Shackling elephants is sad. Shackling women is hot.

The PETA ad below deplores cruelty to elephants.

Yet cruelty to women seems okay.

PETA: cruelty to women vs animals

PETA: cruelty to women vs animals

Animal cruelty depresses me and creates a lot of anxiety. So I’m with PETA on that.

But their advertising often troubles me. 

Of course, their ads mirror our culture. And that troubles me, too. Because we live in a society that bombards us with objectified and eroticized images of battered and bruised women.

At least one person (a PETA employee?) suggests the image means to say “abusing animals is just the same as abusing individuals. Sad when it’s an elephant.”

Yes, sad when it’s an elephant.

Hot when it’s a sexy woman.

And a good way to draw eyes to your ad.

After all, why not use a man in the image? Or a less sexy woman?

When it comes to creating empathy you pretty much have to do the reverse of what the (PETA employee?) suggests: you must use an elephant’s suffering to evoke empathy for a woman who is being cruelly treated.

I worry about a culture that eroticizes the abuse of anything or anyone, whether the target is aimed at a gender, an ethnicity, children or animals.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 13, 2014, in feminism, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Tiny things could have made this ad way better. For starters, if they prioritized making the woman look beaten and afraid more than looking pretty. Then we’d all feel bad for her first and see her as attractive second.

    Actually, that’s it. I’d like to see what this ad would look like with that one change.

  2. “Well you are addressing a different issue. What you say what makes sense in other contexts. But here I can’t imagine this portrayal isn’t related to sexualized violence against women — since that’s exactly what it looks like.”

    Yeah this case. I was bringing up though how in other things women or children are shown not for sexual reasons but to draw on the heart strings to provoke sympathy. And brining up how the same repression on women is bad, the same high ranking on men or perception of men can harm men just as much in a different way. I don’t think men are used for other ads when a person is shown to be treated like a victim and men used to provoke such sympathy like a woman or child does. It’s unfortunate in the sense that because of men being higher ranked and taught and society sees men as tough and not vulnerable, that men have less outlets than women if say dealing with depression or abuse, molested, etc.

    I think it can make men feel they have to keep to themselves or they just don’t want to and on top of that, like society doesn’t care and ignores men that are hurting emotionally or physically. It seems like people get upset, but if there’s a news report that a man got jumped and beat up by a group of men outside some bar. There will be people upset and bothered, but not to the extent it seems if say there’s another report in the news and a woman outside another bar gets beaten up bad by a group of women. Obviously if it’s men beating up a woman I understand the anger and sympathy with me being a man. But that’s why I said a group of women beating up a woman. But it still seems like more people would be more outraged with the woman beaten up by the group of women than man beat up.

    No wonder, men commit suicide much more as they feel like they constantly have to hold up to such tough standards but when they need help or maybe want sympathy it’s harder to get because of how society views men and then men feeling ignored and overlooked.

    • Yes, you’re right. It’s a huge problem.

    • “No wonder, men commit suicide much more as they feel like they constantly have to hold up to such tough standards but when they need help or maybe want sympathy it’s harder to get because of how society views men and then men feeling ignored and overlooked.”

      Bob, I think you are 100% correct here. At times in my life, I often have felt that no one cared or cares about how men feel emotionally. Prior to my divorce, I went to several marital and sexual counseling sessions.

      The female counselors tended to try to discourage me from thinking of sex as primarily intercourse. I full well understood this but it IS what I love. So, I always felt as if what I really wanted and desired was not respected..

      When there was a male therapist, it was even worse…more like, “OK here is your problem. Now, here are your options..Let’s pick one!” Neither was really listening which has turned me off totally with the therapy thingy. So, it is as if no one really respect how you really feel as a man or respect what you desire sexually.

