How PETA is Damaging the Animal Welfare Movement

I used to be a card carrying, dues-paying member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I reasoned that any organization advocating for the ethical treatment of animals was the sort of organization I would want to belong to, and so I joined. PETA has done some pretty excellent things for animals over the years, and it has definitely raised public awareness about animal welfare issues with its campaigns, especially its undercover investigations in facilities which perform animal experimentation.

But, within a few years, I started feeling increasingly alienated. Not, initially, by the group’s radical politics, but by the group’s obsession on objectifying the female body and deriding people who are fat. On comparing abuse of non-human animals to the Holocaust. On comparing animals to slaves. And on the strident resistance of many members to criticism discussing these issues. PETA changed pretty radically in the years I was a member, going from an organization which actually seemed to be doing something for animals to…I don’t know what, exactly, but it was ugly, and it was unpleasant, and one year my renewal came up and I declined to renew and sent them a letter explaining why.

I never heard back.

But I’ve wondered, over the years, whether PETA actually cares about animal welfare at this point, or is more interested in some shadowy agenda that isn’t being made public. Because one of the first things I learned as a wee child at my father’s knee was that if I wanted to convert people, to bring them over to my side, to convince them that my ideas were right, I had to befriend them. I had to give them common ground for connection. I had to show them respect. That didn’t mean that I had to cede points, but it did mean that I needed to be able to back up my assertions, and to do so calmly and politely.

PETA isn’t doing that. The organization’s ad campaigns are so anti-feminist that they even cause dropped jaws in the nonfeminist community. Campaigns with white, conventionally attractive women draped in strategic lettuce leaves. Images of women marked up as cuts of meat. Naked women in cages. I could go on. The short version is: PETA is a misogynistic organization which apparently doesn’t see the very clear link between misogyny and animal abuse, or it wouldn’t keep objectifying women in campaigns which are supposed to improve animal welfare.

And PETA repeatedly pushes the (wrong) idea that a vegan or vegetarian diet is healthier, and will cause people to lose weight. PETA’s message is, explicitly: go vegetarian! Lose weight! Who cares about the animals! The latest? The “save the whales” campaign, which was so beyond the pale that it took me several days to even muster a rational response to it, even with it popping up every few hours in my RSS feed from yet another source expressing horror and disgust. In addition to just being irritating, the obsessive focus on weight loss as the primarily benefit to a vegetarian/vegan diet (rather than, say, benefiting ANIMALS) is also very harmful to the young women and girls PETA targets with this kind of advertising, increasing anxiety about the body and contributing to eating disorders by making women who don’t lose weight when they switch to a vegan/vegetarian diet feel like they have failed.

Some vegetarians and vegans have rightly pointed out that PETA makes them look bad, and undermines the efforts of the animal welfare movement by informing feminists and fatties that we are not allowed. Other animal welfare organizations have also asked PETA to change the focus of its campaigns for the benefit of the movement as a whole. So, why isn’t the organization responding to criticism?

If PETA actually cared about animal welfare, it would definitely be responding to the rage which is overflowing from numerous communities who are tired of being objectified, mocked, marginalized, and silenced by PETA. It would be responding to furious feminists commenting on discussions about PETA campaigns with things like “you know, I’m a vegetarian, but just for this, I’m going to go eat some bacon,” or “PETA is what keeps me eating meat!” It would be responding to rational, thoughtful critiques from vegan and vegetarian members of the size acceptance movement who are condemning PETA’s simplistic and erroneous approach to nutrition. It would be respecting the repeated requests from other animal welfare groups to tone it down. But it’s not. It just keeps rolling out with the offensive.

Apparently the argument thinks that being offensive makes it edgy and thereby appealing to youth. But that’s not actually the case. Being offensive is just offensive, and in this case it is directly hurting the movement which PETA claims to be a part of by alienating people who might otherwise be very interested in animal welfare. Many feminists, especially, see a lot of parallels between feminism and animal rights, but don’t follow those up, because they are so infuriated by PETA.

I would love to see other members of PETA renouncing their memberships to protest the organization’s crass and disgusting tactics. It’s time for PETA to see that there is a breaking point, and it has been reached.

Care about animal welfare? Here are some organizations which manage to advocate for animal welfare without being total assholes: The Fund for Animals, American Humane, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to AnimalsHumane Society of the United States, and Best Friends. Give your money to them and tell PETA that you can advocate for animal welfare while still respecting human beings.

7 Comments on How PETA is Damaging the Animal Welfare Movement

  1. Great post with really good points.

    There are millions of skinny people who eat meat 3 times a day. Eating meat does not “cause” people to be fat. It does cause animals to be killed and treated horribly before death but it does not make people fat. I would have been more impressed if PETA put up a billboard showing a recent picture I saw of a mother cow and her calf in the slaughterhouse on the brink of death and bleeding out. That’s the sort of advertising I want to see from PETA, not an attack on women who are overweight, whether they’re vegetarians or not.

  2. meloukhia // 30 August, 2009 at 7:50 am //

    And, you know, I remember PETA having more of that kind of advertising in the past, opening the curtain which veils the meat industry, and I thought that advertising was powerful and productive. I wonder what led them away from that to the exploitation of women and mockery of fat people; did they have a focus group that told them this would be a good idea? Is it part of making veganism/vegetarianism part of a hip, cool club which is distinguished by its exclusiveness?

  3. I went to the PETA blog about the billboards and found a number of “fat people ARE whales” posts. I wrote and attempted to post a comment that I have been vegetarian since 1963, my cholesterol is great, I can carry 70 lbs of grandson up a flight of stairs, and I weigh well in excess of 200 lbs. Guess which comment did not get posted.

  4. meloukhia // 30 August, 2009 at 10:59 am //

    Are you suggesting PETA censored an opposing point of view?!! Surely not. I’m sure your comment is just…stuck in moderation! Or accidentally caught in the spam trap! Thoughtful criticism with evidence-based assertions would surely be welcomed by PETA!

  5. I am vegetarian (sometimes vegan) AND PLUS SIZE. PETA has it all wrong and is alienating so many people – including those who are “supposedly” support what they do – kindess to animals. I am an animal lover and a vegetarian (for 20+ years) and plus-size. PETA get your head out of your ass!

  6. meloukhia, I absolutely loved your post. i can’t stand much of anything about peta as it is, but when they started calling fat women whales I was absolutely convinced that this organization wasn’t for animal rights, but more along the lines of anti-human. as to Vicki, I tried to comment on the peta blog about a situation that happened some years ago (one about Jessica simpson explaining how I thought she wasn’t wrong to wear that shirt about eating meat)and my comment never showed up. so I think they don’t allow very opinionated comments on there unless it’s supporting their cause. I think.

  7. Something I noted this evening while I was reading one of Cleveland Amory’s books; the Fund for Animals had a “real people wear fake fur” campaign, featuring celebrities of all genders in fake furs. Now PETA has “I’d rather be naked than wear fur,” featuring solely objectified women.

    Interesting contrast; the Fund used inclusive language/advertising (“people people“), and ran a classy campaign which wasn’t exploitative. PETA apparently feels that inclusion and respect aren’t nearly as satisfying as objectification and denigration.

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