Sexism in the Animal Rights Movement: PeTA

Much has been said and written about People for the Exploitation of Tits & Ass, and their ridiculous, attention-grabbing campaigns. Their sexist campaigns (of which there are many) run the gamut from body-shaming campaigns (1, 2) to soft-core porn to actually glorifying violence against women.

Here, instead of simply giving them more attention, I’m going to answer some comments / questions that often come up when this is being discussed. I want to explain why some of these campaigns are sexist, since there is sometimes confusion about that.

Take an ad like this:


What’s wrong with it? Lots of things. First of all, there’s no difference between fur and other animal fabrics, like leather. Singling out fur, which is mostly worn by women, unfairly targets women and female clothing. Secondly, this ad uses the woman’s body, and her sexual appeal, as a cheap way to grab (male) attention. It also reduces her to a series of body parts – the whole person is cut down, made into a sexual object. The woman as a whole person disappears, and only her fetishized body parts remain. Carol Adams has called this the “absent referent“, and compared it to the way that we pare down other animals and turn them into objects that can be consumed, one body part at a time.

It might seem extreme to compare an ad like this to meat. After all, the woman isn’t being slaughtered here. But this ad, like all other media, does not exist in a vacuum – it derives its meaning from the social and political realities of our society. In a society in which violence against women is normalized – in which millions and millions of women and girls are raped, beaten, and trafficked every second of every day, female nudity and sexuality are not on an even playing field with male nudity and sexuality. Sexual violence is heavily gendered. Men and boys are not raped and bought/sold for sex in anything nearly approaching the frequency that women and girls are. Even when a male is raped, he is usually raped by another man, and he usually has some characteristic besides being male (young age, poverty, race in a racist society) that makes him vulnerable. Women and girls only need to be female to be at-risk of sexual violence.

This ad, like virtually all (soft and hardcore) pornography, exploits the fact that men and women are not on an even playing field, sexually. It takes women’s sexual and economic inequality to men, and sells it. It makes inequality ‘sexy’.

‘Objectification’ might sound like some kind of obscure, academic term. But it is a real thing; it happens to real sentient beings. In pornography, it happens – is done – to women. Having your personality, sentience, and personhood annihilated so that somebody can use you as their object is a concrete way of making somebody socially worthless. It is a concrete way of saying, “I’m someone, and you’re a nobody. I’m worth something, and you are worth nothing.”

It is not at all surprising that in the commercial pornography industry, many women do not last more than a  few months because the of the extreme violence that is done to their bodies. Sexual objectification is no trivial matter.

So what about men?

PeTA has also used men in some of their ads:

NFL Star Terrell Suggs Chooses Ink, Not Mink

Turning anyone (male or female) into a sexual object isn’t great. But putting aside the fact that PeTA uses a lot less male nudity than they do female nudity, male objectification doesn’t have the same meaning as female objectification in a male-supremacist system. Men are not devalued on the basis of their sex in the way that women are. They also do not live with the reality of rape in the same way that women do.

To give just one example of why female objectification ≠ male objectification, look at the differences in body posture in the two ads. The woman is leaning back, made to look passive and vulnerable in order to grab the attention of the male consumer. The man, on the other hand, is learning forward, muscles flexed, in order to emphasize his strength and virility.

PeTA is a terribly misguided organization. Not only do they needlessly kill a huge number of healthy cats and dogs, but they have also resorted to using anything and everything – no matter how ridiculous – in order to grab attention.

Serious vegan advocates should not contribute to them in any way. They are not a radical organization; they are simply opportunists who have no problem maintaining the speciesist, sexist, capitalist status quo. Shame on them.


One thought on “Sexism in the Animal Rights Movement: PeTA

  1. Vegan Rabbit says:

    I love your play on the acronym PETA (People for the Exploitation of Tits and Ass). How clever! I actually wrote a post similar to this (just without such a catchy title) here:

    I love this post. I love what you’ve said about the difference between the way men and women are portrayed in these types of advertisements. Thank you for writing this!

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