      We should all respect and be empathetic towards how others feel. Who are we to question how someone feels? Who are we to tell someone that whatever he or she prefers sexually is wrong? One therapist told me that there are other ways of having sex without intercourse. It was like she was talking to a 12 year old. Very insulting. I know what I like. I know what i want. Yes, I know there are alternatives. But, I like what I like dammit. I think only men are talked down to in this manner. We are made to feel guilty, shameful, and as if we’re animals for feeling and thinking about sex in the manner we do.

      As a man in America today, you are on your own. I have a 17 year old son and knowing this just breaks my heart.

      But, there is always hope.

      • Since you responded to Bob, I’ll be interested to know what he has to say. Here’s my two cents:

        re: “The female counselors tended to try to discourage me from thinking of sex as primarily intercourse. I full well understood this but it IS what I love. So, I always felt as if what I really wanted and desired was not respected”

        I’m curious, how about this idea:

        Intercourse is great and should certainly be part of the repertoire, but focusing on other things first will probably be way more likely to spark her interest (because most women don’t orgasm from intercourse). Maybe these therapists are trying to help you understand women’s sexuality, because being a guy you have no experience there. So trying to acknowledge that both of your needs are important.

        Or, does this observation seem like I’m talking down to you?

      • This is for BroadBlogs above,…

        No, I do not feel you are talking down to me at all. I am well aware of the importance of foreplay and getting a woman in the mood for sex. I learned this from my second lover who was 12 years older than me. She also taught me to always as a woman what she likes and how she would like it! I was well taught.

        My ex wife refused to partake in therapy. I always made sure she was sexually pleased. When our sex life went to having sex once a month, I asked her if I was doing something wrong? Was I not pleasing her? Was she no longer in love with me?….I really don’t know what else I could have done. Nothing changed. She felt I should have been content with things. Perhaps Esther Perel and others are right: monogamy is a libido killer for women. I really don’t know.

        What really angered me was (and this is something I just do not get with a lot of married women): how is it that married women can have sex so freely with men whom they don’t love or not even think highly enough of to marry. Yet, make demands on their husbands (men they profess to love) to have sex. Why do so many married men feel they have to press buttons WXYZ to get sex? But, these other men whom their wives had sex with only had to show up! Isn’t that a fair question?

        I felt as if I was was being treated as a second class citizen. How would you feel if you as a woman were treated as inferior to a man? You would not like it. Just as I as a Black man would not stand to be treated like a second class citizen to someone White.

        This is how I felt with my ex wife. It led to anger, resentment, contempt, and open hostility. My personality as a man changed over this issue.

        That’s when I decided to file for divorce. What was thoroughly baffling is my ex wife could not believe I was divorcing her over sex! But, it was an issue bigger than sex. I was over how I as a husband felt I was being treated. I was beneath her previous fuck buddies and booty call partners.

        A lot of married women seem not to understand how we men (or some men) feel over this issue. It is not just the sex (or lack thereof). It is knowing that other men, previous lovers and boyfriends, enjoyed far more sex with your wife than you. She made it easy for them. But, difficult for you.

      • Sounds like it’s a good thing you two got divorced. I wouldn’t recommend her behavior to anyone. And I can’t say that I understand it.

  3. “You find these sorts of fantasies and ways of thinking about violent sex in patriarchal cultures.

    In non-patriarchal cultures you don’t find the sorts of ideas. The Arapesh, who are quite egalitarian, don’t have rape and have a hard time even conceiving the concept.”

    Yes, but the question is, are men naturally more sexually aggressive. I don’t mean as in rape as you pointed out, more equal societies have much less rape and sex crimes and probably less crime in general. Are women as equally capable of being as aggressive as men or is there a limit because of biology? I always assumed unfortunately that society does make men much more sexually aggressive but men might be naturally more aggressive to, thus more sexually aggressive. If there was a society that was power based like patriarchy, but women or power instead, Would men be slut shamed? Being sexually objectified? Harassed, raped, etc? I could see more of it happening in this society, but I highly doubt women would be acting as sexually aggressive overall, even if things were turned upside down. Which is why it made me wonder, regarding the differences between men and women. Society probably stretches the differences much more as in men being quite a bit more aggressive beause of them having power and conditioned to be tough and strong and to be dominant wherease women more likely taught to be passive, etc. You said rape was hardly heard of, but this is a small town and not huge city.

    I’m sure an equal society minimizes crime greatly, but there will probably still be men being sexually aggressive toward women too, though not in a criminal way, but simply fantasy of being aggressive during sex, that’s all.

    • It’s hard to say.

      On the one hand, men have way more testosterone than women, which is related to aggression: 200-400 picograms versus 5000-6500. So that would argue yes.

      . Estrogen causes aggression, too. When mice were bred to lose estrogen, they also lost their aggression. Think about a mother mouse whose baby mice are threatened
      . Women are more sensitive to testosterone than man are — A little goes a longer way. Does that make up for the huge difference in numbers?
      . Men can have extremely high levels of testosterone yet be very sweet and nonaggressive. So a lot of testosterone doesn’t necessarily lead to aggressive behavior.

  4. Arrgh, when is PETA going to stop this? There are so many ways they’ve offended me over the years along these lines–offering to pay Detroit residents’ water bills only if they go vegan, fat shaming, objectifying women, dressing up like the Klan. And on top of the offensiveness, I don’t see that it does anything to achieve their policy goals.

  5. I know you said this stuff can cause women to crave their own abuse, via sexually, like 50 shades of grey. It makes me wonder though if this stuff bring out something thats already inherent as in women wanting or prefering to be sexually dominated (don’t mean rape) and submissive related sexual fantasies or if a lot of most of this is social constructed. The same can be said for men and aggressive, dominating fantasies and what not, though I think some of it is men trying to be macho and blocking out the submissive side as much or not admitting it. Are women more likely to be balanced too inherently, but a society that represses women and women second ranked as well as women being objectified, perhaps brings out women to being more submissive and the reverse for men?

    But aren’t men unfortunatley more aggressive or naturally aggressive sexually inherently? Obviously its really exaggerated, but are men more sexually aggressive or would still be more sexually aggressive even in an egilatarian society? I’m sure the difference would be less though. I know women can be aggressive and sexually aggressive. but it’s really hard for me to imagine women ever being sexually aggressive like men in the sense of thoughts, talk, violence, etc. Like how men talk about fucking, banging, porking, hammering and all these aggressive terms with sex towards girls, it’s hard to imagine women talking that way or being perverted, etc Even if hypothetically things were flipped upside and say a society was matriarchal or maybe not, but a power based society and women were ranked above men and men were sexually objectified like women are and women not sexually objectified much. If men were to wear clothes that showed off their bodies, but still hidden and creating a fetish reaction with women toward’s men bodies. EVen with all this, I still can’t imagine women as far as majority being sexually aggressive in thought and behavior like men or would have aggressive, dominant related sex fantasies.

    • You find these sorts of fantasies and ways of thinking about violent sex in patriarchal cultures.

      In non-patriarchal cultures you don’t find the sorts of ideas. The Arapesh, who are quite egalitarian, don’t have rape and have a hard time even conceiving the concept.

      Since violence against women has become more common in porn, women are increasingly having those types of fantasies. But plenty of women have had them for years. Not surprising when women are constantly bombarded by sexualized images of violence against them. It gets into your subconscious. It’s also one of the few ways that men sexualized. Some women say that part of the reason they have “rape fantasies” is that it frees them from feeling guilty about being sexual (they don’t want rape in real life. They are in complete control in creating the fantasies). So they are likely related to women’s sexual repression, too. None of that is “natural.”

