July 20, 2010

'Take a Breath,' Honey. It's just Sexism.

Filed under: Sexuality — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 4:29 pm

My post, Sexist Meat Market:Pamela Anderson’s Newest Campaign for PETA, which was posted here and at Elephant Journal has garnered some interesting and thought-provoking feedback. Much of it has been insightful and extremely intelligent and some of it has been an affirmation of the reasons why we need to continue deconstructing images and creating dialogue.

The comments from the post at Elephant Journal, a journal catering to the “enlightened,” “conscious,” and “progressive,” proves that sexism is still en vogue, should not be taken seriously and enlightenment ends when it comes to women’s issues.

The list of comments below has been compiled from Elephant Journal’s facebook page and the post located on their blog. Critics accused me of being “too serious,” “too sensitive,” “selfish,” “whiny,” “prudish” and, get this, sexist.

Facebook comments:

@Brian

Call me crazy but this makes me want meat even more…..

@Jake

def none of her breast!

@Jake

they forgot how people think)

Me

I truly believe that we have the capacity to and do think in ways that moves beyond the overtly sexual. This constant need to resort to images of nude/near nude women is trite, tired and boring.

Me

And, honestly, isn’t it pathetic to think that people need images of “sexy” women to focus their attention on animal rights issues? I think it insults our intelligence.

@Christian

i think it’s a really dumb ad… i will even admit it has unsettling sexist implications… what were they thinking?!?!

@Matt

If their goal was to make me less inclined to eat Pam Anderson, it worked. If it was to make me less inclined to eat animals, they have failed horribly.

@Brian

We may also think in a way that allows for a sense of humor. Maybe your lack of sense of humor is why things seem ” trite, tired and boring”… Take a breath!

@Jessica

I wonder if any women work for peta’s marketing department, what do they think? It can’t just be me offended by their exploitation?

@Emma

I think it is a good ad in the fight for the well fare of humans – because the most that I have ever felt treated as a piece of meat is by doctors. They treat all of us as the same meat, and that is definitely equality.

@Jay

Dumbest thing ever….

@Gina

sad to say that i may be desensitized…but…zzzzzzzz.

Me

@Brian, Actually I do have a sense of humor but, given my years of examining the media landscape, this isn’t funny. It’s just dumb, reinforces stereotypes and makes women look like superficial, shallow, objectified bimbettes. The fact that @Gina is desensitized shows the level of “normalcy” that these ads have taken on.

@Emma

I would have to say that from my life experience of women Melanie, they are just that. The girls I used to hang around actually said things like, “I’m going to have a caesarean when I have a baby, so I can stay tight for my hubby”. I cannot imagine males so sexualising themselves, and treating their bodies as an object.

@Brian (speaking to me as if I were a child)

@ Melanie Do you feel better?

@Luke

Does anyone know of a place where I can download the script for the standard feminist v mysoginist sexual objectification flame war? I’d like to pipe in on this conversation, but I can’t remember what the next couple moves are.

Me (trying to add some humor in an increasingly volatile situation)

@Brian. I do. Thanks. LOL Honestly, though, given the work I do with young women and seeing how they objectify themselves (@Emma) because they are promised some fleeting rewards in the form of attention by the larger culture, is far too disturbing for me to let this slide. And, @Emma, guys don’t objectify or sexualize themselves in that way because they don’t have to. They are not primarily valued by their physical form.

@Maggie

Sex, domination, violence… big marketing ploys and very male driven! I hate double standards and love animals – all kinds! Why not a naked man refusing to wear fur!

@Bethany

I think Melanie should have written the article ?

Me

Bethany, I did write the article ;)

Me

@Luke: Ahahaha. Hilarious. Isn’t it interesting to note that men like @Brian and yourself see this as a boring, overplayed conversation taken too seriously? I mean, really, the objectification of women that persists isn’t as important as animal cruelty or racism. Sadly, sexism is still en vogue and critics are seen as “too serious” or “too sensitive.” I just call it as I see it. I wonder how people would react if there was an ad for PETA that used a African American man or woman dangling by a noose as a way to show how chickens are strung up farming factories before the kill. Would it be as funny?

@Luke

C’mon dude, I think the pros and cons of consensual sexual objectification by a grown autonomous adult is a very different debate to xenophobic, genocidal murder.

Me

@Luke I figured you’d say that. I hope you get my point, though and, by the way, I’m not a dude. Just clarifying. The idea that women make choices to “objectify” themselves does not take the cultural into account or make a holistic analysis. All of our choices are informed by the cultural context and, in our case, women and girls learn at earlier and earlier ages that we will be rewarded and valued if we do. I’ll stop here but I hope I’ve been able to shine a light on the issue for you even if only in a small way.

