The “A” in PETA stands for animals. Humans are animals. Women are humans. By association, they’re a feminist organization.

However, in a Farragut Square demonstration yesterday, where three nearly naked women were painted to look like pythons to protest wildlife exploitation in fashion, their pro-animal message played second fiddle. Throughout the hourlong event—a self-styled rebellion against the use of animal products at D.C. Fashion Week—many men walked by, ogled, took pictures, and then kept walking, not even lingering long enough to ask the demonstrators why they were nude and pretending to be reptiles.

Still, PETA tried to be informative.

“In this day and age, there is no excuse to be wearing bits and pieces of any animal’s skin,” said Campaign Specialist Ashley Byrne, the only of the three costumed PETA representatives fielding questions—-a vast majority of which came from journalists dutifully recording the scene, not the public. “The synthetic options that we have available now are more durable; they’re less expensive; they’re better for the environment. And they don’t cause the kind of suffering that wearing real fur, exotic skins, or wool causes.”

This demonstration was in line with much of PETA’s past work, a long track record of sexist ads and events where animal rights messages are subverted via the masculine gaze. (Previous D.C. happenings have included a naked protest outside World Pork Progress and Playboy Playmates in lettuce bikinis serving vegan hot dogs on Capitol Hill.) And during yesterday’s live PSA, the masculine gaze was fully operational.

I approached one man, who asked to remain anonymous, as he hovered over the action for a few minutes with a rather large grin on his face. When I asked for his reaction to the spectacle, he simply said, “I’m thinking what you’re thinking.”

He fled on his bicycle before one of the pythons could ask him about the snakeskin boots he wasn’t wearing.

Photo by Dean Essner