I’ve been a vegetarian for all of my life. No, I’m not self-righteous about it and no, I won’t criticize anyone based on their dietary choices. I will, however, get pretty upset about animal rights groups who use the exploitation of women as a means of advancing their own agendas.
I wouldn’t pigeonhole myself as a feminist. Maybe “post-modernist” is more descriptive, but that’s not to say that I don’t care about the way women are treated in the mass media. I used to be a huge supporter of Persons for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). As a kid, I would even save up my allowance and send it to them in order to materialize my support. It wasn’t until after I saw their advertisements and read ecofeminist author Carol Adams’ “The Sexual Politics of Meat” that I realized how backwards PETA’s messages were.
Advertising is an important facet of first-world propaganda and networking. However, the use of sexuality in commercials has become a go-to for many advertisers who feel that appealing to sex is the best way to market their item. This image of women has created many problems in discursive language and the explicit objectification of women. A prime example of such objectification is PETA’s banned Superbowl advertisement depicting just this kind of sexual exploitation.
The commercial contains half-naked women rubbing raw vegetables on themselves, implying that “vegetables are sexy.” At the end of the commercial, text appears, reading, “Vegetarians have better sex.” Rather than using subtle sexuality as a means of persuasion, PETA was very explicit with its message. Furthermore, the commercial creates some problems with the way in which PETA looks at women. Rather than using nakedness as a form of liberation, PETA directly ties nudity to sexuality. PETA also depicts these scantily-clad women in a negative light, especially to young men. The only message that the animal rights activist group sends is that these sexy, vegetarian women are “easy” and should not be taken seriously. Is it really worth prioritizing an anti-fur campaign over a woman’s dignity? Probably not.
After watching the banned Super Bowl commercial and looking through the images in their magazines, I promised myself that I would never give a single dollar more to such an organization.
Donations to PETA are not only counterproductive to the feminist movement, but are even worse for the ecofeminist movement. Ecofeminism melds feminism and ecology to argue that there is a deep connection between the oppression of nature and women. Western culture has made this oppression acceptable, and advertisers such as PETA use this exploitation to advance their own interests. This undermines the ecofeminist movement, creating problems that are hard to reverse.
There may not be a viable alternative to this issue; however, exploiting women as a means of advancing an animal-rights-based agenda is blatantly counterproductive to both movements.
Thus, the question comes down to the legitimacy of ecofeminism, and whether it is an epistemologically sufficient alternative to the way many look at oppression in the modern world. The ecofeminist movement criticizes groups like PETA, which is a step in the right direction. Questioning the underlying causes of oppression is always a prerequisite to understanding and comprehending why objectification and exploitation happen in the first place. Ecofeminism does just that, even if it doesn’t outline a pragmatic alternative to the status quo.
So, you may ask, what can we as productive citizens actually do about this issue? Well, we can first stop supporting organizations that engage in the same kinds of activities that they criticize. It may not fix the problem, but it’s better than being complicit with the current institution. PETA’s commercials cannot be taken seriously by a majority of the population – these advertisements are just something to masturbate to. They do not create a sense of zeal for those who actually believe in the cause. We cannot continue to sit back and watch mass media portray women in this light. We must stand up for women and animals alike.
Priyanka Krishnamurthy is a College Sophomore from Coppell, Texas.