likely to be won over to our side. So, regardless of whether you believe nudity is the answer to ending sexism, trying to fight for two causes (in this case, animal rights and feminism) only complicates the issue, leaving onlookers puzzled and confused. The feminism aspect ends up completely lost in translation.

      So, again, please read all of my comments in this thread and if you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t be shy to communicate them, but please try to do it in a respectful manner. Remember, we are all on the same side here.

      • “I strongly urge you to read my comments on this post. I’m sure you will find that I have no problem with nudity, self-expression or freedom of choice”

        An other exemple of liberal feminism.I belive the problem is we women are educated to see ourselves as sexual commodities,to think that younth and beauty are a kind of power and self-objectification is positive.I belive you girls should have contact with women from other cultures.Now i see why muslim feminists hate western feminism,we insist in this idea that to dress like sluts are freedom and power while men never dress in such way.Then we complain that men see us like sexual objects but we dress and act like one,what we expect? very contraditory.

    • Ava,what you are discribing is liberal feminism.According to this ideology everything is choice and within this “choice speech” they make women responsable for their onw exploitation.This “choice speech” is frequentely used for defending prostitution and other kinds of women sexual exploitation isntead of questioning the men who created theses exploitations and the demand for that.It also ignores the conbsequences it makes for all women in asociety.So,be carefull in realation on what you call “choice”.Self-objectification is never empowering,it´s sad you belive on it,i hope one day you can open your eyes.

  16. I have mixed feelings about Peta for this exact reason. They have respect for animals, but not for women. Peta made a particularly disturbing video where a girl was bruised, battered and wearing a neck brace because her boyfriend’s newfound veganism had caused him to get rough with her sexually because he was allegedly so much stronger and more virile. It was really sick. I’m not sure if they were trying to appeal to abusive men or masochistic women, but it was a terrible message. Most women people don’t want the sh*t beat out of them in bed, you know?

    While I suppose I would rather go naked than wear fur, I would rather wear cotton, hemp, bamboo, soy, flax, rayon or tencel than go naked. There’s no lack of non-fur clothing available. Why resort to nudity or lettuce bikinis?

  17. Pingback: Even A Little Sexism is Never Okay | Vegan Rabbit

  18. You write: “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.”

    Right on!

  19. I’d imagine that the photos of nude women only take away from PETA’s message. When men see those images they think “SEX!” and not “poor animals!” Images of animal cruelty work way better. I’ve also seen the image of nude women used in animal rights images only make men angry at women. The things they say that they want to do to women while at the same time eating meat is especially disturbing.

  20. I saw your posts on James McWIlliams’s “A little sexism is okay” post. We launched VeganFeministNetwork.com this week and would love to have you as a contributor if you’re interested.

    • Thank you! Just visited your site — looks nice! I’d love to contribute. I think the site is a great idea. I do have a few questions but I will ask them in an e-mail to you. Nice to meet you and talk to you soon. :)

  21. I love this post so much it hurts. I’m nowhere nice as Kara about PETA, though, in my mind, PETA does 15% good and the rest is for dim-witted slores. PETA needs to cease and desist all sexist ads as it renders irrelevant every single good deed it does via its backwards misogyny. The vegan movement’s success has happened in spite of PETA’s influence rather than because of it.

    http://veganhedonists.com/blogs/peta-slutty-not-very-bright-cousin-veganism

  22. I no longer support PETA or their cause because of their presentation of women. They have had the exact *opposite* effect on me with their campaign.

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