Dear Ms. Newkirk,

October 18th, 2008 12:30 pm by Kelly Garbato

A “real” feminist wouldn’t employ such a silly argument in defense of PETA’s campaigns, whether sexist or not:

MJ: One question I did have. I really do appreciate the work PETA has done but it has gotten a lot of criticism for using women in some of its ads. A lot of times in bikinis, or scantily clad, I think there was a striptease campaign that came online recently. What do you say to people who criticize PETA and say that it’s not women-friendly, that it denigrates women?

IN: Well, it’s rubbish because the organization is run by a woman, who is me. I marched in the earliest of rallies, I am an adamant feminist, but I’m not a prude and I think you can go to the beach and see people who are in less than you can in a PETA ad.

Let me guess: you also have a Black Friend ™, such that none of PETA’s campaigns could possibly be racist, either?

Seriously, this is such a ridiculous argument that I need only two words to refute it: Ann Coulter. Women are not immune from misogyny, you see. Sometimes, they’re even more vicious in their hatred of other women than are their male peers; because of the common (mis)perception that “women cannot be sexist,” women are oftentimes granted license to act in an even more misogynistic manner than their male counterparts. It’s not often that you hear a man argue that women’s suffrage was a mistake – yet Ann Coulter has posited as much, and she still manages to get speaking gigs.

You go on to say:

Our people are all volunteers, no one has asked a woman to take off her clothes. I’ve done it myself, we’ve all marched naked if we want to, and I think that it’s very restrictive and in fact wrong. I would expect someone in, say, Iran to tell us that we should cover up, but I don’t expect women or men in this country to criticize women who wish to use their bodies in a form of political statement, to tell them, you need to cover yourself up. There’s this idea of ‘naughty bits’ and I just think it’s funny more than anything else. It’s not sexist, it may be sexual, but no. No woman has ever been paid to strip. She has decided to use her body as a political instrument. That’s her prerogative and I think it is anti-feminist to dare to tell her that she needs to put her clothes back on.

Certainly, I agree that it’s “anti-feminist to dare to tell [a woman] that she needs to put her clothes back on”; however, there’s a difference between allowing your supporters to use their naked bodies as “political instrument[s]” and taking advantage of your [female] supporters’ willingness to get naked for the animals by playing into cultural stereotypes regarding gender roles, beauty, sex, class, race, etc. As I noted in my defense of your “Breast is Best” campaign, PETA does have a despicable habit of pornifying women in their photo/print campaigns while simultaneously portraying men as full human beings, complete with agency and personalities.

In PETA’s world, women are more likely to pose in the nude than men; and, if you were to objectively compare the PETA print campaigns which feature nude men and women, you’d see that the portrayals are drastically different. Strip away PETA’s logo and slogans, and the women’s photos look like they were pulled straight out of a recent edition of Playboy. Young, white, thin, feminine, (conventionally) attractive women are displayed on all fours, backs arched, gazes vacant, faces and torsos turned away from the camera, submissive in posture, ready for a good fuckin’. In contrast, the men’s shots are fun, funny, inspiring, humorous, and full of personality.

Yes, you can be sexual without being sexist; just look at these campaigns featuring naked men as proof:

PETA (Steve O 1)

PETA India (John Abraham)

PETA (Dennis Rodman 1)

Though I don’t particularly want to see his naked ass, Steve O’s ad makes me smile: he’s having fun with his body. Likewise, John Abraham is using his body as an instrument for good, liberating caged birds from their prisons. Dennis Rodman strikes a Classical Thinker’s Pose to illustrate PETA’s “Think Ink, Not Mink” slogan.

And we have the women:

PETA - PETA2 (Miriana & Morrigan Suicide)

Let’s see: romanticizing lesbianism for the male gaze? Check.

PETA - PETA2 (Nena Suicide)

Posing women doggy-style? Check.

PETA - PETA2 (Bettina Suicide)

Women as retro pinup girls? Check.

And that’s only the Suicide Girls series, which is supposedly “subversive” because the women are Goth and have tats. Right.

Ingrid, I have no desire to see women (or men) shamed into hiding their bodies, whether it’s by Muslims in Iran or Christians in America. It’s true, I’m not particularly crazy that we as a society use sex to “sell” everything from cologne to cars to social justice. However, that’s at least partially my own hang-up; I don’t want to force other women to comply with my idea of what an activist “should” be. If women (and men) want to use their bodies as instruments to achieve a goal, who am I to object?

