Has anyone else noticed that PETA’s pornographic campaigns get their priorities right about as much as a fashion student rocking a real fur coat? There’s more than a whiff of irony in that, and it’s a pity, because they have some potentially serious issues on their clumsy ham-fisted hands. The naked ‘running of the bulls’ stunt, the notorious Valentines’ Day trivialisation of domestic violence, the breathy and pathetic ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ campaign, featuring the gratuitous naked bodies of supermodels, reality TV stars, and a wider vast array of almost exclusively female celebrities - need I go on?
The thing about these campaigns that strikes me most is that they’re boring. They might raise an eyelid flicker once in a while, but they’re certainly no more shocking than your average Ann Summers display or quick perusal of the internet. I was lucky enough to ask someone who worked at PETA once why the lazy usage of women’s bodies has become the norm for them, and their equally lazy answer was: ‘We have to get people’s attention somehow.’ As if people consuming a regular diet of those great YouTube parodies, XTube and YouPorn, and knocking it down with a steady glass of Cosmopolitan and Grazia’s sex tips (‘rub your vaginal juices behind your ear instead of perfume’), are going to be shocked by Pamela Anderson getting her tits out next to a suggestive-looking cucumber. And even supposing that they were, how exactly does this seriously translate into vegetarianism? Are you likely to stay vegan for long if Penelope Cruz taking her clothes off was your reason?
It’s pointless, it’s boring, and it’s ineffective. PETA must know themselves that all these ads do is continue to associate their name with controversy - the only way that they’ve found to stay in the papers - and possibly alienate what should be their target market, young women, who are statistically the most likely group to turn vegetarian anyway. I remember when animal rights groups used to sneak inside London Fashion Week to throw red paint over labels that displayed real fur, and used hard-hitting slogans like ‘Only dumb animals wear dumb animals.’ Now... you’d rather go naked than wear fur? Wow. I don’t fucking care.
I know, I know, it’s all been said before, but a charity that prides itself on having a supposedly superior set of ethical values has to set an example elsewhere. Morals don’t start with cosmetics testing on rats and end with the vivisection of bonobo monkeys. If you like, you can start them with people who squash worms on the pavement - whatever floats your boat - but do us all a favour and extend them to those other animals you have to share the planet with, human beings. Basic rights for women were hard-won, and some of them - equal pay, for example - are still lagging behind. The attitudes birthed from a universal acceptance of objectification keep us from further progress, and indeed are even back-pedalling from where we were.
Of course, I can predict a PETA-esque response to such an article as this: I don’t have a sense of humour. Why don’t I just not take it so seriously? Oh, that excellent riposte that works to humiliate your opponent into silence in every situation. Why don’t I just lighten up or not be such a girl? To quote chick-lit-author-turned-MP Louise Mensch, why don’t I just laugh about David Cameron’s patronising remark to a female politician raising a serious point in Parliament - ‘calm down, dear’ - and stop being ‘all left-wing’ about it? (Incidentally, in the same article that Louise Mensch implied that most leftie women were all just much too uptight, she mentioned that feminist Conservatives consist of - direct quotation - ‘A grassroots backbench movement of women MPs, with several sound male feminists who have our backs.’ Glad they’ve got your backs, Louise, just in case the nasty male politicians on the front bench make a particularly spiteful remark and you have to run away in tears like a girl.)
We’re all supposed to be so chilled about going backwards in feminism, so reluctant to be branded feminists because it’s uncool or they’re all lesbians or you might not wear a bra, that we seem to be effortlessly sliding back into Patriarchyville. This is a land where anything goes, where women can play at being equals in jobs and all that, but fold back down into their frilly pink/PVC-lined box at the end of the day. Because really you’re an object to ogle at, some cleavage for an ad campaign, a role-player at politician who needs a real MP (read: a man) to ‘watch your back.’
If we don’t start with charities and politicians, we have no hope of cracking hearts and minds. So do us all a favour, PETA, and go back to throwing paint.