Disturbing Images Peta and the Feminist Ethics of Animal Advocacy Maneesha Deckha
Ethics & the Environment, Volume 13, Number 2, Autumn 2008, pp. 35-76 (Article) Published by Indiana University Press DOI: 10.1353/een.0.0013
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PETA And ThE FEminisT EThics oF AnimAl AdvocAcy
The author applies a feminist analysis to animal advocacy initiatives in which gendered and racialized representations of female sexuality are paramount. Feminists have criticized animal advocates for opposing the oppression of nonhuman animals through media images that perpetuate female objectification. These critiques are considered through a close examination of two prominent campaigns by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). The author argues that some representations of female sexuality may align with a posthumanist feminist ethic and need not be read as sexist. Examining PETA’s famous anti-fur ads and the more recent Milk Gone Wild campaign, the author identifies where PETA’s campaigns are objectionable under a feminist ethic and where they are subversive of an anthropocentric and male-dominated order alike. The article thus recuperates part of PETA’s work from feminist critiques, but also reveals the constructions posthumanist advocacy should exclude to avoid elevating the status of nonhuman animals at the expense of women.
Part I: IntroductIon It is no secret to those immersed in animal advocacy that there is a debate in the movement between those who believe in animal welfare initiatives and those who insist on rights-oriented approaches only (Francione
ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT, 13(2) 2008 ISSN: 1085-6633
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2000, Cavalieri 2001, Wise 2000, Regan 2004, Sunstein and Nussbaum 2004). Animal welfare initiatives are those that advocate for better living conditions for animals while they are being instrumentally treated. Such efforts do not target the instrumental use of animals, but try to improve the quality of the lives the animals lead while subject and subordinated to human ends (Francione 1995, 6–7, 1819). In contrast, rights-oriented approaches are not just concerned with the quality of lives that animals have, but whether or not the animal experienced freedom, autonomy, and other rights suited to her or his capacity and needs. Animal rights activists are more concerned with action that will undermine human practices that exploit animals by treating them instrumentally and as human commodities. The difference is succinctly stated by Tom Regan when he states, in the context of justice for farmed animals, that what animal rightists seek is not larger cages, but no cages at all (Regan 2004; Regan, Philosophy of Animal Rights). The internal debate is not so much that animal welfarists do not also support animal rights measures, but whether animal rights advocates should compromise on the goal for animal rights by supporting welfarist measures (Francione 1996). One of the primary worries educed by welfare measures is their possibility of misleading the general public into thinking that with better conditions no further ethical issues exist with regard to human treatment of animals (Francione 1996, 181–82). The efforts of arguably the most recognizable (and successful) public face of animal advocacy, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have been implicated and taken as paradigmatic of this controversy (Francione 1996, 22–25, 33). PETA’s efforts to work with McDonald’s, Burger King, and other fast food giants to improve the conditions in factory farms (rather than...
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