I love animals. I really do. I'm a sucker for every cute kitten video and baby hedgehog GIF on the internet. Although I myself am not vegetarian, I barely eat meat and come from a family of vegetarians. I am staunchly against cosmetic animal testing, battery farming, and cruelty to animals in general. And yet despite this, I am also vehemently against PETA.
PETA, or the People's Ethical Treatment of Animals, claim to recognise the "right of all animals to be treated with respect". They are famous for their outlandish stunts such as dousing Kim Cattrall in red paint and involving celebrities such as Pamela Anderson in their efforts. Although they are most likely the world's largest animal rights group in the world, and certainly the most well-known, PETA seem to care very little for one animal in particular: human beings.
PETA have a long history of using 'scandalous' pictures in an endeavour to gain some edge in their advertising campaigns. Their complete lack of respect in regard to the human female form is incredible, and their adverts frequently engage in some kind of body-shaming message in their endeavours to bring a worldwide switch to vegetarianism or veganism. They have a habit of objectifying women for causes as utterly unrelated to sex as bull-riding and getting your five-a-day. After looking through a selection of their ads, both past and present, what is notably lacking amongst the naked women and attempts at shock value is the presence of any actual animals.
Although they defend their decision to use almost exclusively naked women in their advertisements on the basis that 'sex sells', it cannot be overlooked that by replacing abused animals with abused women, they are hitting much too close to the truth. In a world where violence against women is rife, using shackled and bruised women in an attempt to promote ethical treatment of elephants is inappropriate and insensitive. Animal rights are important; there is a great degree of cruelty exercised towards creatures who are otherwise helpless, but when women are still treated as second-class citizens in many parts of the world, running adverts that show violence and brutality against them in an attempt to make a statement about animal mistreatment falls flat in the worst possible way. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals should not be so unable to simultaneously be People for the Respectful Treatment of Women's Bodies.
Overt sexism and misogyny aside for one moment, degrading women's bodies is unfortunately one of the more palatable of PETA's transgressions. In the past they have repeatedly used Holocaust imagery as part of their campaigns, defending their right to use images of now-dead children alongside caged pigs with the argument that 'free speech' should 'reign supreme'. In addition to this, PETA went on to make reference to Hitler and the idea of a 'master race' to protest dog breeding. Dissatisfied with appropriating only one tragedy of human history, PETA members dressed up as the Ku Klux Klan to protest Westminster Kennel Club dog show - a comparison they are seemingly still proud of, judging by the 'AKC (American Kennel Club) or KKK?' quiz on their site. One particularly outrageous advert likened feeding children meat to child abuse, at once undermining the true terrors of child abuse and groundlessly shaming lower-income parents who are forced to resort to fast food due to its relative convenience and cheapness compared to organic and fresh food.
In general, PETA tend to shy away from making excuses for their behaviour, and even when they do it seems somewhat insincere. Whilst they have admitted that their Holocaust ads were one step too far, they were quick to note in their apology that "the PETA staff who proposed that we do it were Jewish" - an excuse that has a distinctly 'but I CAN'T be racist - I have a black friend!' ring to it. Their behaviour is despicable and it is a great shame that they receive so much positive attention from high-status celebrities such as Paul McCartney and Eva Mendes (and although it almost goes without saying at this point, it is worth noting the difference between how PETA's male and female supporters are portrayed). PETA's campaigns attract a lot of attention, certainly - but like the BNP, the Westboro Baptist Church and other deliberately provocative organisations, PETA have made the mistake of confusing attention for approval, and controversy with actually being right.
If you live in the UK and wish to support an animal rights charity, then turn not to PETA but to the RSPCA. They are capable of producing sympathetic advertisement about the same issues as PETA, with none of the offensive and ignorant undertones. Their television campaigns feature animals rather than glorifying sexual abuse towards women. They manage to promote vegetarianism and veganism without resorting to crude attention-seeking use of women's bodies. Although they are by no means a perfect organisation, the RSPCA has a far better track record for respecting all creatures - both animal and human.
Follow Lucy Uprichard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lucyuprichard