PETA has done it again. It has made another racy ad full of near-naked women that only vaguely relates to its namesake cause of encouraging the ethical treatment of animals. But this time, it was banned from the most glorious pinnacle of advertising: the Super Bowl commercials.
I understand PETA’s plight. Sex sells, so what’s wrong with infusing messages about animal rights with a few scantily clad ladies?
Well, it not only alienates but marginalizes half of the population by objectifying women and capitalizing off conventional, chauvinistic definitions of “sexy.”
Take PETA’s banned Super Bowl ad, for instance. It’s 30 seconds of thin white women in lingerie having a pretty raunchy time without meat: rubbing their bodies with vegetables, crawling seductively and licking vegetables, caressing their breasts as they hold vegetables by their crotches. Then the words “Studies show vegetarians have better sex” flash across the screen.
To convince hot wing- and sausage-inhaling football dudes that vegetarianism is cool, PETA fell back on lowest-common-denominator advertising ploys — showing off “hot” female bodies and dangling “better sex” in front of viewers in hopes that they’d adopt the cause.
But in this attempt to fight animal oppression and exploitation, PETA instead exploited women with all-too-familiar sexism — a form of oppression in its own right.
Instead of allying itself with oppression-fighting feminists and activists, PETA marginalizes them and women at large by partaking in patriarchal objectification and reinforcing idealized beauty myths.
But then again, that’s nothing new for PETA.
Before it depicted women canoodling with produce, PETA’s creative advertising campaigns ranged from displaying naked female celebrities under the banner “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” to showing a woman in a schoolgirl outfit strip in a “Striptease Quiz” about animal birth control on its Web site. Oh, and there was the ad that showed a female groin in panties with the text “Fur trim. Unattractive.”
Its publicity campaigns haven’t been much better. In February 2008, it protested pigs’ living conditions by setting up a ramshackle cage in London’s Covent Garden — complete with a topless, oinking woman inside.
In May 2008, it staged a demonstration outside a United Egg Producers meeting in Washington, D.C., in which six bikini-clad women crouched in cages holding signs that read, “Chicks Suffer for Eggs.” In the press release, PETA stated, “Wearing sexy yellow bikinis outside the legislative meeting … six PETA beauties will crowd into three cramped cages to mimic conditions for laying hens on factory farms.”
Then, during June’s World Vegetarian Week in Memphis, it put two barely clothed interns on the street, marked with fake blood and shrink-wrapped like steaks beside “Meat is Murder” signs. When police asked about the interns’ well-being, one replied that she was nauseous and in pain and asked how much longer she had to stay.
Accordingly, PETA coordinator Ashley Byrne continued talking to the police for 30 minutes while the intern lay sweating in the 80-plus degree heat.
While PETA objects to the exploitation and suffering of animals, it has no problem subjecting real-life women to both. Apparently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals aren’t always People for the Ethical Treatment and Portrayal of Women.
In a July 2008 letter to the New York Times, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk — a self-proclaimed “adamant feminist” — defended the group’s advertising and publicity tactics. She wrote: “While cruelty to animals is a serious matter that should elicit widespread public outrage, efforts to reach the public through more serious means often fall on deaf ears in a world in which sex sells and there are both a war and an economic downturn.”
But Newkirk’s predictable explanation is merely another way of saying PETA doesn’t care if it objectifies women and perpetuates sexism, because that’s the best it can come up with.
“Animal suffering and human suffering are undeniably interconnected,” Newkirk stated, but despite this declaration, PETA’s ads and publicity stunts indicate the group’s clear lack of understanding about the interplay of exploitation and suffering.
Instead of recognizing that oppression is bad for all — even humans — PETA peddles the same tired, sexist messages and disgraces the entire animal rights movement.
Renee Sessions is a senior majoring in creative writing.