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“I mean, I don’t hate animals or anything, but” October 11, 2007

Posted by Alex Danger in Animal Rights, Feminism.

I’ve noticed this pattern come up over and over again, talking to fairly progressive people. Whenever animal rights/animal welfare comes up stuff like “I have no problem with animals, but shouldn’t we spend [our resources] on [another issue, like domestic violence or prison reform]?” is all I ever hear.

Yesterday, in my DV & the law class, the statistic that there are x times as many pet shelters as women’s shelters came up, as in, what’s up with that? Well, first off, perhaps it is that there are more homeless animals than women in battering situations? I mean, I don’t know since the two amounts would be very difficult to tabulate – but it’s a worthy statistical question. The professor was concerned — “I love pets and all, but our priorities are clearly out of whack”. Another student commented about how we as a society perceive animals as helpless – perhaps we are expecting women to help themselves? She said it as if this was problematic thinking. Is it really? An animal can’t open its mouth and call for help, ask for food and shelter, demand to be free from harm. A woman can – at least physically – do these things.

I was also surprised that no one made the connection between domestic violence and animal abuse – although there is a readily apparent one. There are statistically high instances of DV abusers beating the household pet or threatening to do so. Many have a history of animal abuse in their childhoods. Hunting is also a prevalent hobby. Is it that hard to see the links, or does Carol J. Adams have to hit you over the head with them?

The problem with the above situation is we’re always pitting animals against some other issue that, for whatever reason, is deemed more “worthy” of our limited resources. What makes a population deserving of aid? Helplessness? Severity? Societal normatizing of suffering? What they mean to us? What they have to offer in return? Why are animal welfare issues constantly placed outside the realm of “legitimate” social activism? Is it because people are aware, or subconsciously aware, that it’s on them? That you can’t just get away with saying you “care” about animals without analyzing how you are complicit in their suffering – that so much of your life – what you eat, what you wear, what medicine you take, what shampoo you use – touches upon issues of animal welfare? That you actually have to change your lifestyle to take this position and not be a hypocrite?

Why are we so reluctant to see animal suffering as part of a continuum of violence against the politically weaker members of our society – women, children, queers, immigrants, transpeople, minorities, the poor and the disabled? Is it because people are reluctant to admit that we are like them, and they are like us? Or is it something else?

These aren’t rhetorical questions, please feel free to answer them in the comments section.

 For more on gender and animal rights, check out this.