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

Wolf-delisting: The Politics of Blood

gray-wolf-gazingGeorge Bush and his peeps thought gray wolves should be delisted as endangered species in Montana and Idaho.  So does Ken Salazar and, we must assume, Barack Obama.  Bush and peeps also thought it okay to ignore allies.  So, apparently, do Ken Salazar and Barack Obama.  But never mind politics.

Wolves were hunted to near extinction in this country due in large part to their (undeserved) reputation as dangerous predators and to the caterwauling of ranchers who like to poison, shoot or trap anything that might eat their animals before people do.  Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and a well-executed reintroduction program in the Northwest (carried out over the vociferous protests of ranchers and others), there are now approximately 1600 wolves in the Northern Rockies.

That, apparently, is too many.  Since Montana and Idaho have pledged to maintain populations of 400 and 500 animals, respectively, wolf-hunting may soon commence.  Supposedly, states can be trusted to create sound management plans for the animals.  Idaho Governor Butch Otter has a plan: kill as many as possible without the wolves being relisted.  You see, wolves eat elk and that means less elk for people to shoot.  It’s a crime perpetrated on the American sportsman.  Upon hearing the news of the imminent delisting, Governor Otter howled with glee and declared, “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.”

One wonders if Idaho and Montana will be like Alaska — where “hunters” can shoot wolves from the air.  Or maybe it will just be another classic confrontation of a heavily armed man against an unarmed animal who, when it dies, will almost certainly be attempting to flee.  You see, in the history of the United States, there has never been a fatal attack on a human by a wolf.  Never.

My son is doing a report on wolves for his class.  He has become fascinated by their language, their pack life, and their intelligence.  He is incredulous that they were extirpated from most of the United States and indignant about their undeserved reputation.  Last night, I told him of the Obama Administration’s decision.  He was heartbroken.

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Thinking S-L-O-W-L-Y

Is it just me, or is there something a little odd about the similarity between the “slow-sex movement,” described here, and the slow-food movement?  (The latter is now organized into “Slow Food,” a non-profit that seeks “to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”)  Is it just the names that sound the same, or is there something related about savoring women’s bodies and savoring food?  Or women learning to savor their own pleasure, and to take pleasure in food, instead of abusing themselves with it?  I’ll have to think slowly about this one.

-Bridget Crawford

cross post: Feminist Law Professors

Federal Ban on Consumption of Downed Cows

In his weekly address yesterday, President Obama declared a federal ban on the slaughter of “downed” cows (cows who are unable to walk or sometimes even stand on their own while being led slaughter) for food.  

This is a great victory as downed cows are prevalent due to the negligible medical care they receive on factory farms, the long period of time in which they are often transported to slaughterhouses without adequate food and water, and the rough conditions in which they are loaded, transported and unloaded.

Since 2003, when new rules were put in place to control Mad Cow disease, the federal government had enforced a general ban on downed cows. However, the ban contained a massive loophole for cows who collapsed after they were inspected, provided they showed no signs of Mad Cow disease or other similar disorders that could threaten human health.

Numerous undercover investigations by the Humane Society of the United States and other have found that, once unloaded from trucks at slaughterhouses, down cows are often trampled by their herd mates. They are often beaten, shocked with cattle prods and dragged with chains by workers attempting to force them to stand and walk. In February, 2008, the Humane Society of the United States released undercover footage of workers at a Hallmark/Westland Meat Company slaughterhouse in Chino, CA abusing downed dairy cows. The footage shocked lawmakers and citizens alike, yet revealed nothing new. Rather, it reflected what has become standard practice in an industry left to largely police itself.

Three months later, President Bush’s Secretary of Agriculture announced that the government would finally ban the slaughter of downed cows. Three months after that, the USDA proposed a rule to achieve this aim. Just a few days ago, President Obama urged the USDA, through language included in a spending bill, to finalize its new rule: a stance reflected in yesterday’s announcement. View a timeline of events here.

Current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that this is a “step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals.” This is good news for cows all over the U.S.!

-Suzanne McMillan

Prop 2 and a Divided California

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Today’s New York Times includes this article about a renewal of interest in a division of California into two states – coastal counties in one and inland counties in another. According to the Times article, this latest iteration of the state subdivision movement arises out of farmers’ angry responses to Proposition 2, a state ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2008.  Here’s how the Times describes Prop 2 (here):

Proposition 2 . . . banned tight confinement of egg-laying hens, veal calves and sows.  While many food activists and politicians in the state hailed the vote as proof of consumers’ increasing interest in where their food comes from, the proposition’s passage has angry farmers and their allies wanting to put the issue of succession to a vote, perhaps as soon as 2012.