Ele comments at site of the blog post:

@Carol

I honestly can’t imagine how anyone with any integrity can justify this sexist and degrading ad. Some people will do anything to attract attention. Ick!

@Jennifer

It did exactly what it was supposed to do… draw attention. And you are perpetuating it by posting this article. PETA is counting on countless blogs like this to keep the ad right in everyone’s face. They may irritate a lot of people, but I think their marketing is smart… they take the stance that attention is attention, positive or negative.

I personally don’t find this ad an exploitation of women at all. Pamela chose to pose for this. Am I missing something? She’s going to look like that and pose for ads regardless because she’s a sex symbol. That’s her job. Might as well do it for a good cause. I take no offense to this. I’m sorry to those of you who do, though. But, please enlighten me as to why men and women can’t pose in a shorts or a bikini. I’m interested in hearing why we like to censor adults from making a very clear point about body parts by using body parts….

Me

Thanks for your comment but I am actually reposting the image to begin a dialogue and deconstruct the image rather than simply “perpetuating” it. And, yes, you are correct: their aim is to draw attention to the issue and these issues are important. My query and my point is to point out that in their effort to draw attention to the exploitation of animals they are continuing to exploit women.

I am not a “pride” or a proponent of abstinence only education or any of the other mind sets that view sex and the body (specifically, the female body) as a deviant, dirty, in need of covering up, deodorizing, waxing, surgical modification. In fact, I am part of community of women that encourages women to celebrate their bodes and own their sexuality. Neither of these things are happening here.

Women’s bodies are depicted nude or near nude to sell everything from fishing line to cars to ….this. Are we that uncreative? Do this tired tactic need to be repeated again and again? What do young girls learn about the female body when it is usually depicted as a sex object? Lets face it a sexy woman is not the same as a sexual woman. One is allowed (passive object) and the other is still slut shamed (active sexuality).

In an age when younger and younger women and girls are sexualized and commodified, I think that this image and the entire PETA campaign contributes to the overall sexism women and girls face at every turn in the culture.

@Yellowpeartomato

i wholeheartedly agree. This ad really rubs me the wrong way. The “all animals have the same parts” refrain – while i kinda maybe 1% get where they’re going with that (though biologically, ecologically, they’re wrong), it just comes across as “we can carve up women in the same way” to me. I’ve never been a financial supporter of PETA, though i do support alot of their issues, this is kinda a nail in the coffin for me as far as tactics go. I did alot of work in conservation circles and the constant need for shock value activism kinda got me down. It’s kinda like a beginning creative writing class i took – 90% of the stories were horror stories. I had a discussion with the prof about it and he was like: well, it’s easy…it’s easy to go for shock value. I just don’t think it’s very effective, and often counter-effective.

@Jennifer

I completely understand your intention for reposting, however, the end result is the same. As for exploiting women, isn’t it only exploitation when it is done without consent? She represents herself as a ‘sexy’ woman (not all women) who is speaking out for a cause. Sure she is surgically modified and has a ‘barbie-esque’ body but that doesn’t mean that we need to identify with her. Who’s to say that she’s even sexy anyway. I know plenty of men who think otherwise. In regards to girls looking at this sort of ad as a role model, that would be the parents responsibility to remedy that view – the media should not be raising our children anyway. Instead of trying to shame or censor PETA, why don’t other companies, causes, etc. counter the message by posting something more social acceptable.

Look, I’m playing a bit of devil’s advocate here. I’m completely anti-judgement. If you don’t like it, don’t support it. Enough people don’t support it then that will speak volumes. My way of thinking about these kinds of things are to go at them peacefully. Instead of trying to punish PETA for their marketing tactics, instigate a ad campaign that counters it. The ad is absolutely is uncreative but the truth of the matter is that sex sells. Period. No, she’s not celebrating her body here but she is using her ‘ass’-ets for what she believes in. That’s what she has and what she does. It is strictly her choice if she wants to objectify herself – no one is making her do that. She certainly doesn’t represent me… I wouldn’t grant her that power. If women feel uncomfortable with her ‘sexy’ then don’t participate or perpetuate.

Again, the ad is about body parts of animals. She is reflecting those same body parts on herself. If she had a sweatshirt and sweatpants on then it would be harder to understand the message, don’t you think? Sure they could have a more ‘normal’ size random person doing the same thing but it wouldn’t be using star power and it certainly wouldn’t target the market that they feel they need to crack – Male carnivores.

We can peacefully agree to disagree, as I understand how you are very opinionated about this topic. Just don’t grant them that power to ‘objectify all women’. Are we all victims because Pamela poses in a bikini?

