March 7, 2007

Why I kind of hate the rape analogy when we’re talking about Veganism

Posted in Francione, rape, vegan at 2:51 pm by nevavegan

So I’m listening to the Erik Marcus podcast with Gary Francione.

I have to say that I have no factual issue with Francione, but in the debate he more than once uses that tired old analogy I’ve heard so many times about how we wouldn’t work to make rape more humane, so we shouldn’t work to make animal exploitation more humane. Specifically he says, as many people have said to me before, that rape is better when the victim isn’t also beaten but we don’t lobby to ask rapists not to beat their victims.

While the analogy is accurate on the surface of it, I find it incredibly distracting. In fact as I listened I started thinking “well what does Gary Francione know about rape?” And then my mind drifted into all the ways that the analogy doesn’t work, and then I realized about four minutes had gone by and I hadn’t really been paying attention to the debate because I was so distracted by this analogy.

I realize that for me this is a particularly emotional issue and that maybe the majority of the audience is going to be open to the analogy, so I don’t want to say that people shouldn’t use it. But as always I see this as far more complex.

When we talk about animal based agriculture we are talking about animals that are conceived in misery, born in misery, live their entire lives start to finish in such horrible conditions that most of us can’t even imagine. They die in fear and agony and over the whole course of existence there is no hope and no relief. Let’s not fool ourselves on that point.

Now I agree with Francione that while more space or fewer cages is preferable, it really does nothing to change this basic situation. The animals are still born into and live their entire lives in misery and never know anything different. Getting rid of battery cages doesn’t take us back to some idyllic family farm with blue skies and free-running animals; it merely transports us to a dark, dank, filthy warehouse where every inch of floor is taken up with over crowded animals.

But what trips my mind up is that just the word rape sends me back into memories of support groups and the knowledge that not everything is clear cut or straightforward. One woman who was both raped and beaten might suffer extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, compared to a woman who was raped but not beaten who might have a smoother recovery. But as people are all individuals and all respond differently, for some people the opposite might be true. It’s not unusual to find a woman who was not beaten but is suffering extreme psychological trauma, while another might find some kind of peace despite being beaten, for example saying “I think it’s a blessing, because I know there’s nothing more that I could have done about it, I don’t have to second guess my actions.” I’ve also had women tell me that their bruises and black eyes helped them tremendously when their cases went to court, since juries were able to understand the photographic evidence in a way that they don’t always understand things like date rape. Such physical evidence legitimized their stories and allowed them to feel less ashamed when telling the court what was done to them (though this clearly is not true for everyone, with shame being one of the worst aspects of surviving any rape). This isn’t to say that I’m in favor of beatings–just that nothing is ever so simple.

And you see how the very introduction of the topic has taken me on a far tangent from the issue of animal welfare vs. animal rights. This is purely an emotional response on my part, I don’t know…

In ways it seems to me it’s a very simple thing for a person to become vegan, although everyone has their personal hang ups. Though good luck stopping rape. Sadly I think we will never be able to completely eliminate rape from our society and yet we still treat it as aberrant and demand nothing less than the end of rape.



  1. Post said,

    Neva, thank you for posting this. It means a lot to me. The analogy makes my skin crawl.

  2. Vincent Guihan said,

    It’s a bad analogy. Francione could make the same point by using robbery instead (i.e., it doesn’t matter much if you get robbed by someone who’s polite), but rape is more politically sensational, and I’m sure he knows that. It’s an unfortunate choice of his not to be more sensitive to the topic, especially considering how critical he is of sexism in PETA’s campaigns.

    Have you read Carol Addams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat? She devotes some discussion (although not that much) to treating both the experiences of women and animals as metaphors for one another and how that reinforces both the exploitation of animals and patriarchy. She makes some interesting points.

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Vincent. It’s been a while since I’ve read Carol Adams so I should go back and reread the book now.

  4. Donald said,

    I think that the analogy is fine.

