Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations


Animals and Women is a collection of pioneering essays that explores the theoretical connections between feminism and animal defense. Offering a feminist perspective on the status of animals, this unique volume argues persuasively that both the social construction and oppressions of women are inextricably connected to the ways in which we comprehend and abuse other species. Furthermore, it demonstrates that such a focus does not distract from the struggle for women’s rights, ...
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Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations

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Animals and Women is a collection of pioneering essays that explores the theoretical connections between feminism and animal defense. Offering a feminist perspective on the status of animals, this unique volume argues persuasively that both the social construction and oppressions of women are inextricably connected to the ways in which we comprehend and abuse other species. Furthermore, it demonstrates that such a focus does not distract from the struggle for women’s rights, but rather contributes to it.
This wide-ranging multidisciplinary anthology presents original material from scholars in a variety of fields, as well as a rare, early article by Virginia Woolf. Exploring the leading edge of the species/gender boundary, it addresses such issues as the relationship between abortion rights and animal rights, the connection between woman-battering and animal abuse, and the speciesist basis for much sexist language. Also considered are the ways in which animals have been regarded by science, literature, and the environmentalist movement. A striking meditation on women and wolves is presented, as is an examination of sexual harassment and the taxonomy of hunters and hunting. Finally, this compelling collection suggests that the subordination and degradation of women is a prototype for other forms of abuse, and that to deny this connection is to participate in the continued mistreatment of animals and women.
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Editorial Reviews

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"This is an outstanding collection. The authors write expertly on the surprisingly intimate relation between attitudes toward animals and women in our culture. From reading their work on pornography, the treatment of ‘laboratory’ animals, hunting, wife-beating, and factory farming I have learned a tremendous amount. This superbly edited volume makes an important contribution to the cause of animal and human liberation."—Jane Tompkins, Duke University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822316671
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/1995
  • Pages: 392
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol J. Adams is a writer and a professional consultant on issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence. She is the author of several books, including The Sexual Politics of Meat and, most recently, Neither Man nor Beast.

Josephine Donovan is Professor of English at the University of Maine, Orono. She is the author of many books, including Feminist Theory and the editor of Feminist Literary Criticism.

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Animals and Women

Feminist Theoretical Explorations

By Carol J. Adams, Josephine Donovan

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-1667-1


Joan Dunayer

Sexist Words, Speciesist Roots

Through massive and sustained exploitation, humans inflict enormous suffering on other animals. Humans generally justify their exploitation of other species by categorizing "animals" as inferior and therefore rightfully subjugated while categorizing humans as superior and naturally entitled to dominate. So inveterate and universal is the false dichotomy of animal vs. human—and so powerfully evocative—that symbolically associating women with "animal" assists in their oppression. Applying images of denigrated nonhuman species to women labels women inferior and available for abuse; attaching images of the aggrandized human species to men designates them superior and entitled to exploit. Language is a powerful agent in assigning the imagery of animal vs. human. Feminists have long objected to "animal" pejoratives for women and the pseudogenerics man and mankind. These linguistic habits are rooted in speciesism, the assumption that other animals are inferior to humans and do not warrant equal consideration and respect.

Nonhuman-animal pejoratives frequently target women: catty, shrew, dumb bunny, cow, bitch, old crow, queen bee, sow. In An Intelligent Woman's Guide to Dirty Words, Ruth Todasco (1973) identifies "Woman as Animal" as a major category of "patriarchal epithets" (27). What attitudes and practices have prompted these epithets?

Viewed through speciesism, a nonhuman animal acquires a negative image. When metaphor then imposes that image on women, they share its negativity. Terming a woman a "dog" carries the sexist implication that women have a special obligation to be attractive, since the label refers to physical appearance only when applied to females. And so, using dog against any woman indirectly insults all women. The affront to all dogs, however, is direct. Denied individual identities, they merge into Ugly. Without this disdainful view of dogs, dog would not offend. Similarly social butterfly, being female specific, assigns gender to fickleness and frivolity. The phrase would confer very different traits if the butterfly's flight from flower to flower were perceived as life-sustaining rather than trivial. Reserved for women, dumb bunny links femaleness to mindlessness. But the expression rests on the speciesist assumption that rabbits are stupid.

In addition to speciesist attitudes, speciesist practices underlie non-human-animal metaphors that disparage women. Most such metaphors, philosopher Robert Baker (1975) notes, refer to domesticated animals like the chicken, cow, and dog—those bred for service to humans.

