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Wild Pussy
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In The Name of Salomé by Julie Alvarez

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In the "comments please" section of our April/May 2000 issue, Ms. asked readers to respond to this ad from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and to the heated letters exchanged by Galen Sherwin, President of the National Organization for Women's New York City chapter (NOW-N.Y.C.) and Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA.

In a two-month period, Ms. received more than 150 letters and e-mails from readers. Copies of these letters will be sent to Sherwin and Newkirk.

Only six of those who wrote agreed with Newkirk that the ad was not sexist and that it drew attention to the issue of animal cruelty without harming women:

Has Ms. Sherwin seen a Cosmo lately? Or stopped at any motorcycle retailer? "Packaged" boobs hurt women more than this ad.

Lisanne Freese
Chicago, Ill.

The type of woman who wears fur would typically be someone who finds unshaved legs unattractive, so the ad makes sense. Hopefully it will make women ditch their furs as well.

Anna West
Norfolk, Va.

The vast majority of those who wrote letters disagreed with PETA's tactics, writing that they were "appalled," "disappointed," "offended," and "shocked." Some were dismayed at the tone of Newkirk's letter, which personally attacked Sherwin; some critiqued other PETA ploys as well, such as a picture of a woman on a morgue table with the words "I wouldn't be caught dead wearing fur" and the "Got Beer?" campaign that gave college students seven reasons why it's better to drink beer instead of milk. One reader used the debate as an assignment topic for her women's studies class at Yale.

The feminist movement fights against the objectification of women. If Newkirk considers herself a feminist, why join hands with the sexist superstructure of our society? PETA's objective is to counter what the mainstream media tells women about what they need to do to be considered beautiful (wear fur). I agree with striking messages to get the public's attention-but not at the expense of women. Why not get your message across without weakening the feminist cause? It's always better to have more allies rather than less, isn't it?

Katica Jacob
Alexandria, Va.

How can someone who opposes the majority's position on animal rights turn around and justify a blatantly sexist and degrading image by referring to what she believes is the opinion of "the overwhelming majority of women?" I for one do not shave any part of my body and am extremely offended to be told it is unattractive.

Becky Jonestrask
San Diego, Calif.

Maybe Newkirk should spend less time tarnishing ethical animal treatment ads with hair-fearing, oppressive stereotypes and spend a little more time educating herself about the ethical treatment of women.

Marie B. Skoczylas
Harrison City, Pa.

If Newkirk were a man, we wouldn't even be having this type of debate.

Mary Simas
San Francisco, Calif.

Of the preference in our society for women's shaving, Newkirk writes, "It's not sexist, it's just a fact." None of our preferences for appearance are "just fact"-they are actually bolstered by values and norms, which are usually unstated. They are socially constructed. If Newkirk thinks that she can feed off this social construction without feeding into it she is sadly mistaken. An analogy is how when we tell a racist joke, we rely on stereotyped images of the group we present; in telling the joke, we also reinforce those images. The PETA ad does the same thing with women's bodies.

Susan Hylen
Decatur, Ga.

This ad fits in with "Madison Avenue" tactics, which for me discredits what I believed to be a humanitarian outfit. If my 8-year-old niece saw this ad, I would be horrified that she would associate animals' rights with her not being O.K.

Tina Schiller
New York, N.Y.

Selling out to the patriarchal bullshit may get people's attention, but it can never replace teaching compassion. Isn't that what animal rights is about?

Caroline Su
Dayton, Ohio

Please allow me, like my nonhuman relatives, to wear my own fur!

Lynne Pashal
Westcliffe, Colo.

Eighteen letters came from PETA members who were outraged, like Leah Stuchal of Gainesville, Florida, and decided to withdraw their support from PETA:

I am pulling my membership and financial support. I believe it will better serve animal rights groups who have a less patriarchal view of the women who support their endeavors.

Hoping perhaps that the ad was a mere lapse in taste, not an endorsement of patriarchy, a few readers responded with suggestions for future ads:

Do an ad showing a really hairy prehistoric man, and next to him, a man in a fur coat. The caption would say, "Fur. Some people haven't evolved yet."

Nichol Mertens
Plymouth, Minn.

Promote the concept of a woman's natural state as being more desirable. Fake boobs, fake tans, and furs have a lot in common.

Leslie Chukwu
Orange, Conn.

How about featuring naked crotch shots of a man and woman next to a beaver with the headline, "Fur only looks good where it grows naturally"?

Lethea Erz Takaka
New Zealand

Change the ad to: "Trimming Fur. Unattractive. Wear your own with pride."

Colleen Kirby
Melrose, Mass.

Proving that she who laughs last laughs loudest, this call to action came from Montreal:

Don't you see what's really going on here?! The sexism debate raised by the PETA ad in question is intended to distract us from PETA's true agenda. And this is: to wipe out wild pussies around the globe! Long on the list of endangered species, the wild pussy is racing toward extinction at an alarming rate. Yet what does PETA do? It hunts down one of the few wild pussies left! Then after binding it in cotton, PETA exposes this blameless creature to endless humiliation and ridicule! Such open contempt is clearly intended to harden our hearts to the wild pussy's plight, thereby hastening its demise. Wild pussies have rights, too, even if PETA would have us think they don't count. We need to share the planet with all of God's creatures. And I, for one, will not rest until the world is safe for the wild pussy!

Minerva Gow
Montreal, Que., Canada

Well, PETA, the readers have spoken. Are you listening?