Animal Studies Bibliography

Donovan, Josephine. 1990. Animal Rights and Feminist Theory. Signs 15(2): 350-375.

Male animal rights theorists like Regan and Singer have made an explicit effort to demonstrate their distance from the emotionality they are charged with by making animal rights a question of rationality (an ironic move since Cartesian objectivism served as a major justification for animal abuse). Women animal rights theorists have included more focus on emotional bonding with animals as the basis for their protection and rights. Cultural feminism offers the best available theoretical basis for an ethic of animal treatment (353). Regan argues for animal rights from a natural rights perspective. Regan questions Kant's theory that humans who are not rational (e.g. newborns or the severely retarded) do not have the right to be treated as ends rather than means. Since this division is unacceptable (all humans must be treated as ends), Regan concludes that nonhuman in a similar category also have the rights to be treated as ends, because their exclusion from moral consideration would be speciesist (an arbitrary valuing of humans over other species). This theory, however, by restricting moral consideration to animals with complex awareness and subjectivity like that of adult mammals, turns out to be not far from the original criteria of rationality, a problem that may be inherent in natural rights theory. The utilitarian position expressed by Singer is more palatable. Singer argues that the basis of moral value is capacity to for pain and pleasure, and that therefore any sentient being has interests (in avoiding pain) equal to that of any other. This is a more flexible position, allowing the consideration of consequences in determining whether an animal or person can be used. It simply requires giving equal weight to the suffering of any individual, human or not. This position has two flaws: first, it offers no guide for the actual decision-making, leaving room for unacknowledged prejudices (358) to favor particular groups; and second, by requiring a quantification of pain, the position is based on the same rationalistic/scientific perspective that justified our current animal use. Cultural feminism is thus the best theory. A large number of first-wave feminists advocated vegetarianism, animal welfare reform, and creation of a gentler society in which violence, including animal abuse, was ended. Some second-wave feminists have connected feminist theory to animal issues and ecology as well. This perspective argues that the domination of nature, animals, and women are all part of the postmedieval, Western, male psychology (360), the scientific worldview that reconceptualiz[ed] reality as a machine rather than a living organism (361). This worldview devalues, silences, and dominates anything anomalous or powerless, including women and animals. The scientific, Cartesian worldview worked along with the sexual division of labor to define the public sphere as not feminine (meaning not emotion- or feeling-based, not concerned with morality), an object rather than an organic entity. Most animal rights theories are based on this worldview and are therefore flawed. Women in the postmedieval period have expressed a kinship with animals, perhaps an awareness that they were both being dominated by the new scientific paradigm (seeing vivisection as similar to gynecological surgeries and to pornography), and women were central to antivivisectionist activism. The opposition between feminine/nature and masculine/scientific may be part of the male maturation process of separation from the female world, a process that works through domination, conquest, and killing the animal and feminine. Women's work as theorists and artists reveals an alternative to this ethic, a way of breaking down barriers between human and nature, of seeing our connections with animals and nature, and of recognizing differences without imposing hierarchy upon them. This is an ethic involving awareness of context and respect for other beings and their realities that has been called a maternal ethic, an ethic of humility, and a morality of responsibility. It is...necessary to ground that ethic in an emotional and spiritual conversation with nonhuman life-forms. Out of a women's relational culture of caring and attentive love, therefore, emerges the basis for a feminist ethic for the treatment of animals (375).


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