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Has PETA Gone Too Far? Sexism, Pornography and Advertising

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2012 saw some quite incredible examples of sexist advertising, many of which seem to have been deliberately pitched beyond the control of the Advertising Standards Agency, such as Ann Summers I-Scream tour and Lush's 'performance art on animal testing', or to have been made so intentionally provocative as to inevitably be banned, like Ryan Air's Red Hot Fares' campaign.

There are so many examples that choosing a Top 10 list is, well, nearly impossible: Asda's Christmas ad blamed bad Christmases on bad mothers, Sony Playstation's four-breasted woman took gaming to a whole new level of misogyny, Princes' Tuna aimed for lazy husbands, Gillette Razors included an image of domestic violence, Kookai fetishised eating disorders and I can't begin to understand what Eva Longoria is doing in this ad for Sheba Cat food.

Last year, one of the worst offenders for sexist advertising campaigns was PETA, and whilst their television advertising campaigns tend to be US-centred, they have deliberately created campaigns that would be banned in the US in order for them to go "viral" internationally. PETA's campaigns have always used the bodies of young, thin white women as a canvas of protest. Their billboard campaigns have deliberately equated women's sexuality with animal rights, notably in their "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" and "Be An Angel for Animals" campaigns. For an organisation which campaigns against the cosmetic industries' use of animal testing, PETA seem unwilling or unable to engage with the relationship between the fashion-beauty complex, animal testing and torture, and their own use of pornography.

It is PETA's television and internet campaigns which are most conspicuously pushing the boundaries of advertising, the objectification of women's bodies, heteronormative pornography, and violence against women. PETA's first campaign of the year, 'Veggie Love' was developed for the Superbowl, and was banned for having women simulate sex with vegetables; an ad which appears to have been inspired by Voina's 'protest' art that involved women having sex with frozen chickens.

A second major campaign this year, entitled 'Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom out of Me' features a woman who looks both physically and sexually assaulted as she is wearing a neck brace and covered in bruises. The premise is quite simple: she is suffering some of the unfortunate consequences of "sex injuries such as whiplash, pulled muscles, rug burn, and even a dislocated hip" caused by "mind-blowing intercourse" since her boyfriend has become vegan. This video quite clearly correlates violence against women with a "healthy" sexual relationship. Whilst there are important debates to be had regarding BDSM, encouraging violent sex in advertising without contextualising consent is a dangerous step to take.

Another campaign PETA developed this year to celebrate World Vegan Day involves a large number of men gyrating with vegetables to replace their penises. I'm not entirely sure what PETA was aiming for with the 'Stay Firm and Fresh' ad because men gyrating in increasingly violent ways whilst women look uncomfortable doesn't seem 'sexy'. This ad was not developed for television but is nonetheless an example of the problematic nature of PETA's campaigns, particularly since PETA have been deliberately targeted children with their campaigns, such as their "Why eat a turkey" Thanksgiving campaign wherein billboards were placed directly outside of primary schools. There are no age blockers on PETA's website which means that children have access to all of PETA's campaign and advertisement materials.

PETA have continued to push the boundaries of acceptable billboard campaigns as well. The newest campaign, 'Fur Trim is Unattractive', has garnered a considerable amount of negative press this year. It is not, however, a new campaign, rather a new model in a recycled campaign. It plays on the idea that women with pubic hair are unfuckable and turned it into a comment on the fur trade. PETA's mainstreaming of the pornification and objectification of women's bodies has resulted in the development of its own porn channel to raise awareness of animal abuse. Again, regardless of one's personal opinion on porn, the equation of the pornification of women's bodies with animal abuse is deeply problematic.

In many ways, the 'Fur Trim is Unattractive' campaign is quite tame for PETA. However, PETA's targeting of children has made the more problematic nature of PETA's campaigns become obvious. They recently had Cbeebies presenter Sarah Jane Honeywell pose nearly naked on a plate in Trafalgar Square. This is a campaign clearly aimed at children, who are the most likely to recognise Honeywell as a celebrity, and it was done during the day when children were most likely to be Trafalgar Square. Disturbingly, the video accompanying PETA's write-up of the protest shows a large number of men leering and insulting Honeywell whilst Honeywell was quite vulnerable. Again, there is no attempt to prevent children from accessing the videos.

Whilst their advertisements and protests, garner public attention, it isn't because people are interested in animal rights. PETA have become a spectacle; their message lost in medium of their protest. Their use of the naked bodies of, mostly female, celebrities in increasingly sexualised poses has moved outside the realm of advertising and into public pornography. PETA's campaigns perpetuate a hyper-sexualised and hyper-masculinised culture in which women's bodies are considered nothing more than objects. PETA have begun romanticising and eroticising violence against women with their "Stay Firm and Fresh" and "Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom out of Me" campaigns. Their relationship with the porn industry makes their targeting of children questionable. It also makes me wonder how many people PETA are converting to veganism with their campaigns, or, have they gone so far as to alienate the very people they were aiming to convert?

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