Instructor: Amber Rife
12 February 2015
How PETA Blurs the Line Between Animal Rights and Human Rights
PETA is widely known for their provocative and often controversial advertisements promoting vegetarianism and the general well-being of animals. The only thing bigger than their budget, it seems, is their sheer nerve. With PETA, it appears that there is never a distance that is too far or a concept that is too outrageous. Their ads are crafted for the shocked and outraged response, but sometimes they can be said to go too far. Pamela Anderson, a staunch advocate for animal rights and a PETA supporter, posed for just such a controversial ad in July of 2010. Clad in a skimpy bikini and posed for maximum effect, she pertly thrusts out her chest like the silhouette on a trucker’s mud-flap, while butcher’s marks delineate her body parts. It would seem that PETA portrays women in a sexist way in order to further their primary goal of staying relevant and visible in the media. Whenever a woman chooses to bare it all, or at least most of it in this case, it can cause contention and debate about where to draw the line. Those who advocate for the rights of animals may point out, justly, that the outrage sparked by this controversial ad is a good thing because it shocks the masses by showing them a human being treated like meat. This is supposed to be uncomfortable and upsetting simply because it is so wrong. Blurring the distinction between animals and human beings is something that PETA does often and well, but using a woman’s body to protest the consumption of animals for food or fur might seem hypocritical to some. Compassion is not necessarily limited to one species over another. PETA would appear to value animals over human beings by protesting in this way. PETA claims that the ad shows that all animals have the same parts, but could they be saying something more disturbing? Could they be using a woman’s image in a highly sexualized way with far less irony than they suppose? Pam Anderson is a famous television star who makes her living off her image and her body. While nobody is claiming that she doesn’t have the right to grant her image to PETA for their ad, there could be some unintended consequences. The implication of this ad, that women are like meat, could potentially dehumanize women in ways that we don’t fully understand. The audience of the ad, people in developed nations who can afford the luxury of choosing what to eat, are inundated with sexual images of females several times a day. The stereotypical girl in a bikini is considered to be money in the bank by the advertising industry. The fact that there is a scantily clad female in the ad really isn’t the issue to them. The fact that she is reduced to the role of a consumerist product is the real issue. The ad even has “All animals have the same parts” printed on it. Again, PETA states that the outrage this sparks mimics the outrage that we should feel toward animals used as meat. The reputation that PETA has cultivated might demonstrate that they fully understood the controversy that would arise and chose to run this ad because of that. This may have been an irresponsible decision. People are visual, and once a thought is formed, it is hard to deter. Seeing a violent dehumanizing picture of a woman with overt sexual tones can lead to an overall idea that women are products.
Canadian officials denied the permit for the ad to be unveiled in Montreal due to the controversy surrounding it. As one Canadian official attempted to clarify, “…officials denied the permit because they say, the ad is sexist. One official attempts to explain: “It is not so much controversial, as it goes against all principles public organizations are fighting for in the everlasting battle of equality between men and women” (Newser).
“Have a heart, go vegetarian,” advises the billboard in a circular text around a cow image. “Only people with no hearts would liken…