@Nathan

Please visit an eating disorders clinic. Or just notice the <pathological> relationships members of our society have towards our bodies and sexuality. The evidence is everywhere. Sure, people can do whatever they want. But should they? And you aren’t “anti-judgmental”, you are certainly judging the writer’s POV. Not that anything is wrong with that- we all have our lenses- just don’t try to say you’re some sort of neutral observer.

@Jennifer

I’m not judging, not at all – just giving an alternative view, while supplying another option other than adding to the media it’s already getting (which I believe is accomplishing the opposite of what is intended).

Eating disorders stem from deeper issues than seeing Pamela in a bikini.

Me

I agree, Jennifer: it is not this one image that is problematic. My point is that it’s the spectrum, the endless stream, of images that is important to examine. Pam Anderson is one in countless and countless images constructing an image of reality that influences our norms and values.

@Jennifer

Yes, but on one hand it sells… so it’s not going to go away. There’s no fighting it. That’s my point. So instead of trying to go head-to-head, combat it another way. It’s just too bad that we *allow* it to influence our norms… yes, we allow it. There has to be a way to circumvent it or disallow it to make such an impact…

Me

Thanks for continuing to engage in dialogue. But, this is a way to combat it. It’s called media literacy and it is powerful. If interested, google media literacy, George Gerbner…media literacy has become an important part of the school curriculum in colleges (where I teach), high school, middle school and elementary school. Because the mass media vehicle will not subside, it is important to become critical consumers while deconstructing and subverting these messages.

@Jennifer

Your way has obviously been very effective, I see. I am well aware of media literacy. I stand behind my point, you are advertising for them, exactly how they trained, I mean, wanted, you to. Good luck with your endeavor, Melanie – I concur with your intentions but not with your means.

@JenniferPozner

This is a long-standing complaint with PETA. And they DO NOT CARE. There was an open letter back and forth about nine or ten years ago, if I remember correctly, where a PETA spokesperson basically called feminists ugly and stupid, etc., for raising these concerns.

The sexism issue with PETA isn’t about Pam Anderson. It’s about their longer-term strategy of using/exploiting women to make points about animals. I seem to remember a PETA ad with a close-up shot of a woman’s crotch in a bikini with pubic hair peeking out around the bikini, with a phrase something like, “Fur trim: ugly.” It was a billboard specifically intended to shame women who don’t wax their bikini lines, and was extremely gratuitous as a way of raising the “don’t wear fur coats” issue. If I remember correctly, that was the ad that sparked the heated exchange between PETA and some feminists, though someone who isn’t on deadline could Google for more details.

@Newshoes522

Tasteless, the ad is, but it highlights the an uncomfortable truth about the way our society currently operates. It seems to me that women and animals are often degraded in much the same way… Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this ad seems like it could provoke viewers to ask some deep questions about the way we treat groups that have historically been under the thumb of the ruling elite.

@Sarit

There is certainly some truth to the idea that if we give this attention, we’re giving PETA what they want and driving people to look at this ad. However, at the same time, how else can we, as feminist activists, provide a different lens with which to look at an ad like this other than blogging, posting, and eliciting a public conversation about it? If we silently shudder and cringe at the thought that yes, once again, a woman is being referred to as a piece of meat, then we cannot affect change of any kind.

PETA’s primary interest is to garner attention in an effort to get people to abide by a certain lifestyle, and they’ll do this by any means necessary. Their ads have no educational value about any potential health benefits of a meat-free lifestyle. They are designed to shock you, stop you, make you look, make you react.
Personally, as an artist who celebrates female beauty, I am stunned at the false imagery used in their campaigns. We wouldn’t eat meat that’s been hormonally beefed up, or chemically altered, so why, pray tell, are we going to subscribe to an ad campaign and ideology which places their focus on a model who has been altered in so many ways, there’s no recollection of what she really looks like?

@NellaLou

What strikes me is the ongoing undercurrent of the notion of dominance, particularly over nature, despite the fact that humans are part of the natural system. In this instance PETA, on the obvious level is attempting to dominate the discourse by provocation.

However that viewpoint still comes down to who has “dominion” over nature. That is a particularly Christian viewpoint which is still interjected even by organizations such as PETA. All kinds of compassionate rationalizations abound but PETA, by positioning itself to “speak” for animals is still claiming the position of animal domination. It is apparently their self-proclaimed mandate to decide how nature and the use of nature by humans should proceed. With aggressive ad campaigns, and this one in particular they have also adopted the dominance of the male gaze perspective with regard to women. So if one buys into the sub-text one can congratulate themselves on both counts.

