People for the Ethical Treatment of Anyone but Women

PETA’s at it again, pissing people off with their latest “Boyfriend Went Vegan” ad campaign. BWVAKTBOOM (Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom Out of Me) presents the supposed sexual side-effects of a vegan diet as a mock syndrome women may suffer from. The featured video depicts a half-dressed woman in a neck brace returning to her apartment with vegetables in hand as her boyfriend patches a hole in the wall–presumably where her head hit it during sex. It is but one part of the PETA-offshoot website parodying domestic violence awareness campaigns with the subheads “people’s stories,” “playing it safe,” “this is your support system” and “we can help.”

Intentionally slated as a Valentine’s Day tie-in on PETA’s website, the video also launched hot on the heels of the Chris Brown-performing-at-the-Grammys brouhaha, causing much discussion in activist communities. Said PETA’s associate director of campaigns, Lindsay Rajt,

We saw Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to highlight one of the best-kept secrets of a vegan diet. Many men report having more energy and stamina after switching to a plant-based diet. Consuming less cholestoral and saturated animal fat promotes freer blood flow to all of the major organs. Many people don’t know this.

PETA’s use of nudity and sexuality has long been criticized as being exploitative of women, but many feminists say the new campaign crosses a line by trivializing domestic and sexual violence, further injuring an already-fragile demographic. Stephen Montagna, a violence prevention communications coordinator with the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault and a vegetarian of 15 years, was appalled:

[It’s] bad enough that we have a culture which frequently does not believe survivors of sexual and domestic violence, often insisting that it was just ‘rough sex’; now, PETA has taken the very heart of this argument and served it to us as the tongue-in-cheek ‘punch-line’ (literally) of its new ad campaign.

Kit-Bacon Gressitt, a feminist writer and activist, agrees:

The ad egregiously normalized intimate partner violence, which is demonstrated by the use of violence as the ad’s story line and by the characters’ ready acceptance of the woman’s abuse; in particular, the male character’s inanely sheepish delivery, asking if the female is feeling better, which suggests the typical repentant ‘it’ll never happen again’ phase of the cycle of violence.

In response to the criticism, Rajt encourages people to watch the video in its entirety. “They can see the woman is still smiling after having fun, adventurous sex with her boyfriend.”

The neck brace? “It’s a humorous spot,” Rajt insists. “The ad is hyperbole. We’re trying to paint a picture of what the result of vigorous sex might look like. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but some people are choosing to fixate on certain things.” Rajt said she posted it to her own Facebook wall, asking, “Can we all agree to have a sense of humor?”

Sacchi Patel, a social worker and co-founder of Masculinity U, is not laughing. He created a Change.org petition to “tell PETA violence against women is never okay.” As a vegetarian of four years, he says he’d been considering a PETA membership recently but is glad he didn’t purchase it in light of this new campaign:

PETA failed to recognize who may be suffering by their approach. Women are seen victimized by domestic and sexual violence, yet are portrayed as consensual partners ‘asking for’ violence. The reality of relationship violence and the serious consequences that go along with it shows us that it is not something to joke about. PETA has clearly missed the mark here and needs to terminate this program.

Marianne Radley, a sexual assault victim advocate, does not see the causes of animal welfare and ending violence against women as mutually exclusive:

I wish that we didn’t have to promote one cause at the expense of another (because even though sexual assault and healthy relationships may not be at the forefront of PETA’s radar, it is at the forefront of many others who view this ad as a huge set back). We must remember that the treatment of one being reflects the treatment of another, and we’re all connected.

Inga Muscio, author of Cunt: A Declaration of Independence and Rose: Love in Violent Times sees PETA’s “by any means necessary” approach as a part of a larger trend of “shock” marketing:

PETA is trying to appeal to the cynical irony young people have collectively embraced in order to survive in this brutal culture. I understand why PETA creates videos of animals being mistreated, and I understand why they made this ad as well. I do not hold PETA to a different standard than Mountain Dew or the Komen Foundation.

To stop the endemic exploitation of shock and violence, Muscio says, “our entire culture must go through a painful reckoning.”

Considering the campaign never aired via prime-time media but launched from a nonprofit’s website into viral video status, advertising agencies must admire the reach, if not the ire it inspired. While PETA president and founder Ingrid Newkirk fully admits PETA leaders to be “press sluts,” meaning that articles and blog posts like this very one play right into their pleathered hands, their modus operandi begs the question—what does “cruelty-free” truly mean?

Photo: Still of “Boyfriend Went Vegan” ad from PETA website.

