January 30, 2007

PETA and sexism

The sujet du jour in the feminist blogosphere is PETA's sexist and racist advertising. The denunciation started as a reaction to PETA's State of the Union (NSFW) ad, in which an attractive twentysomething woman delivers animal rights platitudes while gradually stripping. For more on this ad, read Jill, who also gives us a sampling of other sexist ads. Over at Pandagon, Amanda has a post comparing PETA with Operation Rescue (a notorious anti-abortion group). It's this post I want to focus on -- below the fold.

Amanda gives six reasons why PETA and Operation Rescue are deeply similar. Some of these (eg, `They think women are just bodies to be manipulated for their ends instead of full human beings', or `Both have a strong, irrational loathing for science.') are absolutely unargued, and actually false if read too literally (I've known PETA members who were feminists and scientists and even one woman who was all three).

On the other hand, some of her points are spot-on:

Neither seems to care that much about the real life well-being of the objects of their advocacy as they claim to care. Anti-choice groups uniformly oppose contraception and sex education, which are the only proven methods of reducing the abortion rate overall. PETA has an unsavory history of liberating research animals only to have them die from the stress of their liberation.

Then we have this one:

Both prefer to advocate for “victims” that are silent and therefore can be projected onto. It’s no coincidence that people who are bereft of arguments and prefer sentimental whining and shock tactics prefer causes where the supposed victims are not able to articulate their own desires. Animals/fetuses give them their excuse to work out all sorts of other feelings, and not just disgust and anger towards female bodies, though that seems to be part of it.

I find this simply bizarre. Members of both groups believe that there's a large class of beings who (a) deserve more legal rights than they enjoy now, and (b) cannot advocate for those rights themselves. Operation Rescue members think that foetuses deserves a legal right to life, and they stage demonstrations and so on as a form of advocacy on behalf of foetuses, because the foetuses (being non-rational beings confined to wombs) cannot advocate on their own behalf. Similarly, PETA members think that non-human animals deserve certain legal rights, and they stage demonstrations and so on as a form of advocacy on behalf of those non-human animals because (lacking the ability to use language and understand our legal system, etc.) they cannot advocate on their own behalf. We might disagree with the premiss that these beings deserve these rights, but that's a totally different issue. Given that someone should advocate for these rights for these beings, and that they cannot do it themselves, it follows immediately that someone else is going to have to be an advocate for them.

Being an advocate on behalf of another is not a vicious activity, in and of itself, and it's certainly not automatically an act of projection. If projection is a vice, and if members of PETA or Operation Rescue are engaged in their advocacy for no reason other than an act of projection onto non-human animals or foetuses, then the problem here is the projection itself, not the advocacy per se. At most, the fact that these beings cannot be advocates for themselves might make them more likely to be projected upon, but I don't think this is true: what else are racism, sexism, classism, etc., but the projection of the interests and beliefs of the dominant class onto other classes?


Drew said...

That's typical Amanda. Even when I agree with her, I can't help but notice that her argumentation is barely deserving of the term. She replaces intellectual rigor with emotional stridency and calls it a day.

I know that you've posted before objecting to the use of the word "shrill", particularly when applied to Amanda, because of its sexist undertones, but it's the perfect word to describe her rhetorical style.

She's just awful, and always has been.

Noumena said...

I think that's going a bit too far (even replacing `shrill' or `emotional stridency' with the gender neutral `emotional rhetoric'). The first two reasons I quote are oversimplified, but might be defensible if fixed up. (I'm not claiming that they are defensible, just that someone might reasonably defend something like them.) And I don't like the fourth at all, of course. But I don't think there are any real grounds for complaint with respect to the third. In the original, she provides links to evidence, and certainly avoids the sort of psychoanalytic handwaving that I don't like about the others.

Perhaps she should have made just that point, and cut out the rest of the post, or at least moderated her claims a bit. Does that mean the actual post is completely bereft of anything of value? Remember that, living in the worlds of law and academic philosophy, our understanding of what makes for a rigorous argument has become extremely regimented. In more mundane parts of the world (obscure etymological puns are the best), conformity to the standards of either formal or legal validity is not necessary.

Drew said...

No, not completely bereft of value, I agree. My point is that I've never, ever been a fan of Amanda's writing (I took Pandagon off of my favorites list not long after she took over, and rarely read it anymore), precisely because of the types of shortcomings you identify here.