Editorial: Speciesist Feminism
By Melinda Fox
The past year has been an intense growing experience for me as both an
animal rights activist and a feminist.
I moved to Washington, DC to take a job with a national animal rights organization
and by circumstance found myself temporarily living separated from my spouse
and companion animals for several months.
In a strange way, being on my own again after six years of marriage was very
liberating. I found myself in a new, exciting, political city—in an election
year no less. I called it my “Mary Tyler Moore” or “That Girl” moment.
I had a cute apartment on the metro, was working out with my new balance ball,
eating Soy Delicious ice cream straight from the container, watching back episodes
of Sex in the City on my move-in special free cable, and joined all the hot topic
listservs. If I had a proverbial beret to throw into the air at a busy intersection
at that moment, I would have! The political climate was palpable and I found
myself fully engaged in the issues and being pulled socially in many directions.
It was a welcome change after the isolation of the rural town in northern Florida
where I finished my college degree.
While I was a fervent campus organizer for animal rights and was now working
professionally in the movement, I wanted to expand my activism to encompass other ‘rights’ causes
that seem to connect so naturally, especially women’s rights. Like many
activists, I came into my feminism through animal rights. It’s not uncommon
to recognize the oppression and subjugation of nonhuman animals before we are
willing to face our own.
Immediately, I became very active with several pro-choice groups. There was a
lot at stake in the reproductive rights arena with the current administration
up for reelection, and these groups were clamoring for volunteers. I participated
in the massive March for Choice in April on DC’s famous Mall of monuments.
I joined women (and men) 1.15 million-strong to protect choice in a day like
no other I have experienced as an activist. The three days prior were filled
with pre-march parties and presentations. The city was a-buzz in a sea of pink
and colorful signs and banners as far as the eye could see. It was truly one
of the most exciting and hopeful moments I have experienced in my life. I ended
the day dancing until I couldn’t see at a Joan Jett post-march concert.
At four a.m. my cab driver dropped me off and said “this was a great day
for women, you should be proud.” I certainly was.
There were many more experiences like this to come. I attended national women’s
conferences, intimate volunteer appreciation parties, and attended the Ms. Foundation’s
Women of the Year Awards breakfast, where I had the chance to meet some phenomenal
women, most notably Gloria Steinem. Here I was experiencing in real-time the
end of the Third Wave. I was fully committed to being a part of creating the
swell of the next one.
The Feminist Disconnect
Unfortunately, there’s one significant and disappointing disconnect I have
experienced throughout—the blatant speciesism in the feminist movement.
At every pro-choice event, intelligent, courageous, thoughtful women surrounded
me, consuming and wearing animals. At the march, many were eating hot dogs, burgers
and ice cream from sidewalk vendors. At the volunteer gatherings were the ever-present
cheese and meat trays. On a canvassing trip to Florida, all meals included cheese,
burgers, and grilled chicken. And at the awards breakfast we were all served
For me it is extremely painful to experience these enriching events that appeal
to me on so many levels—intellectually, emotionally, and passionately—and
have them simultaneously cause me guttural sadness for the millions of female
farmed animals who are being exploited reproductively and for their random body
According to a report by the Farm Animal Reform Movement, compiled from the USDA’s
National Agricultural Statistics Service and various industry sources, more than
10 billion land animals are exploited, abused and slaughtered for food each year
in the U.S. alone. The majority are the females of their species.
Dairy cows suffer horribly as they are perpetually impregnated for their milk
and pumped full of growth hormones. When their production slumps, they are slaughtered.
Meanwhile, their calves are torn from them at birth, chained by the neck for
16 weeks in tiny, filthy wooden crates, and force-fed an anemia-inducing liquid
formula to become the delicacy “veal.” They are deprived of their
natural diet—including water, roughage, and iron—as well as exercise,
fresh air, sunshine, and their mother’s love.
Breeding sows are kept pregnant for at least three years in metal “gestation
crates,” enclosures so small the sows cannot turn around. Their piglets
are torn away after only two weeks so the sows can again be impregnated.
Laying hens are crammed into wire-mesh “battery cages” the size of
a folded newspaper, which cut their feet and tear at their feathers. At the end
of their life cycle, they are frequently starved for up to 14 days to boost egg
production, a process known as forced molting. Upon hatching, male chicks are
often placed in garbage bags or simply tossed into dumpsters, where they suffocate
slowly or are crushed under the weight of their brothers.
With these staggering statistics and the unbridled cruelty they represent, it
is inconceivable how feminism as we know it today can deny the inclusion of nonhuman
animals from the community of rights-holders. It is women and minorities who
work the jobs along the slaughter lines in dangerous and inhospitable conditions.
Women who are exposed to the harmful environmental ramifications of factory farms.
Women being socio-economically targeted by the fast food industry and, as a result,
experiencing meteoric rates of obesity and health problems associated with poor
nutrition. Women who are thrust into puberty earlier due to hormones added to
processed dairy. And the list goes on.
It is important for all of us to keep the educational process incorporated into
our animal activism. After all, even the real That Girl, Marlo Thomas, is a vegetarian,
and Mary Tyler Moore stands up for farmed animals today. It is unconscionable
for us not to widen our circle of compassion to include them, as consumers, activists,
and most importantly as feminists.
Melinda Fox lives in Washington, DC, where she works as a fundraiser for a national
animal protection nonprofit.