ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur

March 12th, 2009 5:07 pm by Kelly Garbato

After January’s “fur hag” post, I’d like follow up with several examples of anti-fur ads that I like – albeit, with a few caveats.*

While I’m rather ambivalent when it comes to PETA’s nude “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur,” “Turn Your Back on Fur,” (and similar) campaigns, I quite like anti-fur ads which depict fur as the bloody, murderous mess that it is. (In theory, anyway…hence the forthcoming caveats.)

For example, this recent series from IndyAct:

IndyAct - Stop the carnage 01

IndyAct - Stop the carnage 02

IndyAct - Stop the carnage 03

Each ad features a thin, white, conventionally attractive, stylishly dressed woman, decked out in a fur coat which once belonged to various animals. The knife-wielding women are covered in blood spatters – bright red blood, everywhere. The woman in the first ad is, inexplicably, rubbing the knife along her chin, as if in contemplation of fellatio (?). Needless to say, I prefer the other two ads in the series.

The text on each photo is different, depending on what type of fur the woman’s wearing.

Top to bottom:

A rare SNOW LEOPARD cat:
Outer: 5 back skin pieces stitched
with 7 neck skin pieces for maximum comfort.
Inner: 13 chest skin pieces for silk-soft feel.
Bring out the real you, for
JUST 9,999 pounds

A lavish RED FOX coat:
Outer: 31 small black skin pieces to give you a constant color.
Inner: 11 chest skin pieces for maximum softness.
Reveal your inner self, for
JUST 5,999 pounds

A beautiful sleeveless BOBCAT coat:
Made of 16 – carefully chosen – quality
black skin pieces.
Bring out the wild side of you, for
JUST 7,999 pounds.

The slogan on each ad reads: “Stop the Carnage; Support our endangered species campaign.”

PETA has produced similar ads, such as their “Here’s the Rest of Your Fur Coat!” series featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Shirley Manson, Persia White and Christine Dolce, as well as “fur trim” ads with the likes of Simple Plan.

Interestingly, the “Here’s the Rest of Your Fur Coat!” ads with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Shirley Manson and Persia White are notably bloodless – even though the celebs are are holding up skinned animal corpses (i.e., the rest of your fur coat). Christine Dolce and a Simple Plan’s ads are more fitting, as they appear covered in blood.

Also interestingly, PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur,” “Turn Your Back on Fur” (and similar) nude anti-fur ads outnumber their “Here’s the Rest of Your Fur Coat!” ads by a huge margin. Could it have anything to do with the T&A, I wonder? But I digress.

The thing I like about these anti-fur ads is that they’re arresting and controversial – without resorting to gratuitous-yet-predictable displays of T&A. Instead of putting a woman’s naked body front and center, these ads focus on the bloody, murderous business of making a fur coat (or a similar product). Whether the ad’s models are drenched in blood or brandishing the skinned corpses of previously living creatures (or both), the audience’s attention is drawn to the victims of this (should-be) crime, the fur-bearing animals – or rather, what’s left of them, now that the furriers and fashionistas/os have had their way. The viewer’s gaze is where it should be – on the blood and guts and corpses – instead of lingering on a woman’s body parts.

Additionally, this ad concept offers the potential to “sell” the anti-fur message without objectifying women or otherwise displaying their naked bodies. I say “potential” because the woman celebs and models are still glammed up a bit; Christine Dolce, for example, displays ample amounts of cleavage, while her chest is covered in blood. This, too, points to a possible pitfall of the “fur is murder” ad concept: imposing murderous imagery on a sexualized woman runs the risk of conflating violence with sex, and making violence against women seem sexy. And, um, today’s advertisers certainly don’t need any encouragement in that arena.

That said, anti-fur ads such as those above still irk me. As with the cruelty-free cosmetic campaigns I discussed earlier this year, anti-fur ads (whether produced by PETA or another animal advocacy organization) tend to target women to the exclusion of men, thus reinforcing the gendered stereotype that only women care about frivolous, superficial and vapid matters like fashion and makeup. News flash: men wear fur and fur trim (and leather and wool and silk…), too! Yet, looking at these ads, you’re likely to come away with the impression that only women are cruelly narcissistic enough to kill fuzzy wuzzies in the name of fashion. Cruella de Vil, anyone?

