What has animal rights activism taught me about feminism?

Before I became an animal rights activist, I was an armchair feminist. I believed in women’s rights, signed petitions for gender equality, and got dutifully mad at reports of sexual harassment and other acts of violence against women. I’d like to believe I’d support women’s rights no matter what time period I was born in and that I wasn’t just evolving with the times and the current social climate.

It wasn’t until I became an animal rights activist that I realized what it means to be a true feminist. Not only can I better understand the plight of oppressed women in this male-dominated society, I can finally empathize.

I didn’t come to this level of understanding overnight, just as I didn’t become vegan overnight. In both realizations, I was well aware of the harm being done long before I did something about it.

I first educated myself about the environmental harms of animal agriculture, which led me to become a vegan. As I continued to educate myself, learning about the pros and cons of different types of animal agriculture, I realized that most of our environmental problems were just a symptom of how we breed and treat farmed animals. This led me to becoming an animal rights activist.

As I continued to inform myself about animal agricultural practices, I saw the role of the unjust dominance and subjugation of female animals.

Female animals are bred in a higher ratio to males to keep this system alive and grow it. It might sound bizarre, but the lucky ones are those bred for meat as their miserable lives will be cut short by the butcher. Those bred for their secretions (milk and eggs) or reproduction purposes suffer the most horrible fates and prolonged torture.

To continue to have a supply of animals to exploit, sows (female pigs), cows and females of other species of animals are artificially impregnated as early in their life as possible. Even birds like hens (female chickens, ducks and turkeys) are put in barns by the thousands where they undergo unnatural fertilization.

This process continues as often as possible without the animals’ consent until, within a few years, their bodies can no longer bear to go on at the desired rate of the industry and their “production” declines. Then, maimed, diseased and scarred, they too are sent off to slaughter at a fraction of their normal lifespans.

It is no coincidence that farming animals is often referred to as animal husbandry, originating from a term in which the man was the owner of his wife, children and other property, including animals. While this also meant to be a protector of the household, it gave the man the right to use and abuse his property as he saw fit without the other’s consent.

That begs the question, can animals give consent? Anyone who has ever pet a cat or a dog has been granted consent by the animal to do so. Indeed, not only do they consent to being petted, they can rescind that consent when they pull themselves away and leave our presence. Whenever I visit my brother’s dog, he runs up to me and after a few strokes on his head, he will roll over exposing his belly for me to rub. However, after a few minutes, he will get up, having had his belly rubbed to his satisfaction, and will want to play fetch or do something else.

Giving consent for presumably enjoyable interactions is all well and good; but, can/do animals give consent for harm to be done to them? I argue they can and do give such consent. When a dog comes between their guardian and some apparent assailant, they are essentially telling the attacker, "if you want to get to my guardian, you have to go through me."

Mother hens, sows, and cows will put themselves in between a potential predator and their babies in order to protect them. There are many instances of different species of animals putting themselves in harm’s way to protect an animal of another species. A quick search on YouTube will provide ample illustrations.

But no farmed mammal gives the consent of being (artificially) impregnated as early in their life and as often as possible, just so we can steal their milk and raise their babies for slaughter or to become future milk cows. Hens do not give consent to be put in large sheds with their feed and source of light manipulated to get them to produce eggs year-round for humans.

Maya Angelou noted, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Commercial animal agriculture, regardless of labels like humane or free-range, would not exist without the exploitation and abuse of female farmed animals.

As an armchair feminist, I am ashamed to say that I still engaged in laughing at sexist jokes or letting inappropriate comments or actions against women around me pass particularly when women weren’t objecting to them. I no longer do that and speak up against misogynistic actions regardless of who does or doesn’t appear to be offended by it. Witnessing the abuses of female farmed animals has made me better understand the #metoo movement and I’m a better feminist because of it.

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Wow, this is an amazing account of the awakening within us. I'm on the same trajectory - being vegan for health reasons, then waking up to the fact of the harm caused to the environment due to animal agriculture and the abuse to the female animals and birds. This practice of artificial insemination of female animals and artificial fertilization of birds' eggs is so abhorrent, yet people continue to do that without a second thought. These practices just boggles my mind- little wonder why there's so much human cruelty in this world. Some of us are unthinkingly destroying ourselves and the environment around us. Thank you so much for sharing such a candid account of your journey. My heartfelt respect and support to you and all who follow a similar path.

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