Some people may think this is progressive and edgy but it is still the same old mindset of domination redressed, or should I say undressed..

Another thought occurs-this dominance is very much tied to the notion or feeling of entitlement as well.

Note: By the Christian reference I am referring to Genesis chapter 1 “26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

@Tom

I wholly agree with JenniferKH. The rest of you need to chill the fuck out and stop being so over-sensitive. Not to mention selfish.

The well-being of our beautiful animals is much more important than worrying about offending the unreasonably over-sensitive and opinionated brigade, who get offended at the drop of a hat anyway.

I’m all for PETA and the ad. It grabs attention and then makes an important point very well. Top marks. :-)

Me

Wow. “Chill the fuck out.” Brilliant. Nobody said that animals aren’t important. Clearly, they’re more important than women. Maybe if you taught the countless amount of young women that I do, you might change your mind.

Also, I’m not offended. I’m beyond that. I think this is a stupid ploy to garner attention that demonstrates a lack of creativity and reaffirms stereotypes of women as vapid, objectified bimbettes and I also find it sad that this is the only way that people’s attention would be directed to the fate of “beautiful animals.” I guess consciousness about exploitation doesn’t include women. Study after study confirms the psychological harm inflicted upon young women (including girls that are sexualized as early as elementary school) in which they grow up dumbing themselves down and believing that their most valuable asset is their ass/breasts/insert body part of choice here.

@Jennifer

Melanie, Melanie – Don’t start insulting people just because, like your students, we don’t take your option as gospel. That’s great that you teach… you obviously like to use that for your credibility… but there’s much more to this. It’s a body. It’s overused, yes, but it works effectively. If you want to do some good, come up with another way. This all sounds so very whiney now…. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Thanks, Tom… besides my husband who thinks this is extremely humorous that I’m wasting my time with this… it’s nice to have someone on the other side.

Me

I’m not insulting. I just don’t see how that type of language contributes to a dialogue. I don’t expect my students to agree with my teaching as gospel. I’m just surprised to see how an enlightened community sees sexism as something that should be laughed off and waved away. I’ve told you time and time again that I appreciate your comments and willingness to dialogue as you have done so in an articulate and thoughtful way. Chillin the fuck out didn’t seem that thoughtful. Trust me, there’s no whining here. Just trying to shed a light on an issue in a conscious way.

@buddalicious

It is ironic that a group that promotes the ethical treatment of animals and eating a healthy vegetarian diet would want someone who is far from natural representing their definition of a healthy lifestyle. It is not the ad that objectifies a women per se it is the woman in the ad that objectifies women. I am sick of seeing fake plastic women representing so many things in our society. She has plastic breast for gosh sakes…and no she did not have breast cancer. Hell, if we were not such a vain society then perhaps breast cancer survivors would not feel the need to insert plastic filled balls into their bodies either. Just my two cents from someone who has been in health care for over eighteen years. It is bad enough I thought I should color my hair in my twenties…dumbest think I ever thought I needed to try. All colors beautiful! Embrace who we are people…damn I’m a natural strawberry blond!

@Elkabear

I love the debate and at different points in my life chose to think other things about this type of add. It certainly has shock value which we all have reacted to. I choose to see the ad like this: This ad has a dual purpose to me. This is a Feminist statement. We treat (“attractive”) women in the media like meat rather than complete human beings (I’m intentionally not going to talk about Objectification, that’s a whole ‘nother topic). By “we”, I include women because who is more critical of a woman than another woman? Not ALL women, but let’s face it, I’ve heard more women verbally tear apart another, particularly based on her looks, than men. We see it right here in this BLOG. If we want Solidarity among women, we have to Practice Solidarity among each other.

The other aspect of this ad is the activism focused toward Animal Rights. There is a parallel. Women can be treated as animals, and animals who are raised for the fur trade are not treated with care or gentleness and are treated as if they are disposable objects.

To me, this ad is more effective as a Feminist statement.

I am glad however, that there are plenty of celebrities, including Pamela Anderson, who would rather go naked than to wear the skin and fur of animals raised solely for the purpose of coats (and here I will not go in to the issue of animal rights, because that is a whole ‘nother topic as well).

@Eric

What exactly that everyone finds so offensive with the female form? I can understand someone having a issue with a person or company using aspects of person to promote a product. But what is it that makes using sexuality wrong, but using other aspects of oneself ok? Why is using a female’s sexuality in an ad wrong but using other naturally inherent aspects of her is ok? (i.e. her career, her fame, her personality, her intelligence). Why is it that we consider her sexuality to be “offensive” and “exploitive”. To call such an ad sexist is to BE sexist. Because by calling it sexist and offensive, you are saying that a natural part of a woman’s being is offensive and degrading to her gender. This very idea perpetuates sexism.

