Letter to Peta
From: Sheri Lucas
Sent: Saturday, July 20, 2002 6:38 AM
Subject: The Ethical Treatment of Women and Girls
Dear people at PETA,
I am a vegan who is deeply committed to the ethical treatment of animals. I believe that this commitment is part and parcel of my feminist commitment to struggle against all forms of oppression. As is now standard in academic feminism, I believe that various forms of oppression are interconnected and mutually reinforcing.
I am deeply offended by the fragmentation of a stereotypically attractive woman that is prominently displayed on your homepage. Indeed, as soon as I saw the image I closed your site, as is my habit when I come across sites that treat women as consumable objects. I am certainly not alone in this. Many feminists and others who are committed to living ethical lives believe that this commitment entails banning Internet sites, television shows, magazines, and anything else that is degrading to women or others. In offering ads that are bound to offend most feminists and countless other ethicists, you are losing the respect of individuals who tend to be highly motivated, politically active, well-informed, open to cultural criticism, and willing to struggle against the status quo. Similarly, as I’m sure your personal experience suggests, those who are committed to the ethical treatment of nonhuman animals tend to be committed to a wide range of ethical views, including the goals of ending world hunger, sexism, racism, elitism, and promoting environmental sustainability. Thus, I am convinced that many of your likely supporters and would-be converts are apt to be repulsed by your take on the ethical treatment of women and girls and your apparent lack of commitment to portray women in a realistic and positive way.
As a young woman, aunt, and someone who hopes to have children, I find the fragmented woman on your homepage threatening and disheartening. First, it presents an unattainable standard of beauty that is extremely damaging to the confidence of girls and young women. These images serve to make women and girls feel ugly, fat, unwanted, and inadequate. How can this help your cause? You are not trying to sell “beauty” products or women. You are not trying to make a “buck” at whatever cost to your moral framework. Rather, you are trying to promote an ethical way of life. How can you teach people to be decent and care about the well-being of others while you busy yourselves treating women as objects that can be used to increase the status of nonhuman animals?
No doubt, PETA hopes to sway as many people as possible to treat nonhuman animals with respect, and the more committed they are to this goal, the happier you will be. Why not encourage them with the right reasons? Why not build your campaigns on original ideas and images that help to depict the overwhelming compassionate, environmental, world hunger, feminist, and health reasons that favour the conclusion that it would be best if they live a lifestyle that respects nonhuman animals? These arguments are very persuasive and thought-provoking, and can be designed to stand out in a way that yet another objectifying image of a woman cannot. This would have the benefit of encouraging people to genuinely care about nonhuman animals (and others). When vegetarianism is reduced to a fashion statement, on the other hand, its “advocates” are inconsistent, unreliable, uninformed, and quick to move on to the next best fad. Are these really the “ethicists” you want to promote?
Second, this advertisement encourages your viewer to look at women in ways that reduce them to their parts and treat them as objects for another. If you know it is wrong to do this do cows, chickens, and pigs, what stops you from realizing that it is wrong to do this to women? Your use of this image, and other strategies that objectify women (such as your “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign), encourage a mentality that naturalizes sentient beings as objects for another. This mentality needs to be questioned and dismantled. How else can we expect to teach others that nonhuman animals are to be respected in and of themselves? How can we expect to encourage this attitude while treating women as serving the function of gratifying the desires of other, more powerful, beings?
Third, and similarly, that you are willing to present women as objects in hopes of liberating nonhuman animals suggests another attitude that has been counterproductive to the goal of ending the oppression of nonhuman animals: the belief that ethical vegetarians care more about nonhuman animals than they care about human animals. This attitude often makes ethical concern for nonhuman animals seem ridiculous and/or as though it is in direct competition with other ethical goals.
So long as PETA continues to run such degrading ads, I will continue to donate my time, money, and effort to NPO’s that do not resort to the objectification of women in order to end the objectification of other animals. I have read extensively on the links between sexism and speciesism, and written my Master’s Thesis on this topic. If you read up on the links between sexism and speciesism with an open mind, I am convinced that you will come to believe that no animals will be free until we are all free from degradation, objectification, and exploitation.
I will be sending a copy of this image and the URL to your website to About-Face, a watchgroup that monitors the medias representation of women and girls. No doubt, it will soon be posted as another sample of an organization that degrades women, and PETA will once again be listed as a group who should be banned for ethical reasons.
Please review the literature on the subject and rethink your approach! As I think the goals you promote are extremely important, I would very much like to advertise your group rather than discourage others from donating to you or visiting your website.
Thank you for contacting PETA and expressing your concern. We appreciate your concern and your comments have been passed to the appropriate people in our office. 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. The models who choose to participate in our ads and actions do so because they want to do something to make people stop and pay attention to animal cruelty. I would like to note that we also feature men in our ads. To check out PETA’s Broccoli Boys, go to: http://www.lettuceladies.com/broc.shtml!
Our purpose is to stop animal suffering, and we rely on opportunities to reach millions of people with powerful messages. We have found 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 colourful ad campaigns that some people find outrageous or even rude; 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. The situation for billions of animals is critical, and our goal is to make the public think about the issues. Although some consider our projects that feature naked women to be controversial, many women express their support for this effective campaign.
PETA does make a point of having something for all tastes, from the most conservative to the most radical, from the most tasteless to the most refined, and this approach has proved amazingly successful–in the two decades since PETA was first founded, it has grown into the largest animal rights group in the world, with over 750,000 members worldwide.
We respect your right to disagree with our tactics, but we hope you’ll continue to help support our projects that you do agree with, such as our free vegetarian starter kit give-aways (http://www.meatstinks.com/livevegpak.asp) or our spaying and neutering campaign (http://www.helppuppies.com/). We also hope you check out some of our undercover investigations.
Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to respond to your concern and for all you do to help animals!
Fiona Pereira, Office Co-ordinator, PETA
PO Box 36668, London SE1 1WA
Tel: 020 7357 9229 ext.221
Fax: 020 7357 0901