Is it OK to tell women how to dress when protesting cruelty to animals? PETA India CEO counters TNM

PETA's provocative ad campaigns have succeeded in making several people choose a vegetarian or vegan life.
Is it OK to tell women how to dress when protesting cruelty to animals? PETA India CEO counters TNM
Is it OK to tell women how to dress when protesting cruelty to animals? PETA India CEO counters TNM
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A rejoinder from PETA India CEO Poorva Joshipura to TNM's article.

I'm sure Sowmya Rajendran meant no harm when she wrote her article criticising PETA's new ad featuring Sunny Leone, in which the star lies alluringly on a bed of chillies to encourage the public to stop eating meat. However, one can't help but notice that it was particularly this ad that caught Rajendran's attention and not most of PETA's countless other campaigns. That alone seems to prove that the ad is effective in catching people's eyes and generating discussion. And garnering attention is exactly what Leone does so well.

In the piece, Rajendran refers to the minority of social media users who believe that Leone's PETA campaign has no place in Indian culture – perhaps these individuals think the same about women who wear jeans and those who disagree with their husbands. But PETA isn't responsible for the actor's popularity in this country – Indian people are. She is the nation's most searched-for public figure online, even coming out ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and her video promoting the sterilisation of dogs and cats in order to give the puppies and kittens who have already been born the best chance of finding a home is among the most-watched PETA celebrity campaigns. She seems to be very much a part of India's culture – or its pop culture, at least.

As a woman who, like Leone, has used both her mind and her body to campaign for animal rights, I have to say that I find it offensive that Rajendran is essentially dictating what another woman must wear, what she should do with her body, and, now, how she should engage in a social justice campaign. Rajendran's tut-tutting is reminiscent of a father forbidding his daughter from wearing a skirt, and from going out alone, while he decides whom she would marry.

I wonder why ads and other campaigns from around the world featuring celebrity men and male and female non-celebrities using their bodies to call for animal rights didn't make it onto Rajendran's radar –and why it is mainly Leone's ad that struck a nerve. Seemingly not having noticed the many campaigns by PETA US and other PETA affiliates featuring men and other "ordinary" people like myself, the writer poses the following questions:

However, one wonders why PETA only uses conventionally 'perfect' bodies, specifically those of women, to drive home their point. If their intention is to make the public empathise with animals by imagining their own human bodies in their place, why not use people (including celebrities) who have the usual body flaws? And why are the nudes almost always women?

This is confusing. Is she saying that she finds it acceptable for someone she considers to have an "imperfect" body to show some skin but that anyone with a body like Leone's needs to cover it up? Leone is a beautiful woman, inside and out. She is confident and intelligent, and that threatens some people and brings out meanness in them, but it shouldn't. Might that be what this is really about?

Rajendran should know that those who take part in the campaigns by PETA India’s affiliates like PETA US are simply people who have volunteered to do so – old or young, large or small. Many of them tend to have desirable bodies, perhaps because the volunteers are usually vegan, and eating vegan does a body good by helping keep you fit, slim and healthy. Whatever the case, all are welcome to join in calling for animals to be shown respect.

Finally, Rajendran showed that she hadn't done her homework when she pronounced that provocative ad campaigns by PETA US and its affiliates are likely ineffective. Vegan living is very much on the rise in the US and Europe, particularly amongst millennials. Compare this trend to when PETA US was founded in 1980, a time when being vegetarian was almost unheard of in the West. And when PETA India was first set up in 2000, droves of young people were taking up eating meat, but between 2004 and 2014, the number of vegetarians in India grew by 5 per cent.

Leone's latest PETA India ad doesn't have to be everyone's cup of tea (with soya milk). As Rajendran acknowledges, "PETA India has, so far, been conservative in its advertising …." Some people get turned on to animal rights by striking celebrity campaigns, some thanks to investigative videos like this one, and some in other ways. No matter your taste, there's plenty at to get everyone involved.

Response from Sowmya Rajendran of TNM:

The allegation that my article on PETA’s objectification of women is on morality grounds is laughable, considering the piece clearly says that this is NOT the case and mentions that the objections made by social media users on these grounds are questionable.

It’s also ridiculous to make the article about Sunny Leone when it is about PETA’s advertising strategy – one that has been criticized by several people, feminists and vegetarians/vegans (who seem to have chosen this lifestyle without needing to see women simulating sex with vegetables), for its objectification of women. And not because they’re oh-so-threatened by beautiful celebrities. Here are a few samples:

Is Ms Joshipura unaware of all the criticism that exists on PETA's objectification of women in its advertising strategy? Or has she just not done the homework? 

Some people get turned on to animal rights by striking celebrity campaigns, some thanks to investigative videos like this one, and some in other ways. Yes, exactly, Ms Joshipura. There are several reasons why people turn vegetarian or vegan and unless you believe that the end justifies the means, you would take the sustained criticism that PETA has faced for its sexist campaigns seriously. 

One can never talk about the objectification of the female body in any media if we’re going to equate this with someone dictating a woman’s choice of dress. The women we see in films and advertisements are performing with their full consent but that doesn’t mean that there is no objectification involved in these representations and that they cannot be subjected to feminist critique. Or that the companies and organisations who run these campaigns cannot be questioned. 

Why Sunny Leone and why PETA? Because the Sunny Leone ad is new and because PETA doing this is old. And yes, organisations that work for social change and justice are held up to higher standards when it comes to ethics. 

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