Why animal rights is a feminist issue
Social justice movements like animal rights and women's rights demonstrate many parallels that reaffirm their claims of validity. The patterns of hierarchy and domination that lead to the oppression of women, of people of colour, of workers and other marginalised groups, are equally at work in the oppression of animals and their environment through what Peter Singer calls 'speciesism' and 'instrumentalism'.
Resourcism and abuse
Carol Adams interprets patriarchy is an ideology which identifies meat-eating with masculinity. She sees analogies between the oppression of animals and the oppression of women, it has been argued that one way to engage in feminist praxis is to refrain from eating animal flesh.
Using other species as instruments, as resources, as means to our ends has resulted in widespread cruelty in the name of profit. Selective breeding and now genetic engineering results in abnormal and accelerated growth such as that which causes bone deformities, lung and heart problems in hens, turkeys and pigs intesively raised for meat. Mother cows and young are separted as a matter of course, the mothers destined for a few years of often painful milking, and then the slaughterhouse, her young often destined to short life of suffering in a veal 'crate', unable even to turn around, fed an iron deficient gruel to feed our spurious taste for pale flesh. Countless rabbits, rats, guinea-pigs and mice suffer and then are sacrificed to test products we scarcely need, and medications to remediate the illness often brought on by our own actions within a social struture which engenders injustice everywhere. For each of these 'uses' there are now numerous alternatives, but often powerful economic interests prevent humane progress.
Our society as a whole encourages this when we hide the goings-on in abattoirs; construct an ideological renaming of animals when they become food (from 'cow' to 'stock' or 'head', and ultimately 'beef'); and devalue the pain of animals by labeling them as our resources: as women 'choose' to be porn models and prostitutes, it is suggested by our culture that animals 'choose' to be eaten, that they exist only for this purpose! (Adams 1986:190)
Farmers speak of their 'stock' as biomachines: "Forget the pig as an animal. Treat him (sic) just like you would a machine in a factory. Schedule treatments like you wold lubrication for you car. Breeding is like the first step in the assembly line…" that is occasioned by suffering (sterotypical bar-biting, self-mutilation just to name two common effects on factory farmed animals) and behavioural deprivation and leads inevitably to the animals untimely and often botched death.
Objectifcation and loss of compassion
Objectification leaves the death out of meat, it becomes the sanitised, plastic wrapped abstract artefact we purchase at the supermarket. It makes killing animals acceptable, in the same way that pornography objectifies women, reduces them too to 'cuts' of meat and leaves out the relationship between persons making the 'use' of women to men's ends acceptable. By this analogy, Adams identifies the consumption of meat/death with the acceptance of male dominance.
Patriachy, power and meat
Adams sees sexism and speciesism as "mutually reinforcing systems of oppression" so by condoning meat-eating we are implicitly condoning male dominance (1990:174). Of course almost all domestic animals bred for food are female. So for Adams, ethical vegetarianism is a moral act that denies collusion with the oppressor culture.
Feminists need to recognise meat-eating as the cultural artefact it is: tied up in every ritualised celebration, and a part of the identification of social and sexual roles. "Real men don't eat quiche" they eat great slabs of beef and if they don't they are scarcely men. While many of us might reject the traditional male gender role, more deeply embedded is the notion that meat is good for you and without it your health will suffer. Women are complicit in and victims of this ploy. While they "feed the man meat" and turn their children into 'ironsteins' they are also targeted by advertising as 'iron-deficient' anaemic and weak and lethargic because they don't eat enough meat. (Ironically (!), iron is not assimilatable unless in the presence of vitamin C, which is in it's most perfect combination in green leafy veggies, not meat which has no vitamin C).
The gender assignments world-wide that give meat to the men when supply is limited by consequence give vegetables to the women. Thus vegetarianism is viewed as emasculating, effeminate. In many cultures meat is viewed as the property of men: women are forbidden pork in the Solomon islands; fish, seafood, duck and eggs in some Asian cultures; in Africa it is often chicken. The Aussie barbie is traditionally cooked by the men, a primitive ritual and often the only form of cooking the man will engage in.
The pacifist connection
It was during the first world war that vegetarianism met feminism and pacifism. Anti-war feminists like Charlotte Despard and Mary Alden Hopkins were also vegetarian connecting meat-eating with an excess of masculine power and the culture of domination that leads to war. As Adams describes: "Just as anti-war feminists believed that empowering women would end the war, so vegetarians believed that elimination meat eating moved the world closer to pacifism" (1990:124)
Of the 12.4 million people in the US who call themselves vegetarian, 68 percent are female while only 32 percent are male. The vegetarian connection is reinforced by the sheer number of women involved in the AR movement, outnumbering men 3 to 1. "We need not choose between one liberation cause and the other: women's rights and animal's rights suffer a common oppression in the patriarchal world." (Adams 1990)
Kim Stewart, Animal Liberation Qld, November 2000
Adams, C The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory Continuum: New York 1990
Kheel, M "The Liberation of Nature: A Circular Affair" in Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals, Donovan and Adams (eds) Continuum Publishing Co: New York 1985
Singer, P "All Animals are Equal", in Zimmerman (ed) Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, 2nd edition Prentice Hall 1998