  6. I think the reason a man is least likely to be shown in a shackle or abuse type of things is for a couple reasons. First it can be about sexualization which makes sense for a woman since society favors women. But also I think someone people find vulnerable or a vulnerable person is better used for something like that. If one wants to provoke anger or feeling sad or bad, it’s to put the one seen as most or more vulnerable. This one is about sexualization but I think this is the reason for other things of media, where it’s women or children portrayed to get people bothered or provoke the feeling or wanting to do something or stop such stuff. It makes sense since men are bigger and stronger and guys see themselves as protectors, but its unfortunate that, I think men can be overlooked or not seen as victims as much because society can look at men as not vulnerable and tough and draw the sympathetic reaction to a man being harmed vs women or children. But I understand it too being a man and my sympathy and protective nature will naturally more often be toward women and children, because how I see men as strong and being able to protect themself.

    • Well you are addressing a different issue. What you say what makes sense in other contexts. But here I can’t imagine this portrayal isn’t related to sexualized violence against women — since that’s exactly what it looks like.

  7. Yeah, I see that they are trying to show that it’s wrong to shackle animals and how it’s as bad a as doing it to a person. They probably didn’t use a fat or unattractive woman because they felt it would turn the viewer away from the non aesthetic woman. But they definitely could’ve done something else. Because having an attractive woman and clothes ripped and shown off like that, unfortunatley, causes sexual attention more so attention about animal abuse. I see the cause, but just me as a man, when looking at the picture, couldn’t help but notice her boobs and think “wow nice boobs”, which is not what you want if trying to reach out about the wrongs of animal abuse. This type of ad will only turn men’s attention away from pitas effort about animal abuse and simply just perve on the woman in the picture.

  8. This isn’t anything new with Pita though. I think they’ve eroticized women before to get attention in their animal cruelty adds. I think there have been ads with women in no clothing but fur, in some pita ads and it was about how killing animals for fur was wrong or something like that. But yet they used sexy, sexual images of women to do that, and I don’t know why they can’t get their point across or try without using sexual images or sexy women to bring it out. I think they don’t care and are just being lazy, because they know they don’t have to put much effort if they simply use a sexy woman in little clothes for their ads

  9. mmmm – this is a warm topic!!

  10. I think the culture is so used to objectifying women, sometimes people, groups, companies don’t even know they are doing it. One of the blessings of the social media era is that there are people (like you) who can call them out on this- then there are no more excuses not to know better.

  11. Only the costume color matches with an Elephant. I agree that the image doesn’t justify the motive of PETA but, and it surely doesn’t need a sexy actress projecting it.!

    • Yeah, it helps to make sexism and violence against women sexy and appealing. (For both women and men, I might add, so that these days a growing number of women are beginning to crave their own abuse.)

  12. I have noticed male behaviour on your blog that I have not come across in the UK. Fraternities is a good example.

    I have often thought whilst reading your blog that I would find your classes very enlightening.

    • I often find Europeans more enlightened than us.

      How are you on these points:

      When patriarchal Europeans arrived on America’s shores they were shocked to learn that rape and battering were virtually unknown among the egalitarian American Indians they met.

      Violence against American women is way down since the less feminist 1990s. Partly because of hot lines and shelters for women, mandatory arrest, policies against sexual harassment, and changes in men’s attitudes. But we still face too much brutality.

      Women continue to be body-shamed, slut-shamed and blamed for rape. And war is still being waged against our reproductive rights.

      Women still make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. And when the vast majority of government, business and religious leaders are men, it’s harder to see yourself in that place, so you are less likely to try.

      Meanwhile, subconscious messages sink into our brains, saying we are secondary as language orders men before women, or when females disappear entirely in images of man and mankind, and when “female” and “bitch” become interchangeable.

      • Thank you for those points. I think religion has always been a stumbling block for women’s equality. An increasing number of people have been turning their backs on religion in the UK.

        The Scottish National Party who are striving for independence, want an egalitarian state. The UK Government does not want Scotland to have independence. Similarly, the UK Government does not want egalitarianism in England and Wales.

