Last week, a slinky young woman covered in little more than tiger-striped body paint, placed herself in a cage on a far corner of Pioneer Square. On behalf of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the slender 24-year-old, purring and cooing at by-passers, protested this weekend's appearance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The whole event has me, as a liberal-minded type and as a red-blooded male, confused. Does sexual exploitation cancel out animal exploitation? Yes, I am pro-animal rights; and, to be a thinking man's liberal, aren't I also supposed to be against pornography and more mature than sexual gimmicks?

The nearly nude protest last week is not an isolated event. In fact, PETA has unveiled a loosely organized, nation-wide campaign that uses breasts and flesh to rally against cruelty to animals. I'm afraid, good feelings for all creatures big and small aside, the messenger may be killing the message. Once considered extremists, PETA has slowly made in-roads over the past few years into mainstream American consciousness. Yes, there have been mis-steps (as in protesting the "Got Milk?" ads), but PETA has gained a measured amount of political respect and sway. In more recent months, PETA has taken increasingly obvious attempts to access the meat-purchasing demographic (males, 18-35). At the end of the summer, in Omaha, PETA placed an oversized billboard near the staging site for a rodeo in an oblique attempt to convince "real men" that they can prove their worth in ways better than riding bulls. The sign showed a smug blonde woman with pigtails tucked under a cowboy hat and--predominantly--her cleavage. It read, "Nobody likes an eight-second ride; Buck the rodeo." In an even more bizarre stunt, PETA has dressed several buxom women in bikini tops engineered out of lettuce, and is parading them around the country. The so-called "lettuce ladies" have their own website, including quick bios and listed turn-offs ("men who don't spade their cats, raw tomatoes, and tequila," reads one).

What strikes me as unbecoming about PETA's protests is that they are pressing the very same hot-buttons that the circus tries to press. It is the same type of basic-instinct-entertainment that makes me salivate. Please, PETA, have mercy; I'm trying to be a liberal, modern day man. You're confusing me.