When we think about cruelty to animals, people see animals as they are: dogs, cats, mice, pigs, fish or cows. It takes a little more effort, though, to see an antiquated but still practiced philosophy that dominates the industrial standard of animal cruelty, which is patriarchy. I think it’s important to begin a discussion on the foul art of subjecting other genders and species to inequality.
If you line up nonhuman males and females that are subjected to the conditions of modern factory farming for a longer period of time, the line stretches way farther for females. Of course, there are terrible patterns that occur for males, like the raising of male calves for veal or the immediate separation of male from female chicks in order to quickly grind or gas the unprofitable male chicks. But the conditions for nonhuman females are way worse. Hens experience months of abuse in battery cages, laying too many eggs for their bodies to handle, causing calcium deficiencies that lead to broken bones and further suffering. They experience mental fatigue that can lead to nervous pecking and cannibalism. They eat diets that include some caffeine and estrogen to help them stay awake longer and produce more eggs. Hens are also somewhat intelligent, so they recognize the finality of their confinement and are constantly agitated and frustrated by their inability to practice natural behaviors. Their slaughter is not always accurate, which is to say some of them bleed to death or are paralyzed while feeling every sensation of slaughter. What’s worse is that a good percentage of hens do not even make it to slaughter, as their living conditions can torture them to death.
Dairy cows experience some of the worst conditions in concentrated animal-feeding operations, as they are used for five or six years for their dairy production and then slaughtered. The majority of dairy cows are artificially impregnated, obviously without consent, in order to begin lactation. They have an average of two and a half cycles of lactation, and then spent cows are slaughtered for ground beef. In those five years, they give birth to calves, who are taken away at birth immediately, and they live their lives in cement quarters and are hooked up to lactate pumps for hours a day. Female cows experience cruelty not just through standard industry practices but also from the workers, who sometimes beat, electrically shock and even mutilate them.
Sows, or female pigs, experience similar lives to dairy cows, but they’re confined to gestation crates that don’t allow them to turn around. Piglets are castrated, tail docked and have teeth pulled in order to keep the pigs from hurting each other (and also making their tails so sensitive that they’ll avoid biting each other as much as possible). Piglets are weaned weeks early from their mothers and fed high-calorie, hormone- and antibiotic-rich, and corn diets. Their mothers live in these metal crates for their entire lives with no hay, sunlight, or ability to move and pursue natural behavior. Many sows are injured on their way to slaughter, as they are packed tightly into transport trucks.
I could go on with other types of abuse to animals, but it only can do so much to change a person’s mind about what they eat. The main point here is that nonhuman females undergo far worse lives in our factory-farmed conditions. Is it a wonder then, why we treat humans a similar way? Women still have difficulty getting equal pay, equal opportunities, and they experience sexism on a daily basis with no remorse from the media, as they continually enforce cultural and gender-based expectations. There might be evidence to suggest an adverse trend, but it is still in the minority when compared to global trends. We subject females of all species to unjust conditions, and this topic tends to get lost in many conversations about equal consideration for animals.
The problem I face here, as a writer, is that I can be charged with putting female nonhuman animals and female humans on the same level. Although that instance may seem true, the ultimate question, then, is why are animals placed on a lower level than humans in the first place? My first article in this column spoke of speciesism and how we consider others. If we allow ourselves to believe that animals don’t deserve equal consideration, then how can we allow ourselves to justify equal consideration for humans in general? If we believe someone is subpar to our being, then we consider that someone to be less deserving of consideration for his or her pain and suffering. My point here is to clarify that I don’t believe animals deserve equal treatment like women, such as equal pay and opportunities, but both share the issue of not getting equal consideration for their suffering and unfair conditions.
As feminists, like others and myself here at Drexel, who believe in equality for women (and all [or no] genders for that matter), this discussion is an important one to have. Can we talk about these issues of sexism without considering how we subject beings we consider lower than us? We already forget farm animals most of the time in conversations of equality, but maybe it’s time to consider this a viable talking point among activist groups of different ideologies. It is not hard to argue for equal consideration for all species, but it’s difficult to argue for gender equality and not include some reference to the way we treat nonhuman animals.
Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at [email protected].
“Moo Over This” publishes biweekly.