The Intersection of Feminism and the Animal Rights Movement
“You only exist for my benefit.” Kate Harveston considers the objectification of animals based on their perceived inferiority.
As the modern feminist movement has placed more emphasis on intersectionality in recent years — that is, acknowledging the intersections of different systems of oppression — the feminist understanding of how disenfranchised groups operate in the world has grown.
Though work still needs to be done recognizing the unique situations of women of colour, trans individuals and others, intersectionality has proven to be a powerful ideological force in the feminist movement; a more realistic depiction of the world as it is.
Interestingly, amidst all this discussion of intersectionality, the oppression of animals and the natural world has also begun to come into play. Many feminists are now considering the way animal rights are intertwined with feminism.
We’re beginning to get to grips with historical abuse and devaluation of women and other groups outside the cis het white male norm. Though animals and people don’t face the same struggles, they have more in common than many of us may think.
Objectification and Human Attitudes of Superiority
Most feminists are familiar with the concept of objectification. Generally, the word is used to refer to the way industries and individuals reduce women to objects of pleasure rather than complex, fully autonomous beings.
Objectification comes from a reductive attitude of use and superiority, the idea that “you only exist for my benefit.” For humans, this attitude usually reduces women to sexual or reproductive objects. For animals, though, this objectification is all-encompassing.
Human society dictates that both wild and domestic animals are inferior to humans, either because they are less complex, less sentient or less capable of controlling their surroundings. So, animals are objectified and only viewed as existing for human benefit. This attitude can be seen spanning practices as despicable as dog fighting to those as commonplace as dairy farming.
Though some people may justify the manipulation and objectification of animals by citing their so-called inferior consciousness, this isn’t a good excuse for unethical treatment. And it’s not even particularly accurate — scientists are increasingly confident that animals are conscious, which means they can experience pain, emotions and display empathy. As anyone who lives with a pet already knows.
Though humans and animals may experience differing degrees of consciousness, the divide is by no means enough to warrant the treatment many animals experience at the hands of humans. Animals experience the world in much the same way we do. So… we should treat them as companions on earth rather than tools for profit.
Animal Consumption — A Product of Objectification
When people consume meat or animal products produced by unnatural practices or inhumane factory farming complexes, they are implicitly accepting animal objectification. When people imply that animal bodies exist to be treated anyway we like for our use, are we not reinforcing a kind of objectification similar to that faced by oppressed humans?
Don’t get me wrong — humans need animals. They provide companionship and give us insight into the natural world. I’m not even saying we should all go vegan tomorrow. But we can, and should, do better by these animals throughout processes like farming. If people choose to treat animals with the respect they deserve, objectification diminishes.
Interested in Veganism?
That said, maybe you are interested in veganism. Many find a vegan diet a welcome change for both ethical and health-related reasons. If you’re considering going vegan but don’t know where to start, remember that a nutritious vegan diet isn’t necessarily restrictive or unhealthy.
You can begin slowly by replacing a few easier-to-drop animal products. Cutting processed meat before cutting dairy products, for example, could be a reasonable place to start — the meat industry is by far one of the cruelest and processed meat has actually been declared a carcinogen by the WHO. Just be sure to do your research and seek alternative sources of protein like nuts and legumes. There are also a ton of really cool products now like plant-based pastas to try cooking with.
Check out your local grocery store’s organic section for products like these. It’s easier nowadays to eat ethically than it once was. Society has largely cultivated a taste for animal products, but vegan alternatives exist that allow people to still eat their favourite foods. And if you want to keep eating meat, consider doing your research on where you’re buying from. Purchasing all your meat from an ethical farm makes a huge impact too!
Veganism isn’t the solution to all the world’s problems. But it might be worth your time as a feminist – or just as a human looking to be kinder to the world around you – to look at the ways you can support the fight against animal cruelty. Even if that’s just by donating a bit of your time or money to an animal welfare cause, it makes a difference.
Ending attitudes of superiority once and for all will require ending objectification in all of its manifestations. And looking into corners of society one may not have considered before. That’s how positive change happens.