Pork & Tits

September 24th, 2008 8:00 pm by Kelly Garbato

Update, 10/17/07: OK, I lied. What can I say, I don’t enjoy being misrepresented.

By way of an FYI to Feministing readers, I don’t plan on following the comment thread over there, not because I’m a rude asshole, but because I don’t need the grief.

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Update, 10/16/08: First, greetings and salutations to everyone coming here from Feministing. I hope you’ll have a look around and perhaps visit again.

Secondly, I want to briefly address the way in which Ann linked to this post on her recent piece on Ingrid Newkirk. At first I intended on posting this in the comments at Ann’s post, but they require a MoveableType account, and I just don’t have the energy – to register *or* follow comments on a website I’ve longed stopped reading due (some of) the bloggers’ blatant speciesism.

This is the paragraph in which I was quoted:

Well, duh. The lowest-common-denominator advertising tactic is to put a big ol’ pair of disembodied boobs front and center. We get that. (Of course, this argument has been made in defense of PETA’s tactics before.) But to make it sound like, “well, it’s either boobs or a slaughterhouse video, and which do you think traffics better?” is so simplistic. There are a million ways to draw attention to a cause that are neither in-your-face political nor objectifying women. This is not either/or.

I don’t know if Ann misinterpreted my post, or if I’m reading too much into the way in which I was referenced, but I want to clarify that I *don’t* believe that it’s ok for PETA to objectify women just so long as it helps their traffic. And that’s not at all what I said: in the post below, I argue that the “Breast is Best” campaign is not sexist, not because the ends justify the means – but because the means, in this case, simply are not misogynistic. My main intention in pointing out the Google search results is to scold those feminists (like, ahem, the ladies at Feministing) who only give a flying fuck about animal welfare issues when it’s to rip into PETA for their sexism (or other “ism”), whether real or perceived. (That discrepancy in search results? Feministing & co. is partially to blame.)

If you keep reading, you’ll see that I DO have a problem with PETA’s celebrity print campaigns, in which women’s naked bodies are pornified, while those of men are not. No doubt, all those pseudo-porn shots do wonders for PETA’s publicity, but because I believe that PETA has a responsibility to fight oppression in all its forms (if not actively, then at the very least by refusing to engage in it themselves), I don’t really give a shit how many people PETA manages to convert to veg*nism by displaying Jenna Jameson like a porno prop – it’s wrong, and it’s sexist. And I say as much in the post below.

So for Ann to suggest that I defended the “lowest-common-denominator advertising tactic…to put a big ol’ pair of disembodied boobs front and center,” is really quite unfair. The “Breast is Best” campaign – at least to the best of my knowledge – never actually displayed anyone’s boobs. If PETA has since sent out scantily clad models to greet Wal-Mart customers with a nice fresh glass of breast milk and copious amounts of cleavage, then that’s where I’d stop defending this particular campaign.

I know it’s shocking, but I can repudiate some of PETA’s campaigns while admiring others. I’m nuanced like that, yo.

Update, 10/16/08, later in the PM: I’d also like to point out that you can “use sex” to sell your message in a way that isn’t sexist. Sometimes doing so can even prove both sexy and subversive:

Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre

Question: Do you think Ms. Hanna is objectifying herself, selling out other women by selling her own body, by appearing in a bikini top with the word “SLUT” scrawled across her stomach?

Would you think the same if she’d written “GO VEG” on her bare belly instead?

If so, you need to check your speciesism at the door.

And, you know, this is why I rarely write about PETA; it’s just too emotionally draining. I self-identify as a vegan feminist atheist. Sure, I’m many other things; but these are the three descriptors that I’ll always turn to first. So it really pains me when either of the two feel at odds with one another, such as when feminists all but ignore animal issues until PETA releases their newest campaign, which may or may not be “ist.” That was really the impetus for the post below – not defending PETA per se, but defending animal rights as a feminist issue.

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Update, 10/16/08: Ann @ Feministing linked to this piece, but over at Smite Me!, where it was originally posted. In response, I clarified my position a bit, particularly the whole “sex sells” angle, which I believed she misinterpreted. Go check it out.

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Update, 9/27/08: Mary Martin @ Animal Person discusses Ben & Jerry’s obtuse response to the campaign, as well as The Today Show’s take on the kerfluffle. Hint: you may want to write them about their weak attempts at “journalism.” Because, like it or not, many Americans’ sole provider of mainstream media news may very well consist of inane newstainment programs such as The Today Show.

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Hey! Feminists! You want to know why PETA continues to engage in (possibly) sexist, racist, classist, sizeist and otherwise “offensive” and “controversial” campaigns?

I’ll give you a hint:

Google Search - PETA + Breast Milk

Google Search - PETA + Hormel + Pigs

In the top screenshot, a Google search for the terms PETA + “breast milk,” which returned 51,900 hits.

In the bottom screenshot, a Google search for the terms PETA + Hormel + pigs, which returned 11,500 hits.

