Disingenuity from PETA

Part of an interview with Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Jen Phillips of Mother Jones:

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. 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.

MJ: I guess I just feel that there are so many more women who are vegetarians than male and I don’t know if these campaigns are to raise general awareness or appeal to heterosexual males. What do these campaigns bring for PETA?

IN: It’s a biological fact, isn’t it, that people are drawn to breasts and whathaveyou, it’s just a biological fact. Maybe if everyone walked around naked it wouldn’t be so appealing. But it does, for example, when Alicia Silverstone did a very beautiful, tasteful, ‘naked’ TV spot for us it went everywhere because everyone wanted to take a look. But when people came to the web site, after they saw her commercial, they then were confronted with the facts about why she’s a vegetarian. So when people come to the web site to gawk, they actually get an education. And that’s extremely effective. Because if you just say to people, ‘Hello, would you like to see a slaughterhouse video?’ people are going to say ‘No’ and run in the other direction. But if you say would you like to see Alicia Silverstone without her clothes, most people go, ‘Good Lord, yes. Let’s have a look at that.’

No Ms Newkirk.  No.  You can’t make sexist behaviour “ok” just by being a woman, as feminists have been pointing out for decades.  Women are as subject to systemic sexism as men; women are socialized to be the objects of male sexual desire just as men are socialized to objectfy women and everything in our benighted dominant culture operates to shape, reflect and reiterate that objectification.

It’s no argument to say that the use of female body parts to advertise a cause works.  Of course it works.  Ms Newkirk would do well to ask herself why it works as well as it does.  Is it merely because men are biologically set up to be attracted to female breasts?  What of the ‘fact’ that humans are biologically set up to be carnivores?  What of the ‘hunter’ part of the ‘hunter/gatherer’ equation?  Ms Newkirk and her organization are trying to persuade people to think and behave differently when it comes to our treatment of animals.  Feminists are trying to persuade people to think and behave differently when it comes to our treatment of women.  One would think that Ms Newkirk would be sympathetic.

Ms Newkirk’s organization uses women as pieces of meat in an attempt to persuade people to treat animals in a humane fashion.  It is simply disingenuous for a clearly intelligent woman to pretend that she doesn’t see the connection between our objectification and use of animals for our own selfish ends and the objectification and use of women’s bodies as a prop for patriarchy.  I don’t care what species of female she is.

To confuse feminist arguments with ‘prudery’ is either unforgiveably careless or deliberately obtuse.

PETA’s striptease quiz

6 thoughts on “Disingenuity from PETA

  1. Pingback: Fashion News » Blog Archive » Disingenuity from PETA

  2. Wow, after reading that I actually don’t think Ingrid Newkirk is all that intelligent. First of all, breasts are for feeding BABIES, for fuck’s sake. They’re not innately or biologically about sexual attraction (and the size of a breast doesn’t indicate how much milk it will be able to give, just in case anyone wants to try to make some bullshit evolutionary psychology argument about how Western society’s current obsession with breast size has some relation to the actual function of what breasts exist for). In parts of rural West Africa women don’t wear shirts and nobody gives a hoot, but if those same woman show any leg above their lower calves it’s like showing tons of cleavage here.

    Furthermore, EVERYBODY likes seeing breasts, Ingrid? Really? So basically what you’re saying is the world consists entirely of straight men and lesbians, and gay men and straight women don’t really exist, is that right? Or do you mean we don’t count? And honestly, I cannot fucking believe PETA thinks that saying “OMG, TITTIES!!!” is going to bring lasting converts to animal rights. Sure, some idiot dudes might get into it for like two seconds because they think Alicia Silverstone is hot, but since PETA’s main tactic is imploring straight dudes to go veg because they’ll get hot chicks, you are doing NOTHING for animals and you’re doing even less for women. Guys looking for titties are going to go right back to being meat eaters because they’ll figure out pretty damn quickly that being vegetarian doesn’t have anything to do with getting all the women you want.