    The objections seem to suggest that a particular sort of harm is unique and worse than animal exploitation and so cannot be used.

    That is wrong in my view.

    Both rape and animal exploitation involve treating the other exclusively as a means to an end in a violent way and result in deprivation of a fundamental right. Instrumental treatment can be accomplished in more or less violent ways. But we would not say that a less violent way is morally acceptable.

    The analogy is fine. Those who object to this sort of analogy, or to the analogy between the ownership of humans (slavery) and the ownership of animals, are simply saying that the exploitation of humans is worse. That’s speciesist.

  5. Neva Vegan said,

    Donald, did you actually read what I wrote?

    Here’s one quote from my post:
    “When we talk about animal based agriculture we are talking about animals that are conceived in misery, born in misery, live their entire lives start to finish in such horrible conditions that most of us can’t even imagine. They die in fear and agony and over the whole course of existence there is no hope and no relief. Let’s not fool ourselves on that point.”

    In no way am I saying that any experience is unique or that one form of exploitation is worse than another. My entire point, which you seem to have missed is that the analogy is an incredibly emotional one and therefore distracting from the central issue.

    I even qualified that by admitting it might be far more emotional an analogy to me than to others, but I doubt I’m the only one to find it distracting.

    Did you even read this post before you commented?

  6. Donald said,

    What do you mean, did I read it?
    You do not have to get insulting just because I disagree with you!

    I certainly did both of your posts on this issue (were there more?) and I read Vincent’s comments as well, which suggests that it is sexist to use the analogy.

    If all that you are saying is that the analogy is emotionally distracting, then so what? If you accept that the analogy is logically and morally on point (and if you do not then please respond to my previous post as to why it is not), the fact that you and some others may have an emotional reaction to it is of no more consequence than the fact that there will be some people who will have an emotional reaction to ANY example that is used. Vincent suggests the robbery example, which may very well trigger an emotional reaction in some people.

    I happen to know many people–including women and including women who have been raped–who think that the analogy works well to make the point that animal welfare reform and the happy meat campaign is ill-conceived.

    The fact that you criticize Francione for *your* emotional reaction is, in my judgment, nonsense.

  7. Neva Vegan said,

    Donald, asking if you read my post is not an insult. It’s an honest question based on your comment in which you seemingly responded to things that were not in my post, but others have said in other places on this topic.

    I said nothing about any experience being unique or worse, but that’s what you emphasized. Hence my wondering if you were even talking about my post.

    It is my feeling and perhaps I should do a whole different post on this that there are two entirely different issues at play when using analogies. This first question is: Is the analogy valid? In this case, I’m willing to say, ok, this analogy is valid. The second question is: Is it effective? My point was that the analogy may not be as effective as we might like because it may trigger a reaction in many listeners that shuts down listening and prevents real communication.

    I don’t doubt that some people, even survivors of rape and sexual assault, like the analogy very much. I can’t speak for everyone obviously. But then again I also don’t think that I’m so unique that my four minute distraction was some kind of isolated incident. And I care enough about these issues to rewind the podcast and listen to what I missed. Others might not.

    I have admitted that this is “my issue.” Still, as stated above, I doubt I’m the only one.

    Then the question becomes, do we care more about being right and defending ourselves as being right? Or do we care about communicating clearly and effectively?

    If you believe it is effective, then by all means keep using it. I will not be using it.

    And you’re welcome to say that my views are nonesense of course. Though if you consider my asking if you actually read my post to be an insult I have to wonder at your definition of insult. But everyone is welcome to their own opinion.

  8. Donald said,

    Well, it does not make sense to conflate two different ideas that you recognize are different, does it? It does make no sense to criticize Francione’s analogy because you have an emotional reaction to it, particularly since you acknowledge the legitimacy of the analogy!

    I have re-read your two posts. You are definitely going beyond the matter of effectiveness and you are criticizing the actual analogy, which you seem now to be backing away from. I am glad to see that you are apparently reconsidering that point.

    Moreover, Vincent suggested that the analogy was sexist, which is very different from talking about idiosyncratic emotional reactions and effectiveness. In your reply to him, you did not take issue with that and I think that his comment and the lack of any reaction to it is an appropriate matter on which to comment.

    Anyway, in any situation in which there is exclusively instrumental treatment coupled with a violent deprivation of a fundamental right (murder, rape, human slavery, etc.), there will be some people who will have an emotional reaction. That has nothing to do with the logic or the morality of the analogy.

    (By the way, in retrospect, the robbery example offered by Vincent does not work because taking money from someone, although immoral and a crime, is not viewed as deprivation of a fundamental right in the way the other examples are.)

    You appear to possess some expertise on whether the analogies that Francione uses are effective. I would appreciate any empirical evidence you might have on this point. I have read on another blog a post by Francione (or perhaps it was something he said on Vegan Freaks) in which he said that the reaction to his use of that analogy is overwhelmingly positive.

    As far as effectiveness is concerned, if that is your primary criterion, the one thing that we know for sure is that the current welfare movement with its happy meat orientation is about as ineffective as it gets. The happy meat approach is actually causing people to return to eating meat and dairy and eggs! Perhaps we should focus on criticizing that approach. The overwhelmingly welfarist nature of the welfare movement, as illustrated by Erik Marcus and his obsession with promoting cage-free eggs, is actually not providing significant protection to animals, but is making humans feel more comfortable about exploiting animals and is increasing net suffering by increasing consumption. (Francione’s points on his various blog essays)

  9. Neva Vegan said,

    It may not make any sense to you to question the use of an analogy because of the emotional reaction I or others might have to it. However it makes perfect sense to me.

    In my second post on this topic I talked further about how and why this analogy and others might produce an unpleasant emotional reaction in some people.

    I would assume that in a conversation between two people who have never been raped or been close to someone who has been raped then this would not be an issue.

    Perhaps I didn’t make this clear in my posts here, though I have said it others, in other forums. For my own experience and speaking purely as myself, what the animals experience is far worse than rape. Some feel this is not true because of the far-reaching psychological consequences of rape. I don’t claim my experience to be worse than anyone else’s, in fact in so many ways I’m incredibly lucky and I’m alive. I don’t claim to be the absolute expert. But for me, even with physical injuries and side effects that remain even now, I know that I’m alive and I get to have good days and I get to go outside and I get to enjoy life where possible. But the animals experience nothing but misery, deprivation, and horror from birth to death.

    Would I say that to a woman coming into a rape support group? Never. Because it would be insensitive to her and her experience. Do I need other people to believe that the suffering in a factory farm is worse than or equal to their rape? No. The suffering of animals doesn’t need to be equal to their suffering or even compared to theirs in any way in order to matter. I would hope that people are capable of understanding on a basic level that animals matter, though I might be overly optimistic.

    But my original point was: Are we communicating effectively if we touch on extremely emotional issues for effect, but ignore how our audience might react? And again, this might depend entirely on the audience.

    I honestly believe that as a movement we should choose our words carefully and craft them for maximum outreach to the larger community. In my view I prefer outreach to promote veganism as a primary cause, in case that wasn’t clear. Though obviously veganism isn’t the only issue I care about or talk about, and sometimes I just talk without even addressing an issue. Because, you know, this is my blog, where I can do that.

    I don’t think that in any way I said it’s not valid to make an analogy for any of the reasons I listed. Instead I said some people might be offended because of the issues of emotional reaction, appropriation of experience, or feeling that someone is trying to manipulate them based on a terrible experience in their past. None of those things speak at all to validity, only to effectiveness.

    I do believe the promotion of “happy meat” or “humane meat” is not helpful. And by and large I was not terribly impressed with Erik Marcus in the podcast as he seemed quite unprepared for it. Still as this is my blog, and I’m not a professional blogger, but just update when I want to work through my ideas in written form. I’m not obligated to write about anything except what I want to write about at any given time.

