While animal rights and feminism seem at the outset to embody different principles, goals, and objectives, a structural analysis demonstrates these two sets of ideas may not be so different. In discussing solution and problem-solving strategies regarding our gender-based goals, it seems we often come back to the same underlying structural deficiencies: patriarchy, hierarchy, entrenched status quo. The agreement many of us come to about these problems is that developing an approach with any real chance of success requires an extreme overhaul of our societal framework, including the way we build and view relationships with others.
Where do nonhuman animals fit into this model? The patriarchal attitudes of dominance, ownership, and hierarchy create a very similar relationship structure between humans and animals that also often characterizes male-female treatment and relationships. A real problem develops when we fail to recognize the similarities, in that it leads to perpetuation of these attitudes.
One of the most powerful demonstrations of this phenomenon can be found in our everyday language. Using the assumption that humans are “above” animals as a baseline, how does that affect the treatment of women when they are referred to as “chicks”, “foxes”, and “bitches”? Accepting even playful terms that dehumanize women does exactly that. Separating women from “human” to equate them with “animal” removes them from a level of linguistic equality to one “below” human.
Acknowledging intersectionality is also an important pillar of feminist theory. Failure to recognize intersectionality leads to an incomplete look at the individualized feminist “picture”. The separation of animal from women’s rights is understandable in certain respects, but can also lead to an unnecessary divide. For example, animal rights activists People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) regularly use sexist and exploitive imagery in their advertising. They have justified the advertising on, essentially, the tired assumption that “sex sells”. By placing the rights of animals on a separate and elevated plane, the group damages the fight for gender equity by glorifying the stereotypes feminist groups seek to eliminate.
The Ecofeminist movement explores and works to subvert these intersecting oppressions, particularly as related to women, animals, and nature. It embraces the subjectivity of an individual‘s own definition of feminism, but recognizes the oppressions of women, animals, and nature as part of the same underlying problem. Ecofeminism advocates for the restructuring of the hierarchy by which we define relationships as the one of the only ways to establish real, substantive change. By developing relationships that emphasize a “working with” rather than “power over” model, respect for nature, women, and animals becomes part of our cultural framework, rather than a series of independent movements.
Ecofeminist theory embraces an approach to animal rights and nature that is more comprehensive than any theory we have discussed in class this semester. Obviously this kind of social restructuring demands shifting the attitudes of a large number of individuals. If the underlying necessity for true equality is a major societal overhaul, is a more ecofeminist approach a productive answer? Does bringing animal rights into the feminist movement inhibit the progression of gender equity? Or provide two movements with similar goals a stronger foundation?