Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology – Barbara Noske (1988). Noske on “The Animal Question in Feminism” part I.
[W]ith the rise of modern science and the subject-object approach towards nature, women increasingly came to be associated with nature and natural processes, whereas men were associated with culture, the conquest of nature and with civilization processes. Well before this time Western humanity had already begun to value culture above nature, so that in the end women came to be regarded as inferior to men.
On the basis of those activities which they share with (female) animals, women became the personification of animal-human continuity. Men, on the other hand, came to represent the separation or discontinuity between humans and animals. While it cannot have gone unnoticed that male activities too have their parallels in the animal world, these tended (and tend) to be played down. Thus, in the best of humanist traditions, even someone like Simone de Beauvoir pointed out that man-animal continuity is only ostensibly a continuity: the human male is a free agent, his life activities involve a project and are aimed at remodelling nature and moulding the future. Man’s activity is not to repeat himself in time in the way that animals do but to make of existence itself a value.
It is precisely this subject-object attitude to the natural world which has devaluated both nature and woman. Nevertheless De Beauvoir seems to agree with male chauvinists on at least one point, namely, that woman’s animality is more manifest than man’s. She appears to consider an activity specifically human only if there exists no parallel for it in the animal world. In her eyes women’s activities are not really human as long as they are natural and resemble animal actions such as giving birth and suckling. If in her view man-animal continuity is false, woman-animal continuity is certainly real. And only in so far as woman succeeds in cutting her ties with the animal world, will she truly become human and achieve equality with man.
Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology –Barbara Noske (1988). Noske discusses how critical Marxist views can be applied to animal exploitation in agriculture. Part II: Alienation from home, life as exploitation.
Animals nowadays are increasingly made to produce in huge buildings, in systems ranging from moderate to total confinement. The surrounding physical environment is completely human-made and human-controlled; no open air, no feel of earth, artificial temperatures, artificial daylight or darkness, wire-mesh, concrete or metal-slat floors and so forth. Confinement systems serve a twofold purpose: to crowd as many animals as possible in one spot and to manipulate them toward ever greater productivity. […]
In the course of capitalist production humans have virtually robbed the animals of their own subsistence cycles: control over life-supporting activities has passed from the animals themselves to machines and managers. As it is, a power failure or a minor mistake can quickly cause the death of a very large number of animals.
We have seen that the human (male) worker surrendered control over the production and labour processes to the management but maintained control over the sphere of reproduction: his home. Karl Marx wrote: “Thus the worker only feels at home outside his work and in his work he feels a stranger. He is at home when he is not working and when he works he is not at home.“
Marx concentrated on the male worker, ignoring the specific position of the female worker, who, whether or not working in the sphere of production, is required also to work in the sphere of reproduction: the home. Contrary to the male worker, the female worker is not free from work even in the home. She must reproduce labour power by attending to the day-to-day needs of her husband and children (if existing) as well as to her own needs. For her there exists no clear distinction between home and work. Indeed, female workers are first and foremost workers in the home, which to them is hardly a place of leisure.
Thus, while for the male home and work are separate, and for the female work is in the home as well, animal `workers’ cannot `go home’ at all. The modern animal industry does not allow them to `go home’ – they are exploited 24 hours a day. In the case of animals the `home’ itself has been brought under factory control. There is to be hardly a spontaneous movement and no free association with other members of the species. Indeed, it is often precisely the sphere of reproduction (mating, breeding, the laying of eggs) which the capitalist seeks to exploit. The animal’s life-time has truly been converted into `working-time’: into round-the-clock production.
Humans and Other Animals: Beyond the Boundaries of Anthropology – Barbara Noske (1988). Noske on “The Animal Question in Feminism” part III: Women and mothers as biologically determined, men and fathers as culturally ‘evolved’.
Even where the origin of humanization is not attributed to male social activities such as hunting or male bonding, a central role is still attributed to paternity. As it is generally believed that among non-human primates paternity is not recognized, contrary to maternity, the recognition of fatherhood is seen as the key to humanity.
Maternity is considered inherently conservative since the transformation of an adult woman into a mother would appear to be an automatic biological process. Fatherhood, on the other hand, is viewed as a cultural rather than a biological relationship: it constitutes a social institution and is seen by many as the foundation of all kinship systems. Motherhood, which by itself resembles an animal state, requires `husbandry’ (denoting the status of husbands) to move to a human state. Paternity is not founded on the immediate biological fact of conception- instead it is an indirect relationship based on two direct relationships both of which are believed to be purely biological.
The idea that the female core of an average animal group should be seen as a purely biological unit, in itself incapable of developing culture and sociality, is by no means a novel thought. Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discours sur l’inegalite made a similar suggestion… Like Marshall Sahlins today, Rousseau apparently did not consider animal relations between kin and inter-animal compassion as social qualities. The mother-child bond was in his eyes no occasion for social transmission, and the feeling of compassion was biologically induced rather than socially acquired.
All these scenarios more or less convey the general idea that mother-daughter-sibling-infant groups cannot possibly constitute societies. Relationships between females, and between females and offspring, apparently simply cannot have risen above the instinctive and purely biological level. Males were needed to lead our species across the nature-culture boundary.
It should be acknowledged that many sexist theories indeed base their arguments on the notion that woman is more biological and therefore closer to animals than man, and that this woman-animal continuity forms a major barrier for social equality between the sexes. And like Simone de Beauvoir many feminists are in their turn showing a typical example of Anti-Biological Reaction in their attempts to dismiss or belittle anything in women reminiscent of animals. They have come to believe that human-animal continuity, or at least its female version, woman-animal continuity, has played a major role in the oppression of women. And, indirectly, they are right.
However it is not woman-animal continuity per se which is oppressive; rather it is the social construction and interpretation of this continuity which has caused women to be discriminated against. Discrimination has occurred on the basis of a woman’s body, her sexuality, her sex hormones, her reproductive function. She has even been discriminated against on account of her (allegedly) greater emotionality, indeed, on account of anything which can also be detected in animals. Body size, menstruation, pregnancy, motherhood and child care all have been used to bar women from other rewarding activities and opportunities in society and, in Western society at least, this has made women dependent on men. Sexists and anti-sexists alike have generally assigned a low status for maternity and have regarded it as a handicap for participation in wider society.