Monday, February 3, 2014

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was founded in 1980 and has grown to have a global impact.  PETA is a non-for-profit organization with 1.8 million members and it is the largest animal advocacy organization worldwide which “focuses its attention on four major areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most: on factory farms, in laboratories, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry”. Their mission is to improve the quality of life for, and prevent the killing of, all animals worldwide. Although PETA is primarily an animal advocacy group, their far reaching and theoretical goals are linked to the goals of feminism.

PETA through a feminist lens: the similarities between the way humans subordinate animals and the way humans subordinate women are clear. There is often a linguistic parallel drawn between women and animals. There are many words and phrases, often negative, that indicate the association of women and animals and make clear their lowly position on the social ladder. Words like bitch, heifer, vixen, chick, pussy, even the word pet are just a few of the names that are commonly applied to women. These are obvious connections between women and animals but there is also a theme that is present in both animal rights and women’s rights campaigns, and that is the problem of invisibility. There is a lot of misunderstanding and intentional mystification when it comes to issues concerning animal well being.

The term “meat” is a prime example. “In the term meat we have a clue to the cultural hegemony achieved for the eating of animal...when we turn an animal into “meat”, someone who has a very particular, situated life, a unique being, is converted [and processed] into something that has no distinctiveness, no uniqueness, no individuality”. By using the term “meat” there is an inherent distancing between the eater and the animal which they are eating. A serious moral question is presented when the only way one can consume an animal is to distance ones self from the concept of the animal by calling it “meat”. If people had a conscious awareness of what they were eating, how it was made, and how the animals that became food were treated, there would be a lot more valuable talk about animal rights.

Women’s rights and the ways in which women are discriminated against are also less exposed than they ought to be and many people have a vested interest in not promoting how women are treated in society, hence ignore, are uninterested in, or are actively hostile to feminist issues. While PETA is in theory committed to expanding the rights of women, their ad campaign indicates otherwise. This highlights a problem with the similarity of the struggle for animal and women’s rights – they can get in one another’s way.

PETA is an organization that views its mission as more important than that of feminists.  While their agenda is not anti-feminist, their ad campaign is sexist. It certainly is eye-catching, it probably is very effective, but nonetheless it uses sexist imagery to make its case on behalf of animals.  In theory, PETA sees the common threads between the abuse of women and the abuse of animals, but when it comes to choosing a clever and effective ad campaign that disregards feminist values, the choice is clear.

Adams , Carol. Neirher man nor beast: Feminism and the defense of animals. 1st. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1994.

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