In this first article of my series on the intersection between nonviolence and animal rights, I will be exploring the commonalities between the objectification and oppression of both women and animals.
Why do I start this series with feminism? It was through feminist theory that I discovered how oppression of people and animals is interconnected. During the research for my master’s thesis on family sector animal farming in rural Mozambique , I was looking for a way to integrate my ethical concern for animals with my similar concerns for people, particularly women, who are still greatly disadvantaged in spite of recent developments in the area where I worked. In the library, I stumbled upon a book called ‘the sexual politics of meat’ by Carol J. Adams . On the back it read: “The connections traced between rampant masculinity, misogyny, carnivorism, and militarism operate as powerfully today as when Carol Adams first diagnosed them twenty years ago. J.M. Coetzee”
I was skeptical, to say the least. What do animals have to do with women? What does meat eating have to do with masculinity? What does patriarchy have to do with animal oppression? And there it was; it has everything to do with it. From Adams, I learned to see what was right in front of my eyes; how meat eating is practiced and understood as an inherently masculine activity. Think of hunters and gatherers, think of commercials for burgers that are designed to appeal to men rather than women and commercials for veggie options that are designed to appeal to women rather than men. In order to be eaten, animals are being what Adams called ‘fragmented’, they are slaughtered and robbed of their identity; as food they are not beings anymore, they are objects. Similarly, women are fragmented in society; reduced to their bodies, objectified and sexualized:
”Oppression requires violence and implements of violence, and this violence usually involves three things: objectification of a being so that the being is seen as an object rather than as a living, breathing, suffering being; fragmentation, or butchering, so that the being's existence as a complete being is destroyed one way or another; and then consumption -- either literal consumption of the non-human animal or consumption of the fragmented woman through pornography, through prostitution, through rape, through battering. So I see a structure that creates entitlement to abuse because within the structure of the absent referent the states of objectification and fragmentation disappear and the consumed object is experienced without a past, without a history, without a biography, without individuality.” [A feminist-vegetarian ethic: An Interview with Carol J. Adams, 95, no. 9 (September 2002), 10-13, Witness Magazine, by Marianne Arbogast, www.thewitness.org]
We can observe institutionalized violence, as in Adam’s definition, against animals (e.g. for food, clothing and entertainment) and women (e.g. through domestic violence, sexualization, the pay gap or lack of rights to make decisions about their own bodies) in almost all societies today. “Patriarchy dismisses certain being’s interests and subjectivity for the benefit of arbitrarily designated “superior” beings.”
But this link between feminism and animal advocacy is not just a theoretical construct. A recent study by the New York Film Academy found that in film, only 30% of speaking characters are women, but almost the same amount wears revealing clothing, as opposed to 7% of men. Like animals in circuses or animal theme parks, their bodies are objectified and used for entertainment. In these cases, it also becomes clear that women unknowingly participate in their own exploitation. Other studies show that in households with domestic violence, animals are often hurt as well, and women report that they feel uncomfortable leaving their violent partners out of fear something would happen to their pets. FBI profilers use animal abuse as one of four indicators for future violent behavior . “Murderers […] very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids.” [Robert K. Ressler, FBI, in: Daniel Goleman, “Experts See Parallels Between Dahmer, Previous Serial Killers,” New York Times News Service, 11 Aug. 1991.] Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer had impaled dogs’ heads, frogs and cats on sticks, and the ‘Boston Strangler’, Albert DeSalvo, who was convicted of killing 13 women, trapped dogs and cats and shot arrows at them through boxes in his youth.
Furthermore, the sex of a farm animal determines how it will live. “The tortures inflicted upon animals […] will be specific to their sex and it is no surprise that for female animals, their capacity to breed overwhelmingly dictates how their bodies will be controlled. Female animals endure a life of repeated rape and perpetual pregnancies and after they’re “spent”, they’re slaughtered.” Whereas dairy cows are rebred to deliver calves in 12 month periods until they are about 8 years old or stop ‘producing effectively’, male cattle are fed until market weight, usually up to two years of age. Their natural life span is on average 20 years.
Just like women, non-human animals are subject to objectification, fragmentation and consumption of their bodies. This system is justified through myths around what is naturally masculine (to eat meat, to desire women) and can therefore not be changed. While it was long believed that women were neither capable of, nor interested in science, politics and sports, and therefore excluded from gaining knowledge, influence and power to free themselves from their oppression, farm animals are denied their proven capabilities and interests. And grotesquely so, considering that many households love and cherish their pets like a family member.
The excuses and justifications used to oppress women are similar to those allowing us to ignore the implications of eating meat and wearing leather. We are part of the patriarchal, speciest and anthropocentric script of a hierarchy of interests: men’s needs before women’s needs, mankind’s needs before animals’ needs. "Women and animals became objects [...]. They are seen as instrumental for men to obtain happiness. Their function is to serve men's needs. Objectification derives from the patriarchal world view in which violence against women and violence against animals are the norm." [Marti Kheel, founder of Feminists for Animal Rights.] Intersectionality is about systems of oppression, proving that animal advocacy is a feminist issue, as well as a matter of equality and peace.
Written by S. Lenz and published on 16-February-2015