A Case For Intersecting Disability and Factory Farmed Animal Rights
A blog post by Izzy Hare:
You look like a chicken when you walk. You eat like a dog. Your hands are like lobster claws. Do these comments stir anything in you when reading them? Do the words sting, do they invoke a sense of shame or offense at the slight? These are comments that are very common for disabled persons to hear throughout their lives. Invoking the Non-human animal comparisons, from friends, bullies, family members, doctors and the entertainment industry. Though these days our modern liberal society is a bit more conscious of exclusion-based behavior and political correctness, there is still this deeply seeded marginalization linked to animal comparisons within the historical context of the disabled collective experience such as sideshows giving their disabled performers names like Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy or medical texts labeling conditions as Lobster Claw or Elephantiasis. The pain surrounding these animal comparisons that are so frequent in disabled persons’ living experience in both their personal lives as well as that broader social scope has had an effect on their willingness to take on factory-farmed animal welfare as a disabled activist issue. But there is one disabled activist, Sunaura Taylor, who has dedicated her career to address this avoidance and advocate for nonhuman animal inclusion into the disabled rights domain and I’d like to quickly explore her ideas and reasons behind this.
In “Beasts of Burden” Sunaura talks about the inherent disrespect toward nonhuman animals that exists in being offended or hurt by being compared to them: “I argue that at the root of the insult in animal comparisons is a discrimination against nonhuman animals themselves. These nonhumans, one large mass of greatly varying beings, are held together by one similarity–they aren’t us. No matter how aware, sentient, or intelligent, they are the ultimate other.” Sunaura also talks about how nonhuman animals and disabled persons share certain commonalities that bond them, creating a contradiction to not include them into disbaled advocacy work. One link is surrounding the idea of dependence. Dependence links nonhuman animals, especially domesticated and farmed animals, with the plight of disabled persons in regards to social perceptions and exploitative practices and Sanaura notices the irony in the fact that the overarching forces of society actually amplify a state of dependence for both groups. Of course disability is not bred into humans the way it is with nonhuman animals, consider chickens bred to grow larger than their legs can support so that they buckle and break under the weight. Though, disabled persons can be subjected to medical procedures that actually disable functionality just to make things look more ‘normal’ aesthetically, and of course there is the actual design and function of infrastructure and other social modalities that favor the ‘natural’ ways of being. But, as Sunaura notes, are stairs more ‘natural’ than ramps?
What is ‘natural’ is another important aspect here. Sunaura speaks about the invocation of ‘nature’ and what is ‘natural’ to justify acts of violence against nonhuman animals as well as disabled individuals. Survival of the fittest and that realm of deeply misguided understandings that seek to assert not just humans but certain humans, able-bodied, male and subtextually within modern society, white, as the natural dominating forces of nature. Both domesticated/farmed animals and disabled persons are dependent on those at the top of the food chain and since they couldn’t survive out there in the wild all on their own, well that makes them lucky just to be kept alive and fed. Sunaura sees an interesting link between the humane meat debate, whose proponents argue that animals are in need of care and charity and slaughter is a justifiable exchange for the care, food and housing that they receive. Sunaura talks about how this way of perceiving dependent bodies is also reflected in how charitable organizations view their role in helping disabled people, whose thinking and rhetoric focuses on helping dependents while largely ignoring the systems at play, the social constructs designed to suit those in power, that create a greater need for this dependency.
So, it is a lot to ask of the disabled community to accept the issues of factory farmed animal welfare into their disability advocacy work, but Sunaura argues that “disability studies is left in a state of contradiction if it claims to find value in differing bodies and minds, different ways of being, but then excludes nonhuman animals.” It is a lot to ask any marginalized group to take on the issues of arguably larger marginalized groups of beings, especially when they’re nonhuman, and especially when the group under the gun is one that has deep rooted pain in its association. Pain surrounding difference, exclusion, oppression and exploitation. But, as intersectional work becomes more pivotal in our understanding and growth within humanitarian work, we recognize how important it is to see how so many of us are subjected to marginalization and exploitation at the hands of more powerful actors. Sunaura asks us to question how we view ‘dependents’ in our lives and throughout society and points out how much these so-called ‘dependents’ actually have to offer.