Sex sells. “Tell us something we don’t know,” goes the collective snort. As you wish.

You see, the newly launched PETA campaign to have Ben & Jerry’s replace cow’s milk with human breast milk has received oodles and oodles of attention from all corners feminist. (And even those not so.) Even though it’s really a publicity stunt. Even though it stands absolutely zero chance of ever being implemented. Even though it’s completely infeasible.

And that’s the fucking point, people.

PETA doesn’t seriously mean to have all American cow’s milk replaced with American breast milk. As of 2004 statistics, that would translate to “582 pounds of milk equivalents per person.” There’s absolutely no way that we could possibly produce that much milk from American human mams. No way.

And again, that’s the point.

Because, rather than being a serious proposal, this is a thought experiment, meant to demonstrate how ridiculous – how ridiculously cruel – the mass consumption of dairy really is. 582 pounds of milk, you see, demands quite a bit of suffering at the expense of the milk producers: the dairy cows who produce milk, and the veal calves they give birth to. Those nameless, faceless milk machines, yeah?

Mothers, daughters and sons.

They don’t really mean to suggest that American tits be hooked up to breast pumps 20 hours a day in order to whet our appetite for a highly unnatural, wholly unnecessary product.

They mean for you to imagine what a system might be like, and then extend that compassion and consideration and horror and outrage to those animals who currently are suffering for our convenience.

Why not educatione the public, the consumers, about the cruelty that goes on behind closed (factory farm) doors in order to bring y’all your Chunky Monkey? Why not air a few PSAs that feature undercover footage showing dairy cows, confined to concrete stalls, hooked up to all manner of machinery, in essence stealing milk meant for their babies, which are either destined to share their mothers’ fate (daughters) or – perhaps worse – spend their too-short lives confined to crates so tiny that their muscles are never allowed a chance to develop (sons)?

Yeah, PETA, why not just do that?

This is why.

Google Search - PETA + Breast Milk

Google Search - PETA + Hormel + Pigs

People are more interested in reading, talking and hearing about tits than the abuse inherent in factory farms.

Last week, PETA released this shocking (well, shocking not to us veg*ns, but to you “see no evil, hear no evil” types) footage from a three-month undercover investigation of a Hormel “pork” supplier:

If you can’t bear to watch the footage – I couldn’t – here’s a summary of what they found:

* A supervisor shoved a cane into a sow’s vagina, struck her on the back about 17 times, and then struck another sow.

* Multiple pigs were beaten with metal gate rods, and lacerations were found on more than 30 sows – which is probably evidence of more abuse.

* A worker hit a young pig in the face four times with the edge of a herding board, and investigators witnessed dozens of similar incidents involving this worker and 11 other workers.

* Two men – including a supervisor – were witnessed jabbing clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces. A supervisor also poked two animals in the eyes with his fingers.

* A supervisor kicked a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move and told PETA’s investigator, “You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry.”

* A worker who weighed an estimated 315 lbs. punched a sow on the back three times and said that he sat on a sow’s head.

And yet,

PETA + “breast milk” = 51,900 hits

PETA + Hormel + pigs = 11,500 hits

People love teh boobies. Undercover exposés of factory farming cruelty? Eh.

As much as I disagree with some of PETA’s tactics, I gotta give ’em props – they do some solid undercover work. I could never do this shit, I know that much. No fucking way.

And yet all the supposed outrage over the Hormel investigation has dissipated at the thought of – ZOMG! BOOBIES!!!1!!!1!!!

PETA, for all their faults, uses a wide variety of strategies to bring about change: case workers on individual cruelty cases, letter writing campaigns, celebrity involvement, contests and giveaways, street team activism, college/campus engagement, organized protests.

Do I agree with everything they do? Hells no.

I think their biggest offense is using sizeist insults against their opponents (e.g., Al Gore and Michael Moore); they can also be classist, racist and occasionally sexist.

And, you know what? When PETA engages in sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, sizeism, ableism – or any other manner of isms – then yeah, they ought to be called out on their shit. Sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, sizeism, ableism – none is any more or any less acceptable than speciesism.

But I am So. Fucking. Sick. of speciesists criticizing PETA (and, usually by extension, all animal rights advocates) for an ism, real or perceived, and doing it from an obviously speciesist perspective.

Because, um, *leansinclosetowhisper* YOUR PRIVILEGE IS SHOWING!

Yeah, that’s right, your privilege.

Not your white privilege, or your male privilege, or your class privilege, or your heterosexual privilege, or your cisgendered privilege.

Your human privilege.

You know, that privilege which allows you to dismiss the very real claims of animal cruelty that PETA is highlighting and focus instead on their totally hypothetical (never gonna happen, people!) proposition of treating women’s tits like milk machines.

You know, how we currently treat cows’ teats.

And – psssst! – closer! – let me also say that:

Featuring women in a campaign isn’t necessarily sexist.

