Sex, Animal Abuse, and the Internet

Seth Victor

In Long Island, New York last Tuesday,  the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a bill, sponsored by legislator Jon Cooper, creating the nation’s first registry for people convicted of animal abuse. The online registry operates in a similar fashion to the online registration required for sex offenders under Megan’s Laws. Anyone convicted of animal cruelty will be required to submit and keep updated their name, address, and photograph to the publicly searchable database for five years following their conviction. Convicted abusers will have to pay $50 annually for the cost of the registry, and those who do not face a $1,000 fine and one year imprisonment.

Mr. Cooper is quoted stating, “We know the correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence…Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals, so in a strange sense we could end up protecting the lives of people.” In acknowledging the link between animal abuse and domestic violence, a relationship of which many people are not aware, Mr. Cooper illustrates how animal protection laws can serve both human and animal interests.

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“Sex, Gender and Species” Conference at Wesleyan University

David Cassuto

This interdisciplinary conference looks like it will be mighty good.

  • Wesleyan University will be hosting a conference called “Sex, Gender and Species” on February 25 and 26, 2011. The purpose of this conference is to foreground the relations between feminist and animal studies and to examine the real and theoretical problems that are central to both fields of inquiry. Conference organizers Lori Gruen and Kari Weil are seeking 1-2 page abstracts by October 1, 2010. Abstracts can be sent to lgruen@wesleyan.edu or kweil@wesleyan.edu.

`Octomom´ Nadya Suleman is the New PETA Poster Child

David Cassuto

Nadya Suleman, the (now) self-described `Octomom,´ has a sign on her lawn urging us to heed her example and “Don’t Let Your Dog or Cat Become an Octomom. Always Spay or Neuter.”   Suleman, who had octuplets 16 months ago (in addition to her 6 other children) and has been struggling to make ends meet, placed the sign on her lawn at the behest of PETA and in exchange for $5000 and a month´s supply of veggie burgers.  She maintains that she is not doing it just for the money and that she loves animals and believes that they should be spayed and neutered.   “Humans of course are much different,” she notes.   PETA claims the arrangement is a `win-win.´   

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Hypatia — Call for Papers

David Cassuto

Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy has issued an intriguing call for papers, which follows below:

4. Animal Others Special Issue
Volume 27 Number 3, Summer 2012
Guest Editors: Lori Gruen and Kari Weil

We are soliciting papers for a special issue of Hypatia on Animal Others. Scholarship in “Animal Studies” has grown considerably over the last few years, yet the feminist insights that much of this work borrows from and builds on remains relatively unrecognized. This special issue of Hypatia will remedy this by showcasing the best new feminist work on nonhuman animals that will help to rethink and redefine (or undefine) categories such as animal-woman-nature-body. The issue will provide the opportunity to re-examine concerns that are central to both feminist theory and animal studies and promote avenues of thought that can move us beyond pernicious forms of othering that undergird much human and non-human suffering.  Continue reading

Mansploitation for the Animal Cause

September 24th, 2009

SeattleImage2image source: The Stranger, Sep 24 – 30, 2009, Vol. 19, No. 3

Ummm…this Seattle alt paper (think Village Voice, left-coast style) takes a page from PETA’s playbook (see here, e.g.) and then flips it, exploiting men’s bods for the animal cause.  That’s not ok, either.

The image is an interesting visual play on an affectionate name for a cat and a (sometimes-not-so-affectionate) name for a woman’s genitalia.  I imagine the guy out in front of a pet store saying, “Look at my ….”

-Bridget Crawford

cross post: Feminist Law Professors

PETA’s Use of Women

PETA takes a lot of grief from the animal advocacy community and from feminists for its use of naked or sparsely clad women in its public events.  This blogger offers a contrasting view.  For my part, though I find the controversy surrounding PETA’s methods interesting and worth having, I worry that the resulting schisms in the animal advocacy community undermine the movement.

–David Cassuto

Hoarding Babies, Hoarding Animals

Lolita Buckner Inniss (Cleveland-Marshall, Ain’t I a Feminist Legal Scholar, Too?, Visiting Prof at Pace Law School) and I have posted to SSRN our essay, Multiple Anxieties: Breaching Race, Class and Gender Norms With Assisted Reproduction.  The essay is about is about misplaced attention on women’s bodies.  Focusing on Nadya Suleman, the California woman who gave birth to octuplets in January, we explore socio-legal anxieties about gender, race, class and geography.  To theorize about the increasing availability of reproductive technology is to uncover a deep ambivalence about “choice” as it applies to women and their bodies.

The public reacted strongly and negatively to the Suleman’s story.  How could anyone have octuplets?  And how could anyone have octuplets when they already have six other children?  “She must be crazy,” the internet commentators suggested.

There is a way in which Suleman is being read as kind of “collector” or “hoarder” of children, the way some people hoard animals.  Animal hoarding is characterized (here) by The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium by the presence of these criteria:

  • More than the typical number of companion animals
  • Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling

As I read the negative criticism of Suleman, the outcry comes not only from the fact she has “more than the typical number” of children, but also that she seems to lack an independent (i.e., non-government) source of financial support for the children’s “nutrition, sanitation, shelter” and medical care.  In interviews, Suleman presents as a calm and “beatific” presence, as if she is in some kind of denial about her ability to care for the children.

In our essay (full version here) Professor Inniss and I attempt to unpack the “multiple anxieties” that Suleman’s story has exposed.  Some of those anxieties are about race and class.  If a wealthy person has “more than the typical number” of children (or companion animals, for that matter) how likely are they to be read as a (crazy) hoarder?  Not very likely, is my guess.  With both children and companion animals, the wealthy can outsource the work to paid caretakers.  The wealthy are more likely to live in larger residences.  This in turn reducing the immediate negative impact of the presence of many children (or animals) on other occupants of the dwelling.  Plus the wealthy have permission to be “eccentric.” Middle-class and poor people who exhibit the same behaviors are “crazy.”

I do not wish to suggest that having 14 children or companion animals is normatively good or even wise.  But I do think we should be explicit about the biases that we bring to a determination of some idealized, “typical” (read: acceptable) number of children or animals.

-Bridget Crawford

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

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

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

Women, Animals, and Advertising

Very interesting thread at the always intriguing Feminist Law Professors blog discussing the images below and asking whether they are “Mocking Sexism or Mocking Feminism?”

The text in both ads (for Eram, a French shoe company) says (more or less): “No women’s bodies were exploited in this ad.”

Given the parallels noted by many scholars between the exploitation of animals and the exploitation of women (perhaps most insightfully by Carol Adams in The Sexual Politics of Meat), I wonder why the use and abuse of animals in and out advertising has not come up in the discussion.  The irony and controversy embedded in the statement that no women’s bodies were exploited in the making of the ad stems from the juxtaposition of the cross-dressing beefcake shot (a loaded term from an animal perspective) and the ostrich wearing boots likely made from others of its kind.  The subtext, as I read it, is that multiple animals were exploited in the making of the ad but that’s okay because it’s funny and feminists should lighten up.  Is it really ok?  And why would that be funny?

–David Cassuto