PETA and a Pornographic Culture, II

A Feminist Analysis of "I'd rather go naked than wear fur"

by Carol Adams

Many of us in Feminists for Animal Rights have strong feelings about the PETA ad campaign, and I want to share some of the concerns that arise from someone like me, positioned squarely both in the feminist movement and the animal defense movement.

1. A connection exists between the treatment of women and the treatment of animals. This connection is basically an epistemological process in which a subject knows her or himself through objectifying others. Philosophically speaking, epistemology refers to how we know what we know and how we gain knowledge. A patriarchal epistomology responds to difference (such as race, sex, species) by labelling those who are different as "other," and then objectifying those who are "others," so that they may be used instrumentally. Ecofeminists call this a "value hierarchy," in which power is inscribed over others who hold less power and are therefore seen as having less value. One feminist coined the term "somatophobia" to refer to hostility to the body. In our culture the body has less value than the mind or the soul; anyone equated with the body will also thus be unvalued or undervalued. This concept helps us recognize the relationship between different forms of oppression: those equated with bodies (like people of color, animals, and women) rather than minds or souls (like white people, humans, and men) are oppressed in our culture because of this equation with the body and with each other.

2. The problem is that this epistemological process, if successful, becomes invisible, and we think we are debating ontology. In other words, the debate is kept at the level of who we are (ontology) rather than how we come to the knowledge of who we are. Let me give an example specific to the animal advocacy movement: Some people truly see animals as "meat": "why else do they exist?" they think, "they exist to be our meat." As we know, there is nothing intrinsic to an animal's beingness that makes her or him "meat;" it is the knowledge stance of some humans that views them thusly. An ecofeminist way to put this is that those who are "up" in the value hierarchy, in this case humans, view those who are "down," in this case animals, as useable and from this view come to the conclusion that this is why animals exist: to be of use.

3. It is also the same epistemological process that views women's bodies pornographically. Pornography has been historically a way men institute their status as subjects by having others who have the status of objects. As Susanne Kappeler says in The Pornography of Representation, the dominant subjectivity in patriarchal culture is constructed through objectifying others. Here is an example of this sort of analysis, a classic analysis by Laura Mulvey of what is called the male gaze: "In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining (human) male gaze projects its phantasy onto the (human) female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role, women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote "to-be-looked-at-ness." Pornography, like much of culture, enacts this "to-be-looked-at-ness." Indeed, because pornography is so much a part of our patriarchal culture, it is hard to perceive its specific harm, that is, to stand outside of it sufficiently to perceive the value hierarchy of man over woman and mind and soul over body that it enacts, the somatophobia that it expresses. This difficulty in perceiving harm explains the attraction of a "naked" campaign, because it will get media attention since the media is a primary source of encouraging women's "to-be-looked-at-ness." This difficulty in perceiving how the dominant subjectivity relies on this "to-be-looked-at-ness" also explains the problems inherent to debating the "naked" campaign -- some people see it one way, and others see it another way. In other words, because the epistemological remains invisible we end up debating the ontological.

4. Given this analysis, the "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign is intrinsically problematic, provoking a means/end debate among us. But the added twist that occurs with the Patti Davis ad is not only in its alliance with Playboy, which has made harm to women through pornography a man's entertainment (because it furthers women's objectification, and reproduces sexualized domination), but the specific concern of bestiality and Hugh Hefner's association with this form of pornography. On this, see Linda Lovelace, Ordeal, specifically p. 194: "Then Hefner said that while he liked Deep Throat, he was more interested by the movie I'd made with a dog (forced sex by her batterer husband described on pages 105-113).

"Oh, you saw that one?" Chuck (her batterer husband) said. "Oh that was terrific," Hefner said, "You know, we've tried that several times, tried to get a girl and a dog together, but it has never worked out." "Yeah, that can be very tricky," Chuck said, "the chick's got to know what she's doing." "That's something I'd like to see," Hefner said, "I think I've seen every animal flick (sic) ever made but -- " Then Chuck offers Linda as a "willing" participant.

And so we return to my first premise, that there is a connection between the treatment of women and the treatment of animals. In this case, the point of intersection is the pornographic use of bestiality, which those of us active in the movement against violence against women know is often an occasion for batterers/marital rapists to force sex between an animal and their female partner. They seek to reproduce the pornography they consume.

Our complaint is not solely #4, i.e., that this ad campaign -- to anyone's knowledge of Linda Lovelace's testimony -- hints of Hefner's association with bestiality, but more comprehensively the theoretical one found in my first premise: that #4 is inevitable because of the epistemological stance of objectification. Let me make this clear. The problem is not that PETA fails to recognize the interconnection of treatment of animals and treatment of women. The problem is that unless they understand male sexual violence and how it is that subjectification takes place under patriarchy, they won't truly understand violence against animals.

For a project I am working on about pornography and animals, I have been talking to feminists who campaign against pornography around the country. What I have found fascinating is that while I cannot assume that a feminist, just because she is a feminist, has read The Sexual Politics of Meat, I am safe to assume that anti-pornography feminists have. As recognition of my work happened over and over when I called feminists I didn't know to ask them about what they think is going on with pornography that features animals, it made me realize that this group of feminists do "get" it, do understand the process of objectification as it affects animals, that we animal rights activists try to educate people about it. I discovered an affinity between their analysis and our analysis. This is one reason why the "naked" campaign is so disturbing: a group of allies, all of whom are very familiar with Linda Lovelace's experience, are now presented with a campaign that announces that animal rights doesn't "get" it about the objectification of women in general, and specifically about the the source of patriarchy in oppressing animals. This, to me, is very sad.