Hey readers, Intrepid Lynx has a question: What do rodeos, agriculture and bullfighting have to do with violence against women?
Remember the No Joke post? You all seemed to find that one especially interesting. Want a little more about interconnectedness? Read on!
I recently started listening to Animal Voices, a radio show based in Toronto. I continue to be impressed by the hosts’ abilities to ask relevant questions, find countless guests who have interesting and important things to talk about, and how the show fosters a holistic view of non-human animal issues by demonstrating sensitivity to, and addressing, various human issues and connecting the dots. Back in 2005, Animal Voices did a show for International Women’s Day (March 8), which included a slew of amazing speakers and touched on very important topics, one of them being the links between violence against women, and violence to non-human animals. Much of the show is devoted to examining this issue in Wellington County, Ontario – right in my backyard. In light of the recent mass shooting in California, an event that now sits atop the mountain of other mass murders (which all seem to have been done by men) over the last few decades, this is what I want to talk about today.
For resources on dealing with partner and animal abuse, click here.
First off, I acknowledge that violence against women, and violence against non-human animals, are both very real issues. If you’re a woman, or are read as a woman by other people, you’re confronted by this every day, both in subtle ways and perhaps very obvious and scary ways. If you’re a woman of colour, disabled, of size, queer, trans, whatever – your risk is even greater (I’m sure you don’t need to be told, and could probably tell me of your own experiences that demonstrate this. In fact, I encourage you to leave comments on this topic if you wish). I want you to know that I understand that this is a real and serious problem, one that I also experience, and I don’t simply want to use it as a jumping-off point or an oversimplified argument in order to further my own thoughts in this post. The purpose of discussing these issues is to bring awareness to how they are linked and how they come from the same source. I hope that those of you who’ve read my other posts understand this, and that I can make it clear here as well. That said, if you think I need to do better with the nuances of it all (or other things), please email me. Also, given the subject matter of this post, be aware that some images in this post are difficult. Stay fierce and support each other.
So, onward. You may have seen the #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen twitter feeds lately. If you haven’t, here’s a sample:
In the No Joke post, I talked about the Stouffville cats and the pig in my town, all of whom had their heads cut off and displayed in public areas. I made a quick mention in that post that in the case of the cats, an investigation was taking place (still ongoing) in order to prevent future acts of cruelty to animals and also because of concern that the perpetrator(s) may also harm or be harming humans. This argument is one that gets used so much in animal advocacy, but often without much discussion or examples. The premise here is that violence to animals is a precursor to violence against humans. The concern over human well-being is generally the point emphasized. What’s also almost always emphasized is that serial killers display this pattern of behaviour in almost every case, and the implication is that the problem is with a few “deviant” people who are not like you and I.
But it’s not just about serial killers. We can easily hear things like that and dismiss them by assuming that it would take a really messed up person to commit such acts of cruelty, and be thankful that our neighbours and acquaintances are nothing to worry about when it comes to this kind of behaviour. But serial killers aren’t the only ones who are violent to animals (human or not).
As was mentioned on this blog already, much violence, and specific types, are normalized – treated as unremarkable and acceptable – even celebrated – by our society (and others). It can be hard to see if you aren’t a target, and much of it is not manifested physically, but these forms of violence are rampant once you’re aware of them. (The twitter feeds linked above give a good demo of this). It’s like spending hours on a Where’s Waldo book, and then when you notice a pattern emerge, you can’t help but see Waldo everywhere, whether you’re searching or not.
It’s enraging and discouraging to realize how much this happens, but at the same time, holding that awareness allows us to better understand certain patterns and problems in our surroundings, and helps us better understand the experiences of others who are targets of these forms of violence, which can create solidarity and strength.
Back to the “serial killer” issue: despite what media rhetoric would have us believe, it doesn’t take a serial killer to replicate the types of violence that are condoned in the dominant culture. Let me elaborate with some examples.
Veterinarian and lawyer Dr Peggy Larson was a guest on Animal Voices a few years back. A former “bronc” rider, now a veterinarian and lawyer, she had a lot to say on the subject of rodeos from both an insider’s view and an animal advocacy perspective. In addition to naming the injuries faced by the rodeo animals, whom rodeos claim are treated well (anything from shattered tracheas to broken limbs, even the ligament holding a calf’s head to its body being torn), Dr Larson had some interesting commentary to make on the connection between violence to animals and violence against people: in one case, she witnessed a rodeo audience member filming a bull riding event. A bull rider confronted the woman filming, assaulted her, and the audience actually cheered him on.
