Thinking about “Sexing up animal rights: is it wrong?” By Katrina Fox and Stephanie Honor Convery in Overland
What exactly is the link between sex and animal rights? It’s weird to even be asking that question, but inspired by the debate in Overland between Katrina Fox and Stephanie Honor Convery, I’ve been thinking about whether it’s okay to use sexualised imagery to raise awareness about animal cruelty. Sex sells, so where do we draw the line over what it should be used to sell? This is such a complex issue, and seeing as Katrina Fox and Stephanie Honor Convery are far more qualified than I am to comment on the issue and they express their thoughts so eloquently, you should probably read what they have to say on Overland for a more considered analysis – but for now, here’s my two cents.
So, the issue is this. In September, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced plans for a porn site, peta.xxx, to draw attention to their cause – provoking, of course, a lot of debate about the questionable ethics of using images that objectify women for political advocacy. It’s not the first time PETA has caused this kind of controversy – they’re known for using sexualised images to get attention. From the (comparatively more innocuous) “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” ad campaign to this ridiculous “vegetarians have better sex” ad, which is so gross it was banned from the Superbowl, they have a long track record of this sort of thing.
On the one hand, there’s the end-justifies-the-means thing. I do believe animal rights is important – I’m an animal lover, I’m a vegetarian, and I think anyone with a compassionate bone in their body would be horrified by some of the things that go on every day if they were more aware of it. Obviously, sex is the easiest way to sell anything, and according to PETA it has worked for them in the past. When they post a sexy video, it naturally brings a lot of traffic to their site – but importantly, they have the data to show that a lot of the people who came to see boobies actually did then click through to the more serious animal rights content. If it gets more people interested in (or at least aware of) some of the issues in animal rights, then maybe it’s okay to take such a cheap “sex sells” path to get there.
I don’t know. I think I can get on board with the some of the print ad campaigns, like the “I’d rather go naked” thing. I’m not against women being sexy, obviously, and to a certain extent I think I can sort of be okay with it being used to sell a message, if it’s done in a smart way and the message has some value. Although it is still kind of a cheap shot, the message in these ads is kind of clever in its own way, and at least the link between the nudity and the message is clear. (Some of them, though, like Sophie Monk lying naked in a bed of chillies with the line “Spice up your life: go vegetarian” are a little harder to justify). But a PETA porn site just seems kind of random. What exactly is the link, other than the very vague “naked truth” kind of thing?
The ethics of porn itself is such a complex and messy area, and I always feel reluctant to make a big sweeping claim about my stance on it. But instinctively, I do believe that it overall hurts women far more than it “empowers” them, and although I don’t quite agree with the Andrea Dworkins style argument, I do think there are some serious problems with the whole industry and it makes me very uncomfortable and sometimes angry. So I’m not sure if I can accept PETA using all those very problematic tropes to bring attention to their cause. As much as I care about animals, I care about women as well.
It feels like to be okay with Peta.xxx, I need to decide whether I care more about exploitation of animals or exploitation of women. And I can’t make that decision – I care about both, and surely in the long run it would be better for all of us if we work together against all kinds of exploitation instead of having to choose.