        The power obsessed British State has always been intent on destroying equality wherever they travelled.

        Where I grew up, you gave the same respect to a road-sweeper as a lawyer, likewise the same respect to a woman or a man.

      • So Europeans are much less likely to use God to support women’s inequality, which is great, and creates greater gender equality there than here. But I doubt that it’s completely equal in most European countries (if any).

        I suspect that there are still far more men than women in leadership positions in government and business, and maybe even households. I’m guessing women still make less money than men. And that women are still objectified (or feel shamed when their bodies don’t fit sex object standards) and that there is still plenty of violence against them. And I’ll bet that women are still blamed for their own rapes at times in Europe. I suspect that men are usually put first and women second, whether Mr. and Mrs. X or “men and women.” And I suspect the word man is still used to mean all of us. (And growing used to being secondary, and thinking of men as people and women as other is part of the reason for the other effects I talked about in this paragraph.)

        So Europeans probably still need feminism too. But they’re so used to the way things are that it feels natural and normal and not something that needs to be changed.

      • Although my knowledge is limited to the United Kingdom, you are quite near the mark on most points.

        An area that is advantageous to females is education.

        The education system was changed a long time ago in a lot schools, which resulted in girls doing better than boys. As far as I know the system has not been altered so that boys and girls both have equal opportunities to progress. The current system gives girls an advantage.

      • What sorts of changes in the educational system?

        And I forgot to mention this one: there is the area of sexism and sexual dysfunction. In the US 43% of premenopausal women have reported sexual dysfunction, meaning low or no interest, pain, difficulty or inability to orgasm. In the US an awful lot of women need 3000 RPM. You don’t find that in sex-positive cultures. This sort of difficulty comes from things like slut-shaming, and other subtle messages that support a double standard. Which is lower in some parts of Europe like the Nordic countries. But I’m guessing that many European women still aren’t easily and multiply orgasmic, as nature made them.

      • In the old educational syllabus it was a hands-on method of learning. In geometry for example, it involved the use of instruments such as protractors, compasses and set squares etc. In physics and chemistry the subjects were learned by carrying out experiments.

        In the new syllabus geometry took on an algebraic form, and physics and chemistry became theoretical.
        Males learn better using hands-on methods.

        Regarding women’s orgasms, when I was a young man, I found that reading subject matter like “My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday” beneficial towards understanding the opposite sex.

        I watched a sex documentary on the television some years ago that indicated that 79% of women liked to receive oral sex. I was surprised at how low the figure was, thinking it would be 100%. I learned later that the reason some women did not like it was because it had just never been performed on them properly.

        That is an area where I have a problem, because I have to stop every two hours to give my jaw a rest for five minutes. 🙂

      • Ha, ha!

        I wonder if some women could also be distracted by worrying that the guy didn’t want to be down there?

        But most US women report that they can’t have orgasms in partner sex — less than a third can. This is very different from sex-positive cultures where women are easily and multiply orgasmic. In those cultures guys don’t have to be hugely talented in giving oral sex.

        Sounds like they need to bring manual learning back into the schools. That could even help some girls, too. Some students are best at learning visually (like me — and plenty of guys I know), Some are best at learning through hearing, and others Learn best through manual manipulation — both boys and girls, although because of testosterone, maybe more so for boys.

  13. It is a confusing advert that is illogical to my way of thinking. I fail to make any connection with elephants and the lady in the picture.

    By the way, so far, the people that I have questioned about feminism have all given a similar response. They have indicated that it is something that may have been beneficial in the past, but there is no need for it now, because women have equality.

    That is in the South of England. I have not asked many people yet, but the current conclusion is shared equally between male and female.

    • Yeah, the ad doesn’t make much sense.

      On the responses re feminism, I’m not surprised. People see the big changes and think we have equality, largely because they can’t see the inequality that continues.

      My students come into my class seeing the world one way, and leave it seeing it another — seeing things they had been blind to before.

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