    Strangely enough I actually thought nobody was reading this blog except for a couple of personal friends I sent the link to. I have no idea how you even found it.

    No, I have no empirical evidence about how “most people” would react to any given analogy. It might be interesting to see some actual data, since nobody at this point has any empirical evidence.

    In any case I did read Francione’s comment that most feedback he gets on the rape analogy is positive. I found that essentially irrelevant. I didn’t send my thoughts to Francione because I didn’t see any point in doing so. Most who might be uneasy with or put off by the analogy will not contact him. His supporters are more likely to praise him for using it. The majority of the feedback he sees is going to be positive. That really has nothing to do with my views.

    I didn’t dispute Vincent’s view because I’m taking it under advisement. I haven’t fully considered whether or not the analogy is sexist and it’s been a really long time since I’ve read Carol Adams. It is entirely possible that if I do the reading I will be convinced on that point. I would need to do further research in that area before I could fully comment. However, I appreciated his input and support and was a little surprised to be getting comments at all.

    In any case this is not meant to be a criticism of Francione, as I put great value on his work, but a criticism of one single analogy, which I’ve heard many times over. The spur for writing the post was Francione’s podcast though and later a post on the Satya boards, so I said so. But I’ve heard many different people use that analogy, some years ago before Francione used it. It is not unique to him. When the person was someone I felt was open to discussion I did talk to them about it, often simply civilly agreeing to disagree.

    In any case I wonder why someone would comment here while hiding his or her identity. I make no secret of mine.

    Well, this is my last comment in this thread as it’s getting weird and repetitive. Comment away if you must.

  10. Donald said,

    Neva says:

    Strangely enough I actually thought nobody was reading this blog except for a couple of personal friends I sent the link to. I have no idea how you even found it.

    I found it on:

    which was in a post on Vegan Freaks.

  11. Neva Vegan said,


    Thank you for letting me know about that actually. I have lots of stuff on this blog that was never really meant to be broadcast.

    Very strange.

  12. PaulWolfe said,

    I wonder what other analogy would make the point about how animal welfarism accepts the exploitation of animals, and gets animal welfarists activists to think about what they are doing.

    In response to Vincent, I don’t know that the rape analogy is sexist at all. It could just as well apply to male-on-male rape (or even the less frequent female-on-male or female-on-female rape).

    Even if specifically dealing with male-on-female rape, the analogy is legitimate. As many feminists have argued (Vincent points out one), there is a legitimate analogy between how a male-dominated society treats women and a human-dominated world treats nonhuman animals.

    Though I think that the question Neva raises has more to do with the effectiveness of the analogy. But I don’t know how we can advocate for the rights of animals without offending some people. Some people, possibly even most people, are offended by the simple fact of animal rights advocacy, no matter what arguments or what analogies one makes.

    My personal belief is that we need to be sensitive to the the types of reactions our arguments will produce and the overall effectiveness of our arguments, but we cannot be afraid to make bold, morally legitimate arguments simply because people might be offended by it. Provocative arguments can often cut both ways — turning off some people, but getting through to others who, with a tamer argument, would not “get it.”

    Any way, Neva, sorry to interrupt the solitude of your “private little blog”! 🙂

  13. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks PaulWolfe for the thought provoking comments.

    (also apologies to Donald, I was picturing you as someone I know from real life who at times excessively googles my name to find places to harass me. I now see that you were simply jumping in from a link to debate. Which is perfectly ok.)

    PaulWolfe’s comment that the analogy is useful in speaking to activists who advocate an animal welfare approach is worth considering. In that sense it is not being used with the general public or in large forums, but in debate with people we might assume are coming from a similar place.

    And of course you are right that men are survivors of rape as well. I actually changed the wording of my other entry as I had overlooked that point momentarily.

    I think it is worth using different language and different analogies based on the audience, and so maybe in some cases the analogy would be more effective.

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