It has come to our attention of late that while we are all for the work of animal rights activists PETA, their use of the naked female form is becoming almost mind numbing. It is one thing when the pun was anti-fur, but it seems now it is also necessary to go naked when protesting bullfighting, cage-farming, in fact any aminal issue. Is it really the only way media attention can be brought to these issues? We would like to know if you think their use of nudity is justified and seves its purpose....
One of our favourite websites, About-face, have their own opinion of the PETA adverts: 'Compassion for animals, but not for women who don't conform to the narrow definition of beauty?? '...
'No humans were physically harmed in the making of this advertisement, but many were insulted, demeaned and generally pissed off.'
And a comment from Diane Bliss, Founder & Chair, Plus-Size Task Force:
' I was particularly appalled by the negative and demeaning words and images of women used in PETA's recent ad campaign. While I respect PETA's objectives, they can't be allowed to hide behind their non-profit, humanitarian status to absolve themselves of responsibility for these negative portrayals of women. After I sent the attached letter, I received a very dismissive phone call and a short note that conveyed the organization's view that it's a joke and you're overreacting -- get over it. As a professional stand-up comic, I know the difference between playful, harmless humor and sexist, sizist messages that demean people. The PETA campaign is mean-spirited, offensive and is the worst sort of "joke" that perpetuates negative, stereotypes about women and people of size. How can an organization campaign for the ethical treatment of animals while demeaning and insulting humans? Does this mean that the ends justify the means? Or that people are somehow less important than the animals PETA intends to help? PETA must be held accountable for this insulting ad campaign while we encourage them to broaden their mission to include the ethical treatment of all living beings, including women.'
....And then a few days later Anbody came accross this excellent article by Julie Bindel in the Guardian.....we love the quote from Feministe.us, that Peta promotes "animal rights at the expense of women's rights - and that's not only simplistic, but it's bad for everyone involved. If you want to draw attention to the plight of animals by humanising them, go for it. But you don't have to dehumanise women in the process."
Earlier this year, Glamour magazine featured another former Spice Girl, Mel B, posing naked in support of the Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with victims of sex trafficking and torture. One leading anti-trafficking campaigner, who asked not to be named, refers to Mel B's campaign as "get your tits out for trafficking". Using naked women to highlight the atrocity of those sold into sexual slavery seems a little inappropriate; after all, isn't there an innate contradiction in using an image that promotes women's sexual availability to combat prostitution? Michael Korzinski, a director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, simply says that he is pleased that such a high-profile celebrity is supporting anti-trafficking initiatives. Mel B "is exercising her freedom of choice in going naked," says Korzinski, "unlike the enslaved, brutalised, trafficked women we work with".Using women's bodies to promote a good cause was popularised by the annual Miss World competition back in the 60s, and that event still revolves around bikini-clad women talking about their ambitions for world peace and their hopes of spending their winning year supporting charitable causes. Feminist campaigners once staged huge protests against Miss World - famously flour-bombing the event in 1970 - and they continue to speak up regularly against the worst examples of misogynist imagery used in charity campaigns. Nonetheless, this exploitation of women's bodies seems to have become widely accepted. Images that would provoke a serious backlash if they were used to promote a commercial interest are seemingly legitimised through their association with charity, defended with the simple argument that women have chosen to pose for them. As a result, they have proliferated.
The worst offender is the organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). Over the years, its "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign has featured many famous women - Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell - and it has often strayed into seriously questionable territory. When Dominique Swain, the then 21-year-old star of the 1997 film version of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, got involved, for instance, Peta boasted that she was "the youngest star to pose naked for Peta's anti-fur campaign".
In Peta's world, it seems that it is perfectly acceptable to reduce women to the status of animals, or meat: one Peta image shows a woman being clubbed "to death" by a man; another shows a woman wrapped in cling film to resemble cuts of meat in a supermarket. Perhaps the most egregious example of Peta's work occurred in London on Mother's Day this year, when it staged an event that was ostensibly to raise awareness about farrowing-crate confinement, a technique used in factory farming, in which sows are squeezed into narrow metal stalls barely larger than their own bodies. A heavily pregnant member of Peta's staff lent her body to the cause - naked except for a pair of pink underpants - by kneeling on all fours in a metal cage. Another pregnant Peta worker gave out leaflets to passersby, with the words, "Unhappy Mother's Day for Pigs. Go Vegetarian". The image was disturbingly reminiscent of some of the nastier pornography I have seen. As Jill Filipovic, of the website Feministe.us, noted, this stunt showed that Peta promotes "animal rights at the expense of women's rights - and that's not only simplistic, but it's bad for everyone involved. If you want to draw attention to the plight of animals by humanising them, go for it. But you don't have to dehumanise women in the process."
