Do Women Need to Liberate Animals Too?

By Hoffman, Merle | Herizons, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Do Women Need to Liberate Animals Too?


Hoffman, Merle, Herizons


Carol Adams is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, and Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals. In the 1970s, Adams started a hotline for battered women and since then has served on national commissions on domestic violence and been active in housing issues. She believes that until we recognize how people who have no power--whether it's women or people of colour or the working class--are positioned as being closer to animals, that the human/animal barrier will retain its power and influence.

Merle Hoffman is the editor and publisher of On the Issues, a progressive quarterly published in New York.

Both women are on the advisory board of Feminists for Animal Rights.

Merle Hoffman: Historically, women have been in the leadership of the animal rights movement, but feminists haven't. Why do you think feminists have not embraced the animal rights issue with the same political and philosophical fervour as they have anti racism and anti classism?

Carol Adams: Several reasons. Over the years, many feminists have perceived that the equation of women with animals was a way to dehumanize women. Their response was to say, "We are part of the human species too. We are rational, thinking beings just like men." Also, in terms of the kind of anti-racist progressive feminism we all aspire to, there is a worry that we lessen human victims if we argue for animals. While we have the notion that the personal is political, what we eat or wear is seen as private. The response is, "I want my eating of animals to be a private decision."

MH: But eating is an extremely public action.

CA: Right, but there's a drive to keep it privatized. Though it's completely anomalous with feminist theory, many say "this is a part of my life I don't want to scrutinize."

MH: Perhaps became that would necessitate a change in behaviour. Feminists say, "you're one of those animal rights people making me worry about how I treat animals.' But the basic insight of the feminist animal advocate is that animals are not ours to exploit, animals are beings that exist in community with us. Our goals are to not have them on our backs or on our plates.

MH: But you're dealing with a paradigm structure that's religious, philosophical, and political. Let's look at classical philosophy. In a sense, it's been the enemy of both animal rights consciousness and feminism. Particularly the philosophy of Descartes, the idea of mind/body dualism. So how do you create a new philosophy?

CA: Feminist philosophy would say we've got a big problem with Western culture became it emphasizes rationality and has disowned the body philosophically. Since the body has not been valued, and since women and people of color and animals have been equated with the body, they have been seen as 'less than.' So the question is, how do we reverse that? Do we say that rationality is important and we are rational beings and then join the other side and disown the body too? Or do we say our bodies are a source of knowledge? Can we then say animals are only bodies, they are never rational, so we're only going to extend the insights of feminist philosophy about the body so far?

MH: How do you get people who love animals, who sometimes treat their pets a lot better than other human beings, to expand this monocular love to a more expansive vision?

CA: Generally, people are loving to specific animals with whom they have specific relationships. It's a very privatized notion of love, so we have to start by having them acknowledge that the relationship they cherish need not be limited just to the cat or dog they are fond of. We have to understand how it can be a model for other kinds of relationships, how love must work in partnership with justice.

MH: So love is a political act in this sense.

CA: That's right. Love involves an ethical stance, as Marie Fortune says. Does love cause harm? Does love benefit from harm to others?

MH: But the reality we live in has been reinforced through the ages by traditional religion, where humans are seen as the stewards of the earth. …

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