Comparison to chickens, linguist Alleen Pace Nilsen (1977) observes, spans a woman's life: "a young girl is a chick. When she gets old enough she marries and soon begins feeling cooped up. To relieve the boredom she goes to hen parties and cackles with her friends. Eventually she has her brood, begins to henpeck her husband, and finally turns into an old biddy" (29). Nilsen's analysis, however, does not delve beneath the metaphors' sexist use, to their origins in hens' exploitation. Comparing women to hens communicates scorn because hens are exploited as mere bodies—for their egg-laying capacity or flesh. In viewing the actual chick, the egg or "poultry" producer anticipates her exploitation as hen. Analogously the sexist male desires to exploit the human "chick" as a female body, for sexual pleasure. The hen's exploiter values only her physical service, dismissing her experiential world as unimportant or nonexistent. Hen party empties women's experiences of all substance or significance;like hens, women have no worth apart from their function within the exploiter's world. The hen ("biddy") who offers neither desirable flesh nor continued profitable egg production is regarded as "spent"—and discarded. No longer sexually attractive or able to reproduce, the human "old biddy" too has outlived her usefulness. If hens were not held captive and treated as nothing more than bodies, their lives would not supply symbols for the lives of stifled and physically exploited women.

Hens' current oppression far outstrips the oppression from which the metaphors arose. Over 99 percent of U.S. chickens spend their lives in crowded confinement (see Appleby, Hughes, and Elson 1992, 31–33; Bell 1992; Coats 1989, 81–82; North and Bell 1990, 456). The laying hen is crammed, usually with three to five other birds, into a wire cage so small that she cannot spread her wings (see Appleby, Hughes, and Elson 1992, 30; Coats 1989, 90–92; Johnson 1991, 26–27, 122). "Broiler" chickens (bred for their flesh) are crowded, by the tens of thousands, onto the floor of a confinement unit. By slaughter time they barely have room to move (see Acker and Cunningham 1991, 635–36; Coats 1989, 87; North and Bell 1990, 456–58). Laying hens rarely live beyond two years, "broilers" two months (see Appleby, Hughes, and Elson 1992, 30–31; Austic and Nesheim 1990, 287–88; North and Bell 1990, 453, 475). The imprisoned hen cannot develop social bonds, raise a brood, or become an "old biddy." The hen's defaced image derives from her victimization.

As a term for a woman, cow is, in anthropologist John Halverson's words, "thoroughly derogatory" (1976, 515), characterizing the woman as fat and dull. Why does metaphorical reference to the cow connote these traits while reference to the bull does not? Exploitation of the cow for her milk has created a gender-specific image. Kept perpetually pregnant and/or lactating, with swollen belly or swollen udder, the "dairy cow" is seen as fat. Confined to a stall, denied the active role of nurturing and protecting a calf—so that milking becomes something done to her rather than by her—she is seen as passive and dull. The cow then becomes emblematic of these traits, which metaphor can attach to women. Like the laying hen, the dairy cow is exploited as female body. Since the cow's exploitation focuses on her uniquely female capacities to produce milk and "replacement" offspring, it readily evokes thoughts of femaleness more generally. Bearing with it a context of exploitation, the cow's image easily transfers to women.

Approximately eight months of each year, today's dairy cow is both pregnant and lactating. During each ten-month lactation period, machines drain her of ten times the milk her calf would suckle (see Acker and Cunningham 1991, 111; Coats 1989, 51; Mason and Singer 1990, 11). In the U.S. the largest feedlot dairy operations each hold thousands of cows, year round, in crowded dirt lots. Fed from troughs, these cows never see pasture (see Bath et al. 1985, 303; Coats 1989, 52; Herrick 1990). Free-stall systems confine cows—frequently, throughout the year—to a crowded barn and adjacent dirt or concrete yard (see Bath et al. 1985, 365–66; Coats 1989, 52–53; Fox 1984, 106, 108). Tie-stall operations keep each cow chained by the neck in a narrow stall, often for months at a time (see Bath et al. 1985, 361–65; Mason and Singer 1990, 12). When a cow's milk yield permanently declines, she is slaughtered. Cow verbally abuses women by identifying them with the abused cow.

In the language of dog breeders, bitch denotes a female dog able to produce a litter. As pejorative, the term has remained female specific. But why should calling a woman a "bitch" impute malice and selfishness? Given that most dogs are loving and eager to please, the metaphor's sharp contempt seems puzzling. Breeders, however, have always treated the female dog with contempt—as a means to a useful, profitable, or prestigious litter.

Among recommended methods for breeding bulldogs, the American Kennel Club's official magazine includes "holding the bitch in the proper position"—"by her legs" or "by straps"—and "assist[ing]" the male in "penetration" (Schor 1989, 140). Breeders subject the bulldog bitch to this ordeal because, through inbreeding, they have afflicted her breed with characteristics that preclude natural mating: a low front and high rear (see Schor 1989). Also bred to be brachycephalic (flat-faced) (see American Kennel Club 1992, 486–88), bulldogs suffer chronic breathing difficulty from pathologically short and twisted air passages. Often an overlong soft palate further obstructs breathing (see Fox 1965, 62). Recently a veterinary newsletter reported on a bulldog "placed on her back" for artificial insemination even though her breathing was especially labored. "Her breathing continued to be labored. When the bitch began to struggle," she was restrained (New Claims 1991, 1). Her breathing worsened. Still the forced insemination continued. Struggling to breathe, she died. Familiarity with the numerous ways in which breeders have disabled dogs through inbreeding and treated them like commodities dispels any mystery as to why bitch carries contempt (see Dunayer and Dunayer 1990; Wolfensohn 1981).

Comparisons between women and domesticated animals are offensive, Baker (1975) concludes, because they "reflect a conception of women as mindless servants" (56). But the metaphors' offending components—"mindless" and "servants"—derive from speciesist attitudes and practices. Without speciesism, domesticated animals would not be regarded as mindless; without speciesism, they would not be forced into servitude. Exploiting the hen for her eggs, the cow for her milk, and the bitch for her ability to produce litters invites demeaning female-specific metaphors.

The exploitation of domesticated animals, such as chickens, also leads to negative images of other animals—predators who threaten that exploitation, like the fox. A woman termed a "vixen" is resented, and somewhat feared, as scolding, malicious, or domineering, especially toward a man. She threatens a man's self-esteem and sense of security, intruding into his perceived domain. In the days when "poultry" were kept in coops or yards, the actual vixen was much resented, and feared, as an intruder. Being a predator, she often crossed human-drawn boundaries to kill chickens or other fowl whom humans consider their property. Quick-witted and fleet, she frequently evaded capture, repeatedly "outfoxing" the human oppressor. Having no male-specific equivalent, the pejorative vixen expresses sexist resentment toward the contentious woman, but it derives from speciesist resentment toward the predatory fox.

The vixen as prey conjures a very different image, which forms the basis for foxy lady. In this case the expression's origins lie in humans' exploitation and abuse of foxes themselves. Hunters and trappers view the fox as an object of pursuit—a future trophy or pelt. To the extent that the vixen eludes capture, she piques their desire to possess her and arouses their admiration. Even as she frustrates their goal, she prolongs their "sport" and proves "worthy" of pursuit. Hence, the ambivalence of foxy lady. A man who labels a woman "foxy" admires her as stylish and attractive yet sees her largely as a sex object worth possessing. Overwhelmingly, hunters and trappers are male (see Novak et al. 1987, 60; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993, 36). Their skin-deep view of those they pursue easily extends from nonhuman animals to women. "The major connection between man and fox is that of predator and prey" Baker (1975) reasons. "If women are conceived of as foxes, then they are conceived of as prey that it is fun to hunt" (53). Although Baker condemns the conception of women as foxes and the resulting conception of women as prey, he fails to condemn the necessary link between the two—the conception of foxes as prey. The speciesist practices of hunting and trapping enable the sexist equation woman = prey: if woman = fox and fox = prey, then woman = prey.

In the U.S., fur "farming" and trapping abuse more foxes than any other practices—killing hundreds of thousands each year (see Clifton 1991; Novak et al. 1987, 1018). "Farmed" foxes live confined to small wire cages and usually die from anal electrocution (see Clifton 1991; de Kok 1989). Most foxes trapped in the wild are caught in the excruciating steel-jaw leghold trap (see Close-Up Report 1992; Gerstell 1985, 37–40). Any woman who wears a fox coat wraps herself in the remains of some eleven to eighteen foxes who suffered intensely (see Fur Is Dead 1990; The Shame of Fur 1988). She also invites continued sexist comparisons between women and nonhuman victims. In Rape of the Wild (1989), ecofeminists Andrée Collard and Joyce Contrucci remark that women who wear fur unwittingly adopt the "identity of prey" and so participate in their own degradation (55, n. 34).

