Around 1994, PeTA
(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) launched a controversial
campaign to abolish the wearing of fur. For the mainstream public, PeTA's animal
rights activism has always created a stir (good!). The "I'd Rather Go
Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign, however, was not well received by
PeTA's animal rights allies either.
This article was
originally published in 1994 in Media
Watch, a feminist group that advocates and promotes positive
images of women and girls in the media, and protests pornographic and
disrespectful images. Contact Media
Watch at P.O. Box 618, Santa Cruz, CA 95061.
While we greatly
formidable work on behalf of animals, the "I'd rather go naked than
wear fur" ad campaign strikes us as disturbing and problematic, as
does PeTA's acceptance of money generated from soft core pornography.
Joining the ranks now of Kim Basinger, Christy Turlington and other top
models who have posed nude for the PeTA billboards is Patti Davis, daughter
of Ronald Reagan. Davis has chosen to pose with Hugh
Hefner's dog no less, and also has agreed to donate half her fee from a
recent Playboy spread to PeTA.
In her letter of
support of PeTA's actions, Ingrid Newkirk makes the classic assumption that
activists who counter oppressive images of women in the media believe
"all depictions of female nudity are categorically wrong." This
is the so-called "neo-Victorian feminist" charge constantly
hurled at us. We do not have a "blanket condemnation of female
What we do have is a
developed understanding of when certain portrayals of nudity perpetuate the
objectification and debasement of women. We want to see more images like
the ancient goddess ones of strong women with upraised arms, standing tall.
We don't need another tired cheesecake shot of a naked woman flat on her
back with a lobotomized "come hither" look.
the problems presented by Cosmopolitan covers, yet is convinced that
the PeTA campaign does not fall in this category. Frankly, we could barely
tell the difference between the Fur Age Weekly ad and PeTA's ad.
Both depict nude women atop animal skins with negligible difference in
their demeanor or expressions. Remove the text in the PeTA ad and what
remains is remarkably similar imagery. For some communities such as
illiterate people, non-English speakers or young children, the soft core
pornographic image is the only message.
What is the point of
the nudity? The ad could have portrayed models shivering in less than warm
clothing saying "I'd rather freeze than wear fur." Such a
campaign would still preserve the message to stop wearing fur. The answer
is obvious. Sex sells. Women's bodies sell. And not just any woman's body.
Beautiful, young, thin, cosmeticized, shaven bodies of women sell.
Newkirk herself agrees
she doesn't meet this criterion, but then conveniently ignores the primary
issue: that PeTA is replicating the dominant culture's usage of a particular
depiction of women's bodies to convey their point. However unintended,
PeTA's unfortunate subliminal message is that women are sexual objects for
the male gaze.
Newkirk also adds that
she as well as men have participated in "naked stunts" similar to
the ad. The impact of street theater, though, pales compared to the power
of mass mediated messages disseminated to millions of viewers. More
importantly, the participants in the "naked stunts" are
presumably displaying their true animal bodies--not the false,
technological makeovers constantly marketed to the public as natural women.
Newkirk feels that the
ad is OK because none of the models were coerced or exploited to do the
ads. While we think it's a coup that PeTA has recruited models as allies
for animal rights, we do not believe it is necessary that PeTA capitulate
to the fashion industry's traditionally sexist mores in which women's
bodies are continually represented as impossibly perfect objects.
Sexy does not have to
mean sexism! We are opposed to this sophisticated form of propaganda
"educating" women how to look (and be) based on values dictated
by patriarchal standards. Who benefits from these stereotypes? Who is
harmed? We believe such imagery causes downwind damage to all women.
We support eroticism
and nudity (ex., going barebreasted and breastfeeding in public), but we
are tired of women's sexuality being used commercially and inappropriately.
Who created this ad anyway?
In sum, this is a
classic case of championing the rights of one group (nonhuman animals) at
the expense of another group (female human animals). We want PeTA to
continue to be a strong force in the liberation of animals, but find their
current ad campaign insidiously damaging to women. PeTA is short for People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Where's PeTA's concern for the
ethical treatment of women?
to Ecofeminist Perspectives