Two interesting responses, from zuzu and Jill.
There's a lot of comments there, and even trying to do justice to the width and breadth of the comments would be a lesson in futility, so I'm going to leave it to you to really get into the meat of that argument, while I go all meta for a moment before returning to the point.
I think that arguments like this one are interesting in the frequency with which they seem to come up. In discussions about everything from clothes to makeup to sex to... well... just about anything you can come up with, the phrase "the personal is political" is probably applicable. Unfortunately, the inverse of that statement seems to be just as true- the political is, all too often, very personal.
Without weighing in on the issue of animal rights yet, I think it's worth noting how personally people in general take criticisms of potentially politically charged actions. Even when they're not directed specifically at them. When we have a personal investment in something, it can be easy to take criticism of that thing- whether it’s an object, an action, or a belief- personally, even if the criticism was intended more broadly.
This is hardly the first time this has happened, I just noticed that there was a pattern to it this time. Find a thread where someone is critical of just about any activity, and you’re bound to find at least a couple of comments along the lines of “But I do that, and I’m still a feminist!” or a comments defending the action in question because of who the person partaking is. There’s some general resistance to criticism being directed at the actions of the people we like, as SarahMC points out:
Yeah, it’s “the personal is political” where feminism is concerned, but not dog breeding because someone we like bought from a breeder and it’s not cool to criticize.
People on “our side” pass judgement on people’s behavior all the time. Usually sexist, misogynist behavior, on feminist blogs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Or is it only acceptable where feminism, specifically, in concerned?
And, ultimately, I have a hard time arguing against that- it’s a good point. Even still, it’s not like I don’t understand why people resist criticism. Sometimes people will clarify: “I’m not attacking your right to do X, or you, personally, I’m questioning something broader/bigger than that” but a lot of times, I think it’s hard not to take those comments a bit personally, even when you know it’s about a broader issue, and not just you. I know that I sometimes find myself feeling defensive when, say, video games are discussed, or when someone makes a comment about “what men do.” I think that’s natural.
Blogger Elaine's comments seem to have led to exactly this kind of result, though. Hers is the eighth one in on the thread:
Monty is adorable and I don't mind some puppy time on this blog, but as a feminist on a feminist blog, I think you owe your readers at least a cursory feminist analysis of your choice to treat another living being as a product of consumption.
I'm not familiar with most of the Monty posts- I might glance at the pictures (and, yeah, Monty is a cute puppy, no doubt!), but I don't usually read the comments, because... well... I figured they'd mostly be "Aw! He's so cute!" I gather that Elaine has apparently attempted to engage with Jessica about this in the past, but I haven't read those posts. Now, I'm sort of loathe to think that any blogger really owes any reader anything, unless a specific debt has been incurred, but, that quibble aside, I didn't think that Elaine's comment was really that outlandish or demanding. I gather that I'm actually sort of in the minority there, though.
The really interesting thing here is how familiar the general form of this conversation is.
Here's how I break it down: Blogger posts some personal statement, x, of like/dislike. A responds with questions/criticisms about X. B responds in annoyance at A. C responds agreeing with A and dismissing/attacking B... ...G responds by calling A's (or B's, or Blogger's) feminist cred into question: "real feminists don't x"/"I thought that feminists were against x?"
The topic changes, but the conversation is the same, in a lot of cases. Whether you're talking about pornography, or children, or, apparently, pets. I haven't even been in the feminist blogosphere that long, and I'm seeing this- have others noticed this pattern, too? I have to admit, it's very frustrating to see in action.
From that thread, I get the impression that animal rights are a pretty major part of for Elaine, ngrey, SarahMC, et al's personal identity (apologies aplenty if I've misread any of you!). For some people, animal rights and human rights aren't different. Human beings, after all, are animals, so, the logic goes, how can we separate the two?
So, this makes sense, right? You're a person who cares deeply about animal rights. For you, animal rights can't necessarily be neatly separated from feminist issues. There's an overlap. You go to a site of a feminist author that you respect, and she's engaging in an activity that you find questionable.
Can we really, in good conscience, expect a person for whom animal rights are important to stay silent? Do we expect them to just shut up about it? I’m not sure, but I suspect not. I don’t expect people not to call me out on things just because I try to be good. If I say something sexist or racist or homophobic, I would hope to be called on it. The difference this time is that Elaine’s argument is that there some aspect of speciesism or human exceptionalism instead of some other ism.
There was a comment on the feministing thread that basically said: Aren't we allowed to just enjoy stuff, or do we always have to question people about their actions? Aren't we allowed to make our own choices?
I hate to bring up past kerfuffles, but, well... like I said, a lot of this sounds familiar. In particular, I'm thinking about posts regarding people of color, but I think it also applies to some of the posts about sex-work/pornography, and probably to other topics, too. In the end, I think that the answer is that, no, you can’t really just enjoy stuff, sometimes. Sometimes you have to accept that your actions may carry political weight beyond what you thought or wanted, and that sometimes you’re going to get taken to task over things that you didn’t think were political actions. You can choose to engage those questions, or you can choose to ignore them, but they’re still going to be there.
