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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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Edible Women: Models Dressed As Food Will Never Be Activism

Edible Women: Models Dressed As Food Will Never Be Activism

| On 15, Jul 2013

Trigger warning for images of simulated violence against women.

Many of us are aware of the infamous PETA campaigns that use the naked bodies of women to grab attention, but I want to emphasize that sexist advocacy is actually normalized within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Meet the Cabbage Girls.

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Citizens United For Animals, a group based in Milwaukee, recently posted an image taken at PrideFest where two young white women, topless except for cabbage leaves glued to their breasts, were used to draw attention to the CUFA booth. The women gave donating visitors stickers that read: “I SPONSORED A PUSSY.”

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A colleague of mine who is a vegan activist living in Wisconsin brought this to my attention. Along with a few other vegan feminists and allies, we raised our concerns on CUFA’s Facebook page about the detrimental impact this type of advocacy might be having. At first, CUFA engaged our comments. Unfortunately, their responses fell into two categories: 1. Denying responsibility, and 2. Defending the campaign as not sexist.

Denying Responsibility

CUFA insists that they were not a part of this campaign. Apparently, these women came up with this idea on their own to “help draw attention” to the CUFA tent, and “they had fun doing it.” CUFA’s president assured me that dressing up in vegetable costumes was “empowering.” Cheers to them if they had fun and felt empowered, but this is far from an individual act. These women are representing CUFA’s organization.  CUFA okayed the stunt and is now promoting it on their Facebook page. Blaming it on the women seems to be an attempt to skirt accountability.

Defending the Campaign

CUFA commented that one man also took his shirt off and helped out: “There was a male dressed up as well, not sexist.” As we know, in our deeply sexist society, the bodies of men and women are not interchangeable. Men’s bodies are interpreted differently, generally in ways that empowers them and reasserts their dominance. Women’s naked bodies have yet to be divorced from the larger structure of degradation and sexual objectification.

CUFA’s president also stated: “I’m not completely making the connection on how this is any different than wearing a swimsuit at a public beach.” Of course, beaches can be sites of oppression for women as well, but for the most part, wearing bathing suits on the beach is not going to draw attention to women in the same way wearing cabbage leaves in an information booth would. While PrideFest is arguably much more nudity-normative, the image is presented on the CUFA Facebook page outside of this context. We should also consider that women dressed at food reinforce the notion that women are consumable commodities.

Silencing Feminist Voices

At one point, the president of CUFA agreed that this campaign would probably not be done again due to the “backlash,” and noted that it would come to a vote at their next meeting. She even invited us to vote. Within an hour, however, all of our comments had been deleted, save the one solitary comment that supported the demonstration (though later CUFA invited one of the participants to comment, who stated that she couldn’t believe “how many people are anal about nudity”). We were banned from commenting further.

This stunt is only one of several other problematic campaigns. In another, they had a young woman stand by the side of the road with meat cuts drawn on her naked body. CUFA suggested that it was less problematic because it’s “not really sexy.” But using a naked woman’s body to emulate violence against animals is arguably worse.

CUFA Nude Woman

In another campaign (not done by the organization itself, but promoted on their Facebook page), two bloodied women lay prostrate on the ground with a metal pipe by their bodies. A man in black (drawing on the imagery of the stereotypical rapist or murderer) stood over top their “corpses” brandishing a woman’s animal hair coat. This campaign targets female consumers (the primary wearers of “fur”) by drawing on imagery of violence against women. CUFA’s response: “AWESOME! Thanks for all that you do for the animals! <3”

CUFA Butchered women

The use of naked or nearly naked young women (usually white and always thin) and the use of women’s bodies as stand-ins for dead Nonhuman Animals are both increasingly popular tactics due to the hegemonic presence of PETA. As the largest Nonhuman Animal rights organization, PETA has the cultural power to define what types of advocacy are legitimate in our fight to liberate other animals. Ultimately, PETA is reflecting popular advertising techniques from the business world, those that are developed by men within a patriarchy. We might think of it as women’s personal “choice” to engage this type of advocacy, but actually there is a more powerful structure working to narrowly define what choices are available to female advocates.

Regardless of the individual women’s choices, we should be concerned about the larger implications for women as a demographic. Our society is one that trivializes and even condones rape, and according to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 2 seconds (most of these are victims are women). Psychological and sociological research has shown that sexual objectification of women and trivialization of violence against women is correlated with the devaluation of women and increased violence against women. It even leads women to self-objectify and achieve much lower levels of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is important not only in fighting against one’s own oppression, but in feeling worthy enough to participate in social movements . . . including Nonhuman Animal liberation.

What’s more, this kind of advocacy doesn’t result in the desired effects. Recall the responses I documented in my piece about PETA’s commercial depicting a sexualized woman dying in a car? Use the tools of misogyny, you get the result of more misogyny.

Criticizing these forms of advocacy isn’t about policing women’s behavior. We are speaking out against the rape culture CUFA and other organizations perpetuate because we are deeply troubled with the status of women. CUFA silenced our polite and professional dialogue within an hour, refusing to accept responsibility for the wider implications of this type of advocacy. Nude campaigns are mostly legal, just like rape jokes are legal, but that does not exempt them from criticism. Shutting down well-meant discussion about the hurt that sexist advocacy causes women is problematic. It’s also indicative of how toxic the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has become for women and other vulnerable groups. The bottom line is that we cannot articulate a clear message of anti-oppression for other animals so long as the movement uncritically exploits and aggravates the oppression of other vulnerable groups.

Written by Corey Lee Wrenn
You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog, The Academic Abolitionist Vegan.

  • KA

    Awesome article!! Yep, these types of groups BASICALLY say that the only way women can contribute meaningfully to ANYTHING is through a sexy body, which is pretty detrimental.