And yet, it behooves PETA to work with these women in a way that doesn’t degrade them or womankind as a whole. This means portraying them in an empowering, non-sexist manner, by treating them as full human beings and not objects to be ogled. This means actively recruiting more men to strip down to their skivvies in order to level the playing field. This means rejecting cultural stereotypes which hold that “a biological fact [is] that people are drawn to breasts and whathaveyou.” This means gender parity in your nude (and not-nude) campaigns. This means featuring people of color, size, disability, age and differing sexualities in your campaigns, nude or otherwise, and reaching out to these populations in other ways as well. This means listening to and engaging with veg*n feminists, whether they’re critical or supportive of your campaigns. Above all, this means admitting when you’ve made a mistake, and making it right.

Granted, I doubt this will silence all of your critics; speciesists, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo vis-à-vis humans’ relationship to non-human animals – they are offended by our very existence. But I don’t expect you to care about making your critics happy; rather, I want you to care about and work against oppression in all its forms. If not actively, then at least by refusing to engage in it yourselves.

After all, many animal advocates are women; by degrading women through sexist campaigns, you are chipping away at your own supporters’ ability to effect change. Ultimately, your “ism”s* harm human and non-human animals alike.

Ambivalent regards,

A veg*n feminist

* This holds true not just of sexism, but also racism, sizeism, ageism, homophobia, transgender phobia, classism, etc. I speak primarily of sexism, not because I think it’s the only “ism” of importance; but, as a white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgendered female, it’s the form of oppression I feel most comfortable addressing. Aside from speciesism, of course.

(Crossposted from.)

——————–

Tagged:

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Responses to “Dear Ms. Newkirk,”

  1. Alex Says:

    I tend to agree with what’s being suggested here: PETA decries the “thing-ing” or assumption of property-status of nonhuman animals, while, in effect, given the context of asymmetric power relations – the gender structure – in our society, where women are assumed to be of-less value than men (their sexualization, e.g.), exploiting women as such seems to violate PETA’s very premises. It seems like Ms. Newkirk A) challenges speciesism, which is explicitly anti-oppression, while B) accepting the assumption that women “enjoy being sexual things,” which belies the former challenge to oppressive relationships.

  2. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur Says:

    […] I’m rather ambivalent when it comes to PETA’s nude “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur,” […]

  3. Smite Me! [.net] » Blog Archive » ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur Says:

    […] I’m rather ambivalent when it comes to PETA’s nude “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur,” […]

  4. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Lettuce be thankful! Says:

    […] of Mates of State is one example. I actually like this ad, because I don’t think it’s pornifying to either of the two models. There’s also equal-opportunity nudity – a standard I think PETA […]

  5. Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement (A Review – of the Book, Not the Movement) » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] objectification of women’s bodies to sell anything and everything under the sun (including other social justice causes) – there’s no shortage of fuel (renewable, natch) within these here pages to ignite the […]

  6. Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 2 » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] from PETA’s various nude ads; most involve women. There’s good naked and there’s bad naked…and there there’s perpetually resembling an American Apparel […]

  7. “PETA is about as feminist as it gets.” » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] fully present, leering, sneering and degrading. Almost all of PETA’s naked women ads are suggestive of mainstream pornography, what with their emphasis on thin, white, conventionally attractive models, bent and contorted into […]

  8. Revenge of the Furred » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] not “sexed up” or objectified. Nothing sexual is implied in any of his poses. (For example, his ass isn’t thrust into the air; he’s not shown crawling on all fours; his face […]

  9. Sexy Meat, No. 2: Flirty Fish & Beefy Chicken » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] Much like a PETA ad. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist getting a lil’ jab in there!) […]

  10. Uh, no. » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] And yes, I realize that the ad was produced by four girls women; that doesn’t make it any less sexist. Because, um, women can be sexist, too. […]

  11. Book Review: Suicide Girls, Vol. 1, Brea Grant et al. (2011) » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] male gaze-catering brand of pornography – but outside of my vegan-feminist critiques of PETA’s partnership with SG, I don’t really pay the Suicide Girls much mind. Point is, I wasn’t expecting too much […]

Leave a Reply