It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for their liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection: only then will it be praxis. - Paulo Frerie
Activism without reflection - or lifestyle activism - characterizes much as what passes as "resistance" these days. Perhaps, the most glaring examples are from the Peta campaigns such as the striptease quiz and the recruitment of Playboy models as spokespersons for the YOUTH site. One can almost imagine the planners and participants congratulating each other on their "radical" tactics. And, yet, what does it mean to be radical? Radical comes from the Latin word "radix" meaning "root". Radical thought and action is that which seeks to illuminate and confront the root causes of problems.When Peta uses women's bodies a-la-Playboy to sell its message, it reinforces the very system in which the inherent worth of humans and nature are lost in the commodification-of-everything (even activism - buy a wristband?) for the insatiable drive for profit.
Rebecca Onion takes up some of these issues in an article titled 'Tree So Horny':
What you think about Fuck for Forest, a Berlin-based website that lets subscribers watch videos of environmental activists doing the nasty, depends in part on what you think about porn as a whole. If you think it’s liberating, empowering, and fun for the folks involved, then you can feel good about supporting an organization that channels its massive earning potential toward worthy antideforestation efforts—unlike regular internet porn, the dollars you spend aren’t paying for the gold plating on some smarmy webmaster’s hot tub. And if you’re aesthetically or ethically opposed to pornography—well, you can always donate to the Sierra Club.
Fuck for Forest talks a good, if somewhat garbled, game. The site’s front page contains a warning that the project
is [sic] born to give attention to how humans destroy nature and contains natural nudity, including graphic sexual and erotic images and sexually explicit language…. It also contains shocking information about how humans exploit this planet.... If you are underage or get offended by love or truth, you better exit this site now.
The main page proclaims, “This project is made by openly sexual people, who use they’re [sic] sexuality to put focus on and collect money for the earths [sic] threatened nature.” In the section of the site where activists are encouraged to send in their own porn, or to volunteer to “model,” the creators declare, “Sex does not have to be a trade object. Let’s reclaim sexuality!”
Whether or not Fuck for Forest can truly be said to be reclaiming sexuality, they’ve put their money where their mouths (among other orifices) are. In a 2004 article in Grist magazine, the Norwegian activist couple behind the site, Leona Johansson and Tommy Hol Ellingsen, claimed that the project had raised $50,000 so far. A lot of that money rolled in after the duo climbed onstage at a rock festival that year and had sex in front of several thousand people, directing major traffic to the site. The two seem sincere about their desire to save the world through sex, and they are befuddled by the mainstream environmental world’s reluctance to take their money. “Society is so upside down,” Ellingson told Grist writer Lissa Harris. “In Norway, we have this prime minister talking about war and defending it, and at the same time putting sex down as something bad. Any kind of action to help nature is good.”
Can sex save the planet, as Fuck for Forest’s idealistic founders suggest? Or is it more likely that environmental activists are so frustrated by both a seemingly complacent world populace and their reputation as freaky fringe dwellers that they’re willing to do anything (or anyone) to bring attention to the cause? Whether this sex-for-green concept seems brilliant or boring to you, it’s a simple extension of the fact that sex—and, in particular, a sexualized woman—sells. And though what it usually sells is something easy (beer, say), using sexually charged images of women is emerging as the chief tactic for environment-related groups in search of a commercial push.
The best-known example of this phenomenon is PETA’s notorious, long-running ad campaigns promoting animal rights and rallying against animal testing and eating meat. When PETA hoists a billboard or slaps up a glossy poster featuring a woman, you can bet she’s unclothed or close to it. In an ad campaign targeting the Iams pet-food company for their animal-testing practices, sad-sack rocker Morrissey lounges with two pooches, fully dressed. For the same campaign, spokesmodel and internet pinup Cindy Margolis wears a silver bikini and clutches a small dog. The ad’s tagline? “Iams isn’t my doggy’s style.” Elsewhere, a campaign promoting vegetarianism features the likes of Elizabeth “Showgirls” Berkley and Pamela Anderson dressed in lettuce-leaf bikinis and other scanty coverings made of salad fixings; the male rapper Common, however, appears with his shirt firmly on, holding a veggie burger.
In 2005, the environmental group Forest Ethics followed PETA’s lead. Their target: Victoria’s Secret, whose relentless effort to provide every American household with a lingerie catalogue has led to clearcutting and exploitation of virgin forests. To kick off the media campaign, called Victoria’s Dirty Secret, the group placed an ad in the New York Times featuring a model wearing a garter belt, corset, Victoria’s Secret’s trademark angel wings—and a chainsaw. “Some companies get a tree for Christmas,” the ad announced. “Victoria’s Secret is taking a whole forest.” The campaign garnered coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Time, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, among other places.
On the initiative’s website, the same angel-with-a-chainsaw appears. One banner on the site declares “Victoria bares it all! Exclusive photos!” and sports a little quadrant of an angel-winged model—just her right breast, hair, arm, and wing. When clicked, this banner takes you to a picture of a clearcut—a brutal-looking piece of land that used to be a forest and is now a spiky field covered with stumps—with the tag “Victoria’s Secret Holiday Clearance.”
On the website CampusProgress.org, writer Desirina Boskovich describes a presentation given by Forest Ethics at Emory University, at which the speaker showed off Victoria’s Dirty Secret ads and a video of a protest. Describing the video, which captures a protest in front of a Victoria’s Secret store in a mall, Boskovich notes, tongue somewhat in cheek, that “one female protester, dressed above the waist in only a bra and a huge sign, is catching the most eyes. People stop to talk to her, either about her sign or why she’s not wearing a shirt.”
