Talking Through Feminist Critiques of PETA: A Call for Animal Rights to be a Project of Media and Culture Studies Scholars
by Candice Haddad — University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
October 06, 2010 – 00:01
Animal rights activism faces an interesting predicament when trying to rear its head (no pun intended) into the realm of mainstream media and, subsequently, mainstream politics. Various PETA campaigns are one of the most prominent and highly visible outlets for animal rights activism in the mainstream media. Using the tired tactics of sex and shock, PETA’s “I Rather Go Naked Than Fur” campaign uses nude or semi-nude models, often celebrities, in an attempt to draw attention to animal rights issues, particularly issues concerning the violent and inhumane practices of the fur and food industry. Subsequently, this campaign has invoked numerous feminist responses to its objectifying and degrading ads. (For examples, see Jezebel and Feministing.)
This rupture between feminists and animal rights activists caused by this highly visible campaign brings to the fore its contradictory nature, ultimately displacing and sidetracking the project. By using the proverbial master’s tools of patriarchy, sexism, and consumerism to dismantle the capitalistic project of keeping the distance, both mentally and physically, between consumers and their food (which relies on similar dominant ideologies to keep its hegemonic status), PETA’s campaigns sever ties to a political group that essentially works for similar social change. By stripping women down to their skins, there is a visual connection being drawn between women and animals as both objects meant to be ogled and consumed.
When discussing the PETA campaign in various media and culture studies circles, I see the message of animal rights becoming lost in the controversy; thus, its validity is often dismissed. A basic premise of media studies and cultural studies scholarship is to unveil, critique, and question hegemonic cultural power relations. If the underlying project of cultural studies is to do such things, I believe, animal rights and, subsequently, food politics are projects that are incredibly underdeveloped and often disregarded. Therefore, I believe there needs to be a refusal to see animal rights as a movement that naturally rests on the hinges of sexism and patriarchy, and an effort in our inquires of power and culture to integrate animal rights into our scholarship and politics.
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