Why is Gary L. Francione slandering eco-feminists?

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any time probably knows that my view on animal rights has been heavily influenced by Gary Francione’s work. (For example, my “How Animal Welfare Harms Animals” post is basically a summary of his book Animals, Property, and the Law, which I would highly recommend everyone to read.) It’s not an exaggeration to say that his animal rights theory is absolutely brilliant, and, in my view, the only animal ethics theory that is both internally consistent and radical enough to bring about real justice for non-human animals.

So it’s with a great deal of regret and sadness that I’m writing these words; especially because, up until now, I’ve largely seen Gary Francione as a staunch supporter women’s liberation. He is – and has been, for a long time – vocally opposed to PeTA’s sexism. He is publicly outspoken against pornography. He teaches a course at Rutgers University called “Animal Rights and Human Rights”, in which he uses Catharine Mackinnon’s “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State” (a radical feminist text). In sum, he is passionate about feminism – or so I’ve always thought. Unfortunately, recent events have caused me to see otherwise.

In a recent thread on his Facebook page, Francione wrote:

IinventedFeminism

In this post, Francione seems to be suggesting that he was the first person to challenge sexism in the animal rights movement. But is that really true? Take a look at Carol Adams’ reply:

IinventedFeminism5

I was born in 1991, so I can’t comment on what was or was not happening with PeTA in the late 1980′s and whether or not Francione reacted quickly. But what about Carol Adams’ claim that her first article was published in 1975? That would certainly contradict Francione’s claim to be the first person to challenge sexism in the movement.

A google search for “Carol Adams 1975″ gave me the following:

IinventedFeminism4

This is from the introduction to “The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader”, edited by Josephine Donovan. If you take a look at the text, it cites Carol Adams as having been published as early as 1975, writing about “… a uniquely feminist position of the status of animals… This argument not only links the status of women to that of animals, but also argues that animal activism requires a feminist analysis and feminism requires an analysis that addresses the status of animals.”

In other words, Carol Adams was right: she was challenging sexism in the AR movement and making the connections before Francione  (who went vegan in 1982). The latter was blatantly lying when he claimed to be the first and foremost anti-sexist figure of the animal rights movement.

I don’t agree with Carol Adams on everything. I don’t think that the concept of “rights” is necessarily patriarchal, or that we should be promoting an “ethic of care” as intrinsically feminine. (If anyone is interested, Catharine Mackinnon has a chapter in ‘Feminism Unmodified’ where she explains why this kind of approach to ethics only reinforces the very gender roles that we ought to be abolishing). I also agree with Francione that Carol Adams’ work is full of academic jargon. But why is he dismissing her work entirely? It may not be what we would like it to be, but she is doing something – even if in a way that we slightly disagree with – to contribute to the discussion about sexism and speciesism. Why is Francione dismissing that and claiming to have beaten her to it? That is incredibly disrespectful and dismissive of her contributions.

By the way, there is also a (now defunct) group called Feminists for Animal Rights, which formed in 1981 – an entire year before Francione went vegan. This group was active for over two decades and they published newsletters, staged protests, among many other things. One woman tried to leave a (neutral) comment about this group on Francione’s thread, but was immediately banned from his page for doing so:

IinventedFeminism6

For the love of Vishnu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, can somebody please explain to me why Francione is making up narcissistic bullshit (about having invented vegan feminism) and silencing any women who disagrees with or questions him in any way? Since when is that a feminist thing to do?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions. I really want to know. Anyone?

9 thoughts on “Why is Gary L. Francione slandering eco-feminists?

  1. This is an interesting topic.

    The first Francione quote does imply that he may have been the first to make the connection between speciesism and sexism, but I think it is important to clarify that Francione has not explicitly claimed that he “invented vegan feminism”. All he has said is that he was making the connection before The Sexual Politics of Meat, which presumably is the event that brought this idea into the intellectual mainstream.

    Francione has since clarified his position in that thread:

    ===

    “Some thoughts on the history of vegan feminism: The utilitarian philosophers of the 18th century were concerned about the oppression of women. Although they were often misguided, they understood on some level that biological sex per se was irrelevant to membership in the moral community. Peter Singer, who also works in the utilitarian tradition, picked up on this in the 1970s and, using Ryder’s term “speciesism,” linked the rejection of speciesism with the rejection of sexism (and racism). This connection between speciesism and sexism, although extremely important, did not lead Singer to advocate for veganism.

    “During the early 1980s, vegans in different places started independently to explore the connection between veganism and feminism. I started thinking about these issues almost immediately after going vegan in 1982 largely as the result of my meeting a feminist in Washington, D.C. named Loretta Hirsch, who was one of the original members of PETA (and a wonderful person). Loretta and I had many discussions about the relationship between feminism and speciesism. I immediately incorporated the topic into my university teaching and public lectures about animal rights. In my office at Penn, I had the poster (which dated from the 1960s) of the woman whose body was marked off with the meat names used to describe meat cuts in cows. That was *years* before the poster showed up on the cover of Adams’ book.

