Actress Alicia Silverstone has been photographed naked for a new PETA campaign displayed in Times Square in New York. The campaign by PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – is to promote vegan alternatives to leather.
This is far from the first time PETA has used women’s bodies and sexuality to publicise its message. From ads perpetuating pornified portrayals of women, sexist stereotypes and sexualising violence, cruelty and torture of women, PETA has a long history of sexually objectifying and exploiting women in the name of animal rights.
PETA’s marketing approach is to generate controversy and attract attention for their cause by whatever means necessary – including eroticising dead women (scroll down), using images of black men being lynched, and dressing up as members of the Ku Klux Klan. Co-founder Ingrid Newkirk described the organisation as “press sluts”. PETA argue that given the importance of their mission, the ends justify the means. And if this is at the expense of women’s humanity, then that’s the price to be paid.
But can objectification – reducing women to the status of object to be sexually used – ever be justified?
Promoting animal liberation by dehumanising women
PETA relies on sexualised, pornified portrayals of women, reinforcing the notion that women’s value comes from their physical attractiveness and how f*ckable they are.PETA’s advertising not only promotes limited, porn-inspired beauty standards for women, it demeans and mocks those who do not live up to them.
PETA frequently engages in body-shaming, comparing fat women to whales, and shaming women who do not remove their “unattractive” natural body hair.The organisation objectifies women, reducing them to a series of parts and treating them as meat.
PETA promotes porn culture + violence against women
PETA uses sexualised images of famous porn performers, Playboy ‘bunnies’ and Penthouse ‘pets’ in its campaigns.
A decade ago, the organisation even launched its own porn site – peta.xxx – which featured nude images of celebrities juxtaposed with scenes of animal abuse intended to shock viewers.
Their ‘Veggie Love’ campaign included degrading video and images of women simulating sex acts with vegetables.
One demonstration featured live pornography, with two naked young women soaping each other up on a public street for an audience of men.
An anti-dairy billboard referenced the sexual act of ejaculating on a woman’s face, depicting a woman with white liquid sprayed all over her face and the words “Don’t swallow.”
One of the organisation’s main tactics is to promote vegetarianism and veganism as sexy - that becoming vegetarian or vegan will make you more sexually attractive and improve your sexual performance. Essentially, PETA’s message is going vegan will get you laid.
What does improved sexual performance look like? According to PETA, it is sex so violent it leaves women with physical injuries. One ad shows a woman, ‘Jessica’, in a neck brace: “This is Jessica. She suffers from BWVAKTBOOM – Boyfriend Went Vegan and Kicked the Bottom Out of Me.” Despite having being battered and unable to walk properly, Jessica brings her boyfriend more vegetables, signifying that women desire ‘sex’ that leave them wounded.
Countless PETA ads and live demonstrations reduce women to sexualised, dismembered body parts, shown hanging up, in pain, covered in blood or dead.One anti-fur ad depicts a woman being beaten to death with a baseball bat. Another portrays a woman as a trapped dog dying in a hot car. PETA sexualises dead women – because even female corpses can be made erotic.
PETA’s treatment of men and women in their ad campaigns is at stark contrast. While some men are sexualised or photographed nude (though many others are fully clothed), it appears sexually violent treatment is reserved for women. Men featured in PETA ads are not typically portrayed as dismembered, covered in blood, in pain and dead. They are also not shamed for their natural body hair, nor are they portrayed as desiring and inviting sexual violence and violation.
Some might argue that PETA’s tactics – objectifying women and portraying violence and abuse against them as sexy in order to shock viewers into paying attention – are justifiable as they are “for a good cause”. That ending animal cruelty is so urgent that the ends justify the means. Or that in portraying violence and abuse of women, PETA is highlighting the inhumane treatment of animals.
While PETA’s porn-themed and sexually violent ads might generate attention and controversy, there’s no evidence that this reduces animal abuse. On the other hand, there are decades of empirical evidence documenting the various harms to women and girls from the objectification PETA trades in, from greater body dissatisfaction, greater tolerance for sexist beliefs and sexual violence, and a “diminished view of women’s competence, morality and humanity”.
In short, sexually violent and woman-hating advertising like PETA’s has real-world harms for women and girls.
In a piece about PETA, sociologist and founder of Vegan Feminist Network Dr Corey Wrenn writes,
Using images of violence against women should never be an acceptable form of advocacy in a world where violence against women is real, lived, and on-going. Most women will experience violence at the hands of men at least once in their lives, and all women suffer the constant threat of it. The statistics for harassment, stalking, assault, rape, and homicide are staggering. Given this reality, these approaches are nothing short of unethical and irresponsible.
PETA’s strategy of using women’s bodies and sexuality as marketing is nothing new. But they don’t get a pass for reducing women to masturbation fodder for men. We hope PETA’s fight for the ethical treatment of animals can be extended to women, too.
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