A few years ago, I was really annoyed by an ad run by the animal rights organization PETA. The ad showed a woman in a pair of underwear with a ton of hair covering her bikini line and upper thighs. The caption read: "Fur Trim Unattractive."
The idea was to highlight the problems with wearing fur, but I read it as just plain sexist. I also thought it was weird that this progressive group, who was at times known for its radical tactics in defense of animals, would buy into such close-minded ideas about women.
Over the years I began seeing more and more PETA ads that I found offensive. I wasn’t the only one who was offended. Many feminist groups called PETA out for using images of naked caged women to hammer home their message.
So despite the fact that I am all for animal rights, (hell, I started an animal rights club in high school with my friend Moselle), I kind of wrote the organization off.
But, their most recent ad made me laugh out loud and I decided maybe it was time for me to give the group a second chance.
In it a teen girl sits on her bed clutching her pillow with her two parents on either side.
Her dad says, "Honey we need to talk."
"About sex," Mom adds.
"Yeah," says Dad, "we think you should be having it, sweetie."
"A lot of it," Mom quips. "Get out there and nail everything you can. If it’s got a pulse you should be wrapped around it."
"What if I get pregnant?" The daughter asks.
"So what," replies Mom. "You should pop out all the kids you want."
"We can leave them in the shelter, dump them in the street," Dad offers.
"It’s really not important," concludes Mom.
Dad beams, "I’m really glad we had this little talk,"
An emotional mom sighs, "My little girl’s gonna get some."
The screen then says, "Parents shouldn’t act this way. Neither should people with dogs and cats. Always spay and neuter."
I thought the ad was really funny and captured the absurdity of such a situation. Other people, however, have had different responses.
For example, a Christian blogger’s issue was that the ad shouldn’t be seen as satire. "I thought that on a cultural level, the message given to the daughter is exactly the message communicated. Perhaps parents don’t just come out and say ’sleep with anything that moves’ but young people are clearly getting that message."
I can’t say those comments resonated with me. They just seemed like such a knee-jerk reaction, and not actually accurate.
However, an article in Alternet got me thinking. According to Tana Ganeva
"…PETA is capitalizing on the recent media frenzy over teen pregnancy (see Jamie Lynn Spears/Gloucester pregnancy "pact"/ etc.) And part of the reason the ad is funny and effective, is because the sexuality of teen girls is the object of societal freak-outs in a way that male sexuality is not…
The figure of the pregnant teen elicits all sorts of screwed-up reactions (paternalism, derision, moralizing, to name a few) that are rooted in larger messed-up assumptions about female sexuality. And the PETA ad certainly doesn’t contribute much to the very difficult and complex topic of teen pregnancy."
I think these are really good points, but I also feel that not every parody has to have a deeper social message. I don’t think we do teens girls, pregnant or not, a service by saying they are off limits for jokes. To me, that seems a bit paternalistic itself.
It remains to be seen what direction PETA will go in future campaigns. Maybe they will again resort to offensive ads that degrade women. But if they simply feature women and girls in their campaigns the way they have in "The Talk," then I personally won’t have a problem with their methods.
What do you think?