Last weekend, a few of our Organizers led a presentation and engaging discussion on the intersection of sexism and speciesism, and the importance of feminism to the animal liberation movement (and vis versa).
Some of the key points we discussed:
- Male-dominated sexism results in the subjugation of the nonmale body ("misogyny" or, systematically, "patriarchy") and human-dominated speciesism results in the subjugation of the nonhuman body. Both of these discriminations thrive on the principle of "might makes right." When fully realized, both discriminations render the "inferior" group as the property of the male human animal. Such a structuring of society "... is conceivable only in the context of a worldview in which bodies are things rather than selves” (Pattrice Jones).
These discriminations operate through the creation and assumption of false, Otherizing dualisms that deny the existence of gradation, such as: Male/female, white/nonwhite, human/animal (as though a chimpanzee is more closely related to a catfish than a human), reason/emotion, nature/culture. Sexism and speciesism are both products of this separation between two groups where one is elevated by normalizing the devaluation and subjugation of the other. Identifying someone as being "different enough" is used as a justification for treating them without consideration for their needs.
When images of nonhuman animals -- who have long been perceived as being inferior -- are applied to female human animals ("bitch"/"chick"/"cow"), women are rendered as being as inferior to men as those other animals are already assumed to be. Since those nonhumans are already perceived as things to use, such identifications imply that men are entitled to exploit women.
Woman as a “bitch” carries a misogynist implication which becomes even more clear when taken into consideration the ways in which breeders treat female dogs: Female dogs are not only things to use to attain profit, but are treated with contempt, because they actively fight back against their oppressors, refusing to be passively raped. (Note that the word "bitch" is typically used on women in a position of power -- the term is meant to suggest that the woman does not know her "place" as a subordinate.) Using the demeaning term also implies that how we treat that animal (and so by extension, how that woman being called a "bitch" is treated as a consequence for that non-normative female dominance) is inherently her fault -- the word suggests that she is simply by nature supposed to be raped and used as a machine for profit. This is victim-blaming.
As activists, we may feel compelled to "do whatever we can" for the animals, but it is imperative that we think critically about how our actions and behaviors might just counter-productively reinforce an oppressive norm -- thereby perpetuating all oppression, including our main target of speciesism.
Sexualizing violence against females human animals in the aim of "selling" the idea that violence against nonhuman animals is wrong is problematic. As is calling a female human who is wearing fur a “hag” or “cunt” (reducing her to her female-specific part and associating that female form with contempt). Wishing violence on her for that action is just as misogynist and problematic, and note that men wearing leather receive no such hateful sentiment, much less the subjugating words or expressions of a desire for violence to put their body in its “place.”
When we talk about females (human or not) and when we interact with humans of any sex or gender identity (activist or not), we have a responsibility to be mindful of how our words and behavior may be reinforcing oppressive partiarchal and speciesist norms.
As an activist group, we need to be mindful of our behaviors and help each other create and maintain a safe space where activists don’t feel subjugated by an objectifying male-dominated gaze, and where activists are able to express emotional authenticity.
As liberationists we also have a responsibility to not frame the animals we speak of with a lens that reinforces their objectification -- we must be careful to not use words and images that brutally reduce those individual someones to objects.