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:
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:
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:
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:
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?