Deconstructing PETA's Thinking

Earlier today I received a letter from PETA which I didn’t expect. I had previously responded to their letter requesting me to renew my membership, which I have not done in years, with the simple message on the slip « I will support PETA again when you guys stop the sexist campaigns ». I didn’t write them a long letter and therefore expected that this would be ignored among their thousands of letters.

Therefore, my comment must have touched a chord if it deserved such a long letter, which I reproduce here and will comment on:

« Thank you for your letter expressing concern about the women who participate in our ads and campaigns. We appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts with us. »

What is interesting is that they took what I said seriously even though it was just a small message on their payment slip which I just sent back in a stamped envelope. They are obviously concerned about activists’ opinions and they know they are getting a lot of backlash.

peta-went-on-a-global-campaign-against-kfc-and-used-dead-bikini-clad-women« As an organization staffed largely by feminist women, we would not do something that we felt contributed to the very serious problems that women face. Our demonstrations and models choose to participate in our actions because they want to do something to make people stop and pay attention. We believe that people should have the choice to use their own bodies to make social statements, and that there is nothing shameful or « wrong » about doing so. This tactic has been used since Lady Godiva rode naked on a horse to protest taxes on the poor in the 11th century. Please know that we also feature men in our ads and demonstrations. »

We need to look at the definition of feminism according to PETA. Is being a feminist reinforcing the idea of women as pieces of meat and body parts or is it about empowering women and elevate their status in a patriarchal society and therefore challenging said patriarchy? Calling a woman a « chick » is in itself sexist same as calling a woman a « bitch ». These terms, which apply to female animals are been degraded to represent a sexist mindset. PETA believes that it is all right to objectify women. According to a recent article from Scientific American, we live in a world in which three in ten women are either physically abused and/or raped by men. And what does PETA do? they promote violence against women and objectify them. 


PETA has never showed women for who they really are: intelligent, educated, capable of contributing to society in a way men never imagined. Women can in fact change the face of society and elevate us above wars, greed, poverty, if they put their minds to it. Because women have, in fact, a lot of inner power and maturity, the patriarchal infantile powers will do everything they can to repress them. PETA, on the other hand, shows women as chauvinist men want them to be: sexual objects, deconstructed objects of desires, nothing else. They continually reinforce the dominant patriarchal paradigm of exploitation and might makes right. It is obvious that the world is not only treating animals like things but women too.

Using the example of Lady Godiva, an 11th century woman who had no other way of making a statement because in her time women just had to shut up and stay home is frankly disingenuous and misguided. It is the same as saying that people should eat other animals because the Eskimos do. It doesn’t represent the activism done by women as a whole at all.

We are not in the 11th century where women have zero rights and we are not in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan where a woman can be stoned to death for carrying a cell phone (as a news story indicated recently). This is the western world where women work even harder than men just to be equal, where women still mostly carry the burden of children and work and don’t even get equal pay for equal work, where women get raped every second of the day while a lot of men get a kick at watching sick pornography which promotes exactly the same thing as PETA: women as sexual objects.

When PETA says they use also men, it is true. However, only 5% of all the sexual objectification done in the media includes men. Women, on the other hand are objectified not only in men’s magazines but also women’s magazines, giving them the impression that a woman is only as good as her lipstick or the size of her breasts.

« These activist are dedicated to helping foxes who are electrocuted and skinned by the millions for the fur industry, calves who are torn from their distraught mothers and slaughtered for the meat industry, elephants who are beaten bloody and forced to live in chains year after year in circuses, and the billions of animals who suffer from torture, maddening isolation, starvation, terror, and violent death at the hands of uncaring industries. »

I don’t doubt one minute the sincerity of activists in any of their actions. What I don’t agree with is their tactics. How does it serve animals to have naked women on the street? What message does it send? How many men do you know stop by and look at women with lettuce leafs and think « geez I should really write a check to stop the fur industry » or « damn, I should really go Vegan? » I think it is, like a friend of mine pointed out, also insulting to men as it puts them all in the same category which says that men are only interested in sex. That is insulting to both genders and it is all the more insulting to animals.

We would NEVER apply these tactics to defend human rights. In fact, no one in the Suffragette movement has removed clothes to promote the rights of women to vote. Nor can I imagine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been ok with this kind of tactics to promote the cause of African Americans. Can you imagine him saying « I’d rather go naked than… »? We would consider this absurd in the human rights movement or the peace movement but we find this perfectly normal in the animal rights movement.

