Should activists buy into the “Sex Sells” theory of getting attention?
A Feminist Animal Rights Activist Tells Her Story
By Trulie Ankerberg-Nobis
Animal Writes, Issue # 02/01/04
I am an animal rights activist. I am also a feminist: I believe that women’s interests deserve equal consideration in all of life’s circumstances. I also am a PETA supporter and have volunteered for many of their “eye-catching” demos. I have dressed in a cow’s suit and a fur coat with a bag over my head. I have also worn a pleather “dominatrix” outfit to educate about the cruelty in leather and protested the circus as a tiger in a cage wearing orange body paint, pasties, and underwear. Most recently, with PETA I helped distribute Tofurkys as a “sexy Santa” in a mini skirt, crop top and high-heeled boots.
In cities throughout the Midwest we asked people to consider the animals this holiday season by going vegetarian. Many local activists were very helpful to us; their desire to help animals was very apparent. But we were not met with open arms at every location; in fact, some animal rights activists found this an occasion to protest us by not participating and emailing their condemnation of what they claimed is a “sexist” and “exploitive” kind of activism. I know that many take issue with “sexy” demos and ads for animal rights because this is believed to not be in keeping with a feminist perspective. However, as a woman and feminist, I believe that these demos are very much in sync with feminism. They are created by and volunteered for by women, smart women who realize that these costumes get valuable attention. The media is more impressed with demos where activists are in these costumes than others. This is a simple fact and PETA generates more media attention from their demos than many others. Obviously when the media is involved, more people are exposed to the message. I think that potentially exposing tens or hundreds of thousands to the AR “go veggie” message is better than the few hundred we will encounter on the street. If a woman has the ability to create a demo and she or other women want to volunteer for the demo, then, to be given equal consideration as feminism dictates, these women have a right to contribute to the movement in this way. In fact when people say that PETA “uses” women they are relegating women to the very role we have fought to be rid of, namely, “things” that need to be ordered around and kept in their place.
It’s ironic that none of the activists offended at my sexy costume spoke to me. My male companion was the only one to hear their objections. I may have been considered too submissive and un-opinionated to have an answer and they “respect women” too much to discuss the issues with me. They may have been afraid to hear what I might have to say. Maybe they thought I was chained up and gagged by PETA since they were “using and objectifying” me? Did they think that I was nothing more than a sexual piece of meat who didn’t know what was being done to her or able to make her own choices? This thinking further perpetuates the idea that women are incapable of taking care of themselves and taking on very serious activism for animal rights.
So I ask each of you, when you see women dressed “sexily” for activism, do you see a victimized woman with nothing to offer the world other than her body? Or do you see a woman who intelligently and freely chooses to use her body to make a point? Your answer may lead you to your own hidden sexism. We all have different ways to contribute to animal rights activism. PETA’s eye-catching demos are just one way to further the message that animals are not ours to eat, to wear or to experiment on. I found my role as the “tiger” in a cage wearing nothing but body paint, underwear, and pasties to be a very moving experience. Yes, I was very self-conscious and very cold. But I have never really understood what it must be like to be an exploited animal in a circus until that moment. I have never known what is a lifetime of suffering for tigers in circuses until my experience in that cage being gawked at and laughed at. The only difference was that, unlike the animals, I was able to emerge from that cage unharmed.
I am grateful for that experience whether or not it was effective to convince my onlookers of the evils of animals used for entertainment. I am angry that others would have it that I should not have been allowed to participate in that demo. In fact, I am a better person having done this demo. I saw many young girls looking at me with wide eyes in my Sexy Santa costume. This to me is a true test of my feminist ideas. If I can look at what I am doing and think that I am emulating what it means to be a positive role model for the women of tomorrow, then I am being true to myself and to women. I hope that they saw a woman with a loud voice who is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. I hope they saw a woman who promotes compassion and peace for all living beings. I hope they saw that the female body and being sexy is nothing to be ashamed of and that striving to be healthy and fit is a good goal to have. I hope that they saw that not being waif-like skinny with the media portrayed idea of female beauty does not mean that you cannot be proud of who you are and how you look.
I don’t think that women have achieved all that there is achieve for equality. But I do believe that, at least for women in America, we don’t have that much farther to go. Compare this to the animals who are blowtorched, mutilated, vaginally electrocuted, impregnated to have their babies ripped from them and then tortured for their milk and meat, hacked open for science, and beaten, exploded and tormented for entertainment. In all seriousness, who is the exploited group? Considering the immensity of the problem of animal exploitation, I find that the majority of the complaining about PETA and their “using” women to be a distraction that needs to stop. I don’t believe, and I’m sure that many will be offended at this, that people who choose to make an issue about women in PETA demos and ads have really considered the animals first. I would suspect that the animals would think that you could help them in better ways than sending off your emails in protest of PETA.
Reprint permission granted by Animal Rights Online (http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/1395). Animal Rights Online is an animal advocacy group that publishes Animal Writes, a free internet newsletter. To subscribe to Animal Writes, email EnglandGal@aol.com.