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fur and feminism

Fur or foxy ladies? Perhaps it’s a quandry you don’t have to face everyday. But global animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is reportedly asking its audience to choose, with plans to launch a ‘xxx’ pornography website in order to push across its vegan diet messages.

Media outlets have jumped in the last two days for the story, in which PETA’s American media spokeswoman announced plans to launch an erotica website in which alluring pictures will give way to messages about PETA campaigns and philosophy. While the organisation has been quick to assure journalists that the website is intended to be ‘sexually suggestive’ rather than explicit, the announcement has been an open door for critics of PETA to denounce the group’s causes. Indeed, a quick internet search of the group in the next few days will turn up more on the proposed website than it will on the organisation’s current campaigns against big businesses testing on animals.

Despite PETA being well versed in using suggestive imagery for animal rights, resistance against their newest announcement raises new questions. What ethical lines should be drawn in the 24 hour news cycle when activist groups are so desperate to get their voices heard? Perhaps more importantly, what’s with the proclivity for protestors to go nude for their beliefs, and why does it work time and time again?

PETA launched in 1980, and quickly became known for such radical campaigns as ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’, in which supporters and glowing celebrities alike would strip and be photographed in the name of stopping the fashion industry’s affection for fur products.

Some see this as a noble goal, but it’s undeniable that critics of the organisation have rested not only on different environmentalist perspectives but also on the group’s reliance on sexing up the issue. PETA’s website FAQs even include an answer to ‘Why does PETA use nudity in some of its campaigns?’ to which they claim that ‘celebrity participation helps us reach more people’ and that their supporters are akin to ‘modern-day Lady Godivas’. Looking back on their anti-fur campaigns and the celebrity filled ‘Sexiest Vegetarian’ polls, PETA makes their stance on brand building fairly clear. It is their intention to show skin in order to sell their messages, even if some think this doesn’t translate well.

The announcement of the erotica site has not been pleasing to the various social groups who have lobbied against PETA on the basis of their sexist, anti-feminist campaigns. In the last few weeks, groups such as Veg*n Women Against PETA took to Facebook with petitions against the website, highlighting their disdain for the entire organisation’s methods. Their campaigns are ‘alienating and offensive’, the group claimed, saying that using porn to sell animal rights falls into a category of sexist and exploitative marketing.

PETA and their supporters disagree. On the North American website, a list of current campaigns, such as that against Nestea, sit proudly on the front pages with no mentions of nudity. On Twitter, countless supporters pledged to maintain their stances against animal rights abuses, as determined by PETA. In these assertions lies the notion that people use nudity all the time to sell things – so why not an activist message?

The history of nudity and public speaking for a cause has no doubt been a long and successful one. PETA and their supporters have a point when they claim that naked protestors have been used far too often for this to be claimed as unusual. From the early 20th Century right through to the Western Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, sexuality and ‘sexual revolution’ have provided visual assistance for gaining publicity in protests. Recent protests such as those by Ukrainian group FEMEN have been held partially unclothed as a matter of course, with ladies who participated going topless to speak out against patriachy and sex tourism in Ukraine. Even Australia’s versions of the SlutWalk movement encouraged scantily clad ladies in order to get attention. Seeing extra body parts while being educated by activists is nothing all that new.

So where’s the difference when it comes to PETA? This question has been written on extensively, and no doubt perspectives will flourish in the wake of the organisation’s ‘erotica’ announcement. Perhaps it is that PETA consistently uses women as attention grabbers for a cause that is not even about the liberation of women. While the liberation of animals is a cause with a strong and understandable following, the use of glamour, celebrity and ultimately women’s bodies, in order to lure a ‘wider audience’ (presumably men) to the cause doesn’t sit well with the concept of liberation overall.

Activist organisations are always looking to break the boundaries in the name of attention for their cause. This is maybe a point to keep in mind when young people go looking for organisations to be active with. When you want to make a change and join an organisation of like minded people, considering the entire organisation’s philosophy is probably a wise place to start. You may agree with the message, but not necessarily the method of transmission.

When asked about the website, PETA spokeswomen suggested to the media that it wasn’t very liberating to prevent women from using their bodies in any way they liked when promoting a cause. Promoting vegan diets is a fight that undoubtedly takes energy to achieve – but it’s for the audiences out there to decide if mixing porn and activism confuses the message through shock tactics before anyone changes their diets.

(Image Credit: 1.)

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  1. Pingback: Welcome To Monday ~ Monday 3rd September | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

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