Glamorizing gendered violence and hyper-sexualizing women is poor vegan activism
The video goes like this: a woman is walking down the street, towards a camera, wearing a wool sweater. From the right, a man approaches her and punches her, hard, in the head. She falls to the ground shrieking and fighting against him, as he punches her in the side of the head repetitively. He beats her unconscious, picks up her sweater, and walks on his merry way. The message “what if you were beaten up for your sweater?” flashes on the screen. Another video plays of a fur-coated woman walking down a path in a park. A man assaults her, “kills” her, and walks off with her fur coat. Same message, same organization. Would you be shocked if I told you it was from PETA? Likely not, because as I’ve said before, if PETA didn’t have women to hate, who else would they use in their campaigns? (As a note, larger woman probably have it the worst, as they are targets of the “beached whale” joke)
The thing about being a woman is that we literally can never escape images of our bodies being beaten and tortured in order to make a point, whether that’s in an episode of Game of Thrones, on a New York City billboard, or within activist circles who claim to fight for the rights of all beings. We are target for both staged abuse and abuse that is very much real. Our bodies do not belong to ourselves in these instances; they exist to make a profit. I wish I could turn on the TV, look at a magazine, or walk down the street without some kind of obnoxious reminder that because of my gender, I’m an automatic target for violence. “Nobody helps her!” commenters and PETA declared in both videos mentioned above, and of course not! Violence against women is completely normalized, and they are all too happy to advance such desensitization.
Another video shows “Jessica,” a forlorn woman in a neck brace, bruised, and clad only in a coat and underwear. In this campaign, called “boyfriend went vegan,” an injured woman wanders through a back alley, only to climb up into her apartment, and offer her boyfriend (who “accidentally” beat the shit out of her during sex, mind you) a bag of vegetables. She’s in pain, she’s stumbling, and Jessica wants more. This outright mocking of domestic violence plays out like a sick joke, but it’s a campaign made in earnest, claiming that veganism will make you such a great lay that you’ll injure your partner. Women seem to always want more, when it comes to abuse, don’t we? We “ask for it,” and we deserve it.
The comments on all of these videos are almost always the same; “what the fuck did I just watch?” “this makes me ashamed to be vegan,” “you do realize we have a violence against women problem, right?” Yes, yes, of course PETA realizes this, which is exactly why they seek to sexualize and capitalize on it. As a woman, as a vegan woman, I am not enlightened by these videos as much as I want to vomit.
Apart from glamorizing violence against women, PETA is certainly a fan of using the female body in other ways to garner attention, such as their infamous Lettuce Ladies who, as you can imagine, have a certain “look” to them. No “fatties” here, just porn stars and playmates! During a debate I stupidly entered on twitter, a fan told me that the women are volunteers and do it on their own accord. Yes, this is true that the women in the bikinis make an active choice, but do our choices exist in a vacuum, with no outside influence from a hyper-sexualized society? Absolutely not. The fact that this idea to sell veganism with sex to begin with is the root of the issue, and no amount of “but they chose to do it!” can erase that the idea existed in the first place. I was told that this was “body positivity in action.” Is it really?
The University of Queensland is Australia ran a study that concluded that sexualizing women for the purposes of animal rights have no effect on advancing the cause. Sex might sell a product, but it doesn’t sell an ideology. The lead researcher of the study said, “There’s a negative link between dehumanization and the treatment of others, it reduces concern…If you are using images that are dehumanizing, it’s likely to backfire.” Indeed, animal rights are absolutely connected to feminism, and throwing a social movement out the window is likely to be a poor idea.
Anti-fur campaigns run by PETA are also outright misogynistic. In the “Fur Trim is Unattractive” campaign, sexy, skinny women are shown looking in to the camera with desire in their eyes, and fur sprouting from their public area. Women are regularly shamed into keeping their genitals bald for partners and the greater pop culture we live in, so of course, PETA had to jump at this chance to further express their disdain for women. “Don’t ruin your look with fur trim!” the sign reads.
Even if a world existed where sex DOES sell veganism, I wouldn’t want to live in it. If folks are making a change that was set off by their own sex drive, then veganism as a movement would be fraught with more issues than it already has with so many anti-woman campaigns in existence. Go vegan because you give a damn about animals, not because it sets off sexual fantasy.