    “There were others who were around and active back then and who saw and explored the veganism/sexism/feminism connection–Marti Kheel comes to mind. Indeed, if there was a pioneer who picked up the issue and ran with it within the feminist community, it was Kheel. Although, at least at the outset, Kheel’s Feminists for Animal Rights was a vegetarian organization “with a vegan orientation,” Kheel never missed a chance to make clear that animal rights did not stop at not consuming meat. I took issue with Kheel’s rejection of rights theory and her promotion of the ecofeminist “ethic of care,” which links the morality of animal exploitation with a form of moral relativism, but I agreed with her on the issue of veganism.

    “The Sexual Politics of Meat was published in 1990. I certainly am not saying that Adams’ book was not important and interesting, although, quite frankly, I think that Adams drowned what insights she had in a sea of mind-numbing postmodern jargon. But I reject the idea that the mere mention of the veganism/feminism connection requires that we acknowledge Carol Adams, without whom none of us would have ever thought about the connection. That is simply false.

    “I once read an interview where Adams claimed that she thought about these ideas in 1974 but did not write the book until 1990. Had I been able to read Adams’ mind (and get through all that postmodern jargon), I would have seen that the connections between veganism and sexism that some of us made in the 1980s were really Adams’ ideas and none of us would have thought those ideas but for Adams. My suspicion is that the “radfem” explanation for my lack of telepathy is a biological limit resulting from being a male, which is the same limit that apparently prevents men from being feminists. But that would not explain Marti Kheel’s failure, unless, of course, Marti was really a transgendered person, as the “radfems” also exclude TGs in their reactionary politics.”

    ===

    Francione’s description of the “poster (which dated from the 1960s) of the woman whose body was marked off with the meat … cuts” makes it pretty clear that his objection is to Carol Adams popular designation as discoverer of the speciesism/sexism connection. He seems to be saying that somebody else made the connection first, and that Adams’ reputation is undeserved in this regard. Recall that he also attacks the notion that Peter Singer is the “father of the animal rights movement” without claiming that he invented the concept of animal rights.

    Later in the thread, he also responds to Adams’ claim that he was late in coming out against PETA’s sexism.

    ===

    “Well, all I can say is that Carol Adams is either suffering from significant memory impairment or she is just lying. I opposed the PETA sexism from the very outset and spoke against it publicly for the first time at the National Alliance Conference in 1991, which was shortly after it started. As I recall, it took Carol and the Feminists for Animal Rights until 1994 or 1995 to come out against the sexist campaigns. In any event, the point is that I was opposing it from the outset.”

    ===

    As far as I’m concerned, until either side can provide proof in the form of a citation, it’s just hearsay.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to document this! Really bizarre is it not? A man has to take credit for everything…even feminism! And excellent, succinct discussion of why ecofeminism falls short. :)

    Anyone who challenges that Carol Adams is the founder of vegan feminism is just arguing to argue. That woman has dedicated her entire career to the subject and wrote the first articles and books on the topic and developed the ideas as we know them today. She may not have been the *first* human to ever think, “Hm, women are treated like meat!” that was probably first thought of thousands of years ago–but being a theorist means taking vague, unpolished abstract ideas and articulating them into something solid and useful. Francione, for example, is NOT the first person (or theorist for that matter) to question big organizations and compromised message in social movements. Researchers have been publishing on this topic since the 1960s…but he is the first to articulate it meaningfully and influentially in the animal rights context. We give him credit for that, so why has he got to nitpick Carol Adams’ contributions?

  3. The issue is not really with the timing, importance or relevance of the work in feminism or veganism. The issue, as I see it, is with personality. A person may be quite accomplished in their chosen field, however accomplishment does not have any bearing on whether or not a person is healthy psychologically.

    When an individual presents with classic symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, serious consideration should be given when deciding whether or not to interact with that person.

    People who are victims of individuals with NPD often blame themselves and make excuses for the narcissist at first. It is only later when other victims emerge that the original victim may come to realize that the problem is not with themselves but with the narcissist.

    However, that said, I think there is absolutely no reason we cannot appreciate the highly important work done while also being wary of individuals with NPD

    • I still believe Gary has done more for this movement than any one else…he has really transformed how we think about animals and how to help them. It really does upset me that he takes these stances…we wouldn’t criticize it if we didn’t see so much good underneath. But you’re right, no one deserves to be victimized either.

  4. This is one of the reasons I don’t like Francione at times. It’s a shame he acted that way. Another thing that bothers me about Francione is that he also seems to suggest that he invented the abolitionist approach even though others before him (Tom Regan, if I remember correctly) have advocated such a stance when it comes to veganism and animal rights.

    If we tucked away all the narcissism and petty arguments like these we could do so much better for the animals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s