Of Brides and Bridges:
Linking Feminist, Queer, and Animal Liberation Movements
By Pattrice Jones
The raiders captured more
than a hundred females. Chased and forced to give up all but 30 of
their captives, they chose carefully, keeping
the purpose of breeding in mind and retained those with the lightest
skin and strongest muscles.
The raiders were agents of the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda. The captives,
not cows but school girls, were distributed as “wives” to senior
officers, who took care to rape them whenever they were fertile. Any girl who
refused sex to her assigned “husband” was branded twice and whipped
This particular raid happened in 1996 but similar forays continue to this day.
Both boys and girls are impressed into service as child soldiers. Girls judged
fit for reproduction become sex slaves to adult soldiers, forced to bear and
raise children and to do heavy labor whenever not servicing their designated
The taking of both women and animals as spoils of war is a tradition that dates
back to the earliest days of pastoralism and continues to this day. The same
tactics have been and continue to be used to “domesticate” (i.e.,
break the will and control the reproduction of) both women and animals. It’s
not an accident that “bride” and “bridle” sound the same,
that “grooms” take the reins of both horses and wives, or that we
speak of animal “husbandry.”
Animal liberationists know a lot about the exploitation of nonhuman animals but
often are woefully uninformed about the injuries and injustices suffered by human
females. Similarly, while any animal liberationist can list a litany of abuses
perpetrated by humans upon nonhumans, many shy away from explicitly listing the
crimes committed by human males.
Like the exploitation of dairy cows to satisfy human desire for milk and of hens
to satisfy human desire for eggs, the exploitation of women and children to satisfy
male desire for sexual pleasure is big business. According to the United Nations,
one million children are enslaved by the sex tourism industry in Asia alone.
Some villages specialize in procurement of children for pedophile tourists. Destinations
in South America and the Caribbean also are known to be havens for men who want
to rape or buy local girls and boys.
Meanwhile, teenaged and adult women are held in bondage in brothels all over
the world. Rather than declining, the trafficking of girls and women for the
sex industry has been increasing in recent years. A quick search of recent news
stories turns up reports of Lithuanian women sold into sex slavery in Britain;
thousands of women from South Asia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe trafficked
into sex slavery in Australia every year; smuggling of sex slaves into the U.S.
via Canada; and the closure of a brothel in Vermont in which the purported prostitutes
were, in fact, debt servitors from Korea.
In most instances, these kinds of slavery are technically illegal but persist
because they bring pleasure to the powerful. Like cock fighting and trafficking
in endangered species, the trade in sex slaves continues to thrive despite alleged
efforts of male-dominated governments to end it. Similarly, legal discrimination
against women continues because men have chosen to retain rather than divest
themselves of the illegitimate authority they hold over women. The male-controlled
governments of 41 countries have refused to sign the United Nations Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; six countries
(including the U.S.) have signed but not ratified the treaty; another 43 have
ratified the treaty but stipulated that they will not abide by certain elements
In many places, women lack the legal standing of adult males and are therefore
virtually the property of their fathers, brothers or husbands. In addition to
being denied an education or the right to vote, adult women in many countries
are legally minors who may not travel, go to a doctor, take a job, or make other
life decisions without the consent of whichever male relative is in charge of
Forced marriages are still legal and common in many countries. Sexual and physical
assaults within marriages are common within all countries. One in five women
in the U.S. is assaulted by an intimate partner and, in several states, a man
may not be prosecuted for raping his wife, since he has the legal right to enter
her body whenever he likes. Two-thirds of married women in Chile, Mexico, and
Korea have been battered by their husbands. More than half of all murders of
females in Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, and Thailand are committed by current or
former intimate partners.
Abuse of females begins in childhood. One out of three women in the U.S., Barbados,
and New Zealand was sexually abused as a child or adolescent. The everyday
nature of sexual abuse of girl children by adult males gives a clue as to the
purpose of what seem like purely private traumas. How do you “break” an
animal? Rob her of the feeling that she controls her own body. How do you ensure
that you can control an animal’s reproduction? Assert your right to do
whatever you want to her genitals as early as possible.