I think that the thing that bothers me about these conversations is the ways that another person's concerns and criticisms are sometimes casually dismissed and hand-waved away in ways that we wouldn't accept feminist concerns being dismissed. Every so often, we see MRAs or just anti-feminists coming into threads and dismissing feminist concerns. A particularly sexist ad might be getting critiqued, when some guy will come up and tell everyone to chill out or relax, or suggest that it's "all in good fun." That kind of comment (rightly) gets ripped apart.
Midway through the thread, SarahMC takes some people to task for the thread:
Why is it OK for feminists to protest stuff that harms women but not OK for animal lovers to protest behaviors that harm animals? Seriously. These, "But that's what I want to do and nobody can stop me!" arguments are the same types of arguments used by anti-feminists all the time!
"But I like porn so nobody should examine or criticize it!" etc.
How can anyone be offended by this discussion? None of us advocate outlawing buying from breeders (I don't think). So nobody's being "oppressed" here. Listening to our opinions/viewpoints is not hurting you.
Which struck me as a pretty fair point, and even though I don’t find myself agreeing with everything that the animal rights crowd on there is saying, I found myself rereading some of their comments, and trying to see things from their point of view. Unfortunately, the thread sort of degenerates rapidly from that point...
There are a lot of things going on in that thread, and some of them I'm still struggling to come to terms with. At one point Elaine compares animal ownership to slavery, which prompts a number of comments along the lines of "That's incredibly offensive." It inspired Zuzu’s post, and has been pretty generally torn apart. And while I understand and agree with much of what Zuzu says in her post, I’m not all the way there yet.
See, the problem I’m having is that there’s Slavery, and there’s slavery. I’ll totally grant that Jessica’s owning Monty is not on the level of “someone whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage only to be sold at auction and kept in bondage for the rest of their lives.” That would be Slavery. Of course, I don’t think that the guy working the counter at McDonald’s is really experiencing that kind of oppression either, but I don’t know that I’ve seen much outrage over the term “wage slave.”
I sort of take it because there’s a recognizable difference between slavery and Slavery. You can be a slave without having undergone the level of torment and torture that happened during Slavery, and I just can’t see the value is trying to suggest that any conversation about slavery as a form of oppression has to involve oppression on the level of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Nor do I think that there’s value in assuming that people on the animal rights side are arguing in bad faith or are racist jerks just because PETA has a bad track record, which is part of what I think might be happening. This, even after Elaine clarified: The definition of slavery is to treat another as property. Property is the essential concept of slavery. Property. The only way you can be offended is if you think it's OK to treat non-human animals as property.
Does an elephant in a circus that’s whipped and beaten, that’s forced to do strange tricks and perform at the whims of the ring-master suffer on the same level as that person who was kidnapped and brought across the Middle Passage? Maybe not. But is that elephant still being treated as a thing? As property? Is it being forced to do things that it would likely otherwise not want to do? Is it being kept in bondage for the rest of it’s life? Absolutely.
So, maybe not Slavery… but I have a hard time being overly critical of someone calling it slavery. After all, I think that people can and do torture animals, even if the torture never reaches the levels of the Spanish Inquisition. (And, I have to wonder, what happens if we discover, for example, that dolphins or chimps do meet the requirements for sapience? That they are “people” in a moral sense?). I’m still mulling this one over, though. Zuzu’s point about the history of racism and the ways that, in particular, POC have been Othered through the use of animal imagery isn’t lost on me… Like I say, I’m still mulling that over and running it around my brain.
I also found Jill’s take on the blow-up pretty interesting (and the comment thread looks to have been pretty good, too) although I can’t completely agree with her when she responds to Elaine’s comments with “I’d pick a human stranger over [an animal] simply because a human stranger is human, even though I think of my dogs as family and the closest thing there is to human.” I haven’t read all of Elaine’s comments on Animal Rights, but I think that there’s a difference between saying that it’s wrong to treat animals as property, and suggesting that every human being should regard every animal as being of exactly the same worth or value as, say, your own mother.
I don’t value all people the same. I’d pick my immediate family over most of my friends. I’d pick my friends over most of the bloggers I read. I’d pick most of the bloggers I read over a total stranger. I think that’s probably pretty normal- to have different levels of value for the different humans in our lives. For that matter, I value children and adult humans over fetal humans. It’s not that I don’t think that fetal humans have value- if you want a child, I think that your fetal offspring is probably pretty valuable to you- it’s that I think that born humans have greater value.
So, ultimately, suggesting that you’d pick any particular human or even any human over, say, a dog… well, it doesn’t seem to me to be much of a response against the claim that it’s wrong to treat animals like property. One doesn’t really have much to do with the other.
Maybe I sound like I’m being a little bit too critical? I don’t know… maybe I am being too critical. The thing is, animal rights are still a controversial issue, and there are a lot of people who are trying to raise awareness and do work on animal rights, and I just hate to see their issues being derided and ignored in ways that anti-feminists deride or ignore the issues that matter to me.
Mostly, I guess I’m just starting to notice this trend, and I’m not really sure if there’s a way to break out of it, or if we’re sort of doomed to repeat these sorts of arguments. Is there some way that we can try to raise questions about each others behaviors, and respond to those criticisms in a way that doesn’t feel quite as… I don’t know… antagonistic? Maybe there’s not, but I sort of hope that there is.