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PETA: blurg.

April 20, 2009

Ok, so at this point, I’m not really expecting too much of PETA, they seem to find trivializing any oppression to be the best way to spread their cause. But, in researching their advertising tactics, I can’t help getting angry. Sexism and objectification of women seems to be their go-to ad strategy.

You may have heard the hype about their banned TV ad which CNN has recently put up a new video about. (Please enjoy the hilarity of which-vegetables-they decided to blur out.)

It turns out this ad is part of a longer campaign suggesting that tools who objectify women can be vegetarians too! Ok, technically, it’s advertising that eating meat can cause male impotence, but the campaign behind it is entirely about supporting a heteronormative society, where women who dress sexy are “asking for it”, and men should always be on the prowl for a woman to “bed”. Take this ad and some quotes from their blog:

Leaving a beautiful girl in a red-white-and-blue bikini standing there holding a limp sausage? Well, that’s just un-American!

It takes a “stiff” competitor to bed a babe. There’s nothing sadder than when a guy realizes he just can’t keep up with the “Johnsons” anymore.

Everyone knows that ladies love extra-firm soy and extra-firm boys. Here’s proof that tofu is so freakin’ cool that bikini-clad beauties will wrestle over it in a kiddy pool.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that part of their campaign was having women wrestle in a pool full of tofu on the street? blurg.

Now, I’m glad they didn’t pull the “we’re providing commentary on the objectification of women in the media” … by objectifying them… line, because that’s annoying. Instead, the defense of this ad is: “there is nothing wrong with sex, there is nothing wrong with being sexy” and “why are we disrespecting women by showing that they’re beautiful?” Seriously? I rarely find myself agreeing with the old white guy with a southern accent on stupid news network “debates”, but I can’t believe this argument flies anymore.

What they are calling “being sexy” means fitting into a very narrow range of expressing sexuality. Yes, nakedly rubbing vegetables suggestively on your body for male attention can be sexy to some women, but certainly not me. I don’t think its problematic at all that women are expressing themselves sexually publicly, in fact I think that’s great, the problem is that the media portrays only on very narrow description of female sexuality. Ariel Levy makes the argument best in Female Chauvinist Pigs:

We are not free in the sexual arena. We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty, busty exhibitionist.

Similarly, in terms of “showing beautiful women”, I don’t think it’s wrong to show the female form, and these women are, of course, beautiful. But we are repeatedly shown only one picture of beauty, only one body type, skin tone, muscularity, height, and make-up. It’s beautiful – but only one narrow portion of what beauty looks like. In repeated media imagery, we lose the true range of beautiful women: all heights, races, weights, body types, and dress.

But I think my biggest problem is that this all takes place under the male gaze. Our viewing is not neutral and appreciative the way the non-sexualized breast gallery is. Rather, the viewers’ gaze is dominating, objectifying, judging. There is an asymmetry of power in how we view these women, which denies them agency in their own sexual experience. The entire scene is for the pleasure of the heterosexual male, and all the actors merely objects for his amusement.

I wish the PETA advertisers would have read Levy’s book, to understand what female sexual empowerment really means:

There are other choices. If we are really going to be sexually liberated, we need to make room for a range of options as wide as the variety of human desire. We need to allow ourselves the freedom to figure out what we internally want from sex instead of mimicking whatever popular culture holds up to us as sexy. That would be sexual liberation.

Oh and if PETA could get any more out of touch, they just gave Miley Cyrus a Compassionate Citizen Award. blurg.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Nikoleta permalink
    April 20, 2009 10:26 AM

    “But I think my biggest problem is that this all takes place under the male gaze. Our viewing is not neutral and appreciative the way the non-sexualized breast gallery is. Rather, the viewers’ gaze is dominating, objectifying, judging. There is an asymmetry of power in how we view these women, which denies them agency in their own sexual experience. The entire scene is for the pleasure of the heterosexual male, and all the actors merely objects for his amusement.”

    Well said. I think you are exactly right. It is the enjoyment that determines whose sexuality they are celebrating.

  2. April 20, 2009 1:56 PM

    “where women who dress sexy are “asking for it”, and men should always be on the prowl for a woman to “bed””

    If you would point out where this woman is “asking for it” I would be most appreciative. There are certainly problems within this campaign, but I don’t think you do well to point out ones that don’t exist.

    • Becky permalink
      April 20, 2009 9:03 PM

      Hi El: I apologize because I did end up having to change the ad I posted based on technical issues. The original ad read: “I hosted a party but the meat eaters couldn’t come” (The picture is #2 here)

      But I think the first quote I have describing that ad which states: “Leaving a beautiful girl in a red-white-and-blue bikini standing there holding a limp sausage? Well, that’s just un-American!” is clear, among other negative messages, that if a woman is showing her body like this it means she wants to have sex, and you (the heterosexual male) deserve to have it with her.

      But thanks for your comment! I think it is important to parse out what exactly the messages we are receiving from these sorts of ads.

  3. Greencat permalink
    April 20, 2009 7:25 PM

    That lady looks sexy, strong, and ready for a little something consenting.

    And it’s refreshing to see PETA using a positive message (not only are vegetarians healthy, they’re also hot) instead of graphic images of the slaughterhouse.

    • Becky permalink
      April 20, 2009 9:01 PM

      Greencat – I am glad that you feel empowered by this image of female sexuality. But I do not feel empowered by an image of woman holding a banana asking men to get it up. I think female sexual empowerment has been reduced to one form of sexuality – “lusty, busty exhibitionist” as Levy describes it, which does not leave room for other expressions of sexuality, gender, or sexual orientation. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for you to feel empowered by this image – but you should recognize that many women aren’t. I am honestly sick and tired of seeing the same sexuality displayed over and over again in the media, in which I feel entirely left out and dis-empowered. (I would encourage you to look at Female Chauvinist Pigs – Levy explains this a lot more eloquently than I do)

      For me, the fact that it’s coming from PETA is particularly discouraging, for as people fighting for social change which I agree with, I wish they were more sensitive to the concerns of other communities.

  4. Christina permalink
    April 22, 2009 9:19 AM

    Hey Becky,

    Nice post! Bashing PETA is a favorite pastime of mine. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia – it makes my blood boil.

    What bothers me most about PETA is the complete failure to see the connection between speciesism and sexism. The point (I’m assuming) of the animal rights movement is to get people to see animals as more than just objects for human consumption, and as sentient beings who deserve some respect. Kind of like how feminism asks for women to be seeing as more than just objects for men’s gratification, and as sentient beings who deserve some respect… Objectifying one group to liberate another seems counterproductive, since it seems like we need to break down the culture of objectification altogether to make any real progress. It reminds me of that quote that goes something like, “no one is free when one person is oppressed.”

    That was poorly worded and over-simplified, but if you’re interested in reading more about the link between sexism and speciesism, I recommend skimming Carol Adams’s “The Sexual Politics of Meat.”

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