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"The Club, The Yoke, and The Leash" by Aviva Cantor
From Ms. magazine, August, 1983.

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Reading Was Discussed: April 5, 1993
Present: Colleen M., Catherine C., Cynthia L., Bobby C., Maria B., and Cathleen M.

Women at this month's session felt Aviva Cantor's essay comparing society's treatment of animals to that of women was logical and convincing. The Club is her metaphor for undisguised brutality such as hunting or vivisection, and in the case of women, rape or battering. The Yoke exemplifies the more circumscribed condition found in factory farms or breeding (the animal as slave), and corresponds to women's domestic labor or control over reproduction. She uses the Leash to represent pets and dependent females, equating pet shows with beauty contests.

Although we all agreed with Cantor's linkage of the oppression of animals and women, most of us rejected her implied biological determinism. A few women did not like the way she stereotypes men as violent and primarily responsible for cruelty to animals. By contrast, Cantor depicts women as helpless victims and glosses over the fact that women willingly eat animals, wear their fur, and use household and beauty products tested on tortured animals. Another woman countered that women may participate in violence against animals, but the industries that exploit animals—and the culture that deems them exploitable—are male dominated. In helping us unravel the paradox of woman as both ally and oppressor of animals, we turned to Cantor's opening statement.

Cantor writes: "Nowhere is patriarchy's iron fist as naked as in the oppression of animals, which serves as the model and training ground for all other forms of oppression." Her essay obliged us to re-examine our understanding of patriarchy—a system which surfaced in many parts of the world 5,000 to 10,000 years ago when men began to exert control over women. One woman reformulated Cantor's premise by saying that the oppression of women "serves as the model and training ground for all other forms of oppression." Historically women were the first class of people to be dominated, although some feminists believe women participated (however unwittingly) in the creation of patriarchy.

Feminist usage of the word patriarchy, though, goes beyond its literal meaning, "rule by the fathers." It has come to signify all forms of domination, power-over, and hierarchy. Thus, the term patriarchy is useful shorthand for naming the politics of oppression. Yet, for thousands of years before men began to rule, humans—male and female—hunted, ate, sacrificed, bred, and domesticated animals. Perhaps, one woman inquired, dominator behavior originated not with patriarchy, but with speciesism (i.e., human animals using/abusing nonhuman animals). If animals, rather than women, were the first oppressed class, another woman questioned the historic and linguistic accuracy in using patriarchy as the code word for power-over politics. [This discussion is not suggesting that the oppression of women or animals takes priority over other liberation struggles.]

Most women said that it really doesn't matter whether the oppression of women or the oppression of animals induced dominator behavior. The term patriarchy is still valuable because, unlike speciesism or other isms, an analysis of patriarchy offers a comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding all hierarchical relationships. Most ecofeminists contend that prior to patriarchy our species was in balance with nature. It was patriarchal thinking that led humans to conceptualize ourselves as separate from and superior to nature, thereby devaluing nature. Whatever forms of domination may have previously existed, they became warped and escalated by the patriarchal world view.

One woman wondered whether hunters in ancient times were in as natural equilibrium with their prey as is the lion in pursuit of the gazelle. Most of us felt the "human as predator" theory is overplayed. Perhaps back then, a woman explained, species survival entailed some animal consumption. Overall, however, the human body is not designed to digest flesh (nor junk food for that matter). Given today's wealth of affordable, nutritious food choices, women agreed that it is no longer necessary or humane for most people to maintain a carnivorous diet.

One woman revealed that she often feels uncomfortable and isolated advocating animal rights issues because activists in other movements tend to dismiss animals, rarely according them the same stature and respect as human animals. By and large, though, the ideology and actions of the animal liberation movement reflect its white, middle class constituency. Two women who attended the National March on Washington for Animals in 1990 regretfully described a placard carried by a young white woman which read, "Experiment On Convicts, Not Animals." Obviously an entire movement can't be indicted on the misguided message of one individual. Yet, disturbingly, the women saw no other demonstrators confronting the woman for carrying such a classist, racist sign. It was clear to most of us that the mainstream animal rights movement needs to be more actively involved in multicultural, multiracial coalition work.

Several women asserted that it would likewise behoove progressives of all persuasions to learn the word "anthropocentrism." One woman found it puzzling and disappointing that politically sensitive allies continue to treat living, sentient beings as the "other." Another woman complained that she finds it is as hard to discuss animal rights among feminists as it is to talk about feminism in mainstream culture. She applauded Carol Adams' bold suggestion that all feminist conferences serve only vegetarian food. In addition to sparing the lives of thousands of animals, a vegetarian-only policy would compel many feminists to examine the reality of factory farming: it endangers the environment, perpetuates violence, and is toxic to our health.

One woman commented that a consciousness toward animals is what distinguishes ecofeminism from feminism. Another woman said she gravitated to ecofeminism because in addition to confronting human-to-human domination (racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.), ecofeminism is equally committed to ending human supremacism over other animals and nature. In short, ecofeminism is an inclusive philosophy grounded on the interconnectedness of all life. Most of us felt that an incorporation of ecofeminist principles into the Western value system would be a positive development indeed.

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