Should activists buy into the "Sex Sells" theory of
Feminist Animal Rights Activist Tells Her Story
Animal Writes, Issue # 02/01/04
am an animal rights activist. I am also a feminist: I believe that women’s
interests deserve equal consideration in all of life's circumstances. I also am
a PETA supporter and have volunteered for many of their "eye-catching"
demos. I have dressed in a cow's suit and a fur coat with a bag over my head.
I have also worn a pleather “dominatrix” outfit to educate about the cruelty
in leather and protested the circus as a tiger in a cage wearing orange body
paint, pasties, and underwear. Most recently, with PETA I helped
distribute Tofurkys as a “sexy Santa” in a mini skirt, crop top and
cities throughout the Midwest we asked people to consider the animals this
holiday season by going vegetarian. Many local activists were very helpful
to us; their desire to help animals was very apparent. But we were not met with
open arms at every location; in fact, some animal rights activists found this an
occasion to protest us by not participating and emailing their condemnation of
what they claimed is a “sexist” and “exploitive” kind of activism. I
know that many take issue with "sexy" demos and ads for animal rights
because this is believed to not be in keeping with a feminist perspective.
However, as a woman and feminist, I believe that these demos are very much in
sync with feminism. They are created by and volunteered for by women, smart
women who realize that these costumes get valuable attention. The media is
more impressed with demos where activists are in these costumes than others.
This is a simple fact and PETA generates more media attention from their demos
than many others. Obviously when the media is involved, more people are exposed
to the message. I think that potentially exposing tens or hundreds of thousands
to the AR "go veggie" message is better than the few hundred we will
encounter on the street. If a woman has the ability to create a demo and
she or other women want to volunteer for the demo, then, to be given equal
consideration as feminism dictates, these women have a right to contribute to
the movement in this way. In fact when people say that PETA “uses”
women they are relegating women to the very role we have fought to be rid of,
namely, “things” that need to be ordered around and kept in their place.
ironic that none of the activists offended at my sexy costume spoke to me.
My male companion was the only one to hear their objections. I may have
been considered too submissive and un-opinionated to have an answer and they
“respect women” too much to discuss the issues with me. They may have
been afraid to hear what I might have to say. Maybe they thought I was
chained up and gagged by PETA since they were “using and objectifying” me?
Did they think that I was nothing more than a sexual piece of meat who didn’t
know what was being done to her or able to make her own choices? This
thinking further perpetuates the idea that women are incapable of taking care of
themselves and taking on very serious activism for animal rights.
I ask each of you, when you see women dressed “sexily” for activism, do you
see a victimized woman with nothing to offer the world other than her body? Or
do you see a woman who intelligently and freely chooses to use her body to make
a point? Your answer may lead you to your own hidden sexism. We all have
different ways to contribute to animal rights activism. PETA’s eye-catching
demos are just one way to further the message that animals are not ours to eat,
to wear or to experiment on. I found my role as the “tiger” in a
cage wearing nothing but body paint, underwear, and pasties to be a very moving
experience. Yes, I was very self-conscious and very cold. But I have never
really understood what it must be like to be an exploited animal in a circus
until that moment. I have never known what is a lifetime of suffering for tigers
in circuses until my experience in that cage being gawked at and laughed at. The
only difference was that, unlike the animals, I was able to emerge from that
am grateful for that experience whether or not it was effective to convince my
onlookers of the evils of animals used for entertainment. I am angry that
others would have it that I should not have been allowed to participate in that
demo. In fact, I am a better person having done this demo. I saw
many young girls looking at me with wide eyes in my Sexy Santa costume. This to
me is a true test of my feminist ideas. If I can look at what I am doing and
think that I am emulating what it means to be a positive role model for the
women of tomorrow, then I am being true to myself and to women. I hope that they
saw a woman with a loud voice who is not afraid to stand up for what she
believes in. I hope they saw a woman who promotes compassion and peace for all
living beings. I hope they saw that the female body and being sexy is nothing to
be ashamed of and that striving to be healthy and fit is a good goal to have. I
hope that they saw that not being waif-like skinny with the media portrayed idea
of female beauty does not mean that you cannot be proud of who you are and how
don’t think that women have achieved all that there is achieve for equality.
But I do believe that, at least for women in America, we don’t have that much
farther to go. Compare this to the animals who are blowtorched, mutilated,
vaginally electrocuted, impregnated to have their babies ripped from them and
then tortured for their milk and meat, hacked open for science, and beaten,
exploded and tormented for entertainment. In all seriousness, who is the
exploited group? Considering the immensity of the problem of animal
exploitation, I find that the majority of the complaining about PETA and their
“using” women to be a distraction that needs to stop. I don’t believe, and
I’m sure that many will be offended at this, that people who choose to make an
issue about women in PETA demos and ads have really considered the animals
first. I would suspect that the animals would think that you could help
them in better ways than sending off your emails in protest of PETA.
Reprint permission granted by Animal Rights Online (http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/1395).
Animal Rights Online is an animal advocacy group that publishes Animal Writes, a
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