@PoorArticle

So basically you are saying a woman sitting in a bikini is degrading. To me thats offensive because you’re saying my body is degrading. Maybe she should wear a burka? lol Kind of hard to make the point that we all have the same parts then – isn’t it?

What if it was a man in a speedo? Is that degrading too?

Not to mention this is Pam Anderson, someone famous off Playboy and sex taps. So this ad is actually really tame compared to her other works.

So in conclusion this whole article is ridiculous.

@BenRalston

I completely wholeheartedly with Jennifer KH and Eric M:

showing a woman’s naked body with the intention of bringing attention to the meat industry is sexist? Why? Please explain.

I find that attitude simply prudish.

Also, do any of you really think that lambasting PETA for their advertising will really make any difference to women’s rights, or

Carol Horton said:

“I honestly can’t imagine how anyone with any integrity can justify this sexist and degrading ad… Ick”

Well Carol, I can imagine very well. Perhaps they thought that showing a woman in a bikini was a lesser evil than those perpetrated by the meat industry to which they are trying to bring your attention, such as mass producing animals for their torture and eventual slaughter. What do you think? Sounds like a reasonable justification to me!

To me this whole debate is a question of awareness. Where do you direct your attention:

- to the use of a semi naked woman’s body, or to the underlying purpose of that use.

I also wonder how many of the people attacking PETA here eat meat, and are subconsciously offended by having their eating habits questioned? I KNOW, contentious…

@Rachel

Melanie is an inspiration to feminists and women, as a young women i find her indispensable. I think there are worse examples of objectifying women, but PETA could have easily done this with a man, and they did not (do they ever? once is not good enough, either). As woman, we are judged on our looks, as my mentor (a male) would say, we are also given an arbitrary expiration date based on those looks. We make less money for the same job as men, and we are more likely to be the victims of sexual assault. What is sexual assault exactly? It is someone exerting their power and will over someone else’s. How could anyone do that? Because it’s easy to do that to an object, and women are constantly objectified in media; it’s the norm. I implore you, if you do not understand how this advertisement is sexist, to educate yourself about feminism and women’s issues. I didn’t know the things that I know now 6 years ago. Elephant is a mindful journal about the mindful life, but it’s not just yoga. Spend some time on feministing.com, feministfatale.com (Melanie’s site), or jezebel.com. I know it’s not as simple as black and white, right and wrong, but Melanie is not wrong. As a feminist, a woman, and a contributor to elephant journal, I ask you to learn more about feminist issues.


5 Comments »

  1. Melanie,

    I LOVED your post at elephant journal. I actually think your defense of why the AD is sexist, should be in the body of the article because most of the readers at elephant are not as tapped into sexism, date rape culture, etc, as readers are on here, or other popular feminist blogs.

    I am also a contributor to elephant journal, and I often want to throw my computer at something in response to the sexist and un-enlighthened commments (and articles- the new age chick one, the defense of mel gibson), but since im a yogini, i try and practice compassion towards my computer.

    keep up the good work! don’t be afraid to be overly expository on elephant, they need it (and i do love elephant).

    xo!

    Comment by Rachel — July 21, 2010 @ 12:31 am

  2. Thanks for having a go against Peta’s exploitation of women. It’s sad that a lot of guys and some women want to bluster that it’s okay to do this.

    Comment by Rebecca — July 22, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

  3. As a feminist and a vegetarian, I think the ad is completely ineffective. I think that PETA is trying to shock us and say “what if we treated humans like meat?” but by using such a sexualized image it comes off as “what if we treated sexy women like meat” but its ineffective because we already kinda do, so its not reallly that shocking and no one gets why its offensive.

    Comment by Jasmin — July 26, 2010 @ 8:44 am

  4. hi there ~ i saw your comments on the ms blog. thanks for the link to this post. very interesting! i’ve also been dismayed by the misogyny and judgement within the elephant community. i think that it’s a culture that is deliberately cultivated there, for shock value and web stats. i know several women who refused to contribute after watching the intro video for new writers.

    good for you for your efforts to represent the feminist perspective in such hostile territory!

    btw, have you seen the latest PETA ad, with the jivamukti teachers? i’d be interested in your thoughts… http://itsallyogababy.com/2010/09/01/jivamukti-yoga-teachers-for-peta-how-to-do-nude-advertising-properly/

    Comment by roseanne — September 13, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  5. Thanks, Roseanne. I’ll check out the PETA ad with the Jivamukti teachers and see what I think. What are your thoughts?

    Comment by Melanie — September 13, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

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