March 11, 2007

More about the rape analogy and more on Professor Francione

Posted in analogy, Francione, rape at 7:44 pm by nevavegan

It struck me sometime after my last post on the topic that there are a couple other problems with the rape analogy in the debate on welfare vs. rights (re: veganism).

It completely makes me feel like I’m diverting the discussion and I feel some guilt over that. At the same time I feel like the very use of the analogy diverts the discussion. Uggghhh, I can’t win.

The first and most obvious problem is appropriation of experience. This is a tricky one, because it would put the hypothetical objector, in this case me, in the position of sitting in judgment on the person using the analogy. Because I really can’t know if someone is speaking from personal experience or not.

But the appropriation argument goes roughly: It’s fine if I want to draw analogies between rape and the treatment of animals, but it’s not ok for you to do it (you meaning someone who has presumably not been a victim of rape). Of course I can’t know that unless the person reveals that information. This sounds awfully petty and picky, but on a deeper level it isn’t, because I’m deeply suspicious of anyone appropriating another’s suffering for political ends. I hate it when Republicans using the stories of crime victims to push for more punitive sentencing, even in the face of evidence that this does not reduce violence and may actually increase it.

Also I kind of want the discussion to be about what it’s about rather than bringing in other highly emotional issues to stir things up.

My next objection really only applies to the person using the rape analogy toward an audience that might include people who have been raped. But considering the epidemic of violence, sexual violence, and child abuse in this country, any speaker might just assume that a decent percentage of their audience has been the victim of some kind of sexual assault at some point.

The issue is this, and it’s subtle, so I’ll do my best to explain what I mean. There is a kind of assumption that someone who has been through something terrible has an obligation to turn that experience into something positive. Therefore, a woman who has survived a sexual assault is often expected to go volunteer for the hotline, help out with support groups, donate to women’s groups, and so on. And many obviously do. But what if a woman who has gone through this decides she doesn’t want to buy into that? Instead she just wants to forget about it all, go to parties, and buy shoes. And I’ve seen this happen: other people say “But you’re turning your back on your sisters.” I understand that, but the judgment can be harsher on a woman who has just been through something terrible than on another woman who hasn’t ever been attacked and spends all her time on shoes and parties. The latter woman is just a normal person blending into a crowd, but the former is a woman betraying all she is supposed to believe in.

The problem with this is that sexual assault victims are already shoved into so many boxes, the appropriation as I mentioned above, being objectified by their attackers, if they go to court they deal with all the ramifications of that often humiliating and disempowering experience. And then to be told that because something terrible happened to us, we’re expected to do more than other people do? Appeal to our compassion and our empathy, but don’t try to manipulate us based on our experience!

Of course I feel kind of the same way about people using the slavery analogy on animal agriculture too. Unequivocally animals are enslaved in our culture, but too often this comparison is made to an African American audience. Within that audience emotions and opinions on human slavery and its legacy run deep. Then to have that expectation thrown in: If you care about human slavery, then you should care about animal slavery. Of course everyone should care about how animals are treated, because it’s the right thing to do. But African Americans are no more obligated to care than anyone else, just because their families were so mistreated and commoditized.

I guess another problem with talking to an African American audience about animal issues via a slavery analogy is a kind of underlying racist assumption. It’s sort of like, “ok, these people aren’t going to be able to understand this from just being given the facts and looking at pictures like everyone else, I better talk about slavery, since that’s something they do understand.” But as African Americans are human beings, don’t they have as much ability as anyone else to understand ethics or to look at the photo of an abused animal and know in their hearts that this is wrong.

Ok, more on the rape analogy below.

Here is a quote from Gary Francione, as he wrote on the Satya boards:

“Here is an analogy: X really enjoys engaging in rape. He does not feel too terribly badly about that because there are millions of women all over the world who get raped every day. It is a ubiquitous event. Sure, people recognize that women are sentient and suffer, but lots of men rape lots of women “for various reasons.” So X justifies his raping Y because to conclude that rape is wrong would mean that all those millions of men who will commit rape today are immoral. And besides, X is concerned about prison reform so it’s OK for him to commit a rape.

If anyone made that argument to you, you would regard it as a very bad argument.

And that is exactly what you arguing here to defend eating animal products.”

And here is where I quibble.

Most people never ever look at the living animal they later eat, and fewer even than that engage in actually killing the animal. The majority of people who eat the flesh of animals create a huge distance between themselves and the violence and suffering that puts a nice cutlet on their plate. True there are some hunters and slaughter house workers out there, but that’s not the majority of the population.

By contrast a rapist tends to seek out that violence and suffering and enjoys it. This isn’t really a case where someone enjoys rape and rationalizes the suffering he causes away. He enjoys causing suffering and rape is his chosen method to inflict both physical and emotional pain. This is typically true regardless of the circumstances of the rape. Serial rapists tend to act out of extreme anger and hatred of women, but even a date rapist, who may claim that he misunderstood or have some kind of excuse, will often turn out to have hostile views toward women and a pretty deep mean streak. Then there is marital and relationship rape where men use rape to punish their partners either for supposed flaws in those partners or to punish them for things that happen in the outside world.

There’s a huge difference there. As I said, becoming vegan is relatively easy if you compare it to trying to stop rape. There is no evidence that counseling is helpful in reforming serial rapists. However there is a lot of evidence that a visit to a factory farm at least temporarily puts most people off of eating meat.

Additionally, Professor Francione is somewhat wrong to say that people recognize that women are sentient and suffer. If only. I mean sure, you ask someone and they’ll say of course they recognize that women suffer. But if people really understood this on a deeper level, that women have rights and their own interests, then how could we live in a world with female circumcision? There was a serial killer rapist who was shocked when the police actually arrested him, and he defended himself saying he was only killing prostitutes, he wasn’t killing soccer moms or accountants, just prostitutes. And you’ll find this across the board with rapists, abusers, and even people who aren’t violent but merely sexist: they do on a very deep level feel that women are less than men, they objectify women, they aren’t able to have empathy for them or feel that their suffering matters.

Of course all this is very discouraging to me. If we live in a world where a good chunk of the population can’t recognize that their mothers, sisters, or wives deserve to not be tortured or exploited, then how do we expect to reach people on animal issues at all. Still I have hope. I think the majority of people do recognize that animals have feelings, thoughts, and even souls. Their treatment of them represents more of a cultural schizophrenia (I don’t see it, so I’m able to pretend it doesn’t happen), than it represents a hatred of non-humans.