Speaking of Pervasive Sexualisation…

Cross-posted at Vegans Against PETA

A recurrent theme in animal-rights rhetoric is an attempt to connect with other struggles against oppression, to present the abuse of animals as similar to the abuse of different sorts of humans.

Now, for many people, the leftist revolutionaries of Latin America, from Fidel Castro to Evo Morales to Salvador Allende, are a key example of that struggle against oppression. So if you were an animal rights group and you found that the granddaughter of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was a vegetarian and was willing to work with you, it would seem that you have a campaign ready made.

You might, for example, have her in an outfit and posture that echoes famous poses that Che Guevara often held. You could use a slogan like “Join the vegetarian revolution”. It’s a brilliant plan. It’s got a striking image with a lot of resonance, and it’s also got a point that can be backed up (the connections between different forms of oppression, the need for revolutionary change in human-animal relations, the willingness to endorse militant tactics, etc.)

It’s controversial, sure – Guevara is a controversial figure, hated by some and loved by others. But let’s suppose you have no problem taking controversial stances. And perhaps your main plan is to run the campaign in Latin America, where Guevara’s very popular.

But now, imagine that you’re also PETA. Now a problem emerges. There’s a woman in your poster, but there’s nothing sexual about it. Nobody’s going to get a boner out of simply seeing someone in an inspiring pose of resolute defiance. What can you do?

I guess you’ll just have to make her semi-naked. Get her tits out, yeah? Cover them with an ammo belt of carrots, sure, but make sure that she’s clearly in a state of undress. After all, she’d rather go naked than wear fur, amiright?

Never mind that there’s absolutely no reason for a sexualised image in a poster themed around Che Guevara and revolution. He is hardly famous for having posed nude while storming Havana.

And never mind that it introduces a completely conflicting message that is liable to undermine the actual point – that will encourage viewers to look and think ‘I’d like to do her’ rather than ‘I’d like to aid her in doing something revolutionary’.

Never mind that you’re sending the message that women must always be sexual, even when the subject at issue – political relatives – has nothing to do with sex at all. Never mind that you’re encouraging a culture where every bit of the media features soft-core porn and women are pervasively judged in sexual terms.

That’s all beside the point. This campaign might get more attention now, and that’s all that matters. Nice one PETA.

3 Responses to “Speaking of Pervasive Sexualisation…”

  1. Elaine Vigneault Says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of assumptions you’ve made. Let me ask a few things:
    a) Why assume PETA dictated the photo scene rather than assume Lydia Guevara dictated it?
    b) Why haven’t you used her name? Why has her identity been reduced to “the granddaughter”? Why is your emphasis on her relationship to a man rather than on HER?
    c) Why are you calling that photo semi-naked when she’s 100% covered-up?
    d) Why have you conflated nudity with sexuality? What about her powerful body is sexual? Exactly what makes it more sexual than a similarly covered-up male body?
    e) Why assume “there’s no reason” for nudity? Nudity represents vulnerability and honesty – in virtually all cultures.
    f) If you’re so quick to analyze the so-called “nude” aspect of the ad, why not think a little deeper about what it means to replace bullets with carrots. Can you think of a better way to represent nonviolence?

  2. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    a) Because it’s a longstanding PETA tactic to use nude celebrities or just naked people to publicise themselves. It’s that pattern, and the broader cultural pattern it fits into, that gets my goat, so I’m not too bothered about whose idea a particular case was.
    b) The relationship to Che seems to be the primary rationale for the campaign. Her name is Lydia Guevara, if you want me to say that.
    c) Because there’s a difference between covering a sexualised area with clothing and covering it with an item? Between wearing trousers and walking around with a hard hat held over your crotch?
    d) Because I’m immersed in modern patriarchal culture, and I see no reason to believe that with a publicity campaign run in said culture, the intended reaction is not the culturally most natural reaction. A similar male body would still be sexual, but less so because men don’t have breasts and breasts are a sexualised body part. I’m not saying there’s any particular reason for that, but it’s an obvious cultural fact.
    e) I’ve never come across any nude images of Che Guevara, nor indeed of Castro, Chavez, Lenin, or any other such figure. Nor have I ever associated that genre of revolutionary imagery with vulnerability.
    f) It is a good way to represent non-violence. But that seems like quite a separate point.

  3. Lindsay Says:

    Yeah; while I liked the Lydia Guevara ad lots better than I usually like PETA’s ads (which ain’t saying much), I’d have been a lot happier if they’d let her have a shirt on under those fabulous carrot bandoliers.

    It’d have been an awesome, powerful image then, as it still almost is under the soft-core sexualization. But in my experience (and I doubt I’m the only woman, or man for that matter, who feels this way), the degree to which an image of a woman is sexualized is the degree to which that image projects submission, vulnerability, objecthood — just the qualities that do not inspire me to go stick it to the Man.

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