What’s in a name? – Animals can now be victims too, but what does this mean?

Kat Fiedler

horse sunsetTwo recent Oregon Supreme Court rulings have afforded animals further protections, despite their classification as property under Oregon law. These rulings will allow law enforcement to provide more meaningful aid to animal victims and will allow the court system to levy stricter penalties for those found guilty of animal abuse or neglect. Together they strengthen the intervention and prosecution of animal crimes.

In State v. Arnold Nix, the Oregon Supreme Court held that animals could be victims – thus, rather than considering the starvation of twenty horses and goats into one count of second-degree animal neglect, the perpetrator would be charged with one count for each individual animal victim, or twenty counts of neglect. Naturally, allowing for the accused to be charged with twenty counts, as opposed to one, could result in significantly larger and longer punishments. Furthermore, inherent in this decision is the fact that “victim status” is afforded to more than just companion animals, as the animals in the case were horses and goats. Continue reading

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