The most extreme form of the ongoing domestication and reproductive control
of human females is female genital mutilation, in which various strategies
off the clitoris, sewing shut the vagina, etc.) are utilized to ensure that
females cannot enjoy sex and therefore will be unlikely to stray from their
sexual partners. The UN Development Program estimates that about 100 million
girls suffer genital mutilation every year. In Sierra Leone this year, the
Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Women’s Affairs threatened to “sew
up the mouths” of anyone speaking against the mutilation of the bodies
of adolescent girls.
At the same time, all over the world, cows, sows, and hens are exploited specifically
for the fruits of their reproductive organs. It’s time for feminists
and animal liberationists to come together to struggle for freedom and self-determination
for all female animals.
How can animal liberationists make common cause with feminists? All the usual
rules about building and maintaining coalitions apply:
1. Do your homework
Before approaching potential allies, make sure you know who they are. Make it
your business to learn about the history and current status of their social movement,
how they analyze and respond to the problems they seek to solve, and what words
they use to talk about the world as they see it.
2. Make friends
Coalitions are relationships. Building and maintaining a coalition is as easy—and
as difficult—as building and maintaining a friendship. All of the same
skills are needed: communication (which means listening as well as talking),
empathy, reliability, genuineness, and a willingness to share both burdens
3. Start small
The easiest way to initiate a coalition is to show up to support the efforts
of your potential partner on some issue about which you agree (whether or not
this issue is directly relevant to animals or veganism). That way, you’re
not a stranger when you initiate a coalition. So, for example, members of a
local vegetarian society might make contact with a local anti-racist organization
showing up for a rally against police brutality or helping to stuff envelopes
or put up posters for Black History Month activities. One great way for animal
advocacy organizations to make friends quickly and easily is to supply vegan
food for community activities. Food Not Bombs chapters in several cities routinely
provide food at progressive events. Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM) staff
members have brought stacks of sandwiches to peace rallies in Washington, DC;
hungry marchers are always happy to take a brochure along with a free sandwich.
4. Work together
The next step is proposing shared work on some issue about which you and your
potential coalition partner already agree. While you are working together on
something that is not a source of conflict, trust grows and cross-fertilization
of ideas naturally occurs. Then (and only then) you can begin to talk about
the things about which you disagree. In so doing, you must be as open to what
want you to learn as you hope they will be about what you want them to learn.
Returning to the example of the local vegetarian society and the anti-racist
organization, after a time of getting to know one another, members of the vegetarian
group might propose a joint project to get soy milk into the school lunch program,
since the majority of children of color are lactose intolerant and may have
their afternoon learning inhibited by discomfort associated with milk consumption.
Such a project would be worthwhile in itself. Furthermore, as they progress,
the activists from the two groups would get to know and trust one another.
the members of the anti-racist group will be more open to information about
the animal abuse and health hazards associated with meat—but only if
the vegetarian group is willing to be just as open to what their coalition
partners want them
to hear about race.
5. Be the bridge
Everybody talks about building bridges between movements but I think we have
to go further than that. Those of us who want to span the gap between the animal
liberation movement and other peace, justice, and liberation movements must be
willing to be the bridges we envision. Bridges must extend themselves and be
able to bear weight. We, too, must be willing to stretch and to tolerate some
Forging Feminist Friendships
Let’s apply those rules to the project of forging working relationships
between feminists and animal liberationists. We can do some homework by applying
the insights of feminism to the project of animal liberation. Feminists understand
and distinguish between sex (male, female) and gender (masculine, feminine)
and understand gender to be what sociologists call a social construct. Social
are cultural ideas that seem natural because almost everybody agrees with them.
Our social constructs about gender are so powerful that parents of virtually
identical one-day old infants perceive the males as bigger, stronger, and more
hardy than their female peers. Those perceptions can influence the ways the
infants are treated, thereby becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. An infant
who is perceived
as a big strong boy is likely to get more stimulation, exercise, and freedom
than an infant who is perceived as a small weak girl.
