Lisa Kemmerer – Sister Species

Full video with closed captioning available here

Thank you all for being here and thank you for the organizers. I am just so pleased to see so many people turn out and I know how much work it takes to put such a thing together, so thank you all. It’s terrific. Good organization and good job organizing all this for the conference.

So I worked for a very long time creating a nice Powerpoint for today, thinking how nice it would be to have your attention somewhere else. And it would be all neat and tidy, and I couldn’t make many mistakes because I could think it all through, and then mike told me that no one else was doing Powerpoint and the technology might not work anyways, so..

[laughter]

I said “Fine, I can run with that”, and I just kind of wrote down an outline and came in. And then pattrice covered most of that in the first talk.

[laughter}

Alright, fair enough. That’s good. So I decided what I am going to do is: I am going to look at a couple of key concepts that haven’t been covered. My job is, as I understand it, is to connect speciesism with sexism. So I am going to focus on that, the terms necessary for that, and cover a couple of things that maybe can be covered in a way that will stick in your minds better than we’ve touched on, but maybe we can give you examples or something to help with that. So that would be the first part, and then I want to look at some applications of that in the last bit. And also, I had the good fortune to meet a couple people today that have asked some questions that I hopefully will be able to tie in.

Alright, so the first term that it would seem important to know is sexism. So what is sexism? It’s discrimination on the basis of sex. And what’s speciesism? Well, it’s the discrimination on the basis of species. It’s all very straightforward and right away you start to see the parallel: discrimination – there’s nothing really inherently wrong with discrimination. So there’s a philosophical term here that might be helpful. It’s the term “morally relevant distinction”. And in philosophy it’s a really important idea. So, you can discriminate between individuals, species, sexes, but you have to have a morally relevant point for your distinction. So, for example, something that’s morally relevant might be males should perhaps be given a chance to have checks for prostate cancer. And that’s something that females don’t need, so you can discriminate in that way and it’s fine.

But if you’re discriminating on the basis of sex, say because you assume that women are emotional and therefore they shouldn’t have certain jobs, A) is it even true?, B) is it morally relevant? So sexism and speciesism are similar in that they are points of discrimination that are not based on morally relevant details. So that’s the first parallel that I would draw and a very important one. And remember discrimination in itself is a good thing. We all need to discriminate in all sorts of ways. But we need to do it, especially where morality is concerned, in ways that are morally relevant.

Dualism has been brought up in several instances and maybe I can provide some examples that will hopefully stick in people’s minds and make the connection between speciesism and sexism – and of course ultimately when we do that we also get intersectionality, we get that this is just one of many connections. And when you understand the system behind it, it’s all connected for you really very easily. So, dualism: I have to thank Carol Adams for her work in this and my favourite book on it is “The Pornography of Meat”. And in that one she talks about “A” and “not A”, and I really like that way of envisioning it.

So it’s not necessarily “male” and “female”, it’s “male” and “not male”, and I think that’s a really important distinction. It’s not Caucasian and whatever else you want to put there, it’s “not Caucasian”. And It’s “human” and “not human”, and I think that’s just a very clear way to present it, and I think you’ll understand why as I give perhaps some examples of that. So, this idea that there is male and not male. So obviously there is a lot of karyotypes. There isn’t just the 26 XX and XY, there’s four X’s and two Y’s, and there’s three X’s and two Y’s; there’s just a whole host of different karyotypes out there. There’s different intersects, there’s different sexualities. These can’t begin to be encompassed in “male” and “female”. And the “A” and “not A” allows for everything that is not male.

Now an example of this, just in this last year, was a lawsuit – still pending as far as I know – in South Carolina. There was a little boy – there was a child born – shame on me for saying that. There was a child born, who was actually a hermaphrodite. And at sixteen months, he’s got to be male or female, this is a dualistic society, you can’t have this human that doesn’t fit. And of course, if it’s not male, you have to have “male” or “not male”, so this is clearly “not male”. There’s something different about this, so you make this one into a female and at sixteen months that’s exactly what they did. They shortened the penis and dug a vagina in there, and called this little kid a female. Now he’s 8 years old and he’s wondering when his penis is going to grow up. So this is an example of dualism in action and the damage that it can do and how painful it can be. I’ll be interested to see how that lawsuit comes out because it’s very telling. It’s been going on for years, you’re either forced into one or the other. And this all could bring a change. This is a good lawsuit.

