BOOKS: Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1995:

Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations
edited by Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan
Duke University Press (Box 90660, Durham NC 27708-0660), 1995.
366 pages, $16.95 paper, $49.95 cloth.

This collection of 13 essays, discussing
exploitation and abuse of animals
and women from a feminist perspective,
makes for a challenging read. The
premise––that women and animals suffer
similar oppression, for much the same reasons––is
both valid and interesting. But
what the editors describe as a “multidisciplinary
approach” tends to be more scattershot,
uneasily blending discussions of literature,
semantics, sociology, ethics, ecology, etc.
One essayist even digs up an ancient squib
by Virginia Woolf.


In the typical scenario, Patriarchal
White Males sprang full-blown out of the
blue to set themselves up as so many Hitlers.
They must be denounced and overthrown,
because from them flows every oppressive
and perverse force that crushes the life out of
Nature and Women. The only remedy is to
break the back of this power elite.
The main theory put forward as to
why PWMs act as they do is that it is
because of their conflicting feelings about
“the other,” as represented by women and
animals. PWMs apparently have no understanding
of, or tolerance for, or ability to let
be, anything that does not completely mirror
them; therefore they exploit what they can,
degrade or destroy the rest.
This theory may have some validity
as far as it goes, but the paradox is that by
taking this stance, the feminists have themselves
turned PWMs into “the other,” a faceless
ogre. So we have the White Queen in a
rhetorical showdown with the Black King.
It’s an unfortunate truth that nature,
much more than the bedroom or workplace,
is the battleground of the male-female war.
That animals are not only a very real part of
this endless, lethal squabble, but also
dragged in by their metaphorical tails to bolster
the moral or philosophical correctness of
either side, is frightening.
Many of the writers postulate that
PWMs are in a constant state of aggressively
consolidating their omnipotent power base;
but this theory overlooks, or at least underplays,
a few important points. What turns
people into bullies, as PWMs clearly are, is
a profound sense of lack of power, coupled
with an even more profound inability to figure
out how to get power in more appropriate
and constructive ways. Further, lack of
power is deeply rooted in a sense of imposed
isolation, not just from nature or from other
people, but from one’s own thought
processes, severely hampering possibilities
for change. And finally, as in that timeless
philosophical question of why a dog licks his
balls, one reason people engage in bullying
behavior is because they can.
This latter point is one which feminists
should explore with unflinching honesty.
While animals and women do indeed
suffer exploitation and degradation resulting
largely from the same factors, a clear line of
distinction must be drawn, because
women—at least North American and
European women––d o have the option of
consciously choosing from a range of carefully
thought-out reactions; animals do not.
Animals and Women is interesting
not only for the points it raises about abuse
and exploitation, but for demonstrating the
profound anger, hatred, and condemnation
held toward a segment of society, here
dubbed the PWMs. Unfortunately, though
bullies may not like to be treated with such
hostility and contempt, they feed on and
draw strength from it; it consolidates that
sense of isolation which makes up the foundation
of their philosophy.
Bullies torment others because
they want to break through the wall of isolation
in the only way they seem to know how;
and their victims, rather than challenging
them in the immediate arena, invariably
retreat, shouting insults and invoking curses.
Until someone figures out and imposes a
better way, nature will largely remain can
non fodder.
––Pamela June Kemp

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