Pornographic imagery is also used to support other noble causes. Nudeforpeace.org, a group of anti-war activists in Australia, recently asked supporters to send in photographs of themselves in "sexy" poses, to add to its website. Some of the pictures that were downloaded were of very young women. One was photographed, staring blankly ahead, holding a razor to her pubic bone and pointing with her other hand to the words, "No Bush", scrawled in lipstick across her abdomen. And it seems that many people even feel comfortable with the idea of women prostituting themselves for charity. Last November, a woman working in a brothel in Chile became an instant "celebrity" when the national news picked up the story that she had auctioned 27 hours of sex and raised $4,000 for a disabled children's charity. No one at the charity seemed concerned that vulnerable children were being supported by the proceeds of prostitution.
Looking for some answers as to why charity sexism has become so popular, I visited the Peta offices in London and met special campaigns manager, Anita Singh. I asked whether the organisation was concerned about the many accusations of sexism they have faced - including those from fellow animal rights activists (in the past, the group has countered criticism with the comment that it is staffed "largely by feminist women"). "With all of these ads that you are referring to, it is Peta's aim to alleviate animal suffering," Singh says. "We never set out to insult or alienate any groups; in fact, we are trying to reach out to the masses." I am told once again, by way of justification, that the women involved in the campaigns take part voluntarily. "We have voices," says Singh. "Animals don't have voices. People can't hear them ... In this tabloid era, everything revolves around beautiful women, sex, and gimmicks - things that reach out and grab people's attention." She assures me that the results have been "phenomenal" for the animals.
Flicking through the images of women that are used for charity campaigns is both disturbing and depressing. "Charities inevitably need bold statements to promote their work," says Sandrine Levêque, of the feminist lobby group Object, but the "only statement these charities are making is that in 2008 it's still OK to use sexist images. Are we surprised then that gender inequality is alive and kicking?" Cheryl Stonebridge, of feminist campaigning group Justice for Women, believes that it is hypocritical to allow charities to get away with misogynistic stunts, simply because they are contributing to good causes. "Why is it seen as a good idea to use naked women's flesh in order to draw attention to suffering and inequality," she says, "when objectifying women causes real harm?" The Charities Commission, she adds, should draw up ethical guidelines.
If so, it would be great if they could do it quickly. Because what is really worrying is that, year on year, these instances of charity sexism have been escalating, with more conservative organisations following the envelope-pushing lead of groups such as Peta. In a recent event staged by Cancer Research UK, for instance, 30 women ran naked (apart from their G-strings) through London's Regent's Park, on a freezing cold day, apparently to highlight the dangers and prevalence of breast cancer. In what is becoming a very familiar argument, Carolan Davidge, Cancer Research UK's brand and PR director, emphasises that all the women chose to take part. "Some of the women involved in the shoot had had mastectomies," says Davidge, "and said that for them being nearly naked was a way to inspire other women and show that there is life after cancer." I doubt many men who had recovered from testicular cancer would take part in a similar awareness-raising event - or that they would ever be asked to in the first place. Campaigning on the issue of breast cancer is obviously hugely important - the disease affects 41,700 women in Britain each year, and kills 12,400. But why does it have to be done in such an exploitative way?
Some of the most incongruous causes seem to benefit most from the baring of breasts - charities for disabled children, for instance. These haven't just been the beneficiaries of prostitution in recent years, but of sexist calendars too. For instance, budget airline Ryanair produced a calendar featuring semi-naked female air stewards, with all proceeds going to Irish children's charity Angels Quest, and as I leafed through the calendar, I was filled with a sense of growing disbelief. Miss October is posing in what is described as her "cleaning uniform". All I can say is that I can't recall wearing nothing but a skimpy bikini with a pair of high heels the last time I scrubbed the kitchen.
Ryanair rolled out the usual mantra in their own defence when I spoke to them, saying that it was for a "good cause" and that the "hostesses volunteered to pose for the pictures". It's about time that we started challenging this argument more roundly though, speaking out against instances of sexism that are often as nasty as anything seen in the bad old days of the 70s. It is understandable to be wary of criticising campaigns that are being waged for a good cause, but if we hold back, such sexism only seems set to burgeon - and with naked women on all fours posing publicly in cages it has already reached a quite astounding low point. If feminists were to hit charities where it hurts - by organising against them, and refusing to donate to those using sexism as a marketing tool - we just might see the end of this revolting use of women's bodies.