Critique of historical Western ideology of women and animals as biodetermined, men as cultural agents

It must have become abundantly clear by now why feminist audiences have grown so sensitized to animals and to accounts of animal-continuity. So often has the subordination of women been naturalized and rationalized with reference to animal data and such data been interpreted to bolster anti-feminist opinion, that any hint in the direction of animal-human continuity is rejected by most feminists. Many feminists will go to great lengths to evade the polluting legacy of woman as a biologically determined animal, by asserting that woman is not natural but just as cultural as man. Animals and nature have become a threat, having issued woman with qualities which men take advantage of in order to assert dominance over women.

Women can therefore only be liberated if their ‘animal’ aspects are controlled with the help of the life sciences – ironically the same sciences which have assigned to women from the moment of their birth the status of natural objects. In their desire to free women from this natural object-status many feminists have failed to address the question of the objectified status of nature and animals.
As I see it, this state of affairs has been caused by the aforementioned unwillingness among (feminist) critics of sociobiology to come up with another non-reductionist model for interpreting human-animal continuity. Because feminists have uncritically embraced the subject-object division between humans and animals, an attitude inherited from Western scientific tradition as a whole, this tradition has not been challenged until now, or only in so far as its objectifications bear on women.

Objectifying portrayals of animals continue to be accepted as `true’. But would the image given of female animals be any more true than the image of female humans? Already we have noted that sexist biases do not stop at the human-animal border, that female and male stereotypes have been carried over into the world of animals. Like human women, female animals have been stereotyped as not programmed to participate equally with male animals in animal ‘public life’. Until quite recently females were being described as mothers or as male sexual choices, in contrast to males, who were depicted as shapers of group structures.

Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology – Barbara Noske (1988). Noske on “The Animal Question in Feminism” part IV: Critiques historical Western ideology of women and animals as biodetermined, men as cultural agents.

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