This is a form of Speciesism.

a-scantily-clad-pamela-anderson-starred-in-this-ad-which-was-banned-in-montreal-because-it-was-sexist« Take Traci Bingham and Pamela Anderson, for example, who posed for our ‘All Animals Have the Same Parts’ ad campaign. Both are deeply committed vegetarians known to millions for their television work, and chose to use their bodies as a political tool to grab public attention for serious animal issues. In this case, Ms. Bingham and Ms. Anderson were offended by the traditional ‘meat’ posters that treat animals as ‘parts’, and they wanted to make the point that neither farmed animals nor women should be viewed as parts – we are all precious. »

This campaign is just totally stupid and actually defeats the purpose. Women are already mostly regarded in society as ‘parts’. Just look at commercials and the media and pornography, etc. If this was not the case, we wouldn’t have this shocking three in ten statistic! So to make this « point » is just reinforcing what already exists. It doesn’t change the prevalent paradigm.

If Ms. Bingham and Ms. Anderson are so committed to animal rights, why are they described as « vegetarian »? Are they not full fledged Vegans yet? This stems of hypocrisy to me. But then again, PETA, like other welfarist organizations, shies away from the word « Vegan » whereas it is not afraid of the word sexism. I call this a double standard.


If we really want to change society’s thinking about other animals and women, reinforcing the mainstream thinking on both issues is what keeps it going, not the opposite. To solve a problem, we have to stop feeding it. The crass campaigns are just PETA’s excuse to get more money to continue to exist because they know there are a lot of men out there who love to look at naked women… and nothing else. But these are exactly the wrong people to target for any kind of campaigns because they are the least susceptible to change themselves or really care. From a psychological point of view, you can’t easily change anyone whose thinking is the basest.

Once again, it does insult men who actually think of women as intelligent partners in the web of life and not just sex objects as well as other animals. It would be like starting an anti-rape campaign and targeting rapists as potential people to make changes. That is crazy.

« We feel that all people should be free to use their minds and bodies (italic in the letter) as political instruments to bring attention to animal suffering like this, and we appreciate any effort to help those who have no voice. We use all available opportunities to reach millions of people with powerful messages. We have found that people do pay more attention to our racier actions, and we consider the public’s attention to be extremely important. Sometimes this requires tactics – like naked marches and colorful ad campaigns – that some people find rude or outrageous, but part of our job is to shake people up and even shock them in order to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and of course, action. After PETA publicized our « State of the Union Undress », for example, we were rated the number one « mover » on Yahoo’s search engine, meaning that PETA received the greatest percentage increase of terms searched that day. The situation is critical for billions of animals, and our goal is to make the public think about the issues. Although some consider our projects that include nudity to be controversial, many women express support for these tactics. »

PETA clearly shows its colors in this text. They are for cheapening women and it is disguised as empowering them. That has nothing to do with being a feminist but everything to do with wanting to please the patriarchal and sexist dominant thinking. Women who « approve » of this do so within the context of a patriarchal thinking and they are as brainwashed as their male counterparts.

There is no challenge once again of the dominant thinking and it looks like PETA is desperate to grab any attention even if it makes Vegans/animal rights activist look like crazies and extreme lunatics (which they do). It makes the cause of protecting and saving animals look like prostitution. This is morally wrong.

Animal rights should be elevated to the same level as human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, etc… Everything is connected and interconnected. How we use a ‘ism’ affect all other ‘isms’. Ignoring this fact will get PETA more and more enemies in the long term and will NEVER really help animals being seen as more than just pet or food with just a very minimum level of rights. I find their « State of the Union Undress » distasteful. It does in fact sounds like a title for a pornographic movie. If that is the image of women they want to give, they are harming us and the animals every day. Case in point is that, very often, if I mention I am Vegan, a non-Vegan will often tell me: « oh, you must be one of these crazy PETA people. » And it’s not said in a nice way but with a mocking tone. Thanks!

I don’t really care if they were number one on Yahoo. What they fail to mention in this letter are the comments from people who read about them. They fail to realize that non-Vegans react to the first image of Vegans/Animal rights activists they get. If that image is an image of intelligent discourse, it is one thing. But if that image is naked women with lettuce leaves, a non-Vegan will never look at other Vegans after that with respect. The first impression either wins them over or not. PETA is only successful when they inform people (in a non sexist way) about Veganism. That is how I got to Veganism myself. If I had stumbled unto PETA’s sexist campaigns as a non-Vegan, I would have ran the other way saying that these people are crazies.

« You might find it interesting to consider that is the societies that allow women to wear revealing clothing in which women have the most rights and the most power. Likewise, it is the societies that punish women for wearing clothing in which women have the fewest rights and the least power. Should women only be allowed to participate in activism if they promise not to show their bodies or use their bodies as a political statements? If a person chooses to use his or her physicality and sexuality to convey a message of his or her choosing, aren’t those who would censor him or her, even if their motives are good, also somewhat guilty of disrespect and repression? »

This argument had me flip. It conveys the message that women are only as free as the amount of clothing that they wear. This is total nonsense and ignores the reality of patriarchal thinking. The fact that women are more free in some countries has nothing to do with the amount of clothing they wear but with the fight their mothers and grand-mothers put up to gain them equal rights to men.

