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The hypocrisy of anti-PETA feminists

Feminists criticising PETA need to look at their own behaviours, writes Katrina Fox.

Every few months or so PETA raises the ire of feminists. Whether it’s another version of the animal rights group’s ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ campaign, or pushing an anti-obesity message encouraging people to go vegetarian, the feminist blogosphere goes crazy.

Why? Because of PETA’s focus on using nudity and particularly naked (young) women in their campaigns. 

In the case of the obesity ad, this featured a cartoon picture of a large woman in a bikini with the tagline 'Save the whales: lose the blubber, go vegetarian'. Fat women reported feeling ashamed of their bodies and PETA was once again accused of misogyny and degrading women. 

The most recent video ad, State of the Union Undress, features a black woman doing a striptease, ending with horrific images of animal cruelty. This time there were accusations from the feminist community of racism thrown in with the usual battle cries of sexism. 

Blogger Womanist Musings says, “The truth is, PETA’s objective is to paint all other marginalizations as secondary to that faced by animals and that is why they routinely features ads that are sexist, homophobic, racist, transphobic etc.” 

The irony of that comment is that for the majority of feminists, the marginalisation of animals is not only secondary to that faced by any kind of human, it’s of no consequence. In fact, many feminists actively support the oppression, use and abuse of non-humans every single day by ‘consuming’ (in the same way people consume porn and anything else) animal parts or products. 

I’m not just referring to those who eat meat or wear someone else’s skin. Consider the ‘dairy’ industry, which has successfully conjured up images of ‘happy cows’ who love to give their milk for human consumption. Wrong. 

The dairy industry – which artificially inseminates female cows, forcing them to stay pregnant, and hooks them up to ‘milking machines’ (causing them painful mastitis) – is based on the control of the reproductive systems of female non-humans. The same goes for the egg industry. 

I’ll say it again: the dairy and egg industries are built on the control of the reproductive systems of female non-humans. Ironic again, considering that feminists have fought for decades against the patriarchy controlling our own reproductive systems.

And think about the term ‘artificially inseminates’ for a second. These female non-humans are imprisoned and forcibly impregnated. If that were done to female humans, it would go by another name. It begins with ‘R’ in case you can’t work it out. 

There is nothing consensual about the use and abuse of female non-humans’ bodies (and therefore it is arguably more problematic than the women in PETA ads who do at least consent to going naked). 

But attend any ‘feminist’ conference and there’ll be cow’s milk to put in your coffee. Or cheese and crackers to nibble on. Animal rights fell off the feminist agenda years ago and is seen as ‘old-school’. A well-known feminist magazine’s response to a suggestion to cover the topic was ‘It’s been done already’. Well, so has all the body image/raunch culture stuff that fills the pages each issue, but obviously this is more ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’ than anything that requires women to actually make a huge change in their consumption habits by rejecting food, clothing, cosmetics and so on that have been made off the oppression of non-humans. 

Feminists complain of sexism and racism from PETA while at the same time engaging in speciesism and are therefore guilty of the very oppressive behaviours they despise PETA for. 

Now, I am not saying that PETA’s ads are not problematic. The nudity thing is getting a bit tired and I believe they need to come up with something smarter and more innovative to get people’s attention. People should discuss, debate and critically analyse PETA’s tactics and call the group out on anything they find offensive. 

But if you’re condemning an organisation for using, commodifying, degrading and oppressing women, while actively engaging in consuming behaviours that do all of the above to non-humans, it’s the height of hypocrisy. 

The excuse that ‘They’re only animals’ is just that: an excuse not to give up your privileges that are gained off the backs of oppression of others – a tactic routinely used against women, queers, trans people or people of different ethnic backgrounds: “We don’t need to give them equal rights/treat them with respect, they’re only women/black/gay/trans.” 

There needs to be change on all sides. Yes, PETA needs to come up with ways of getting the animal rights message across without relying on sexualised images of women. But in addition, otherwise progressive people have to get over their blind spot when it comes to non-humans. Non-vegan feminists need to come to the table too and put their money where their mouths are and be prepared to make big lifestyle changes. 

Only then will we come close to achieving equality for all.







+1 #34 femivegie 2013-01-09 04:47
I'm an anti-PETA feminist a vegetarian and an animal rights activist…
When I was a child my mom took me to a chicken butcher shop It was horrible dead chickens hanging everywhere so I thought I’d look at something else so I looked at a commercial that was tacked to the wall and that ad was exactly the kind of ad that PETA likes to make they are not pro-veganism they are anti veganism just like those sexist ads in that butcher shop were..
Q: Tell me PETA, Why don't you show babies in cages who are fed fatty foods and are not able to move so that their meat becomes soft?
A: *scratching their heads in puzzlement*
But only naked people can catch the attention of those stupid meat-eating cave dwellers who think through their d**ks anyway so that won't work, right?
-1 #33 Arthur 2012-06-16 15:16
This whole premise of the article is a straw man argument.

