Magazines in supermarkets, Hollywood films, men who catcall women on the street all demonstrate some extent of sexualization toward women — sexualization that we see every day, sexualization that has become an inherent part of our society.
On October 13, 2016, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, more commonly known as PETA, shocked the world by releasing on their blog their next advertising campaign: a picture of a grey kitten with the caption “Grab a Pussy” in big letters above in an effort to encourage readers to adopt kittens from a local animal shelter. The kitten, lying on its back with its paws extended, offers a “come hither” look. The caption, “Grab a Pussy,” was in fact inspired by Donald Trump’s offensive comments on women from an Access Hollywood video in 2005.
Critics claim that the campaign is a disgusting use of sexual assault as a marketing device. By using this display of “rape culture,” PETA subverts the issue of sexual assault, and creates an unwelcome joke about the matter. The ad is not only offensive and insensitive, but it may trigger some who have been victim to sexual assault.
Not only does the advertisement undermine the issue of sexual assault by brushing off Trump’s comments as a play-on-words, it also presents women in a derogatory way, illustrated by the position of the kitten. The kitten implies that women “invite” sexual assault, and entice men to rape them, which is both a disgusting assumption and the excuse for many who commit sexual assault.
PETA defends themselves by claiming that the presidential election, although important, has rendered many other issues insignificant. By using Trump’s quote, the organization took something horrible and created something “good.” Although many may define the ad as a light-hearted way of doing “good” in the society, by embracing the ad we indirectly embrace sexual assault, therefore harming society.
The thing is, PETA is extremely hypocritical when it comes to their arguments. By supporting the ethical treatment of animals, PETA is opposing the ethical treatment of women, undermining their role in the society and emphasizing the objectification of women. Not only is the ad derogatory, it is also hypocritical in its fight for animal rights. By humanizing animals, PETA is dehumanizing women, and therefore failing in their primary purpose — to protect the rights of any type of animal.
Although many have turned away from listening to what PETA has to say, even more have opened their ears. PETA is known for its hyper-sexualization of women in ad campaigns. This marginalization has both been used by the organization in the past and is seen by individuals all around the world, creating an expectation for ads of this nature. Does that make this particular advertisement any less significant? The answer should be no; however, due to the commonality of situations such as this one, some individuals tend to label the campaign as “nothing new,” therefore normalizing the content in the advertisements.
This normalization creates a society where, to a certain degree, the marginalization of women and sexual assault are socially accepted. It is the reason why women get catcalled on the street every day. It is the reason girls as young as six years old hate themselves for the way they look. It is the reason women are scared to walk down Whyte Ave on a Friday night. We initiate this fear, this self-hatred by accepting what comes to us as a normal part of society, because it is so “common.” However, the growing number of advertising campaigns that sexualize women has its roots not necessarily in the media’s choices but in our perception of society.
According to a study done by the University of Buffalo, the sexualization of women in advertisements has increased from 44 per cent in the 1960s to 83 per cent in the 2000s, and still continues to increase. As much as it may seem that we do not have a say in the type of ads we view, ads are designed to not only be effective but to appeal to the general public. We make up the general public, and if insensitive ads weren’t effective, they wouldn’t exist. It’s as simple as that. As a society, then, we are responsible for the output of advertisements such as this one, and it is up to us to condemn advertising attempts that undermine serious societal and ethical issues such as the sexualization of women, because really, we are the only ones that can change the course of the advertising world.