PETA’s statement is in fact insulting the women who pioneered gender equality. Should are mothers and grand-mothers have gone naked to promote voting rights and abortion rights, etc. ? That argument is so twisted that once again it shows the high degree of perversity to which PETA has lowered itself in the last 20 years or so.

That women choose to go naked for PETA’s campaign is of course their decision. But these decisions are, once again, made in the context of a highly patriarchal world. They could say the same about prostitutes and porn ‘actresses’. But what they don’t know is the high degree of suffering in each of these industries in which these women are physically and psychologically damaged (but that could make an entire separate blog). All PETA does, I repeat it once more, is degrading one cause to promote another cause. You can’t change people’s thinking by keeping them in the same mind-frame. PETA treats women AND men as idiots and not as intelligent adults who can understand the rational message of Veganism. They resort to cheap tricks because they are incapable of giving an intelligent message. That is a high poverty of ambition.

« PETA does make a point of having something for all tastes, from the most conservative to the most radical and from the most tasteless to the most refined, and this approach has proved amazingly successful – in the three decades since PETA was founded, it has grown into the largest animal rights group in the world, with more than 3 million members and supporters worldwide. For more information about PETA’s vital work for animals, please visit our website.

We respect your right to disagree with our tactics but hope that you will continue to support projects that you agree with, such as our free vegetarian/vegan starter kit giveaways or our low-cost spay/neuter clinics. »

PETA calls itself an animal rights organization which I find highly ironic since they are in fact a welfarist organization just like other major animal groups out there. A real animal « rights » organization would clearly see the connections between the rights of animals and the rights of women, blacks, gays, etc… but it doesn’t. They act in fact like a prostitute who shakes her legs to get money from men. PETA does the same with its members. They serve the dominant exploitative patriarchal mindset by prostituting themselves to it.

PETA clearly confesses that they are not afraid of trash and they proved it over and over again. One big example is their ads showing battered women which sends a disturbing message that harming women is ok. Domestic violence portrayed in commercials, whether done tongue in cheek as PETA says or not, is disgusting and shows that PETA is NOT feminist.

How can I support any good work they do (like promoting Veganism which is in itself extremely limited) when everything else they do just cheapens the cause of animal rights and Veganism and reduces it to just silly antics by objectifying women. And I won’t even comment on their killing of perfectly adoptable companion animals, which would deviate from the issue. Whatever credibility PETA still had for me just ended with this letter.

The best service PETA can do for women and other animals is to disappear. Let the real activists send the right message. Just like HSUS sells out to pig producers, PETA sells out to patriarchy.

© Copyright 2013 – All Rights Reserved – No printing authorized without prior consent.

COMMITTED: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir – by DAN MATHEWS

This joy ride of a book was delivered to me through my local library as I was really looking forward to a good animal rights activism book. Recently, I saw HBO’s look at PETA’s president Ingrid Newkirk which I found deeply interesting from an activist’s point of view. I still think PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)is way more engaging than any other animal rights group on the planet! Everybody seems… well… too mainstream and too compromising. You can’t compromise with lives! I like action. So reading Dan Mathew’s personal account of his life as Vice-President of PETA, as a Gay man and just simply a guy was soooo refreshing and fun at the same time.

I couldn’t help but relate to Dan tremendously not because he is Gay but because a lot of his struggles hit home. His childhood particularly felt very much like mine as I was usually bullied by others (for being « weird ». I still wonder what was « weird » about me!). I guess Dan and I share a lot in common. He almost feels like the friend I wish I had in High School (Unlike him, I didn’t even have one – Pathetic!), We share a lot in common. I went through a phase of sexual identity crisis (it’s not over yet) and found myself migrating through the pain of others. And just like him, I embraced the animal rights cause and went from being a meat eater to Vegetarian and finally Vegan.

Dan Mathew’s story is very inspiring and I understand how he was able to make it to the top of PETA’s fight for animals alongside Ingrid Newkirk. I read his book in a just a few days (I’m usually slower) and loved each pages. It’s a lot of fun to find out how he got Calvin Klein to go fur-free, or how he got the likes of Nina Hagen, Chrissie Hynde (of The Pretenders) and Pamela Anderson to really even more around PETA’s cause. He also makes a good case for Veganism without trying to preach for anybody not there yet.

So, yes it is a good read. It’s entertaining and the man certainly has bravado. But more than that, it made me want to join a few naked protests!


10/29/2013 update about this post: I am amazed at how much my own position on PETA and their sexist campaigns has changed. I didn’t have an understanding about patriarchal sexist thinking and still didn’t understand feminism either, even thought I thought I identify as one. It took reading The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams to radically make me see the light. Also, since, I have learned about how PETA kills healthy companion animals. I also don’t think they are even « radical » any more. But at the time of writing, PETA was about the only frame of reference. Other than that, I still think that this book is a good read on various levels and it gives us a good look inside PETA’s thinking.