Editorial Comment

PETA Tarnishes Its Own Good Name

We cannot condone or ignore PETA's mistaken notion that their "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign is an appropriate action, especially in a movement which is comprised of some 75 percent women. Having a woman pose naked as what Cathleen and Colleen McGuire call "an impossibly perfect object" in order to sell an idea (or a product) is not what we consider a responsible or appropriate tactic, regardless of our shared goal to forever stop the murder of animals for their fur.

We should have seen the handwriting on the wall when this tactic was first employed a couple of years ago as a relatively harmless -- even amusing -- little stunt. Then, both men and women of all sizes and shapes, on a very cold Fur-Free Friday November day in New York City, wrapped only in towels, proclaimed, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur." But PETA has now escalated the tactic into pornography and got themselves into bed with Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. In PETA's latest ad, Patti Davis poses naked with Mr. Hefner's dog, and PETA uses this image in collusion with Playboy in their anti-fur campaign. Both Carol Adams and Cathleen and Colleen McGuire write eloquently in this issue about just what is wrong with this image.

FAR has worked long and hard to try to inculcate in the animal advocacy movement, as well as in the feminist movement, an understanding of the connections in patriarchal society between the objectification -- leading to the exploitation and abuse -- of both women and animals; the source of this abuse is the same for both. We speak out in both places: when women are objectified and exploited in the animal advocacy movement, and when the objectification and exploitation of animals is glorified in the feminist movement. (We spoke out vehemently when Ms. magazine published an article glorifying rodeo women, thus legitimating the cruelty of rodeos. It is to the credit of the women at Ms. that they understood our concerns immediately and vowed to be more sensitive to the issues of animal exploitation. That sensitivity and awareness has subsequently been reflected in the pages of Ms.) PETA's working in cahoots with the likes of Playboy magazine is insulting to us as a feminist organization and as an animal advocacy organization, and it grossly undermines the work we have been doing in both movements.

We already have evidence of harmful fallout from the PETA "naked" campaign -- see my column, "Blaming the Victims." In addition, PETA has provided grist to the fur fashion industry that is exploiting the "naked" campaign in order to sell fur to gay men and project fur as an important gay fashion statement. In the Summer 1994 issue of MetroSource, a widely-read gay men's magazine, timed to appear in conjunction with the largest gay and lesbian rights celebration ever, when hundreds of thousands (some estimate over a million) of gay men and lesbians converged on New York City, an ad appeared which parodied the PETA campaign: "I'D RATHER BE NAKED ON A FUR!" The ad shows a naked (presumably) gay man lying on what appears to be a very large fur rug or bedspread. The ad also directs the reader to another page where a full-page color ad appears with a (presumably) gay man wearing a "Wild type Mink-lined Classic American Denim Jacket," courtesy of Gus Goodman Fine Furs.

I would say the "naked" campaign is backfiring and negating a lot of the work many of us in the animal advocacy movement -- including PETA -- have been doing over the years to stop the killing of animals for their fur. One thing is certain, this campaign does not help FAR in our work with other feminists.

We have long respected and supported PETA. In fact, many FAR members also belong to PETA. There is no doubt that PETA has been in the forefront when it comes to publicly exposing the myriad atrocities perpetrated against animals, and there is no doubt, in our minds anyway, of PETA's total commitment to eradicating animal abuse and suffering. We derive no joy from the outpouring of communications we have been receiving condemning PETA for their current action. But as dedicated as we are to stopping the abuse of animals -- and in this case, to putting an end to the wearing of fur by both women and men -- we cannot condone a method that objectifies women in this way.

We continue to support those PETA campaigns we find good and useful. But not only do we not support the "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign, we also must distance ourselves from it and speak out against it. This we will do at every opportunity until PETA understands how they have severely overstepped the boundaries of respect toward women, and until they publicly admit their error and rescind the ad.

Batya Bauman