So power and denigration and the logic of domination, examples of this. There’s this wonderful picture that you can find on the internet: Bush signing the partial birth abortion law. And it’s all these older males, largely Caucasian. And so they’re all making this decision for younger females, as to what’s going to happen with them. And they look so happy and they’re smiling, and it’s such a victory for them. It makes you want to puke. It’s really sickening. So that’s an example of those in power that make a decision for others. It wasn’t until the ’90s, that marital rape was illegal in all the states. In Canada, it was in the ’70s. So again that’s insanely – that’s just taken so long because those who are in power have a vested interest in a perspective that doesn’t allow for those kinds of protections. Examples also of this power of domination and the denigration if you’re in the “not A” side. “A” and “not A”, so language is one of my favourite ones to turn to.

lisa - agnes

So take a word like “sir” and “madam”. If you look on the internet, type in “sir” you might get a guy in uniform, or with badges, all these stripes. What do you get for “madam”? Somebody who looks very much like a sexual object. So our use of language shows us who is this empowered group. Other examples: “bachelor”, strong word – “old maid”. They are very telling. This is something that we can do, is change our language. You can make sure we use “gal” and “guy” equally. We can call anybody that’s an adult female a “woman”, and not a “girl”, and if we’re going to use “girl” then we need to use “boy” – so equalizing these terms somewhat, and helping to start conversations, to which is a good point for bringing this stuff to the table.

One of the points of dualism – there’s three – one is this power and denigration. Another is this multiplying effect, and the third one I want to talk about is association. All of which have been brought up – again, I can give you some examples, perhaps of them. I talked about the logic of domination. The multiplying effect: an example would be, I like to use the example of my dog Walkies because it’s a very safe example. So, my little dog Walkies is a pitbull so she doesn’t look right, she’s got that head that says “look out”. It’s kind of like a lizard, just this wonderful pitbull head. She’s a female so she’s a “not male”. She has black fur and of course black is associated with evil, with darkness, and death, and bad luck, and it’s all part of our kind of our racism. So, of course, adopt. If you adopt, please adopt rather than do anything else.

And pick out the black one because there’s a prejudice against them. She sat in the shelter for a very long time. Female, and of course she’s not human, so she has this multiplying effect against her. And when I walked into the shelter I said “Which dog can’t be placed?”, and there she was, bouncing up and down neurotically on her hind legs looking like a complete lunatic and I thought “Oh no”. Luckily my sister was there and said “I’ve got your back”, so we took her and she’s a great dog. But this is an example of how things pile up against individuals in the “not A” side, making it phenomenally harder in so many ways to function in this prejudiced society.

And, of course, an example all from the “not A” side: my little Walkies. So the third one, association. That’s also been mentioned, so I want to give some examples of that. Feminization and sexualizing of animals, so the things on the “not A” side, women and animals, are tied together and you will see the cow in the bikini on the advertisement and you’ll see the chicken with the little apron on just waiting for you to eat her up. You’ll see the pig with maybe big breasts doing a little jig with her big butt sticking out. And this is the sexualizing – feminizing and sexualizing – of animals because they’re the “not A” side. And of course you will also see the animalizing of women. You can associate with animals or females will be done, and nature too.

Our indifference to nature as not civilized and our treatment of the environment fits in there. But with women you’ll see them, again on the internet, I see pictures of women dressed up like cows or like pigs. It’s much, much harder to find a male, so that’s the animalizing of women, so the “not A” side and the associations between them. You can also see this in language. So again thinking about language, the things that we call females, the derogatory terms like cow, heifer, biddy, chicken, and bitch are all very negative. Connecting women – so anything “not male” with “not human”. And of course there are some for males: dog, pig, stud. Kind of a positive, stud. But if you get the feeling of the “male” terms and the feeling of the “not male” terms, the negativity of the “not male” terms is, you can’t miss it.

So again think about this in your language and watch the words that you use and maybe, well, I don’t think it’s maybe I think we should not be using animals according to our stereotypes to describe ourselves or others. Certainly not others. Probably not ourselves either. You’ll have to think about it.

So one of the questions I think Julie asked me about body image. So I thought, well, what a way to connect the two. So body image, we think a cow, a pig, and how this plays out. I tried to think about her question. Historically, being fat was good. Back when we didn’t have enough food everybody thought it was good to be a fat female. But now that that’s the norm, how else could you terrorize women but to always make them feel like whatever they are isn’t quite good enough? So now they want us to be really, really thin. So looking at it historically certainly sheds some interesting light on it. Looking at dualisms is also, and association, you can see how our body image, our connection with sows and cows and our sense of them as fat, our tendency to fatten them up and eat them, this all affects our attitudes about using this language and how we use it and who, how these are used to label human beings. Not just human beings. So women’s reaction against this – it’s an interesting thing.

Another question I got asked was about whether or not a matriarchy would exploit animals. And I think that question needs more nuance. I think it was Nicole who asked that? Nicole, are you here? Did I get the name wrong? I can’t see. Oh hi. Okay good. Alright, so anyway. So I think the question that has to be asked is – matriarchies are different, I know of one in China and one in India, and they are of course different – and how do you mean exploit animals? Is this, keep them and if they have a baby share the milk will the baby, or is this factory farming? So that question has to be looked at a little more carefully but both of these questions reminds me of my first talk I ever gave on this subject. It was in Stony Brook in the New York area, and I was very nervous. It was a women’s conference and I was the only person there connecting this stuff with animals. And they hated me. They just hated me. Now looking back on it, part of that was just my own stupidity. I had no idea I was walking into a bad situation.

