In her book, Neither Man Nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals, Carol Adams, using an antiracist feminist lens, provides an interesting analysis into the exploitation of animals. She argues that feminism not only illuminates the oppression of women but also exposes how animals are exploited in this structure as well.
In Chapter One of On Beastliness and Solidarity, Adams explores how savagery and beastliness are associated with people of color to maintain power structures. She places animal rights movement within the oppressive power structure of sexism and racism to create connection. In short, the same argument for feminist and anti racism can be used for animal defense. This is the point of solidarity Adams wishes to create.
A passage I would like to focus on is as follows:
“Resistance against oppression for humans involves recognizing and preserving their “humanity.” But, it is a humanity establish through a form of negating: just as white Americans knew they were free by the presence of enslaved blacks, so oppressed humans affirm their humanity by proclaiming their distance from the animals whom they are compared to, treated like, but never truly are. …Proclamations assert, “we are not beasts, we are humans, not animals!” (pg. 77)
Adams reminds us that early feminists used this contention of asserting a human/animal dualism as situating one humans higher than animals (the other). The patriarchal mind seeks to paint women as the other, just as feminists constructs animals as the “other ” to assert their worth. Adams says this dualism should be questioned. She writes, “Each animal posses a unique individuality, sentience and completeness of self in one’s self and not through others, and should exist as such for human beings” (pg. 17).
By using this “othering” technique, oppression is more easily carried out. The “Other” is distinguished from “us” by features that the “other” have and “we” do not (for example: beastliness, civilized, docility etc) The person making the distinctions between the “other” and “we” usually reflect what is considered normal or natural. Adams writes, “When white racism uses an animalizing discourse against black people, it demonstrates the way supremacist ideology inscribes intersecting forms of otherness (race and species)" (pg. 19) This “either/or” dichotomy automatically assumes superior and inferior.
I have read about this concept of the “other” in many works, particularly in relation to imperialistic cartography. In European cartography, there existed an iconography continuum between the naked and the dressed women. For example, cartographer Gerardus Mercator created a map of Europe as a well-dressed woman with a crown, which suggests advancement and literacy while the way he presented Africa was a woman lacking clothes. It is interesting that even the tool of cartography was widely used by imperialists to exploit and maintain power over land and people by contrasting images.
Adams brings up a lot of good interesting points but I have some reservations. Adams wants to eradicate these simplistic dualisms in which animals lose this otherness. If we include animals in a “we” instead of “they,” and bring down humans and animals to the same level, do we not lose the beauty of difference of animals and humans?