Skip to content

Alicia Silverstone Strips for Animals?

This week, PETA launched a 30-second commercial featuring Alicia Silverstone emerging naked from a swimming pool. PETA is always thrilled to participate in the exploitation of women to get people to stop eating animals. Do people really stop eating animals because they see a naked woman, by the way? I don’t at all understand the connection. When I see a pornographic image of any kind, my immediate thought is: What is going through that woman’s head that makes her think what she is doing is a good idea for her. Or for ME?

PETA has dedicated an entire page on its site to Silverstone’s  Public Service Announcement. Clearly, I must not be a member of the public, as it certainly doesn’t serve me well at all.

Watch the video. Read Silverstone’s testimonial. She does actually have something to say, and I think she and PETA minimize the principles of veganism by assuming people will only care if they are first seduced by a thin, gorgeous, young woman. As a woman and a vegan, I find the ad, like most of PETA’s sexist campaigns, insulting and disturbing.

Naturally, you can be just like Silverstone by learning about her favorite things and giving to her favorite organization (it rhymes with PETA).

I met Silverstone in the rest room at a PCRM event a couple of years ago in Washington, DC. She was sweet and shy and awkward. I wonder what she could’ve been thinking when she agreed to do the, um, PSA. As my husband reminded me this morning: "Oh please, you of all people know that Americans have the attention span of a gnat and you need to grab them while you have them with something really provocative. She appeals to women, who want to be skinny and gorgeous, and to men, who, well, you know . . . ."

That may be true. But it doesn’t make it any less offensive or unacceptable.

If Silverstone were doing a PSA for an autism organization or for Turtle Nest Village, which provides housing and support for youth who have aged out of foster care, would that be acceptable? My guess is that there’d be public outrage for connecting autism or foster care with pornography.

The reason Silverstone’s PSA is able to hit the airwaves is—unintentional irony. We are as accustomed to the exploitation of women as we are to the exploitation of animals.  Why not exploit women to bring attention to the exploitation of animals?

Maybe because we’re trying to rid the world of both.

Check out Gary Francione’s recent blog post for more disturbing connections between sexism and speciesism.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ellie #

    Ditto on that, Mary. And unfortunately, I don't think the public doesn't sees the irony here. I wish PeTA would get out of the way of real animal advocacy.

    September 21, 2007
  2. emily #

    It takes me back to the cowering pile of anorexic models in the anti-fur campaign of the 80s. Ew.

    September 21, 2007
  3. I completely agree, Mary. For a really excellent read about the connection between sexism and speciesism, check out Carol Adams' "The Sexual Politics of Meat." It was a very eye-opening book for me.
    Thanks, as always, for all your great blog posts!

    September 21, 2007
  4. Porphyry #

    The term pornography used in the context of Silverstone’s ad is a bit strong. It was not a “strip”, it was nudity; it was less pornographic than a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The unclothed female body can be an expression of freedom especially when juxtaposed against cultures that subjugates women to the degree that they must remain covered head to toe.

    PETA is pursuing media industry promotional techniques, as people are receptive to advertising campaigns that portray naked woman or offer the suggestion of sexuality. That’s marketing, and yes, it very well may be a symptom of living in a patriarchal society saturated with sexism. I agree with the overall thinking, that marketing veganism in this way, even with best intentions, should be avoided for the reasons cited; it is hypocritical and damaging. By casual observation (of those not aware of the philosophical link between speciesism, racism, and sexism) it doesn’t give the impression that PETA — or by association the vegan movement — should be taken seriously.

    PETA’s tendencies to objectify women in their campaigns is largely counterproductive to the vegan message they are attempting to deliver; although we already know that most of PETA’s messages conflict (i.e. go vegan, or eat humane animal products, to the layman PETA says either one is good). However, this particular ad probably does not merit a universal reaction of “offensive or unacceptable”. It did not necessarily exude carnal exploitation or erotic vulnerability; Silverstone’s visual portrayal was composed and confident. Sexy? All right sure, but that is not inherently a bad thing.

    I genuinely hesitate to defend actions by PETA but in this instance it is a gesture of respect to offer Silverstone – a person with an intellect who chose to go vegan — the benefit of doubt that the difference between explicit pornography and self-expression using symbolic nudity is comprehended. Unlike the comparison given of a sensual spokesperson for autism being inappropriate, vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice, and the marketing situation would differ from that of a brain development disorder or other unfortunate situation. Conjure up images of lifestyle marketing and it is reasonable, even in a non-exploitative context, for Silverstone to present compassionate lifestyle in an appealing, healthy, vibrant, and self-assured way:

    “I’m Alicia Silverstone and I’m a vegetarian. There’s nothing in the world that’s changed me as much as this. I feel so much better and have so much more energy – it’s so amazing.”

    The hyperbole used in the blog post describing Silverstone’s candor may benefit reconsideration. With all due respect and an attempt to offer this contention delicately, certain comments resonate the tone of particular religious fundamentalist groups who endorse female cultural repression.

    According to online news sites, the ad was pulled from Texas broadcast (no such thing as bad publicity, eh PETA?). Was it the perhaps provocative nudity that is nearly ubiquitous these days or was the concept of eschewing animal products presented to the regional audience really what was “insulting and disturbing”?

    September 21, 2007
  5. Ellie #

    What's most objectionable may be PeTA itself. Killing homeless animals while claiming to speak for animal rights; promoting campaigns that use human victims insrumentally; supporting arsonists. No wonder PeTA has a very negative image.

    I agree with what you said about PeTA objectifying women. If we're asking people to stop objectifying non-humans, using humans as objects makes no sense. Besides, associating sex with vegetarianism makes the interests of animals very secondary.

    September 21, 2007

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS