My reponse article published on Women24, March 2012 (with their editing). Note that PETA is also racist and ableist but I focused on their sexism here, however their cultural insensitivity is not accidental.
Advertisers usually have certain ethical guidelines, but not for PeTA, as they keep creating controversial ads that get shared virally online. They sometimes use the V-word but their only relationship with vegan organisations is they give them a bad image.
T.O.F.U puts it all too mildly. I’d say if PeTA is the perverted sociopath that gives my town a bad name, then Jodi Allemeier (whose article this responds to) is a strange neighbour who enjoys their sick jokes. Being vegan does not automatically cure one from other prejudices based on arbitrary differences; similarly being a feminist often doesn’t challenge other prejudices, and doesn’t erase all the sexist ones.
The advert (synopsis below) starts with Jessica limping on a cold day after, one would guess, being attacked – she looks bruised and seems to have lost her clothes and some of her jacket fastenings (Anyone with a painful neck would close their jacket around it for warmth, she’s holding it with her hand). Domestic violence is hinted at, in jest, and the 32-second clip ends with the implication that her head went through the wall during sex and the intended lack of clarity should raise concerns. A simple web search indicates that anti-violence advocates, feminists, and vegans alike, as well as vegan magazines and non-vegan mainstream harshly criticised PeTA again.
Audience reactions that I observed ranged from disbelief that this is in fact a real advert from an organisation, to disgust mixed with surprise/shock/anger, and profound disgust. At the very least, disapproval was characteristic of every reaction when I questioned a small group of ‘sex-positives’, tantric adepts, BDSM practitioners who had in common the lack of heteronormative prejudice and knowing what PeTA is, although not being familiar with their campaigns. Lili Radloff’s personal twitter reaction, while I’m not condoning it, was not atypical – people who equate PeTA with veganism may well now hate vegans. Prominent voices for animal rights seemed not only worried about this reaction to vegans or their cause as a result of the controversy, but were concerned about the anti-women sentiment itself.
The ad does not refer to consensual BDSM. No one argued that it makes a modern reference to Gorean cults (the good slave-girlfriend with a severely-injured neck goes to buy food; did any advert supporter argue that she is wearing is all that she owns?) but most, and I assumed well over 70%, see the link with abusive relationships, and it certainly makes reference to violence or the criminally abusive parts of some BDSM scenes (whatever those are called). To correct Jodi: sex sells but violence-with-“sex” sells particularly well – ask the mainstream porn industry of which these characters are a by-product. Sex is not something that gets done to a woman (or women – if we consider other BWVAKTBOOM videos where all the women are serious casualties and the men are not injured in any way), which Jodi should know for quoting Les Mitchell on oppression and discourse.
There is Women24’s flavour of mainstream ‘feminism’, Radloff’s falls within the 66% if not the 60% of this poll, and within the 34% lies Jodi’s version – Jessica may well love that Popeye pounds her head into a wall when he ‘knocks the bottom out of her’ (credit to Austin J. Austin for the Popeye phallic-muscle analogy). While it is, Jodi argues, a valid personal view, I doubt it should be aired without stressing on consent and psychological clearances, not when it helps perpetuate myths that easily affect not only her, but other women. Not only women but everyone is affected by the harmful myths we let circulate, men are too.
Furthermore, I asked for reactions of tantric adepts with no historical background in tantra or a related culture, although some were acquainted with Buddhism. In other words, they had a different bias than I, yet they echoed my view that it promotes an anti-tantric sentiment. A woman of colour and a white American male felt it was apt to call it racist for appropriating the word. What is suggested is the very anti-thesis of tantra which in fact, does not require penetrative sex. The mis-use in “tantric pornstar” distorts the traditional meaning to an extent that it erases and replaces it with another. Austin found the use of ‘tantric’ “disrespectful of a culture, ignorant, and focused on one superficial aspect of mainstream media i.e. that tantra is merely something that makes [men able to engage in penetrative sexual activity with women for long periods of time, which is a sexist construct of male sexual prowess]”.
Like rape, this ad isn’t about sex. Jodi’s comment “Why is consentual BDSM offensive? Some are offended by gay sex, should all ads showing happy gay couples also be banned?” went unchallenged and I’ll end by saying that I find her analogy offensive, I don’t have to be gay to find that politics of substitution insults my intelligence and hurts people. I support feminism as I support struggles against sexism or any prejudice. There is a pressing need for not only feminism but social and environmental justice, for all. We – men, women and intersex – are a part of this ‘all’.
Synopsis of the ad: “The thirty-two second commercial begins with a head shot of a thin, light-skinned woman with arm-length wavy brown hair and bangs. She is wearing a blue and white plastic neck brace, holding a dark green coat together with one hand. She is almost limping along a sidewalk, towards the camera, with a blank look on her face. A voiceover goes through the commercial**. After four seconds, she winces. After a side-facing close-up shot, the camera pans out to watch Jessica (the character) walking to the left of the frame. She is also wearing black and white sneakers and does not appear to be wearing pants. She carries a plastic bag in her left hand, containing vegetables. She climbs a set of outdoor stairs slowly, her face and movement express pain as she holds onto the railing with her right hand. A lower shot from behind follows, where her pink-and-orange-polka-dotted underpants are the focus of the frame, lit up by the sun which comes in through her legs. For less than a second, there is a flashback to a shot of Jessica with both hands up against a red interior (bedroom) wall, looking over her left shoulder – facial expression suggesting intense penetrative sex with someone behind her. The frame becomes Jessica indoors, having returned from the store (and the hospital?). The walls are blue, yellow and red; the place is furnished and has a sari curtain, picture frames, a chess set, a lamp, etc.
Jessica removes the coat to reveal a light-pink patterned bra. The frame changes to her view: a guy is shown applying white spackle/caulk paste to a (skull-sized) hole in the red wall, that was ostensibly made during the sex act and that caused Jessica’s neck injury. He remarks that she is back. The frame shifts back to Jessica standing in the bedroom doorway, leaning against the right side. Her underwear is inexplicably pulled in between her buttocks on the left side, revealing her most of left buttock. Celery and red peppers are visible in the bag, and there is a yellow elastic bundling the celery (it is printed, and might indicate that it is organic). The light-skinned boyfriend is thin, with short dark hair, and is wearing striped grey and black boxer briefs and eyeglasses. He asks if she is feeling better and she tosses the bag to him abruptly. He catches it and looks down into it. The commercial ends with Jessica looking past the camera at the boyfriend, with a slight smirk on her face.”
**”This is Jessica,” the narrator, Kevin Nealon, says. “She suffers from ‘BWVAKTBOOM,’ ‘Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom Out of Me,’ a painful condition that occurs when boyfriends go vegan and can suddenly bring it like a tantric porn star. For Jessica, it was too late. Go to bwvaktboom.com and learn how to go vegan safely”
I adapted the version Austin kindly wrote for access purpose, original version here