Granted, full-length fur coats are more likely to be found in a woman’s closet than a man’s. Excessive and ostentatious furs – when draped on an American male body – can even be the butt of a joke; cue images of David Puddy and his “man-fur.” Even so, many men do wear fur – just in a different fashion than women. Men should, at the very least, comprise a strong minority of the models featured in (and audience targeted by) anti-fur ads.

Yet, with the exception of PETA’s “Ink, Not Mink” series, men very rarely make an appearance in anti-fur ads. “Ink, Not Mink” strikes me as a weird slogan, anyhow, as tattoos and clothing aren’t really comparable products. While each can function as means of self-expression, fur coats (no matter how odious) also serve a more functional purpose, that is, to keep you warm in cold climates. In fact, this is often an excuse used by fur apologists (who among us haven’t heard the red herring “But Eskimos neeeeed to wear fur!!!!1!!!1”?). A tattoo isn’t a substitute for a coat, fur or otherwise. The whole series seems like a reach – a transparent attempt at coolness by finding any and every reason to highlight naked celebrities and their ink. Either way, though, the “Ink, Not Mink” series represents a small portion of PETA’s anti-fur advertising; most features and targets women, and naked ones at that.

So what are the practical consequences of such gendered advertising? By implying that women and women alone are concerned with such fluffy, silly things as fashion, animal advocacy organizations (and others) disempower women – including the very women who constitute the majority of their activist force. Through the selective use of women models, such ads reinforce gender stereotypes which hold that women are vain, shallow, inane, “girly,” overly concerned with appearance, and wasteful (inasmuch as they spend obscene amounts of money on extravagant baubles). If you believe these ads, women are more concerned with appearances than with more important matters….such as politics and ethics. Likewise, men are assumed to be free of such vices, owing to their near-absence in such ads. All of this serves to objectify women – to tell them that how they look is more important than who they are. Add PETA’s gratuitous – and sometimes pornified – nudity to the mix, and the result is toxic.

These hundred or so ads might not seem like a big deal – but when considered in context, they’re yet another small part of a very large and harmful pattern. We live in a culture steeped in misogyny; certainly, there’s no need for animal advocacy organizations to pile on women as well.

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* I actually started this post in early February, hence the lengthy gap between the two. I got sick and then sidetracked, and yada yada yada. You know how it goes.

(Crossposted to.)

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3 Responses to “ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur”

  1. Ask not “Are Animal Lovers Sexist?,” but “Can Animal Lovers Be Sexist?” (Answer: duh.) » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] you’re surfing on over here from change.org. (Also related, and referenced in passing below: ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur and ARA PSAs: Attack of the Killer Cosmetics.) […]

  2. Lettuce be thankful! » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] My girl crush on Shirley Manson aside, I like this ad because, instead of insulting women who wear fur (and by “insulting,” I don’t mean insulting their moral character, which is well within the bounds of legitimate criticism, but insulting their physical appearance, usually through the use of sexist slurs), it shows the audience from whence their fur came. Namely, once-living, breathing, sentient animals. Robbed of their skin, now all that’s left of these creatures are bloodied, lifeless corpses, which will be disposed of like so much garbage. (I blogged about this ad series in greater detail here.) […]

  3. Kelly Garbato Says:

    @ Kelly Wilson – If you had just stuck to your main point, i.e., the number of red foxes and whether red fox populations qualify as “endangered species,” I would have approved your comment. If and when animal advocacy groups float misleading or inaccurate information, I want to know, because – as your comment demonstrates – this makes all animal advocates look dishonest and/or ignorant.

    But clearly, I didn’t publish your comment, and here’s why: your closing jab about faux fur looking “tacky” and OMG IndyACT really should have used the “real thing” in its ads tells me that you’re more interested in being an obnoxious asshat than you are in engaging in a conversation. And there’s not enough time in the world for me to justify wasting any of it on people like you, kay?

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