The farmers interviewed for the article represent just some “farmers’ perspectives.” In pitting “farmers” against “food activists and politicians,” the story leaves out growers interested in organic farming and locally grown products.  There are farmers who want to reduce animal suffering.  The National Black Farmers Association, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Family Farm Defenders, and Farm Forward all supported Prop 2.  The Times story got sensationalists quotes (one farmer describes supporters of Prop 2 as “think[ing] fish are more important than people, that pigs are treated mean and chickens should run loose”), but the Times didn’t tell the whole story.  That’s because quotes from people who think that “chickens should run loose” don’t play into the historic (and romantic) American archetypes of the pioneer-farmer.

— Bridget Crawford

The Choice Quandary – A Response to Bridget Crawford

David Cassuto

Imputing a lack of agency to sentient beings of whatever type makes for a difficult row to hoe.  In the animal advocacy community, there are many who feel strongly that domesticating animals is ethically wrong because it involves involuntary servitude.  Thus, the practice should be phased out.  Since most animals bred for a domestic existence could not exist on their own, this would, of course, mean phasing out the animals as well.

This position raises all sorts of interesting issues.  For example, the same Marxian critique that Professor Crawford cites could cut either way.  One might argue that choosing to portray companion animals as involuntarily enslaved reflects an androcentric conception of class relationships and denies the domestic animals their right to exist.  One could conversely maintain that the act of keeping the animals reflects a lack of class consciousness borne of false consciousness.

More quandaries present themselves.  Abolitionists might say that in addition to the ethical problems inherent to domestication, practical reality also militates for the institution’s demise.  Billions of animals suffer and die each year in agriculture and countless millions of unwanted companion animals die in shelters.  This wholesale slaughter should not stand.  And, since it results directly from our misguided and exploitive relationship with animals, if the relationship goes, so too will the exploitation.

The counter-argument might propose that exploitation need not be inherent. As Michael Pollan among others has argued, there exists a potentially symbiotic relationship between humans and domestic animals.  In other words, animals and humans co-evolved into mutual reliance.  One might further note that exploitation is subjective in its very essence.  If one doesn’t feel exploited, how can one be exploited?  And that leads to the query: what do the animals feel about their situation?  Putting aside the factory farm situation where it would be hard for any rational person to argue that the animals benefit from or enjoy their torment, we cannot know what the animals feel.  It’s the dilemma of Wittgenstein’s lion: If the lion could talk, we could not understand him.

So what do we do?  I think about this stuff all the time but feel less certain every day about the bounding principles of the discourse.  In other words, I do not know what is right.  However, I remain confident that certain things are wrong.  Factory farming, vivisection, gratuitous cruelty, etc.  Maybe we could agree to get rid of the obviously wrong while continuing to talk about the not so obvious stuff.

All this by way of circling back to the high heels issue.  Is there choice there?  I feel like there is because there exists both the potential for choice and the language through which to express it.  I say this though fully cognizant of the argument that language is itself a tool of the oppressor and thus inherently constrains choice.  Still, I maintain that — though imperfect — language in its present form can express a feminist perspective.  Not so for the lion’s perspective.  Or the chicken’s.  Or that of  any other non-human.  And that’s what makes speaking for the voiceless so darn hard.

x-posted in Feminist Law Professors

False Consciousness Theory in Feminism and Anti-Speciesism

high_heelsBoth feminist legal theory and anti-speciesism make use of the concept of the Marxian false consciousness, described here by Engels in his 1893 Letter to Mehring:

Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously indeed but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives. Because it is a process of thought he derives both its form and its content from pure thought, either his own or his predecessors’.

From the feminist perspective, the false consciousness critique is typically used to devalue (as “inauthentic”) a choice made by another.   The example I use in teaching this concept to students is a woman’s statement “I like wearing high heels.”  Her feminist critic might say, “You think wearing high heels is your personal preference, but you have been conditioned by an androcentric society to want to wear high heels, because that is what men like and benefit from.”  (Note to self: If CBS News broadcasts “Tips on How to Navigate High Heels” here, shouldn’t this be an indication that it heels aren’t functional footwear?)

Between and among anti-speciesists, the imagined exchange might go something like this.

Person A: I choose to have a fish as a pet and I think there is nothing wrong with that because it makes me happy and it makes the fish happy.

Person B:  You think it is ok to have a fish as a pet because society has conditioned you to think that it makes you happy and makes the fish happy, because that is what a speciesist society likes and benefits from.

The argument, in both feminism and anti-speciesism, is that when the chooser chooses a pre-chosen choice, that choice is less authentic, valid, worthy of respect than a choice that is not pre-chosen.  But if we embrace the implications of the Marxist critique, then there shouldn’t be any intellectual room for an unchosen choice.  In other words, the critique itself arises out of culturally constrained circumstances that shape the critique.  The self-superior tone of the false consciousness critique is especially problematic for feminists, for whom choice is a dominant value.  Choice can double back.  If I chose my choice, even if my choice was pre-chosen, one might argue that the choosing is what matters, not the choice itself.  Yikes.

-Bridget Crawford

cross-posted in Feminist Law Professors