Featuring naked women in a campaign isn’t necessarily sexist.

There are natural parallels to be drawn between the use and abuse of animals’ bodies and the use and abuse of women’s bodies.

Again, from the Hormel video:

A supervisor shoved a cane into a sow’s vagina, struck her on the back about 17 times, and then struck another sow.

A supervisor kicked a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move and told PETA’s investigator, “You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry.”

We’re all “bitches” in a patriarchy; identifying similarities between different types of suffering isn’t sexist, it’s honest.

So, is this particular “breast milk” campaign sexist? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s a fair comparison. Animal agriculture exploits the reproductive systems of female non-human animals, in much the same way that the reproductive systems of female human animals have been and are exploited, throughout time and across cultures. This campaign simply wouldn’t work if it featured men or men and women. The logic wouldn’t compute.

Now, in regards to PETA’s print ads – such as their “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” series – yeah, I think you can make a compelling case for sexism there. Fur is a unisex or gender neutral form of exploitation, if you will. Male and female animals alike are anally electrocuted, skinned alive and made into fur coats. And yet, if you look at PETA’s print ads, including the fur series, most of the nekkid models are women. Young, conventionally attractive, young, white, skinny women. In my best guesstimate, based on a few years of collecting such ads, women appearing in PETA’s print ads stand a 50/50 chance of appearing in the nude vs. fully clothed. The men, in contrast, usually appear at least partially clothed; in the rare case that they are naked, it’s generally played up as a humorous pose. Nothing like the pornified centerfold wankworthy bullshit the women are subjected to.

Case in point: the Suicide Girls series. 45 photos; 45 naked, pornified women. Not one naked, pornified man.

And let me clarify what I mean by “pornified.” I don’t believe it’s inherently sexist to feature naked women in a campaign. But the poses PETA uses – they display the women, plain and simple. Like props. In a porno, natch: down on all four, backs arched, gazes vacant, submissive and ready for a good fuckin’. Pornified. Passive. Ready to be consumed.

That’s sexist, moreso than the simple female nudity.

As is the near-total lack of male nudity. And the complete absence of pornified male nudity. (Not that I think either sex should be pornified, just sayin’.)

And these are all legitimate points of criticism.

But so is the use of animals for meat, dairy, clothing, entertainment, research subjects, “pets” and game. These too are issues that should – must – be examined, debated, criticized.

So it’s extremely frustrating and deflating when all the non-veg*ns work themselves, with knee-jerk speed, into an offended, self-righteous tizzy every time PETA devises a new campaign that compares Human Group X to Animal Group Y. Because no one ever expresses outrage over the animal part of the equation; only the humans merit consideration. Regardless of whether the humans are even being marginalized, insulted or oppressed.

And PETA, as I tried to say over at Vegan Bits, shares a little of the blame, I think. Sometimes their message really is (insert your ism here). Other times they should just know better: know that the crux of their argument will be willfully ignored in favor of the salacious window dressing; know that speciesists will deliberately read their message as “ist”; know that the campaign won’t really get people discussing the issues that they should be talking about. Sometimes their campaigns are just distracting. Real-world veg*ns are stuck defending PETA instead of defending animals.

And yet…can I really blame them? After all, tits and ass gets air time; the sexual and physical abuse of pigs at the hands of slaughterhouse workers, not so much.

Ahem. I’ve ranted long enough. Blame it on years of trying to avoid the ongoing PETA kerfluffle.

Before parting, I would like to extend a hearty fuck you to all those who dishonestly evoke the specter of one oppression to draw attention away from another.

That goes for the PR peoples at PETA and omni feminists alike.

(Crossposted from.)

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5 Responses to “Pork & Tits”

  1. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Stephen Colbert gives PETA a tip o’ his hat… Says:

    […] Kittens campaign, for example, hasn’t received extensive coverage from the mainstream media (not enough T&A), and yet TCR is aware of the campaign – and even understands it. (Good-natured mocking […]

  2. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Lettuce be thankful! Says:

    […] After the jump are several more PETA ads that I like – none of which you’re likely to see on certain feminist blogs (*cough*cough*). […]

  3. Stephen Colbert gives PETA a tip o’ his hat… » POP! goes The Vegan. Says:

    […] Kittens campaign, for example, hasn’t received extensive coverage from the mainstream media (not enough T&A), and yet TCR is aware of the campaign – and even understands it. (Good-natured mocking […]

  4. Chocolate & Yogurt: Sarah Haskins on “Lady Food” » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] and the potential for exploitation based solely on our reproductive organs). Consider PETA’s “Breast is Best” campaign, which created such an uproar in the feminist (and general) community. Sexist or not, this […]

  5. Dear Bust, redux: » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] your “holiday” meal, nor does it touch upon the interconnected nature of oppressions. Women and animals, we’re not that different, see. Especially when we’re talking about exploiting and commandeering the reproductive systems of […]

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