Just for the record: I’m not particularly fond of the latest PETA2 ad featuring Khloe Kardashian. However, it’s not Kardashian’s state of (un)dress that bothers, rather, it’s the way in which PETA’s photographers have posed her that irks my feminist sensibilities. Though not as bad as, say, the Suicide Girls series, Ms. Kardashian is somewhat pornified in this ad: here, her body is turned away from the camera, so that it appears that the audience is following, ogling, stalking, sneaking up on her from behind. (From a racial perspective, I also find it interesting that PETA chooses to depict one of their few women of color models with a teased, “wild” hairstyle; while I know little about Khloe Kardashian, it doesn’t appear as though she normally wears her hair this way.)
Now, if this were just one of a handful of PETA ads that resemble a Playboy layout, I’d dismiss it as inevitable; PETA recruits a number of celebs to pose for their print ads, and no doubt some of these women (and men) will prefer more sexualized poses (in our pornified society, after all, women do trade on such images in order to get ahead; and I’d much rather criticize the culture which makes such compromises necessary, as opposed to the women doing the compromising). Yet, the ad fits a larger pattern wherein
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.
So yes, I do think there’s more than enough room for a feminist critique of PETA’s ads, print and otherwise. That said, I don’t at all trust feminists who objectify non-human animals (by eating, wearing, gawking at, or otherwise exploiting them) to offer an unbiased critique of an animal advocacy group’s objectification of women. Assuming that PETA is indeed sexist*, speciesist feminists are no better: both objectify a group of living, sentient beings based solely on group membership.
Furthermore, these women have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo vis-à-vis their relation to (i.e., domination of) non-human animals: if they were to accept PETA’s premise that non-human animals have rights and interests equal to those of human animals, they’d have to reconsider their meat-eating, leather-wearing, dog-buying ways. In short, they would have to acknowledge (and thus, renounce) their human privilege.
So, how do the women at Feministing (et al.) claim moral superiority, again? While they may sometimes be correct in their interpretation of PETA’s campaigns, this veg*n feminist finds them no more trustworthy than an openly, unabashedly racist white feminist criticizing civil rights leaders for their misogyny. While their conclusions may be correct, their reasoning and motivations are forever suspect.
Just as they insist that PETA needs to lose the sexism before feminists will take them seriously, they need to lose the speciesism before they can expect veg*n women to give a damn about what they have to say.
* Which is a gross generalization, considering PETA’s vast membership numbers; better still to say that president Ingrid Newkirk and/or other higher-ups is/are sexist, and the organization is sexist to the extent that Newkirk/those in charge influences their hiring and PR policies.