June 10, 2007

Wherein I use a rape analogy and contradict myself

Posted in abuse, animal advocacy, rape, rape analogy, vegan, veganism at 4:31 pm by nevavegan

So, yesterday was hectic and as I was running up the stairs with an armload of laundry some stuff knocking around in my brain came together into something resembling a coherent thought.

I’ve said for a long time that even as we bring more attention to issues like rape and domestic violence there are still people out there who don’t know as much as they should, or don’t understand the underlying issues. However, we have made significant progress in that most people do seem to recognize women as independent human beings who don’t deserve to be hurt. There are exceptions of course, but there is increasing understanding.

Then I thought about some old journals and stories that I read while in undergrad and how it had struck me then that as little as a 100 years ago many people didn’t think marital rape was possible. This was because rape wasn’t seen as a crime against a woman (though people might have sympathized with the woman); rape was seen as a crime against another man by dishonoring him or devaluing his property. To rape an unmarried woman was a crime against her father who then might not be able to marry her off, and must also endure the shame the rape brought upon his family. To rape a married woman dishonored her husband and devalued his property, his wife. But for a man to rape his own wife seemed impossible. She was his wife after all, how could he possibly rape her? No other man was being dishonored. He owned her body after all, you can’t steal what you already own.

Slowly attitudes in society changed and many people came to realize that women are human beings with their own will, their own needs, and their own rights. They came to see that some men terrorize their wives or partners through sexual violence and the threat of sexual violence. But none of these changes would have been possible without first recognizing that women belong to themselves. We own our own bodies; nobody else owns us.

Even today, there are some people who don’t understand the concept of marital rape, and it’s more difficult to prosecute than stranger rape, a crime people have a more ready understanding of.

But even as the attitudes about ownership and about rape shifted, a strange secondary prejudice slipped in that allowed many people to ignore just how widespread domestic violence and sexual violence were. People started saying “If it’s so bad why doesn’t she just leave?”

I encountered this attitude at work when two male co-workers discussed in front of me their opinion on a highly publicized domestic violence case, concluding that the woman had gone back to her abuser several times so she must like the abuse. I was so shocked and even hurt by these words that I wasn’t able to interject myself into the conversation to clear up that misunderstanding.

Connected to “why doesn’t she just leave” is an assumption that someone who has been abused will show it in obvious ways, which allows people to believe that their neighbors and co-workers aren’t at risk. I’ve heard people say of domestic violence cases “but she doesn’t look hurt” or “how can she be telling the truth when she seems fine.” We like to think violence is so rare and so horrible that we will be able to immediately tell victims from “normal people” and likewise that we should be able to tell who is an abuser, because they certainly won’t look like us.

These are problems with public perception that many groups are working tirelessly to combat and we do seem to be making some real progress on them.

However, and now for my dreaded hypocrite moment, I wondered if such blind spots also applied to our perception of animals. I really do think the same fallacies in thinking are huge problems in making people aware of how badly we treat animals in our culture. First there’s the problem of property. If you are raising chickens to produce eggs and someone else kills your chickens, that’s a crime against you and that person would be prosecuted, not for hurting the chickens but because hurting the chickens hurt you, a person, the owner. However, if some of your chickens die because you continue forced molting too long or the cages are too crowded, that’s not a crime, because you damaged your own property. Therefore, you’re a bad farmer, but not an abusive monster. See the problem?

(Oh, and see the recent Compassion Over Killing case for further evidence of this)

Many groups are desperately trying to make the public aware of the harm being done to animals and to tell people that animals matter and shouldn’t be made to suffer. So we start to make some slow progress with public attitudes, but we are far from the finish line.

Now the other fallacy comes in: “If it were so bad the animals would all die and the farms would fall apart.” This is what the industry tells us. Even though investigation after investigation shows nightmare conditions, egg-laying hens living on top of the dead bodies of their sisters, pigs that can’t ever turn around, cows with open bleeding sores, and so on… Even with all of that, the industry tells us “It can’t be that bad, if we mistreated the hens they wouldn’t lay eggs, if the cows were suffering they wouldn’t produce milk, the fact that you have a ham on your table proves the pig was treated well.”

Sigh, and yet we all know this isn’t true, and yet people buy into it. How do we fight this misinformation that allows people to feel good about their choices, and lets them keep living in a fog, blocking out the truth?

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.

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.