PETA and Porn: Exploit Women, Not Animals

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PETA ad featuring Pamela Anderson that was banned by the city of Montreal in 2010 for being sexist.

By Ashley-Michelle Papon

Just in time for the chill of the holidays, the marketing wizards at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have come up with a new way to keep converts to animal welfarism warm. Within the next month, PETA will capitalize on their previously raunchy skin campaigns with a companion porn site. The porn site, PETA.XXX, will showcase plenty of celebrities willing to bare all, but according to Lindsay Rajt, PETA’s associate director of campaigns, the site will also feature displays of what PETA considers animal abuse. “We’re hoping to reach a whole new audience of people, some of whom will be shocked by graphic images that maybe they didn’t anticipate seeing when they went to the PETA triple-X site,” Rajt said.

From billboards preying on insecurities about swimsuit season as a method of somehow saving whales to advertisements suggesting your real concern during airport body scans should be how hot your vegetarian body looks, the idea that PETA could still manage to shock anyone is worthy of a laugh. Or two. Though the artwork from ad to ad differs, the message is overwhelmingly the same: learn to respect the welfare of animals, while disrespecting that of people.

In other words, a porn site featuring juxtapositions of animal abuse images isn’t a new low; it’s exactly the type of half-baked tasteless trafficking that we should be expecting from PETA. As a countless number of galleries–including this one by Time magazine–highlight, PETA’s co-founder Ingrid Newkirk long ago made the conscientious choice that the best way to sell her message would be through exploiting women, and she does it because it works, sticking to her philosophy that PETA is obligated to serve as “press sluts” to bring attention to their cause.

And stick to it, she does. Newkirk is, after all, the same woman who famously wrote to Yasser Arafat, urging him to keep animals out of conflicts with Israel after a donkey died during a suicide bombing. No such request for the then-prime minister to condemn “honor killings” such as bride burning and female infanticide, which accounted for a full two-thirds of all killings within Palestine territories at the time, reflecting PETA’s less charitable view of women’s expendability in general.

Not to mention PETA’s emphasis that a woman’s value is strictly in how her body looks. Fat-phobia has been PETA’s old trusty in the arsenal long before the “Save the Whales” campaign. Ideally, PETA shouldn’t care what a body looks like, provided that the body is simply sustained by a vegetarian diet and vegan living. In actuality, they know that if there is anything our patriarchal society reviles more than women in general, it’s women of size, and preying on those cultural prejudices has been a source of great media attention, which normalizes the violence visited on those same bodies.

Of course, this cavalier dismissal of violence against humans (specifically, women) is the real problem with PETA’s approach to activism. In 2002, PETA filmed a would-be Super Bowl commercial, which depicted a group of hooligans beating a woman to death with a baseball bat to the caption of, “What if you were killed for your coat?” Though the commercial was banned from airing, just last year PETA turned up the heat (and the fake blood) to launch their “Meat is Murder” basics, placing humans in life-sized deli counter meat packages and cellophane. The gag might have been somewhat educational, if the models hadn’t looked as though they’d just come out of Jeffrey Dahmer’s freezer.

That joke might seem to be in bad taste (no pun intended) until you consider that the serial killer’s cannibalism has been the fodder of more than one advertisement and celebrity-targeted criticism. No, seriously. But Dahmer’s crimes aren’t the only ones that PETA finds acceptable to dovetail into their agenda. In 2008, PETA created an ad identical to their 1991 Dahmer special in response to the Manitoba Greyhound bus beheading, asking people to imagine the terror of victim Tim McLean and use it as motivation to “leave violence off of their dinner plates.”

However, the argument here isn’t that the decision to launch a porn website is continuing PETA’s legacy of playing up violence to make a point. Although feminists often disagree as to how empowering or violent pornography inherently is, what makes this particular venture par for the course is PETA’s decision to include images of animal torture. It’s a veritable buffet of -isms for the organization, with the unintended consequence of eroticizing the torture of animals.

Part of what makes PETA’s performance so frustrating is that they should know better. Their website contains a lengthy explanation about the correlation between people who abuse animals and violent behavior towards other human beings, suggesting that on some level, somebody in that organization should understand the intersectionality of subjugation for women and the animal kingdom.

More to the point, promoting misogyny—often, violent—with the end result of animal liberation makes about as much sense as using racism to end class politics. You’ll capture some headlines, but you’ll probably alienate more people than you galvanize, especially since people likely to be more sympathetic to animal causes tend to also be against the idea of exploiting women.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of reasons to care about the treatment of animals in this country and elsewhere. Any enlightened, progressive individual has to acknowledge that our experience is largely shaped by what we consume, and that includes consuming the animal community. But responsibility goes both ways, especially when we’re talking about oppression of marginalized classes like animals. For real change to happen, PETA has got to stop objectifying women to nothing more than literal pieces of meat.

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Read other Adios Barbie content related to the eroticized violence of women:

A Monster Success! (reports on our successful petition against the official release of Kanye West’s misogynistic “Monster” video)

Deconstructing Kanye’s “Monster”


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  1. […] a personal level, it was my deep distaste for PETA, because of the ways in which they exploit and objectify women, as well as their generally useless promotion of “lifestyle […]

  2. […] Barbie nails it in this post: PETA and Porn, Exploit Women Not Animals. […]