The Naked Truth

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I’m so sick of PETA. As a long-time vegetarian and animal lover, I think it’s great that there are organizations that are working for the ethical treatment of animals, particularly the kinds of inhumane practices that go into the mass production of meats like beef and chicken. But while fighting for the ethical treatment of animals, PETA seems too often to forget about the ethical treatment of people. While I disagree with the intimidation and scare tactics used by PETA to garner attention and get their message across–tactics like throwing red paint or pies on the fur coats of famous women in public and similar public spectacles, which I believe are counterproductive and give a radical, extremist, and thus marginalized face to animal rights, what I want to talk about  is PETA’s longstanding series of ad campaigns which portray naked women with some variation of the words “Fur? I’d rather go naked”.

It bothers me that PETA considers it a good idea, an appropriate strategy to objectify women in order to try to call attention to their cause. Of course, it’s not as if the women featured in the ads (Eva Mendes, Pamela Anderson, Christy Turlington, Alicia Silverstone and Khloe Kardashian, above, to name just a few) were forced to be in them. But in my mind these ads just cheapen PETA’s message and reflect poorly on the organization. Of course, any activist cause wants to call attention to their message. But to me, it seems that if the only way to do that is to resort to hiding behind something as simplistic and cheap as naked female flesh, then your message must not be all that strong or clear. How about instead drawing attention to the many vegan clothing options that are now available? Or to any number of strong and persuasive arguments against meat and fur?

I just hate it when, in pursuit of their own cause, people totally lose touch with the contradictions inherent in their actions–an extreme example is pro-life protesters bombing abortion clinics, killing or injuring those inside. Of course, PETA’s behavior does not even begin to approach the magnitude of this example. It’s in a totally different category. It doesn’t physically hurt anyone, at least not directly. It does, however, participate in and breed a culture of misogyny and female objectification which seems to run at cross purposes with any movement working toward the ethical treatment of anything. To look at these ads, it appears that only young, nubile, skinny, buxom women are compelled to throw off their furs in favor of their birthday suits. Larger women: it appears PETA would prefer that you keep your fur and use it to stay clothed. 

If PETA really wanted to enact some change, there are plenty of effective, fact-based media campaigns they could be launching. If they focused on using all that ad money to get out the facts, I am quite sure they could have a real impact, one that would actually bring broader awareness and cultural shifts in attitude. And factually based advertising doesn’t have to mean dry and preachy. But I honestly find it difficult to believe that anyone, male or female, looks at those ads and, in a conversionary moment, casts off their mink stole. If PETA is so committed to ethical treatment, they should consider the contribution these ads make to the barrage of hyper-sexualized, objectified images of women that face girls and women each day. Participating in a culture which breeds female objectification by men and women alike, a culture that causes girls and women to starve themselves, sometimes to death, trying to look like the ideals they are presented with, a culture in which girls even before puberty are already behaving and dressing in ways that represent their already-instilled belief that their greatest worth is in their appearances and sexuality, it is ethically irresponsible to be actively participating in generating these kinds of messages. PETA should consider whether the values they are perpetuating are contradictory to the very mission of their organization and whether it is constructive or necessary to resort to these kinds of lows in order for their voice to be heard at the table. I, for one, believe that it’s not.

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About Katie Heimer

I'm a graduate student of media studies at the New School. My main academic interests in the field center around issues of women in the media (both in terms of representations of and access to) and the overlapping issues of media reform and education. This website will serve as a chronicle of my progress and growth, both intellectually and personally, as I navigate my master's of media studies.
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3 Responses to The Naked Truth

  1. ubuntucat says:

    Unfortunately, a lot of passionate folks with single causes don’t often see intersectionality.

  2. Katie Heimer says:

    You’re so right, and “intersectionality” is the perfect word for what I was trying to articulate.

  3. I also hate PETA, mainly because of this ad campaign: http://www.peta.org/mc/NewsItem.asp?id=3021. Dishonoring six million murdered people of my faith by comparing them to animals in a factory farm? Not convincing me to give up meat.

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