If we look more closely at the social construction of gender, we can see that
animals figure prominently. We project our ideas about gender onto animals
and then allow our gendered perceptions of them to convince us that our ideas
gender are reflections of the natural world. Often, we treat the animals within
our control in ways that will make it more likely that their behavior will
conform to our gender stereotypes. Caged hens and crated sows have little option
to become embodiments of passive “femininity.” Meanwhile, tethered
fighting roosters and tortured rodeo bulls are goaded by frustration into acting
out our ideas about aggressive “masculinity.”
We can talk about such ideas with feminists, making friends along the way.
We can offer to bring vegan food to feminist events in our communities in order
to continue the conversations. We then can move on to proposing joint projects.
Milk is my number one choice for working together with feminists, because it’s
a product that begins with the exploitation of the mammary glands of the dairy
cow and ends up increasing the incidence of breast cancer in women. Battery
cages and gestation crates are two other examples of gendered exploitation
in agriculture. Bull riding and cock fighting are examples of gendered exploitation
of animals for entertainment.
Some organizations have made some headway on other issues of joint concern.
Aware of the connection between domestic violence and animal abuse, Feminists
Rights has worked on the problem of women who stay in dangerous households
because domestic violence shelters don’t accept animals and they are afraid of
what their batterer will do to their animal companions if they leave. The Women’s
Health and Ethics Coalition has worked on the problem of Premarin, which is
a dangerous drug made from the urine of pregnant mares and prescribed to women
as if menopause were a disease rather than a natural phase in the female life
The FAR and WHEC campaigns are good examples of feminists within the animal
liberation community taking the initiative to start campaigns and then invite
from outside the movement to join them. I’d like to see a coalition of
feminist individuals and organizations within the movement agree to focus on
one of the gendered aspects of animal exploitation for a year, coming at the
problem from many different directions and actively promoting feminist analysis
of and activism against animal exploitation along the way.
I’ve been talking to feminists about animal liberation for long enough
to share a few tips. Talking about the social construction of gender by means
of animals really does seem to spark good conversations.
If that sounds too abstract for you, then you’ll be glad to know that I’ve
also had some success talking about milk in very blunt terms. I share my own
empathy with the cows and my own consequent revulsion with milk, expressing
my own feelings and trusting that my feminist friends will draw their own conclusions
about the right thing to do in the context of such senseless suffering.
Now I’m going to share my most valuable tool. It’s a sentence. Here
it is: “Eating meat is something you do to someone else’s body without
their consent.” Milk or eggs can be substituted for meat but, no matter
what, this sentence must be said in a calm, level, matter-of-fact tone so that
it can slide past the defensiveness long enough to sink in. Feminists are very
committed to bodily self determination and, unless this sentence is said, can
perceive demands for diet change as efforts to control what they do with their
own bodies. It’s imperative that they hear and understand that consuming
animal products is doing something to someone else’s body without the
consent of that individual. Any good feminist will recoil at the idea. She
may not change
her diet immediately but, if this sentence sinks in, she will never be as comfortable
consuming animal products again.
While we’re on the subject of asking people to change, we should remember
that feminists aren’t the only ones who will have to change for this alliance
to work. Women in the movement are going to have to start thinking of themselves
as the animals that we all are and embrace their own animal rights. Men in the
movement are going to have to realize that it’s just as wrong to mock,
insult, denigrate, or assault women as it is to mock, insult, denigrate, or
assault other animals.
The good news is that feminists are already used to thinking about connections.
For the past several years, feminist scholars and activists have challenged themselves
to think about and act upon the links between sexism and racism, sexism and class
exploitation, sexism and environmental degradation, etc. I think feminists are
ready to start thinking about the link between speciesism and sexism if animal
liberationists are ready to talk about it and prepared to structure our organizations
and our actions in a feminist manner.
