By Emily Corke
The annual ROAR “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” run took place on 7 May. The run started at the Africa Media Matrix and ended at Slipstream Sports Bar where the runners were rewarded with punch and good company for their ‘liberating run’ in the cold temperature.
The runners convened in a group, all shivering either from the cold or excitement. They wore their bare minimum, holding sign boards which read, “Beauty without cruelty. Wear your own skin.” They huddled together under the same cause paying no attention to any looks from the crowds, ready to run down the hill.
The run is a replica of the initiative started by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Ruth Krueger, the SRC Environmental councillor, has been an active member of the run for the past three years, even landing herself on the front page of the Daily Dispatch. “We have our own skin, we don’t need to wear animals’ [skin],” said Krueger, “We want to make a statement about something very important and hopefully it will get people to think.”
Krueger and one other gentleman ran completely naked whilst many wore their underwear. The university’s netball team showed their support for the cause by running in their kit. SRC Activism Councillor Owethu Makhathini said, “I am here to support ROAR. We are trying to make a difference now, no matter how small.” The run, although not as well supported as in previous years, went successfully and the runners were pleased with what they achieved.
There have been issues in the past surrounding the initiative because of the use of nudity to make a statement. Corinne Knowles, an Extended Studies Unit Lecturer, said “I guess that ROAR knows that sex sells, and that it sells ideas as well as products.” Krueger confirmed this idea as part of their broad statement. “Nudity will draw more attention,” she commented.
It is no surprise that because of the nudity, the protest has been criticised by people who don’t believe running naked for “a good cause” is reason enough. Rhodes student Leigh Raymond took part in the “Wear your own Skin” run (as it was called in previous years) only once, and developed her own views which are shared by many who have issues against the run. “I had always felt that ROAR took too strong a line from PETA which has been variously argued to be distasteful and offensive to women in an effort to (I assume humorously) advertise their stance on Animal Rights,” said Raymond.
Feminists at Rhodes have criticised the run because of the fact that women are almost objectified by running naked, even if it is for a good cause. According to Raymond, “Using women’s bodies for any reason runs counter to an entire feminist viewpoint which argues that women’s bodies are the sites of sexual materialisation and subject to the masculine gaze, which not only reduces women to flesh objects for use and abuse at will, but also tends to humiliate both the women being used and the women who view the advert.”
There were three males who held video cameras, and filmed girls in their underwear. The Oppidan Press questioned the runners as to whether this made them uncomfortable and Makhathini commented that, “It is unfortunate because we are trying to do something important and they are only undermining it, but we know why we are here and that is all that matters.”
Raymond felt sympathetic to the cause that ROAR was trying to achieve but she also felt offended. “Whilst I completely understand ROAR’s objectives in terms of trying to ‘shock people out of their habits,” Raymond said, “I find myself not only offended as a woman but also concerned for the state of debate if we have to dumb our protests down to sexualisations to get the point across.”
There was also the criticism that there were people partaking in this run for the wrong reason. Two girls were spotted wearing leather jackets at the protest which was contradictory to the “wear your own skin” sign board they were holding up. Mathew de Klerk, a journalism student, said that “at least 50% of the supporters came to see boobs and ass”. Some just took part because its “nice to be naked without being judged”. Raymond felt that the campaign tends to drift over the heads of those who witness it for the reasons mentioned above, and shouting “wear your own skin” even in the context of Animal Rights Week tends to sound vacuous. “It certainly doesn’t engage with the issues of either Animal Rights or animal cruelty in any way which could reasonably be considered constructive,” she said.