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Sherry F. Colb: Are women ‘livestock’?

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To suggest instead that no one is 'livestock', including women and including the poor, helpless creatures of fur, feather, and fin, is to seek justice, kindness, and the humane treatment of everyone capable of suffering and of experiencing the relief of their suffering.

SHERRY F. COLB: I recently received a flood of nasty messages… in response to a rather modest critique of Samuel Alito’s ‘Dobbs’ opinion that I published recently… What I want to discuss in this post is a meme that I have encountered on Facebook… a number of times and that comes from the pro-choice side of the debate. The meme says something along the lines of “women are not livestock!” The assertion here is important for what it implies about what it is that too many women seem to be seeking and for what it suggests about the proper moral order of things.

The statement “women are not livestock!” implies (or perhaps explicitly asserts) that forcing someone to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and then endure labor and delivery (what some have likened to being shot in the abdomen) essentially treats them as “livestock.” Livestock, in turn, refers to living, sentient beings whom farmers and slaughterhouses and the non-vegans whose demand for meat, dairy and eggs (really mutilated corpses, stolen breast milk, and ovarian secretions) the slaughterhouses serve by brutalizing gentle, helpless animals who scream and try to escape their terrifying captors in the soundproof chambers in which their throats are cut and, with many still alive, get thrown into a scalding tank to remove their fur, feathers, or fins…

I do not necessarily disagree with the idea that forcing women to take unwanted pregnancies to term treats women as “livestock.” After all, one of the profound cruelties that we inflict through animal agriculture is our complete indifference to the bonds that animals form with their babies and with the friends that they make while living on the most grotesque death row ever invented. So-called dairy cattle are forcibly impregnated and carry nine-month pregnancies to term, only to watch the farmer kidnap the new infant (perhaps for veal, perhaps for another cycle of forcible inseminations ending with slaughter down the road) so that the mom’s breast milk can be stolen from her and her infant and sold as unnecessary, unhealthful products and ingredients to customers at the grocery store…

So yes, forcing women to bear children against their will is something that farmers, slaughterhouse workers, and consumers of animal products do to female farmed animals every day. So what? Well, we can all (I hope) agree that women should be equal members of society and that being treated like “livestock,” even in only one respect, is unacceptable. So why am I fixating on the word “livestock”? Because the word implies that when we treat the animals who carry the name “livestock” in the way that we do, that conduct is perfectly acceptable. For an analogy, if you told your boss “I’m tired of your treating me like a kindergarten child,” you would mean that the way in which teachers treat kindergarten children is fine but that acting in the same way toward an adult is offensive. The premise that it is okay to treat farmed animals like “livestock” is wrong…

We are capable of empathy for animals; we just numb ourselves to the simple fact that the animals who walk into the slaughterhouse and come out as “meat” are just as entitled to empathy as the animals we love. To say “women aren’t livestock!” is to show no desire to interrogate the practice of anyone being “livestock.” It simply says women do not belong in that category. To my mind, that claim is simple self-dealing if unaccompanied by a commitment to justice for the other living beings forced into (a far more cruel) reproductive servitude. I wonder why it is that people feel the need to implicitly insult and dismiss the moral interests of farmed animals as part of their plea for the rights of women…

Justice is not simply about elevating yourself to equality with the oppressor–identifying with the oppressor in this way is just feathering one’s own nest. That is the selfish pursuit of more power for oneself. Once you begin fighting for others who experience a similar but even more total kind of oppression, you are truly fighting for justice. One cannot then say that you just want reproductive rights because they would benefit you. To say this differently, the declaration that “I am not livestock!” is not really a call for justice. To suggest instead that no one is livestock, including women and including the poor, helpless creatures of fur, feather, and fin, is to seek justice, kindness, and the humane treatment of everyone capable of suffering and of experiencing the relief of their suffering. SOURCE…

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