  • iAmNOTwhite

    Wow. We members of the group thought of it and personally volunteered taping lettuce and cabbage to ourselves as clothing to promote a healthy lifestyle and attract people to our booth which was getting much less curiosity before we dressed up. You are cherry picking pictures and info to make a ridiculous rant. There was a MALE (oh my gosh?!?! WHAT??! MALE??) that dressed in lettuce as well for all days.. but wait?? Why aren’t you showing those pictures or addressing that?? We are obviously objectifying men too.. oh wait, that doesn’t matter. You hate men, i almost forgot. I don’t get what you don’t understand about it? Nudity is what connects us all.. we are all animals. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin.

    The cherry on top that ROYALLY pissed me off:
    Your comments on CUFA’s pictures were FAR from “professional, and polite”. Calling us “racist rapists”, when you are the ones calling us “WHITE”???? Are you for real?? CUFA’s president kindly stated that she is Oneida, and i have native ancestry as well, so who is the true racist here judging and shaming fellow activists???

    Concluding..
    Don’t EVER say that i am “simulating violence towards women” through my nude friendly activism. You don’t know who i am nor what i’ve been through.

    • Corey Lee Wrenn

      Sorry, did you read the article? Do you believe we live in a post-feminist world where men’s bodies are viewed in the same way that men are? Are you aware that we live in a rape culture where 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten at least once in their lifetime? Racist rapists? Really? Just because you want to feel sexy when you advocate against suffering and murder doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to criticize it. I’m not sure what the motivation is behind making oppression hot.

      No, I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I’ve been raped multiple times myself, like *most* women, and the research shows that sexual objectification of women in the media is in part responsible for the rape culture we live in. I have a right to speak up against violence, I have a right to speak up against these rape culture tactics the animal rights movement encourages.

      Just because it works for you doesn’t mean that other women can’t and won’t find it problematic for *their* safety.

    • KA

      You know what the problem is with your logic? there isn’t any. You know why i don’t consider you an activism “iAmNOTwhite”—it’s because you don’t take the time to learn from other women when it comes to feminist activism–women who actually have EXPERIENCE with real activism. You sit here and defend your tactics without reading the article, and that is merely a demonstration of someone who is NOT reflexive (i’m assuming you know what that means, but based upon your comments, i could definitely be wrong).

      You represent the “new” brand of activist women….that basically don’t do anything but showcase their bodies. What type of activism is that? You probably do that at home in the mirror as well–wow, what a big fucking sacrifice you’re doing for the non-human animals. I’m sure they appreciate you showcasing your body to meathead guys who kick their dogs at night and pray that PETA and people like you keep up with your shitty campaigns the more they kick their animals.

      Guess what “iamNotwhite”…i am not white either. I’m African American and I think your organization, campaigning, and logic is absolutely shitty. If I were you, before you decided to make stupid comments, you should read a bit more so you don’t make a complete ass out of yourself on every social media site you attempt to troll.

      Your organization subscribes to WHITE tactics and logic…NO, that doesn’t mean you need white skin to have a white consciousness! Have you ever heard of the book–”Black Skin, White Masks”?—http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Skin,_White_Masks probably not because it seems like you don’t read anything critical–and that makes sense, you’re probably so busy staring at your OWN body in the mirror because you think that’s activism.

      Part of becoming an activism is possessing the ability to enact social change OUTSIDE of yourself—participating in campaigns that are ALL about you and your body, or feeling sexually empowered has nothing to do with activism. Your narcissism is just not new in this postfeminist society. Women are trained to cater to themselves and their bodies in every space of their lives and it’s just sad.

      Go read a fucking feminist book you wannabe playboy activist. You’re doing exactly the same thing as playboy models, except you just have an arbitrary sign up for abuse. You just made it THAT much easier for the men who are walking to the strip club to get a nude FREE tease…oh, the non-human animals appreciate it, by the way….because, you know, it’s about them and all…..Perhaps you forgot this was about the non-human animals, not your body and tits. Your comment indicates that you don’t read anything feminist, therefore, you reproducing violence through your ignorance. Instead of responding, why don’t you protest my comments by standing on the street in cabbage leaves, and let’s see how well I hear your opposition…..because i care.

    • Emily Vrotsos

      I’ve heard and read on multiple occasions that while it is incredibly important to critique and criticize “the other” it is even more important to critique and criticize ourselves and what we hold dear. We, and all that we do, are flawed in some way or another. And if I love myself and I love what I do, I’m damn well going to recognize that nothing is perfect and if I really want to improve the world in which I live, I will actively evaluate my own actions and the implications of the decisions I make and the movements I support and partake in, because we’re never done improving.

      • Corey Lee Wrenn

        This isn’t about individuals, it’s about systems of oppression and structures of inequality. Strange that privileged white women are putting their own individual “empowerment” over others. It’s women who are in poverty and women of color who are disproportionately impacted by systematic sexual objectification and sexist campaigning. They’re the ones who suffer the repercussions the hardest.

  • Cheryl A

    I agree 100%. I don’t understand how some people fail to make the connection between the oppression of females and the exploitation of nonhuman animals. How can your promote the view that nonhuman animals are living, experiencing, valuing beings in-and-of-themselves while perpetuating the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to treat a female like a piece of meat.

  • Anna

    I don’t understand why these groups can’t figure out that oppressing one group doesn’t lessen oppression, it increases it. You would think that would be common sense.

  • Corey Lee Wrenn

    Exactly where did I say anyone was a terrible person? This is about systems of oppression, not individuals. “Individualism” is something enjoyed by privileged middle-class white women, not something that impoverished women and women of color can enjoy. It’s these women that also suffer the consequences of the “sexual empowerment” of privileged white women.