Animal rights should be on everyone’s radar. The cruelty of the meat and milk industries, for example, can be truly shocking, and the effects of their practices on human health and the environment should not be overlooked.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is one of many organizations that works to spread awareness of these inhumane acts. But to PETA, ethical treatment of animals seems to have taken unnecessary precedence over the ethical treatment of humans.
If you search Google Images for “PETA ad,” you will find that a surprising number of your results are pictures of fully or half-naked women. Some resemble advertisements you might see in women’s magazines for beauty products. Others are more akin to something you would find in Playboy. What naked women have to do with the humane treatment of animals is not immediately apparent.
An ad that PETA tried to run during the 2009 Super Bowl, called “Veggie Love,” makes things a little clearer. It shows various scenes of women stripping down to lingerie in order to perform lewd acts on vegetables. If you watch the ad (available at http://www.peta.org/content/standalone/veggielove/) you will see that PETA’s main claim is that vegetarians make better lovers. Clicking a few more links on the PETA Web site reveals that this assertion is based on the claim that vegetarianism reduces erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. And yet there are no men in the advertisement.
The claims about the sexual health benefits of vegetarianism are supported by the wonderfully vague phrase “studies show.” The Web site Goveg.com (which is run by PETA) cites a statistic that says that 90 percent of cases of erectile dysfunction have physical (rather than psychological) causes, but the site shares no actual studies showing that being a vegetarian is a good solution to this problem. Rather, it seems PETA is basing this assertion on the fact that eating a healthier diet can prevent some conditions that may cause erectile dysfunction. PETA uses language that suggests that eating meat is the direct cause of impotence, but the organization gives no evidence that this is the case. Strike one against PETA’s “Veggie Love” campaign is that it deliberately misleads in order to serve an agenda.
The second problem has to do with the effects of sexual objectification of women. It is old news that presenting women as nothing more than sexual objects is problematic, but it is still a relevant issue, since these attitudes can lead to violence. Bob Herbert, a columnist for the New York Times, argued in his Aug. 8 column (“Women at Risk,” New York Times) that acts of violence against women are often rooted in the anger the perpetrators feel after experiencing sexual rejection. This anger arises because these men view women as sexual objects and can’t understand how a sexual object could reject them. Many of PETA’s advertisements — including one with Pamela Anderson that is currently featured on the organization’s Web site — promote this view of women.
A third problem is that this and other advertisements by PETA buy into a culture of unrealistic sexual expectations for men. There is a social expectation that men should become aroused at any opportunity and be able to engage in sexual contact for extraordinary lengths of time before ejaculating. This is, in fact, rarely the case. Failure to achieve an erection can be the result of stress or of consuming even a small amount of alcohol, among other things. Moreover, it isn’t common for sex to last more than seven minutes, and intercourse lasting anywhere from one to 15 minutes is considered normal. PETA’s advertisements play on the insecurity and confusion many men may feel about these subjects and use them to further an entirely separate agenda.
It is unfortunate that an organization primarily concerned with ethics should resort to advertising techniques that manipulate, mislead, objectify and exploit in order to get attention. It seems irresponsible to become so concerned about the well-being of animals as to completely disregard the well-being of humans.
Another example of this attitude is embodied in Ian Smith’s recent letter to the News on PETA’s behalf (“Letter: Animals deserve our respect,” Sept. 11), in which he urged Yale to stop all research involving animal subjects. Not only did the author fail to address why he believed that the measures Yale takes to prevent unnecessary cruelty are inadequate, but he ignored the fact that this research is done in order to advance fields such as medicine and psychology. Abandoning this research altogether would mean abandoning an opportunity to effect enormous good for millions of people through better understanding and treatment of medical and psychiatric illnesses. Is the freedom of lab animals more important than that?
Such questions are not easy to answer. The way our society chooses to treat animals is not insignificant, and wanting to take steps to reduce unnecessary pain for other creatures is a worthy cause. But PETA’s advertising practices are unethical, and their blatant ignoring of the complexity of certain issues is irresponsible.
It would be better for us, as a society, to move toward the improved well-being of all life. Treating this complex, multifaceted issue in such a dichotomous way can only impede this progress.
Emma Sloan is a senior in Branford College.