Animal Studies Bibliography

Dixon, Beth A. 1996. The feminist connection between women and animals. Environmental Ethics 18(2): 181-194.

Ecofeminists argue that animals and women are both oppressed by patriarchy. These arguments, however, do not actually demonstrate that animals are oppressed. While there are symbolic parallels between women and animals, it is not in feminists' best interests to focus on this similarity.

The theoretical connection between the oppression of women and the oppression of animals is usually based on the Warren's (1990) concept of the logic of domination. The argument attempts to show how the same logical process is behind both oppressions. A privileging of supposedly male-only traits, a hierarchical value system, and the belief that lower things can be subordinated support the notion that men can subordinate women. Similarly, the argument goes, privileging human over animal leads to human subordination of animals. There is debate among ecofeminist as to which premise (dualism, value-hierarchy, or subordination) is responsible for oppression. Warren's point, however, is to show the similar structure of different oppressions. The problem with this argument is that subordination is not the same thing as oppression. Subordinate roles may not be oppressive (e.g. different military ranks, or children subordinate to parents' control in a non-oppressive way). The premises, then, are not enough to explain oppression. We must understand what makes particular contexts oppressive. In the case of women, such subordinations as pay inequities and violence against women are morally wrong because if women were treated equally in these areas, they could benefit from them as well as men could. This reasoning, however, does not apply to animals, and here the analogy between the oppressions breaks down. Animals have different capacities than women, and fair treatment of animals thus is not the same as fair treatment of women. The argument only shows that animals are subordinate, not that they are oppressed, and this latter step is crucial to any attempt at analogy.

Practical connections between oppressions of animals and women are similarly problematic. For example, Cantor (1983) argues for parallels between the domestication of pets and of women. However, while there are clear disadvantages to women from this arrangement (dangers stemming from financial dependence, etc.), it is not clear whether or how animals are harmed or oppressed by having learned traits of docility and dependence. Similarly, Adams in various places attempts to break down the human-animal barrier and emphasize the our shared capacities and subjectivity. The comparisons she makes, however, still have differences that keep the analogy from actually illuminating anything about why we should change out treatment of animals. The animal rights perspective offers better reasoning because it explains why we should not treat animals in particular ways (how attributing particular states to them creates particular obligations on our part). In short, making an analogy between women's oppression by patriarchy and animals' oppression by patriarchy does not work due to important differences between animals and women. There are, however, important symbolic connections (e.g. women hung on meat hooks in pornography and the use of animal epithets like bitch against women). However, there are also positive images of animals, as in describing someone as graceful as a swan, and men are also often animalized, especially when they are physically or sexually aggressive. Due to these complexities, it is unclear what effect feminist emphasis on these connections would have. Further, emphasizing a connection of women to animals, nature, and emotion is dangerous in that it would endanger women politically and would possibly be a mischaracterization of animals, whose subjectivity, feelings, etc. we know very little about. In short, feminist should not focus on making the connection between their own oppression and that of animals, nor should animal rights activists try to make such parallels. Feminists do have a responsibility to work against animal oppression, but it is the same responsibility they have toward any oppressed group, rather than being the result of a special connection between women and animals.


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