“I hope that readers will rethink their consumer choices, monies that have long been offered at the expense of nonhuman animals–overwhelmingly female and exploited because of their female biology. We choose where our money goes, and in the process, we choose whether to boycott cruelty and support change, or melt ambiguously back into the masses.”
This passage nearly concludes Lisa Kemmerer’s Introduction to her Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Lives (Paradigm Publishers, 2012). Her book is divided into three parts: (1) Pondering what I put into my mouth, (2) Working for wildlife, (3) Potpourri: From dancing bears to undercover investigation. We find in this anthology 18 powerful stories of women animal advocates: women who have founded sanctuaries, volunteered in rescue and rehabilitation organizations, protested the inhumane treatment of animals in various industries, taken in stray or abandoned “pets,” gone vegan, and/or engaged in other forms of animal activism.
I was deeply moved by this book.
All the contributors report working as animal advocates out of some combination of pity or compassion for animal suffering and outrage at the injustice of their exploitation by fellow human beings. But each does so in a way that is deeply personal and narratively powerful.
As readers, we are not simply introduced to an abstract concept of “animal cruelty,” we are told about Hilda, a still-live sheep that was literally discarded as trash on a stockyard “dead pile”–and then we learn how that shocking discovery led Lorri Houston to cofound Farm Sanctuary, the first shelter in the country for farmed animals. We read about Tua Rohd, a severely injured and “bare recognizable” gibbon who was captured from the wild in Thailand for the exotic pet trade. While recounting this story, Amy Corrigan, Director of Research and Education for the Animal Concerns Reserach and Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore, shares that she was “emotionally crushed” when this gentle creature died in her arms after only surviving a few days post-rescue.
These chapters reveal real wisdom. One contributor, scholar-activist Dana Medoro, notes the importance of being “dexterous” when advocating for animals because “it’s difficult for people to absorb the shock of the information about all of the hateful ways in which humans treat and use animals.” Many others speak freely about the anguish, guilt, and grief they regularly experience in the work they do, knowing that they cannot save them all, or even most, and that they regularly face real “Sophie’s Choices” (on which animals to save and which to leave behind).
What might be of particular interest to readers of this blog is the women who cite their religious commitments as motivating forces in their activist work:
- Anuradha Sawheny notes how her Hindu commitment to ahimsa grounds her compassionate approach to animals and accordingly her work for the Indian chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
- Linda Elin McDaniel, an ordained United Methodist Church minister and board member of the Christian Vegetarian Association describes her turn to vegetarianism as both a blessing and an enactment of her commitments to be peaceful, just, and compassionate like Jesus.
- For Sue Pemberton, it is her internalization of the Budddhist teachings on compassion and karma that lead her to help rehabilitate pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses) at The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, California.
- Kris “Risa” Candour, an African American woman, operates a Reiki natural healing practice for humans and their animal companions in Vancouver, Canada.
To be clear, the book is not simply about women “saving” animals, but in several cases of animals “rescuing” them. Lynette Shanley, the founder of two Australian organizations (one for wildcats and one for primates), writes beautifully about how her own companion animals and her activist work for others gave her the will to continue to live after several excruciating bouts of cancer. In her own words, “I never thought animals could give so much back. Animals give life meaning and hope. They can help us to face pain, and to understand that life is a gift to be cherished.”
All in all, this book is feminist in so many ways–its inclusion of diverse perspectives (religious and secular, Western and non-Western, scholarly and activist), focus on women’s experiences and “awakenings,” unashamed embrace of the moral significance of the emotions, and its intersectional analysis, to name a few of its key features.
Of course, not all feminists will appreciate it as I have. While the majority of animal advocates are women, editor Lisa Kemmerer readily acknowledges that not all feminists are persuaded by (or even know about) the connections between feminism and animal liberation. Her Introduction, in short, can be read as an attempt to make those links clear.
Those who remain unpersuaded might be shocked to read about Joelle El-Massih’s work during the Israeli/Hezbollah war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. As one of the co-founders of Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA), she and several others stayed behind to relocate 150 panicked dogs (n.b., their dog shelter was located opposite the war zone) to a pig farm. She writes “It was scary, but these dogs had already been abandoned at least once.” While acknowledging the criticism that BETA has received for “caring for nonhuman animals while people were dying in a war zone,” she writes that her response has always been the same: “There are 6000 organizations in Lebanon for humans, and only one for nonhumans.” Food for thought.
I can think of no better way of concluding my reflections on Kemmerer’s Speaking Up for Animals than ending with a passage taken from trailblazing ecofeminist Carol J. Adams‘ Foreward:
In these pages, we find diverse experiences united in one anthology; diverse activisms represented together; women’s activism for animals, all together now. And the incredible thing is that after all they have seen, they still believe in you, the reader. When it comes to nonhumans, there are no bystanders. When it comes to the fate of nonhumans, it truly is in your hands.
Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on two book projects–one on Asian American Christian Ethics, the other on a theological exploration of women’s lives. She is currently teaching “Animal Theology & Ethics” and serves on the American Academy of Religion’s Animals and Religion Group steering committee.
Lisa Kemmerer is a philosopher-activist dedicated to working against oppression, whether on behalf of the environment, nonhuman animals, or disempowered human beings. Her other books include In Search of Consistency: Ethics and Animals; Animals and World Religions; Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice; Call to Compassion: Reflections on Animal Advocacy; and Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education, Advocacy, and Sanctuary. Lisa has hiked, biked, kayaked, backpacked, and traveled widely, and is currently associate professor of philosophy and religions at Montana State University Billings.