The article says that feminists are hypocritical to hate on PETA while supporting animal cruelty.

It creates a correlation between feminists and animal cruelty which doesn't exist.
0 #32 James 2010-05-03 23:21
Apologies for this being long-winded ...
Dan, I am not sure at all about some of these comments: "First: To explain that this ad does not constitute an example of exism/feminism/ womanism. I've done that." Have you now. Hmmm. Apparently writing: "PETA's tactics may not transgress feminist/"woman ist" principles after all (they don't)" constitutes an argument!
Strikes me that it does not make it okay that a woman willingly allows herself to appear in an advertising campaign that uses her body to make a point. This is not a private choice or a private forum, this is a billboard. Acquiescence to partaking in a global signifier of the female body as a marketing tool, as a product, as nothing more than a sign? Well that does not seem empowerment to me. Participation even at the softer end of a spectrum of the idea that women's sexuality sells, and doing so for a good ideal, still means participation in an idea that leads directly to women as second class citizens, to rape, to oppression and to womens' invisibility. Choosing to strip for this cause is a choice that directly buys into patriarchal ideas of a woman's body as a commodity. And note it is a woman, as if that is not a giveaway in and of itself (and no, having a man strip does not suddenly nullify this or the millions of other images of sexually objectified women). Saying that this is not exploition does not make that the truth. And as for animals suffering? Yes, they do, more's the pity. But so do women, and not just in the subtle ways of exploitation and oppression, but violently and brutally, from the Congo to, no doubt, your own neighbourhood.
And this: "Third: That PETA acts in good faith and has its own necessarily focused agenda -- PETA cannot be all things to all people and still fulfill its mission." Not even sure what that means. In the context of this discussion is it meant to imply that PETA cannot be non-sexist and still perform its mission?
Other statements: "Animal rights fell off the feminist agenda years ago" ... Know a lot of feminists who disagree and eco-feminism seems fairly active to me. And 'Many feminists actively support the oppression, use and abuse of non-humans every single day'. Sorry is there some sort of survey I have missed? Or Alex's comment: "feminists who ignore the issue of nonhuman animal oppression because they don't like PETA". Is there a justified correlation here? Do we know about feminists who are only critiquing PETA but who show no interest in other AR groups or AR at all?
Well, maybe so. But this whole purist thing ... If someone wears a leather belt, what, they can't make a comment about women being oppressed? At what stage does lack of purity in one's own lifestyle abrogate you from outrage?
We should allow for levels of grey. Some people ('some', yup, and no survey here either, but ...) may well eat a steak every now and then but be horrified by the demolition of elephants for their tusks, or whales for, well, who knows what ... the cuisine of Japanese tables maybe. It seems a tough call to censure those who see a difference between the consumption of a farmed domestic animal that numbers in the millions and the exploitation and possible extinction of another 'wild' species with a rapidly diminishing and not easily replenished population. Is it morally problematic? Yup. Are animals suffering outrageously in both cases? Yup. But can I see the difference? Well ... yeah, I can.
I think it is important to allow people some scope for contradiction because this is a fluid topic and people move towards and adopt causes for different reasons. 'Humans have voices'. We do indeed. Let's understand that those voices are manifold, and that outrage against suffering and exploitation should never be proscriptively allowed for those who are 'morally righteous'. Who gives that nod of approval anyway? There are women in other cultures, traditional meat eating cultures, who are vocal in their their opposition to the patriarchy of their culture that turns a blind eye to the rape and murder of women for offences such as being seen in the company of an un-married man. Is anyone here really suggesting that such women should stop eating meat before they can voice their dissent?
I hope not. And if you can harrumph and go, well, yes, in that case ... then maybe you can see that a forum like this allows an exchange of ideas that reveal, ever so slightly, a world where people can be differing levels of sensitive to the suffering and exploitation of others. Animal abuse and misogyny are deep seated consumptions which both require education to combat. Be nice if they helped each other out, sure. But some can only fight one battle at a time.
0 #31 Katrina Fox 2010-01-27 20:39
@M: This article is not about Renee or trying to public shame her. I quoted her briefly and have addressed the womanist issue above. The article is, as Alex pointed out, about feminists' refusal to embrace AR as a feminist issue and to only talk about it to criticise PETA. You say you do not want to get involved in AR issues or change your consumption habits because you don't like one AR group's tactics? That's got to be the ultimate cop-out that even surpasses the 'But I like meat' excuse. Try substituting anything else in there to see how feeble your excuse sounds eg: "I thought of stopping trying to be racist, but I didn't like the local anti-racism group." Please. Stop trying to blame one AR group on your refusal to even consider the oppression of non-humans.

