Hypatia Symposium: Feminists Encountering Animals

As frequent readers of this blog probably know, I come out of a strong feminist background. I was incredibly lucky to work with a number of really brilliant feminist scholars when I was in undergrad, and basically anything smart about feminism or women’s studies comes from those people. Additionally, the “question of the animal” (as the academic phrasing goes) is something that I dwell on a lot. Ethical relationships between beings basically takes up 35% of all of my brain power at any given time (and has caused me to have some pretty spectacular disagreements from time to time.)

In any case, the newest issue of Hypatia is a special issue titled “Animal Others.” The entire thing is unlocked for free right now, so you should go peruse and read it before it gets put behind a paywall again. As I have mentioned before, James Stanescu has a paper in the issue titled “Species Trouble: Judith Butler, Mourning, and the Precarious Lives of Animals” which puts forth some really smart ideas about mournable life in the context of animals. Also as I have said before, Stanescu has been really important to my own development as a person who thinks about animals, and it would do you well to check his stuff out.

Alongside this current issue, editors Lori Gruen and Kari Weil have organized a symposium  around the intersections of feminism and animal studies, bringing in several feminist and animal studies scholars and asking them various questions about the combination of the two fields. As they state in their introduction to the symposium, the participants were asked these questions:

  • Is animal studies gendered, and if so, to what effect?
  • Is so-called animal “theory” at odds with affective and/or feminist political engagement? Do you see a gap between the personal and the political (or theoretical) in animal studies and, if so, how is it manifesting?
  • Have the insights of feminists/ecofeminists been overlooked/unacknowledged in animal studies, and if so, what is lost and what should be done to acknowledge and reclaim their insights?

The responses to these questions are all astounding, and each deserves a close reading (though I am definitely in disagreement with Traci Warkentin’s arguments about the possibility of ethics towards nonhuman animals being decoupled from a food politics that makes an effort not to eat animals.) Here is the link the the pdf file of the symposium for your perusal. I think everything going on there is smart and well-argued, and I especially look forward to the conversation that this issue and symposium should jumpstart in the feminist academic community.

Below I have included some quotations that demonstrate the kind of thinking going on in the symposium. Obviously, it isn’t all-inclusive, but there are lots of fantastic provocations going on that I think should be given their due. Also, I don’t necessarily think that the following quotations are “true” so much as that I believe they offer some really interesting points for conversation and interest to spring from.

When one eats a hamburger, one wills the death of the cow whose flesh made the burger possible. When an individual opts for a vegetarian burger, he or she recognizes that death is an undesirable means to the end of his or her culinary pleasure. Simply stated, the vegan refuses to perceive the cow as killable.- Stephanie Jenkins, “Returning the Ethical and Political to Animal Studies”


In one especially striking exchange over my use of Lyotard’s concept of the differend to discuss the animal as paradigmatic of the “victim” (the one who does not have the ability to register its injuries in the language of those in control), [Gubar] asked me point blank if I was suggesting that animals were “more” victimized than women. Instead of seeing the interlocking structures of oppression that writers like Carol Adams, Marjorie Spiegel, and others had already pointed out at that time—and the productive theoretical analogies that might proliferate—Gubar experienced my discussion of animals as a threat: a threat, I can only surmise, to the political position she felt her own work had staked out for women, for a particular set of feminist claims, and perhaps for a semi-institutionalized prerogative that was roughly correlated to the suffering or affliction of women. – Carrie Rohman ,”Disciplinary Becomings: Horizons of Knowledge in Animal Studies” 

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