Queering Animal Liberation
Many feminists see homophobia as what Suzanne Pharr called a “weapon of
sexism.” Gender relations are policed by means of discrimination and violence
against gay men, lesbians, and others considered queer. Girls who don’t
pay enough deferential attention to boys risk being labeled lesbian while boys
who refuse to assume their assigned dominant role may find themselves on the
wrong side of a gay bashing.
Seeing the springtime behavior of the ducks at the sanctuary, we didn’t
need to read Bruce Bagemihl’s book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality
and Natural Diversity to know that nonhuman animals are not exclusively heterosexual.
As that very comprehensive book demonstrates, sexuality among nonhuman animals
encompasses every permutation we’ve ever attempted and many that are
well beyond our rather limited physical capabilities.
Nonhuman animals do lots of different things with themselves and each other
for sheer sensual pleasure. Characterizations of homosexuality as “unnatural” hurts
animals as well as gay and lesbian people. By denying that animals have sex for
pleasure or form pair bonds that aren’t about reproduction, it’s
easier to claim that animals are automatons who don’t have feelings and
are not sentient individuals.
That being the case, animal liberation and gay liberation are necessarily bound
up with one another. Again, an alliance is long overdue. The usual rules apply,
and success is more likely if certain things are kept in mind.
The most important thing to remember is that queer activists have been both
central and marginalized in almost every social movement—including the
animal liberation movement. There are gay and lesbian movement leaders who
do not come out because
they know they would lose credibility in some circles by doing so. Some of
the best work in this movement has been and is being done by people who you
know are not heterosexual.
While those people may be comfortable with their choices, the fact remains that
most queer activists these days are no longer willing to put up with being pushed
to the side or asked to subdivide themselves. This is particularly true of lesbian
feminists, many of whom remember the bad old days when some straight feminists
did everything they could to distance themselves from the lesbians who were staffing
the rape crises centers, starting the domestic violence shelters, and otherwise
doing the hard work of protecting straight women from straight men. These lesbian
feminists, who had selflessly devoted themselves to helping other women to cope
with and heal from the damage done to them by the men in their lives, were called
selfish whenever they insisted that lesbian issues be included in the feminist
agenda. Lesbians and gay men of color have faced similar charges within the anti-racist
organizations they have helped to build.
Most people don’t like being called selfish. Because of this history
of marginalization, which is ongoing, queer activists may be particularly likely
to recoil if asked to give up their own rights in the service of a supposedly
larger goal. Those of us who know for sure that all forms of oppression are
are particularly unlikely to tolerate nonsensical demands that we accept being
oppressed in order to end oppression.
Dos & Don’ts
In conclusion, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when being the bridge
between the animal liberation and feminist or queer liberation movements:
• Do make yourself useful so that you will eventually
regarded as a
Don’t try to introduce your agenda to an organization until you have won
Do refer to your own veganism as an expression of your commitment to
freedom for everyone.
Don’t expect people to immediately see the connection and change their
Do refer to your veganism as a reflection of your own feminism, if that
Don’t pretend to be a feminist if you’re not.
Do become a feminist if you’re not.
Don’t be simplistic when making analogies.
Do talk about reproductive freedom for everyone.
Don’t use loaded words like “rape” unless you really know what
Do attend to the sex, race, class, ability and sexual orientation of
at events and other people in positions of power.
Don’t tokenize people by putting them forward inappropriately or asking
them to represent their race, class, sex, orientation, or ability.
Do remember how much work you needed to do to unlearn the things you
Don’t forget that you will need to do at least as much
work to unlearn the things you’ve been taught about sex, gender, race,
and sexual orientation.
Do understand that working in coalition means you will not agree on every
Don’t even try to do this if you are currently so angry at human hubris
that you cannot work harmoniously with people who have not (yet) embraced animal
liberation as a goal.
Do remember that change is a process and that other animal advocates
you in spirit even when you feel very alone.
Do what you can and trust that others are doing the same.
Pattrice Jones is coordinator of the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center.
To learn more, see www.bravebirds.org.