There’s a new post going around about a study claiming that sex, in fact, does not sell, and neither does violence. While, if true, this is interesting to know, it doesn’t affect my attitude toward using sexually provocative imagery in animal rights campaigns. I am opposed to using sex appeal to “sell” animal rights or veganism because I find this tactic to be demeaning to human women.
The usual response to this criticism is that a woman has the right to display her body however she wishes. I absolutely agree. I posed fully nude on numerous occasions myself, before my transition, and I have no regrets about doing so. In fact, at this time most of my nude photos are still available online in various places.
What I am asking is for people to recognize power dynamics, as this comic about empowerment versus objectification shows. When PETA features nude and semi-nude people in their campaigns, they are almost invariably thin, conventionally attractive, able-bodied, white or light-skinned cisgender women. Occasionally male and dark-skinned models are also featured, but white women’s bodies are the primary attention-grabbers. Though in this 2009 Craigslist ad they sought to hire a black model – for no pay – to strip completely nude while reading their annual “State of the Undress.” They wanted a black or mixed-race model to “have her ethnicity resemble Barack Obama’s as closely as possible.”
Anyone who doesn’t see a problem with that Craigslist ad seriously needs to check their privileges. In addition to being racist, this solicitation is emblematic of how women are treated in the mainstream animal rights movement. In this male-dominated movement, a woman’s physical appearance is more important than her voice. And it’s no surprise that when vegan messaging constantly touts health and weight loss benefits to humans – as opposed to elevating the voices of the victims – only slim, conventionally-attractive people are desired to promote veganism.
This criticism isn’t about telling women what they can or can’t do. Nor is it an attempt to be “divisive.” I will work with people from various animal rights organizations even if I don’t completely agree with their philosophies or tactics. But I will not ignore, excuse, or condone campaigns that are sexist, racist, or otherwise oppressive, whether or not people think they are effective “for the animals.” Humans are animals too, and my activism is not limited to liberating non-humans. A vegan world that continues to elevate the needs and voices of cishet white males above all other humans is no world I want to be a part of.