Likening women to nonhuman animals undermines respect for women because nonhuman animals generally receive even less respect—far less. In most (if not all) contemporary human societies, the status of nonhuman animals is much lower than women's. In the U.S., for example, an overall absence of legal protection for nonhuman animals permits their massive institutionalized exploitation and abuse (see Francione 1994; Galvin 1985). They are bred for show, for sale, for servitude. They are imprisoned in aquariums and zoos, forced to perform in nightclubs and circuses, terrorized and injured at rodeos and fairs. Each year, by the millions they are vivisected (see Singer 1990, 36–37; U.S. Congress 1986, 49–66), killed for their fur (see Fox 1990, 116; Novak et al. 1987, 1092), murdered for "sport" (see Satchell 1990; Van Voorhees et al. 1992, 10); by the billions they go from intensive confinement to slaughter (see Catfish Production 1995, 8, 10; Livestock Slaughter 1995, 1; Poultry Slaughter 1995, 15–16).

While only some nonhuman-animal pejoratives denigrate women, all denigrate nonhuman animals. Numerous nonhuman-animal terms act as invective solely or largely against men and boys: shark, skunk, lap dog, toad, weasel, snake, jackass, worm. The male-specific wolf and cur parallel the female-specific vixen and bitch. Cock of the walk and bullheaded correspond to mother hen and stupid cow. Dumb ox equates to dumb bunny. And old buzzard and goat resemble old biddy and crow. Nonhuman-animal terms also serve as racist epithets, as when blacks are called "monkeys" or "gorillas." Often, invoking another animal as insult doesn't target any human group: sheepish, birdbrain, crazy as a loon. In such cases the comparison's fundamental speciesism stands alone. Whether or not a person is avaricious, labeling them a "vulture" exhibits prejudice against no group except vultures.

Although some expressions that compare humans to other animals are complimentary (busy as a bee, eagle-eyed, brave as a lion), the vast majority offend. Anthropologist Edmund Leach (1964) categorizes "animal" metaphors as "obscenity," along with "dirty words" (largely of "sex and excretion") and "blasphemy and profanity" (28). While Halverson (1976) rejects Leach's categorization, he agrees that "animal" metaphors are overwhelmingly negative. What's more, Halverson identifies their most universal component as "the basic distinction human v. animal" (515). This distinction is the essence of speciesism.

Linguistic practice, like other human practices, is even more deeply speciesist than sexist. Humans, after all, have a verbal monopoly. Our language necessarily reflects a human-centered viewpoint more completely than a male-centered one. Considered in relation to the plight of nonhuman animals, Adrienne Rich's words of feminist insight express a terrible absolute: "this is the oppressor's language" (1971, 16, 18).

Speciesist language has far from trivial consequences. Although nonhuman animals cannot discern the contempt in the words that disparage them, this contempt legitimates their oppression. Like sexist language, speciesist language fosters exploitation and abuse. As feminist philosopher Stephanie Ross (1981) has stated with regard to women, "oppression does not require the awareness or co-operation of its victims" (199).


Excerpted from Animals and Women by Carol J. Adams, Josephine Donovan. Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I: Sexism/Speciesism: Interlocking Oppressions 9

1. Sexist Words, Speciesist Roots / Joan Dunayer 11

2. Exploring the Boundaries: Feminism, Animals, and Science / Lynda Birke 32

3. Women Battering and Harm to Animals / Carol J. Adams 55

4. License to Kill: An Ecofeminist Critique of Hunters' Discourse / Marti Kheel 85

5. Speech, Pornography, and Hunting / Maria Comninou 126

6. Abortion and Animal Rights: Are They Compatible Issues? / Gary L. Francione 149

Part II: Alternative Stories 161

7. Beyond Just-So Stories: Narrative, Animals, and Ethics / Linda Vance 163

8. Thinking Like a Chicken: Farm Animals and the Feminine Connection / Karen Davis 192

9. Of Wolves and Women / Diane Antonio 213

10. The Power of Otherness: Animals in Women's Fiction / Marian Scholtmeijer 231

11. Birds Don't Sing in Greek: Virginia Woolf and "The Plumage Bill" / Reginald Abbott 263

12. Taming Ourselves or Going Feral? Toward a Nonpatriarchal Metaethic of Animal Liberation / Brian Luke 290

13. Speciesism, Racism, Nationalism...or the Power of Scientific Subjectivity / Susanne Kappeler 320

Bibliography of Feminist Approaches to Animal Issues 353

Notes on Contributors 363

Index 367

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2005

    2 passions connected at last

    Two emotionally charged topics for me are women and animal rights. The author draws connections between these 2 topics in ways I had never thought about before. But now that the connections are made I have a new perspective on the treatment of animals and the similarites between the abuse of women. Two passions I fight for the improvement in daily are finally conected for me. Excellent book, it will change your perspective on life.

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