What Third-Wave Feminism Brings to Animal Law

Third-wave feminists reject what they perceive as a perennial “victim” stance in feminist thinking.  (For more on third-wave wave feminism, see here).  More colloquially, third-wave feminists might say that (some) subordination is in the eyes of the beholder, not the beholden.  You may think that image/word/action is subordinating me but that doesn’t mean that I feel subordinated.  Indeed the subordinated may be the one doing the subordination.

Third-wave writing so far appears to be methodologically constrained by its self-regarding, first-person narrative.  I have not yet read any specifically denominated third-wave feminist work that speaks to animal issues at all.  So I speculate in asking how might third-wave analysis extend to animal law?  In the animal-rights context, what are the implications of third-wave feminism’s rejection of victimhood?

At an initial level, one might think that this joining of third-wave feminism to animal law would lead to an embrace, not a rejection, of a human dominance paradigm.  If third-wave feminists reject the idea that women are (always) victims, then surely they would reject the idea that animals are (ever) victims.  Extending third-wave feminism might leave us with no room for an anti-cruelty stance, for example.  I do not believe, however, that the third-wave feminist rejection of a dominant/subordinate binary necessarily extends in this direction.  My instinct is quite the opposite.

Any attempt to apply third-wave feminism to animal law clarifies that the third-wave critique must be limited to circumstances in which the being typically understood as subordinated possesses situational authority and autonomy.  To claim, for example, that performing in a strip club is an act of ironic liberation, not oppression, requires at least two conditions precedent.  The performer must have the meaningful ability to engage in other paid employment and she must have reasonable assurances of bodily integrity as long as she engages in the strip-club work.

Animals are not liberated strippers hiding in plain sight.  They cannot speak.  They cannot exercise economic power as we understand it.  They have limited, if any, situational authority.  Third-wave feminists have not yet grappled with animal rights, but when they do, they likely will embrace those rights, not seek to diminish them.

-Bridget Crawford

cross-post: Feminist Law Professors

4 Responses

  1. Strippers who are, essentially, subordinated and dominated by an industry that uses and discards them without regard for their innate humanity nonetheless possess the potential to regain, or perhaps, initially achieve situational authority. Animals, whatever their individual ability to learn, never can have such authority.

    So, perhaps, feminists of any wave, which undoubtedly includes those who love and those who avoid animals, may see that animal welfare rather than animal rights is the rationally correct path to pursue. The parallel between non-human animals and oppressed humans is, in my view, a bit strained.

  2. “If third-wave feminists reject the idea that women are (always) victims, then surely they would reject the idea that animals are (ever) victims.”

    Doesn’t that seems a bit of a stretch? Or several stretches? First stretch being to assert that 3rd-wave feminists reject the idea that women can ever be victims. Second being to assert that, after first denying that women can be victims, 3rd-wave feminists then equate women with animals and conclude by extension that animals can never be victims either.

    You know those really infuriating critiques of 2nd-wave feminism that operate almost exclusively on narrow misquotes or extreme misinterpretations of Firestone, Dworkin, and MacKinnon to caricaturize the 2nd-wave? It doesn’t take many more “ifs” to create similar caricatures of 3rd-wave feminists. While I’m sure it wasn’t your intention, I think you could see how your projection of 3rd-wave thinking might raise similar objections.

    That doesn’t mean your inquiry isn’t relevant. The Biblical 10th Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife, nor his cattle, nor his house, nor his manservant nor maidservant nor anything that is thy neighbors”) is an absolute cornerstone of Patriarchy with a captial “P.” Given, therefore, that *patriarchy* certainly doesn’t distinguish women from animals or (significantly for 3rd-wavers since they’re more cognizant of race and class) servants it’s legitimate to compare how philosophies that stand in opposition to patriarchy approach questions of property and/or to being *considered* property.

    You just have to be careful not to “other” those philosophies you’re not comfortable with. For instance I’m *pretty* sure 3rd-wave feminism would counter that their premise is not that women can never be victims but that women aren’t *property,* and that oppression takes the form of *making or treating* women as property.

    I’m also pretty sure that adopting *that* premise makes 3rd-wave philosophy considerably more relevant to animal law. Because whereas it seems to be be difficult to resolve whether a cow is “victimized” by “humane” slaughter as opposed to being eaten alive by lions (the common justification for impounding and exploiting livestock) there’s rarely any ambiguity at all whether a cow is property to be disposed of by a rancher or whether it has instead certain rights to determine its own movement, self-defense, and, ultimately, survival within its ecosystem. (Although even then the analogy breaks down — women, being human beings, have both the right and the capacity to directly modify their political-economic “ecosystem” in ways we — correctly or incorrectly — typically don’t ascribe to animals.)


  3. Correction: Women, being human beings, have both the right and the capacity to directly modify *our* political-economic “ecosystems” in ways human beings — correctly or incorrectly — typically don’t ascribe to animals.)

  4. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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