Saturday, September 6, 2008

Talking to real PETA people

I was in St. Paul during the Republican National Convention, and I got to meet numerous protestors of all different causes. When I happened upon a group of PETA protestors, I stopped and decided to talk to them. I introduced myself as a feminist and asked one of the ladies handing out flyers what she thought about the (what I consider to be horribly) sexist use of the female body in many of PETA's protests (I did not even get into their racist advertising ideas).

She explained to me that she actually participated in many naked protests herself, and that she considered herself to be a feminist. She did admit that the reason behind PETA's shocking ads and protests was to get attention, but she felt that it was empowering, not objectifying, to take her clothes off and speak up for animals that do not have a voice when it comes to how they are treated. She also said that a lot of people who disagree with PETA's tactics are getting a biased opinion of the organization due to unfair coverage by the media. She explained that there are often just as many men participating in protests as women, but the women are typically the ones who end up in the media coverage.

I could not argue with that, as I did not have any facts to go on, so I thanked her for her time and went about my day. But the discussion left me with some questions.

First of all, has anyone ever seen an advertisement (not protest pictures) like the one below featuring men? Every one I have ever seen has featured a naked woman. I know that sex sells, but why is it always the female form that is used to sell items, whether they are being sold to men or to women? Because it makes sense to have a body that is easily objectified (made less than human) to sell an idea/product that is not human. And women in this country are still not equal, so they are most easily turned into objects for selling things.

Second of all, this lady told me that men and women typically participate in similar numbers in the naked protests that have really gotten under a lot of people's skin. I have to assume that she can only speak for the protests that she has participated in, but still. Does that justify the use of the tactic, pictured above? Is it less bad to animalize women if they are also animalizing men? I don't know about that. If men and women were equal to begin with maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal. But that is not the case. And notice who most of the pictures are of: women. So who is really being hurt the most by those kinds of protests?

Third of all, what can we do about a problem like this sort of sexism that women are actively participating in and even find empowering because it is for a cause that they believe in? How effective of an activist can one be if they are participating in a system that is exploiting them?

I was trying to get some input from the otherside of this debate, but really, the discussion I had with this protestor only left me with more questions than answers.


Lindsay said...

It's really interesting that she feels empowered by her PETA protests... I view it in a Girls Gone Wild way, in which I think it's derogatory and not helpful and the person themselves finds it empowering.

However, all of the women in PETA advertisements are thin - would we be having a completely different conversation if they had a whole range of different sized women posing?

karmalily said...

I'm vegan, and I'm an animal rights activist, but PETA's use of women like what this post details is the only reason I don't support the organization. It's not the nudity part that bothers me (hell, being naked is being closer to nature); what bothers me is PETA's lack of diversity and serious problem coming up with new ideas. Seriously, there are other ways of getting attention.

Amelia said...

I totally agree with you, karmalily. There are other ways of getting attention. But why would PETA change when so many of their activists feel empowered by the stunts they are pulling now? It seems tricky...

And I do agree: Diversity is a big issue with them. I wonder if they notice/care?

Anonymous said...

Stupid PETA displayed the US flag backwards. The field of stars is always supposed to be on the left.
Oh yeah, and exploiting the naked ladies is demeaning.