Outrage at comparisons of women to farm animals doesn’t go far enough — the deeper problem is how we relate to those farm animals to begin with.
This post is only indirectly about my relational theology or about my fascination with the charge to humanity that we can discern from the majestic creation narrative(s) from the Torah (those two themes tend to serve as the foundation of my blog). A close reading of this entry, however, will reveal its connections to those overarching themes — and I do intend to elaborate on those connections in future posts.
The assault on women’s bodies by various draconian legislators in our country is growing more and more appalling. Recently, a writer, Soraya Chemaly, offered a response in the Huffington Post to a particularly offensive example of this trend, in which a Georgia state representative argued that policy regarding the rights and fate of women be based on his witnessing of the plight of various pregnant and birthing female farm animals.
The response by Ms. Chemaly was appropriately indignant. I applaud her comprehensive critique of so much of what is happening in legislatures and in public debate that is dehumanizing to women. However, what struck me about the critique is the way it passively accepts the idea of subjugation of non-human animals in a manner that reinforces the ongoing abuse so many creatures suffer. The Georgia representative that the author lampoons made this comment: “Life gives us many experiences…I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive. Delivering pigs, dead or alive. It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.” Well, sir, how many broken animal hearts is our meat-driven society responsible for? And, basically none of those animals “make it,” except into a life of misery and ultimately an early death (if they’re lucky). Ms. Chemaly infers that the representative is feeling empathy for the farm animals, and I’m sure he believes he is too. Maybe the farm he worked on was a small, family-run operation that didn’t involve the horrors of the factory-farming world and was an exception to the rule of treatment of farm animals. But regardless, it seems to me that real empathy or compassion would lead to a more serious and comprehensive reevaluation of how we relate to the rest of Creation.
I think there’s a remaining, insidious element of abuse regarding our wanton mistreatment of non-human animals that underlies the way these backward-thinking people (legislators, etc.) think and argue. It’s not JUST that female human beings are being dehumanized and deprived of their human rights; it’s also that other sentient beings are being objectified and deprived of their basic rights as living creatures. If we lived in a world where there was no tolerance for the treatment of non-human “farm animals,” “beasts,” “brutes,” etc. as nothing more than machines, then how much further from the realm of possibility it would be to even contemplate treating other human beings in such a manner. We are not confined to an “either/or” choice wherein we need to keep our abusive practices directed at other species and simply prevent them from affecting our fellow human beings. Rather, the better path is to completely overhaul the way we think of and treat all living beings and then we can guarantee that no one suffers in the ways that women’s dignity is being threatened.
My suggestion is that we take these awful comparisons of women to cows and sows not just as a wake-up call to how we treat women but also as a wake-up call to the inherently manipulative, demeaning, and abusive way we treat so many other species in our ecosystem. Let’s expand our compassion as far as we can, not draw sharp lines in the sand, beyond which deplorable behavior can remain unquestioned. Yes, women are NOT cows and pigs. But cows and pigs are NOT machines. Rather, they too are creatures of the Divine deserving of our kindness.
Note: Selections from this blog post were cited in 2014, in a scholarly article, “COMBATTING REPRODUCTIVE OPPRESSION: WHY REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE CANNOT STOP AT THE SPECIES BORDER,” published in a journal devoted to law and gender. The author contends that no other written critique of the feminist outrage discussed here was publicly available: “Seemingly only one commentator, on a personal blog, questioned the characterization of nonhuman animals. . . . . No one in the mainstream feminist community heeded [his] suggestion.”