    Also, what does this type of attitude do for women in the movement? I’m a vegan, and I actually took forever to get into participating in animal rights groups specifically BECAUSE of the atmosphere PETA has created in the animal rights world, because every group I went to was run by men and full of assholes just looking to score some hot chicks and acting just as idiotically as you’d expect PETA sycophants to act. Luckily, now I’m involved with a great group that’s caused a sea change in the way animal rights are viewed in my city, and they intentionally don’t associate with PETA or invite them to any of their events because of PETA’s treatment of women. I think a lot of the animal rights world is tilting in that direction lately, especially as people see the success of inclusive groups like the one I support, or of the Humane Society of the United States (which most people don’t know is an animal rights group as opposed to animal welfare). I actually fully believe that it’s partly because of PETA that people have taken so long to catch on to animal rights, because when you explain the ISSUES to most people, and the actual suffering that goes on, they get pretty horrified pretty quickly; animal rights isn’t all that hard of an issue to sympathize with, but when a group supposedly supporting that issue is also telling you as a woman that you’re only useful for sex, or that as a gay man you don’t exist, or that as a Jew or African American your history should be cynically exploited, then you’re not even going to want to listen. Basically, PETA panders to the worst among fraternity boys — I won’t even say they pander to straight men, because most straight guys I know aren’t that stupid or misogynist.

    Also, what?!?! We should support women as leaders no matter what? Well damn me, I guess I’d better go out and vote for Sarah Palin for VP, because she TOTALLY has women’s best interests at heart, what with her hatred of rape victims and refusal to attack the appalling rate of sexual violence in Alaska. *roll eyes*

  3. Wow magnesium, you GO! You did a much better job at taking Ms Newkirk’s “argument” apart than I did. I waffle back and forth between thinking that people like her know exactly what they’re doing and lie when they get put on the spot by people like this interviewer, or that they truly are stupid. Sometimes I think that the latter position lets them off the hook entirely when it’s clear they do have some kind of a brain in play. But you may have changed my mind …

  4. Thanks, Hysperia! 🙂 To be fair, I think we’re both right — I used to think similarly to people like Ingrid Newkirk (and Camille Paglia, etc.) and I think Newkirk does know to a certain extent what she’s doing, and is therefore kind of doing the I’m-going-to-benefit-from-misogyny-by-catering-to-men thing. However, whether she realizes she’s doing it is a whole other story, since a lot of women have adopted male viewpoints as a sort of survival tactic and it’s become second nature. For me, I really notice that tactic in the differences between the viewpoints women express when men are around versus when only women are around — among most of my female friends, I suddenly hear a lot more feminist viewpoints, especially criticism of objectification, when men aren’t around. Now, I don’t think my friends are at all manipulative, and I genuinely believe they have no idea they’re doing this. Whether that’s stupidity or a smart survival tactic is up for debate. (Smart survival tactic, you’re not angering a powerful segment of society, losing male friends, starting arguments and in some cases even opening yourself up to physical harm or stalking. Stupidity, you’re obviously hurting yourself and women in the long run.)

    On the other hand, for the reasons above I also think there’s a lot of stupidity in what Newkirk said, although to be fair most people DO believe the things she said — that breasts are somehow inherently sexual, that everybody loves seeing naked women (as long as they don’t actually look like any real women out there, of course!). Her denseness on this issue is also crappy because if what I think is partly true — that her defense of misogyny comes from some personal need to please men — then she’s putting her own desire to have male approval above the cause of animal rights. Alternately, she could blatantly be gunning for only the support of stereotypical white frat boys because she’s internalized the idea that those are the important people in society, even though they make up a tiny segment of the population. I suppose either way she’s learned to see the world through the lens of a privileged straight white man (haven’t too many of us?) but the fact that she can’t see this even when it’s been pointed out to her a gazillion times and she honestly doesn’t think it’s hurting her cause is what makes me think she’s also just not that bright.

    Anyhow, great blog! I’m going to poke around a little here and bookmark it. I’m not a very avid Internet-goer, but I do like to visit good ones like this when I find the time. 🙂

  5. Oh, and I just want to be clear that when I say “opening yourself up to physical harm and stalking” I don’t mean it in the “you brought this on yourself, bitch!” way that violence against women is too often viewed. I’m talking more about the fear women have of that happening if they piss off the wrong guy, even though criminals target all kinds of women (and people) — some would be more likely to target a woman who’s obviously a man-pleaser and doesn’t appear to stand up for herself, some target women who speak out, and for some, probably most gender-motivated crimes, any woman will do. So yeah, take my sleep-deprived ramblings with a grain of salt! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Are We Stupid or Self-Deluded? « mirabile dictu

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