Perhaps PETA do fail to see the intersectionali ty of oppressions but so do feminists, so do some womanists (and that's not aimed at Renee as she hasn't stated her position on AR issues), queers, trans and other oppressed groups. You are failing to do that yourself. Leaving AR issues out of feminist discourse is a glaring omission. In addition to the control of the reproductive systems of female non-humans as outlined in my original article, there's also the issue of male workers in abbatoirs and factory farms sexually abusing female animals. While all animals suffer horrendously at the hands of humans, often it's the females who made to suffer more. The fact that so many women/feminists are refusing to acknowledge or discuss this, but instead focus on the tactics of one AR group speaks volumes.

Jump up and down and criticise PETA all you like. But at least do it from a position that's not hypocritical.
0 #30 Dan 2010-01-27 20:13
And actually, M -- you're the one calling this woman a whore. Nice job.
0 #29 Dan 2010-01-27 19:44
M says, "Feminists are whores! Male privilege doesn't exist! These are your AR allies Katrina! Good luck with that one!"

Nobody has said any of that. Nobody. Reading comprehension -- it's fundamental.
0 #28 Alex 2010-01-27 15:46
I wanted to state clearly what has been suggested throughout this thread. M wrote, "After being exposed to PeTA's advertisements, and the deluge of AR activists who either endorse PeTA's tactics or express token disapproval before launching into excuses, I have almost zero interest."

Please note that the argument for "animal rights" stands independent of the various proponents of veganism. It doesn't follow, then, to say I have "almost zero interest" in animal rights because those associated with PETA upset me. Katrina's primary thesis is that the argument for animal rights, that is, our oppression of nonhuman animals cannot be justified and often takes a similar form (in its roots) as sexism and racism, is valid, regardless of M's opinions about PETA.

This means that feminists who ignore the issue of nonhuman animal oppression because they don't like PETA are being disingenuous and avoiding the critical moral issue at stake. In other words, ignoring the oppression of animals, other than humans, is justified by ad hominem attacks on PETA, which is clearly fallacious.

What Katrina has done, then, is shift the burden back onto feminists who ignore the oppression of animals. Or we could say feminists are ignoring intersectionali ty.
-1 #27 M 2010-01-27 01:35
Ugh, seriously? Renee has made it very clear in the past, on many different occasions that she is NOT A FEMINIST. A large proportion of womanists, in fact, do NOT identify as feminists; this is obvious to anyone who even understands what the word "womanist" means and where it comes from. So basically, you haven't been listening to what a great number of women's activists of color have been saying for the past forty years, and you didn't bother to find out even basic background info on Renee before you decided to write a blog post about her. I think Renee has a right to be pissed off here, because you are clearly not trying to open a dialogue with her, but to publicly shame her.

I'm a feminist, but I spend 2 days a week volunteering for animal welfare. I'm not, however, involved in the animal *rights* movement -- I was interested in it, at one point, and had a great amount of respect for AR advocates in general. After being exposed to PeTA's advertisements, and the deluge of AR activists who either endorse PeTA's tactics or express token disapproval before launching into excuses, I have almost zero interest. I still respect those who go veg*, but the AR movement consistently fails to take into account issues of intersectionali ty. PeTA has thrown just about everyone under the bus but young, straight WASP men at this point, and they are the biggest AR group around, thanks to the donations of all those lovely people who just care so much (about the animals, at least). Even if I *wanted* to look into AR activism I couldn't, because PeTA is the only group in my area and I refuse to associate with bigots. AR activists are the ones who burned those bridges*; why do they now expect everyone else to rebuild it for them? Seriously, complaining that Feministing doesn't cover AR enough for you? Hello, most of the activity on Feministing is in the community section. If there's a lack of AR coverage, there is absolutely nothing stopping AR activists from adding new ones -- except that most of them are anti-feminist, and/or too busy ogling pictures of naked women in cages and tiger paint (FOR GREAT JUSTICE)!

* And are still doing so. Feminists are whores! Male privilege doesn't exist! These are your AR allies Katrina! Good luck with that one!
0 #26 Ciara 2010-01-26 09:44
I know what ye mean ! i love PETA soo much but i think they should cut out the rotten pictures and they will get a lot more support and stufff!
0 #25 r 2010-01-25 23:27
BRILLIANT!!! You have said it so well: the abusive control and manipulation of nature is the single most sexist, patriarchal, abusive, ANTI-WOMAN, ANTI-LIFE thing happening. Why do women's groups decry PETA and animal rights? It's very simple, and it has nothing to do with philosophy. They have sold their souls to corporate America. Capitalist whores. They have no conscience, only insipid, trivial attitudes. They have no effectiveness. They are laughed at. They are ignored. Because in their hailstorm of words, they have excused so much that is FASCISTIC: that which is agressive, competitive, violent, sexist, hateful and cruel in this society. They haven't formed any meaningful coalitions. They are more about PC than revolution. LIBERAL FEMINISM is BS. IT'S DOA.

Thanks again for the kick-ass article!

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