City Desk

PETA Wants You to Stop Exploiting Animals, Start Exploiting Women

peta dean essnerThe “A” in PETA stands for animals. Humans are animals. Women are humans. By association, they’re a feminist organization.

However, in a Farragut Square demonstration yesterday, where three nearly naked women were painted to look like pythons to protest wildlife exploitation in fashion, their pro-animal message played second fiddle. Throughout the hourlong event—a self-styled rebellion against the use of animal products at D.C. Fashion Week—many men walked by, ogled, took pictures, and then kept walking, not even lingering long enough to ask the demonstrators why they were nude and pretending to be reptiles.

Still, PETA tried to be informative.

“In this day and age, there is no excuse to be wearing bits and pieces of any animal’s skin,” said Campaign Specialist Ashley Byrne, the only of the three costumed PETA representatives fielding questions—a vast majority of which came from journalists dutifully recording the scene, not the public. “The synthetic options that we have available now are more durable; they’re less expensive; they’re better for the environment. And they don’t cause the kind of suffering that wearing real fur, exotic skins, or wool causes.”

This demonstration was in line with much of PETA’s past work, a long track record of sexist ads and events where animal rights messages are subverted via the masculine gaze. (Previous D.C. happenings have included a naked protest outside World Pork Progress and Playboy Playmates in lettuce bikinis serving vegan hot dogs on Capitol Hill.) And during yesterday’s live PSA, the masculine gaze was fully operational.

I approached one man, who asked to remain anonymous, as he hovered over the action for a few minutes with a rather large grin on his face. When I asked for his reaction to the spectacle, he simply said, “I’m thinking what you’re thinking.”

He fled on his bicycle before one of the pythons could ask him about the snakeskin boots he wasn’t wearing.

Photo by Dean Essner

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  • mike

    Lab rat liberationists.

  • Niran

    I support Ingrid: "Well, it's rubbish because the organization is run by a woman, who is me. I marched in the earliest of rallies, I am an adamant feminist, but I'm not a prude and I think you can go to the beach and see people who are in less than you can in a PETA ad. Our people are all volunteers, no one has asked a woman to take off her clothes. I've done it myself, we've all marched naked if we want to, and I think that it's very restrictive and in fact wrong. I would expect someone in, say, Iran to tell us that we should cover up, but I don't expect women or men in this country to criticize women who wish to use their bodies in a form of political statement, to tell them, you need to cover yourself up. There's this idea of 'naughty bits' and I just think it's funny more than anything else. It's not sexist, it may be sexual, but no. No woman has ever been paid to strip. She has decided to use her body as a political instrument. That's her prerogative and I think it is anti-feminist to dare to tell her that she needs to put her clothes back on."

  • Ashley Byrne

    As the organizer of yesterday's demonstration, I would like to offer readers our side of the story, excerpted from an email that I sent to Washington City Paper Editor Mike Madden:

    Although we appreciate that the City Paper covered our demonstration, this post offers a highly imbalanced, inaccurate, and—frankly—patronizing portrayal of my work and that of my organization.

    At no point during my conversation with Mr. Essner yesterday did he bring up the topic of sexism, exploitation, or gender dynamics in any way. If he had, I would have gladly explained that I was proud to organize and participate in this demonstration. I would have pointed out that, as always, many women of all ages stopped to pose for photos with us, take informational leaflets from us (we handed out 400 well before the hour was up), and thank us for promoting kindness to animals at Fashion Week. And I would have shown him examples of the many demonstrations that PETA has organized in D.C. in which men—as well as women—have chosen to bare their skin to bring attention to animal rights issues (such as this one and this one and this one and this one—just to name a few).

    But Mr. Essner did not address these issues in his conversation with me. Instead, he chose to write a post for the City Paper calling my demonstration "sexist" without including my perspective. At best, this is lazy reporting. At worst, this is a man patronizingly telling me that I'm being exploited by a decision that I made to participate in an event that I created. It's similarly patronizing to mention only that some men "ogled" us because of the bodypaint instead of acknowledging the many women who made it clear that they appreciated the demonstration and the many men who stopped to ask us thoughtful questions. Frankly, some men will ogle women whether they're wearing bodypaint or dressed in pants and a T-shirt. What matters to me is the many people who walk away from our demonstrations thinking about our message.

    Finally, please allow me to clarify that I was the designated media contact for this demonstration. This is the most professional and organized way to run an event, and it is the reason that I was the only person speaking with members of the media. But all four of the volunteers participating in this event were fielding questions from the public about why we were demonstrating, why we encourage people to stick to animal-friendly fashion, and where people can find cruelty-free clothing and accessories. It's highly misleading for Mr. Essner to imply otherwise.

  • Taylor

    You are clearly missing the ENTIRE point of these PETA campaigns. You wouldn't kill and skin a beautiful woman that's painted like a leopard, so why would you kill and skin a leopard? The major difference here is that these women are CHOOSING to participate in this campaign; animals are not choosing to be killed and abused. If these women want to walk around naked, who are you to tell them they shouldn't? If PETA had naked men walking around painted like animals, this article wouldn't even exist. It's ironic that you're trying to call PETA sexist, when you are being very sexist in this article. Also, this article is bringing publicity to the campaign, which is exactly what they are trying to accomplish. By being edgy and breaking the social norms PETA is getting a lot of attention. Despite the fact that some of the attention might be bad, it's better than no attention at all.

  • Jane

    Isn't it nice that we have a man telling women when they can and cannot take their clothes off? This article is blatantly sexist and offensive to anyone who CHOOSES to use their body to support a cause they believe in. Why didn't you ask the activist why she was doing what she was doing? I bet the answer was a lot more interesting they your paternalistic assumption that she is being exploited.

  • peta is crazy

    These people didn't choose to be exploited by the big bad weasel of animal rights any more than you or I would!

    People Eating Tasty Animals: Stupidly exploiting humans since 1980