By Michelle Kretzer
Would you intervene if a female were being sexually assaulted? What if she were of a different race? Nationality? Religious group? Political affiliation? … Species?
If you stopped saying “yes” when you came to “species,” ask yourself why it’s OK to sexually abuse a female who didn’t happen to be born human. Isn’t that like saying men have the right to abuse women because they’re superior?
There was a time when most men believed that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. “They’re just women. They don’t have the same brains as us,” they said. Similarly, they claimed that God created women to serve men. Now, the same argument is often wielded as an excuse for exploiting other species. When Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, Cambridge philosopher Thomas Taylor quickly issued a parody called A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes to make her seem ridiculous — if we start believing that women are individuals, what’s next? Treating animals like individuals, too? The horror!
Thankfully, nowadays it’s getting harder for people to get away with excuses like “But they’re just animals.” We know from science, experience and our own common sense that female animals feel pain and sorrow, love their young and experience loneliness and distress. Yet, every year in the U.S., billions of female animals are confined against their will, sexually assaulted and forcibly impregnated to serve human desires. Breeders and puppy mills do it. Marine parks do it. The horse-racing industry does it, too. Mother cows are restrained and impregnated to keep them producing milk. Chickens are held in cramped wire cages, their reproductive cycles manipulated to force them to produce more eggs. Farm workers observe and touch female pigs’ genitals to decide when they’ll shove a tube of semen into their vaginas.
Those in power have always cited inconsequential differences to justify their own preferential treatment and their right to decide what happens to those who are not in power. And decide they have.
Among the many atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus and his men, Spanish soldiers tore Native Caribbean women’s infants from their breasts and bashed their tiny heads against the rocks. PETA investigations have shown that workers on pig farms commonly kill unwanted “runts” by slamming their heads into the floor, often in view of their helpless mothers. Doctors used to experiment on enslaved Black women’s reproductive systems — without anesthetics — claiming that they couldn’t feel pain. Today, we do the same thing to female primates, mice, rats, dogs, cats and other animals. After Tiger King’s Bhagavan “Doc” Antle gained notoriety for exploiting big cats and forcing them to have babies to fuel his cub-petting enterprise, numerous women accused him of sexual and physical abuse and psychological torture — when most of them were underage girls.
When some forms of abuse and oppression are allowed to continue, it’s easier for other forms to flourish as well.
We no longer believe the lie of white supremacy or male supremacy. We must also dispel the lie of human supremacy.
On this International Women’s Day and throughout Women’s History Month, let’s reflect not just on the biases against our own gender but also on our own biases against other species — and decide to show solidarity with all exploited females. To everyone who opposes sexism: Take a stand, not just against the oppression of human females, but against the oppression of females of all species. Because choosing kindness to animals is not just an act of compassion. It’s a powerful rebuke of injustice.