Not Safe for Work: Discusses pornography and contains sexualized imagery.
Trigger Warning: Discusses pornography
Some may recall that PETA launched a pornography site a few years ago, interweaving graphic scenes of violence with sexualized images of women. Fortunately, it removed the images of women, and the porn site is nothing more than short video clips of factory farms. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The porn is back, now under a new campaign called “Veggie Love Casting Session.”
On the campaign’s website, various clips of women performing sex acts on vegetables are featured. In the television commercial, women are paraded in front of the camera and inspected for the audience like human meat ready for consumption. The project is orchestrated by men who we hear in the background calling the shots, directing the women to show the audience how much they love their assigned vegetable, then laughing at the woman’s humiliation at the end of her session. Photos of the women are listed at the bottom of the page where viewers can rate them with a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” adding another level to the women’s objectification.
PETA even manages to mimic the prevalence of racism in pornography. The only African American woman featured is shown animalized, crawling across the couch to some broccoli where she devours it with no hands.
Many would view this campaign and argue that these women are participating “by choice” and they’re “enjoying it.” But this is missing the point. We need to consider what shapes those choices, that being an environment that sees women as sex objects and resources for male enjoyment. Women are under immense pressure to perform the gender roles they have been assigned. Under patriarchy, women are socialized to be servants to men. Women are groomed as little girls, taught that providing sex and pleasure for men is both expected and required of them. Women are given so few opportunities in this world to achieve and succeed based on their skills, knowledge, and other dignifying qualities, sex work is one of the only options available to them. The vast majority of sex work, incidentally, is high risk, low pay work with very little job security and very little agency (most sex workers are pimped or otherwise trafficked). Importantly, this is an option that’s not even on the table for men.
Pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation also target especially vulnerable women, predominantly girls and women from low-income backgrounds or abusive families, girls and women with little occupational or educational opportunities, and girls and women who are suffering from addictions.Pornography hurts all women, but it particularly hurts at-risk women.
After viewing videos of women performing sex acts on vegetables, videos of Nonhuman Animals being beaten and killed automatically pop up on the PETA website. In other words, images of sexualized and humiliated women are juxtaposed with dying animals. PETA is tapping into a new form of sexuality, one that has been popularized by porn culture: subjugating and hurting the vulnerable for the pleasure of the privileged. Seeing someone humiliated and suffering for our enjoyment has become sexy.
PETA is sexualizing the degradation and humiliation of women. PETA is sexualizing the exploitation of vulnerable people. PETA is sexualizing violence against women. PETA is sexualizing oppression.
The research is overwhelmingly clear: pornography leads to the degradation of women, the objectification of women, the dehumanization of women, and violence against women. It leads women to internalize this devaluation, and women begin to objectify themselves. It disempowers women, it leaves women susceptible to domestic violence, and it feeds rape culture. For more information on how pornography hurts women, check out The Price of Pleasure (warning, the material on the website and in the film are extremely triggering and graphic). I also recommend Gail Dines’ Pornland or Robert Jensen’s Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (this book is freely available on his website).
Dr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).
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