Comments

  1. If they wanted to show that the sex was amazing, why not just show them lying exhausted on a broken bed with sheets and pillows and clothes everywhere? And her little smile at the end comes after a grimace. Or they could just leave sex out of it altogether.

    • Because the need to get a reaction from the public and feminists was part of the design of this campaign. They media falls for their stunts every single time, and they get the free publicity they seek.

  2. This is absolutely ridiculous along with most of their adds of late! And since when did PETA start promoting vegetarianism… I thought it was all about not abusing animals by killing them for their fur, poaching, etc? Especially when their idea of health (good fats help sex drive, not getting rid of them. Ironies of life that good cholesterol is imperative for people’s sex drives and they are preaching the opposite). I wish that we didn’t have to promote one cause at the expense of another (because even though sexual assault and healthy relationships may not be at the forefront of PETA’s radar, it is at the forefront of many others who view this ad as a huge set back). We must remember that the treatment of one being reflects the treatment of another, and we’re all connected.”

  3. I’m a 47-year-old woman who is a lifetime feminist and a 32-year vegetarian. I have never held a membership with PETA and they will never speak for me as they continue to objectify and endanger women with their careless advertising. They trivialize the voice of all women by making them drop trou’ in order to be heard and now glorify sexual violence. They should employ people with actual creative energy rather than continue to use the same, old, boring “sex sells” strategy.

  4. So, if people post videos “poking fun” at animal abuse with the phrase “can we all agree to have a sense of humor?” is Ms. Rajt going to be ok with that? I sincerely doubt it.

  5. Oh, there goes disingenuous PETA again. There are many ways to show “vigorous sex” without showing or even suggesting violence…if you have some imagination, which PETA apparently doesn’t. I’m in the process of going veg, and given their incredible sexism and tone-deafness on feminist and others’ issues with their ads, PETA will be the last pro-veg organization I join. I don’t think they’re going to win over many meat eaters with their misogynist tactics either.

    Want convincing about why to go veg and how factory farming abuses animals? The Meatrix, Food Inc., and Forks Over Knives all use media much more effectively.

  6. As a vegetarian of five years and vegan of two years, I’ve been an on-again off-again fan of PETA…the cause is admirable and one I fully support but sometimes their methods disturb me. However, until reading this article, I had not even thought to consider those particular videos as promoting or trivializing domestic violence. I didn’t think they were as funny as they were meant to be, and, after reading this article and the comments, certainly understand how they might be interpreted in that way, but I wholeheartedly believe that this was not PETA’s intention. I agree that other tactics (like the broken bed suggested above) could have achieved the point much better, but I only got “rough sex” out of the videos and hadn’t even thought to think “abuse.” The boyfriends portrayed certainly didn’t seem violent, just passionate, and the women certainly seemed to enjoy it. The joke was like ‘Help, we’re having too much fun in the bedroom!” not “Help, I’m a victim of sexual violence.”

  7. Had it really been earth-shattering, mind blowing, tantric crazysex, wouldn’t it have been the man’s head that went smashing into the wall?

  8. i thought peta ment people eating tasty animals o.O

    all kidding aside may not be a vegetarian…and i’m not real big on most vegetables, unless you count pizza…cause it is now a vegetable according to our wonderful government (>.:D

  9. Why we have to sell everything with sex is beyond me!This is just plain stupid,Peta really are showing their rear ends…Oh there we go sex again….

  10. This makes Peta look really stupid. If they cannot read the broader social and cultural context to know that this joke will be taken badly by people with whom domestic and sexual violence is all too real, then why should we even consider their animal rights/vegan platform? Their narrow argument for animal rights above most else frames them as uncritical rather than empathetic. They need to hire a better rhetorician and incorporate more critical thinking and language in their organization.

  11. PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk believes that any publicity is good publicity. The more controversy an ad causes, the better because it gets people saying the name “PETA” and then possibly googling the site.

    As for this quote, “They can see the woman is still smiling after having fun, adventurous sex with her boyfriend.”

    That just so totally goes along with the pornographic culture. Men are groomed to believe women love getting beat up during sex. In pornography, even after the most horrific rapes, women are shown eventually deciding they really liked it all along.

    I was a veg*n for eleven years, and I know many men who had little to no sex drive on a vegan diet, presumably because of soy consumption. I recommend the book The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith for more about the problems with a vegan diet as well as what is required for a sustainable, ethical planet.

  12. Okay- that’s it. I’m done. I am going back to my steak and ice cream diet. PETA can bite me.

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