[Laughter]

lk

And there they were, trying to get together as women and build themselves up and somehow get their courage, and feel empowered. And here I was, pointing out something that they needed to do for others. It was just not what they wanted to hear. But both with body image and with this idea with women exploiting animals, the sad thing is that women feminists too often want to remove themselves from the animal world in the hope to move over onto the “A” side. And this is, of course, the wrong reaction. This is systemic oppression.

You can’t just change sides, and hope to get – even if you can change sides, can you feel good about that? Because you still know there’s all the “not A” side and you know what that feels like. You’ve experienced it. So of course this leads to kind of looking at a more practical part of this. So statistics that I’ve read that people have collected, that if you live to be up to 75 years old and you’re eating other animals, you are going to eat 2,600 of them. How many of those are females, does anybody know? Guess? Well, I did a little figuring and it turns out to be 2,576. Alright, so no-one can tell me that this is not a feminist issue, that this is not about being a female.

So if you look at the life of, say, a cow who has somebody sticks their arm in her vagina and forces her to be pregnant. Dairy and, so-called dairy, animals used for flesh, they’re forced into pregnancy, their babies are stolen. For those in the dairy industry, they’re stolen immediately. The not-dairy cattle, they’re stolen after about six months. And where I live I’ve seen this happening. The calve babies have just been separated from their mothers and they’re bawling and screaming and the mothers are bawling and screaming. And I saw one who escaped and was standing outside the fence where her mother was, I think she’ll be allowed to live six years, but she’ll have an arm stuck down her vagina every year and she’ll be impregnated for a cycle of about five years both from the milk industry and the flesh industry. And then she will go off to be hamburger as all the cattle do. So this, the vagina, the womb, the milk. This is happening to her because she’s a female.

This is parallel to the sow – the sows in the pig industry. The gestation crates, the farrowing crates, are the worst of the lot. They live longer and they suffer more. They are violated sexually. Their wombs are exploited for their young. The young are the fortunate. They’re shipped off and die young rather than the horrible lives that the females have to live where they’re perpetually bred. For the sows, they’re allowed to nurse for two to three weeks and they’re normally would be fifteen. And they have 120 babies in the cycle of about two years, or about 4 years, and then they’re also shipped off to slaughter. Hens in battery cages – again deplorable and awful when you think of the hens standing there. They turn their heads because their eyes are in the sides of their heads. I can see them looking at little brown chickens and standing and wondering and watching. They watch their egg roll away. So all the ones that we eat, and this is just the meat that’s 2,576.

What about the milk then? And the eggs? That’s also all on the females. So, the exploitation of animals in animal agriculture by humans is largely, far and away, an exploitation of females because of their bodies, because they have vaginas and wombs, and bear young, and nurse them, and they’re being exploited to turn out babies that are stolen from them, and then the rest of their reproductive abilities continue to be exploited after the baby is gone. Intense, painfully emotional and physical suffering that the boys – the males – never experience. And of course I would never want them to. Little boy chicks get stuffed in the grinder immediately. The females go into the grinder but only after a year of suffering, the broilers – sorry not the broilers, the egg-laying hens – the broilers are a lot shorter.

So, in conclusion, understanding the theory behind this is obviously very important because they’re connected. When you understand the theory, you can work on your own life, look at your own life, look at your language, look at ways that you can try to bring change, first to your own world. First and foremost to your own world, and understand that theory is important especially if you do end up dialoguing with others. I find it hugely helpful to have some way of explaining theoretically why there’s this connection. And then second, there’s the application. So if people don’t care about theory or don’t understand theory, when you view those numbers about female animals, when you understand what happens to the females and that it happens to them because they’re females, well then there can be no question that if you’re an animal activist, you need to be a feminist. And if you’re a feminist, you need to be an animal activist.

I will further say that beyond that, that once you start to get that, you get the connections also. And the other things you need to work on with regard to race, with regard to the environment, with regard to those with property, those with all the privileges, all those who are on the “A” versus the “not A” side. And it’s a long haul, and it’s a difficult haul and I think we have to have patience with ourselves and one another, and work together, keep learning and trying.

[Applause]

Full video with closed captioning available here

Lisa Kemmerer (Ph.D., MTS) has been an animal activist for more than thirty years, and a social justice activist for more than 25 years.  Currently a philosophy and religions professor at Montana State University Billings, she has published books as diverse as Animals and World Religions, Sister Species, and Eating Earth.  Despite the effort she puts into research and writing as a form of activism, degrees and books are not as important to Kemmerer as less visible endeavors, such as fostering kindness on a daily basis. Her favorite activity is walking Montana’s quiet hills in the company of her beloved, adopted mutts.

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