These lingerie-clad female protesters are young and good-looking, all the better to attract otherwise disengaged mallgoers who might stroll on by your average Birkenstocked, frizzy-haired, old-guard environmentalist. And that’s precisely the point of this new face of advocacy. Likewise, Fuck for Forest’s vision of revolutionary sex doesn’t stray far from conventional porn images. The teaser models sprinkled around the site (most of them women) are thin and conventionally pretty, save for a pierced nose here and some dreadlocks there. When men appear, they are exclusively depicted in sex scenes with women, in keeping with the site’s emphasis on pleasing the tastes of heterosexual visitors. The main page sports a photo illustration of a naked girl crouching in a forest, blindfolded with a sort of bag over her face, while a hand holding a chainsaw advances from stage right. (Sexy women in close proximity to chainsaws must be a growing fetish.)
PETA’s ads, the Victoria’s Dirty Secret campaign, and Fuck for Forest share one crucial feature: The images they use to sell their causes not only exploit the female body, but also reinforce and perpetuate ideas of female beauty that everyone who moves in progressive circles should, at this late date, recognize as less than progressive. To use a woman’s polished, plucked body as an emblem of environmentalism seems to contradict everything else they might have to say about the importance of natural and respectful forms of living.
For the past 30 years, ecofeminism, a blending of the environmental and feminist movements, has been making the point that exploitation of women and exploitation of the earth are intertwined, fueled by many of the same destructive societal and cultural mind-sets. Which is not to say that ecofeminism and female nudity are incompatible—one longtime environmental activist named Dona Nieto regularly doffs her top while reading her goddess-themed poetry to confused loggers in California’s redwood country, calling her performance “striptease for the trees.”
In protests like Nieto’s or those of Baring Witness, the California group whose members arrange their naked bodies into peace signs to protest war, the women involved are just ordinary people, albeit nude ones. They’re not celebrities, or made up to look like Victoria’s Secret models, or positioned in traditional porn tableaux, and they point out the crucial difference between a naked protest that counts on societal norms of female beauty for its dubious power, and a naked protest that explores the nature of femininity and its possible interconnectedness with the earth. Contrast Nieto’s protest, for instance, with the recent Greenpeace action at a Vienna summit of the European Union, Latin America, and the Caribbean, which featured a guerrilla protest of pulp-mill pollution by the scantily clad Carnival Queen of Argentina. “I speak for our people and the nature around us. I am entirely qualified to demand to any head of state that they protect our environment,” stated Evangelina Carrozzo of her remarks demanding that European mills stop polluting the Uruguay River. But why she needed to do so wearing only a bra and thong went unexplained.
I, along with others who question ecofeminism’s essentializing of the Nature of Women, might reject any implication that females are more closely tied to the earth, but my discomfort with these types of protests is far removed from my virulent dislike of the other, more exploitative campaigns. But ecofeminism’s contention that society uses women as resources just as it uses timber or oil or gold seems to hit a bit too close to home with this new environmentalism, which puts women’s bodies to use in an extremely cynical way. We expect this treatment from the mainstream realm of advertising, but to get it from ostensibly progressive organizations feels like adding insult to injury.
It’s entirely questionable whether the interest that’s aroused by a Victoria’s Dirty Secret protest in the mall or a Fuck for Forest video is really directed toward saving the environment. The kinds of sacrifices and changes in outlook that becoming a true environmentalist entail are not going to be brought about by a moment of lust for a sexy girl in a bustier, a strategically placed lettuce leaf, or nothing at all.
It’s safe to say that the environmental movement as a whole isn’t
sliding downhill into some kind of woman-hating quagmire. GE’s recent
television ads feature an elephant dancing with joy to “Singin’ in the
Rain” at the mere mention of the corporate giant’s Ecomagination
campaign—but, thankfully, no buxom rainforest pinup as its companion in
greenwashing. (The company’s sexier bid for cleaner emissions does
feature modelesque coal miners of both sexes, though.) Al Gore has
managed to promote his recent documentary about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth,
with nary a slice of activist cheesecake. And the World Wildlife
Federation rejected a donation from Fuck for Forest, presumably because
of its provenance. But the difference between these two arms of
environmentalism—one entrenched and establishment; the other fiery and
grassroots—points out the need for organizations that, like Fuck for
Forest or Forest Ethics, have sharp instincts and creative thinking.
But is saving the earth on the tits and asses of women the best idea
we’ve got? For all of our sakes, I sure hope not.
Yet another example of Peta using the tactics of the oppressors is seizing immigrant-invasion-hysteria to spotlight its ads. Indeed, Peta petitioned to buy ad space of the wall of the US/Mexico border to display billboards, in English and Spanish, offering the caution: "If the Border Patrol Doesn't Get You, the Chicken and Burgers Will -- Go Vegan." For people so concerned about what goes in our mouths, it is extraordinary that Peta would miss the connection between destruction of agricultural lands, displacement, and migration.
As Peta trots out of the same old sexual imagery of the decaying-Hugh-Hefner and seizes on the invasion nightmares of John McCain, it might consider if it should adopt old, white men as its official spokespersons. If Peta is intent to uphold the racist and sexist capitalism, let the elites strip for the spotlight.
'Tree So Horny' by Rebecca Onion via Bitch Magazine
'Yet Another Radical Ecofeminist Vegan Against Peta' via Resistance is Fertile