“This 6-foot 2-inch bull rider didn’t like the fact that she was videotaping…so he started to push her around, and when he pushed her around, the crowd started cheering. There were children in the crowd. Eventually he ripped the camera away from her and dumped her head-first into a horse trough…I saw pictures of the bruises on this woman when she got away from him finally…but the whole crowd was just urging him on.”
The entire episode can be heard here; this quote starts around 19:00.
Another great demonstration of these links is the video below, taken in France in 2011. In this video, a group of people from the group Comité Radicalement Anti-Corrida (CRAC) occupy the arena at a bullfighting school. The school trains children and teens in bullfighting by teaching them how to wound and kill calves, so they can later become adult bullfighters. The protestors first joined the audience as though they were spectators, then later dropped banners, and a group of almost 70 people jumped the railings to occupy the bullring itself by sitting in a circle and chaining themselves together in the centre of the arena, aiming to prevent the show from going on. Their methods were entirely non-violent. In the video, however, the bullfight fans couldn’t seem to keep themselves from responding with violence. One can only imagine what the response would be in a large arena at a high-level tournament.
If you decide to watch the video, be aware that the protestors are kicked, punched, dragged and sprayed in the face with a hose. Some (mostly women) have their clothes ripped off. I find this video incredible – even while they endure beatings, the protestors remain calm and do not fight back. I wasn’t expecting the audience to react so violently, especially since the bullfight is mere “entertainment” to them (albeit a terrible form of entertainment rooted in the history of France’s monarchy as well as that of Spain).
However, when you consider what bullfighting is – weakening a creature so you can express dominance over him by glorifying his long, violent death, and using his body parts as trophies – as well as an event to attend if you want to display your “high” social status – the reaction of the audience unfortunately becomes less surprising. Keep in mind that this arena was part of a school, where young people are trained and undoubtedly influenced by incidents like this one. Their family members would have been among the audience. I later found out that the mayor of the town, who had been in attendance, was actually participating in the violence towards the protestors as well. I became aware of this through a show that Animal Voices did about bullfighting, in which an organizer and participant in this action was interviewed.
This is what they were trying to prevent:
These incidents in particular stirred my attention because they also demonstrate the relationship between sexism and violence to animals – it’s so common for “food” animals to be seen as proponents of their own misery and this is encouraged through myths about how dirty, lazy, dangerous or stupid these animals are. It becomes easier to distance ourselves from them, and blame them, when we believe the myths that are sold to us. As such, it’s perceived as humiliating and degrading to be a pig, a cow, a sheep, goat, chicken…in general people believe them to be dim-witted automatons who deserve their ill fate simply by virtue of their species. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard things like “if animals aren’t smart enough to escape the slaughterhouse, they deserve to be killed.” How would you escape in the situation below? Though there are lucky ones that manage to somehow get away.
In many cases, it’s considered humiliating and degrading to be a woman, too. Think of how many times you’ve heard (or said) “you play like a girl” or “stop crying like a girl”. In this culture it’s terrifying for men to be seen as similar to women, because this culture sees women as weak, as prey, and considers womanhood to be shameful. (Incidentally, this is also one of the roots of heterosexism and transphobia!) Think of when you may have heard, or said, things like “what was she wearing?” or “well, it was stupid of her to walk alone”. And how crappy it must be to be taught as a boy that certain emotions make you seem “girly” and thus are shameful and should be hidden. I can only imagine how a trans girl or gender-variant kid feels when their unseen identity is attacked like this. Also, remember the police officer’s comment that sparked the SlutWalk movement back in 2011?
women can avoid sexual assault by not dressing like a “slut.”
These types of acts – the violence displayed at the rodeo and bullfighting school – do the job of “putting in one’s place”: just as the bullfighter expresses dominance over the bull by weakening him to the point of exhaustion before killing him, so the audience expresses to the protestors that they have no right to dissent to what is going on, because it’s accepted by the dominant culture. The bull rider, too, was perhaps trying to put the female spectator “in her place” by aggressively objecting to her recording the event, after demonstrating his power over a frightened and potentially injured animal.
These are examples of extreme reactions people have when others are critical of their unearned power, privilege, or sense of entitlement. Which, by the way, played a huge part in the recent California shooting – how else to explain why someone would kill people for not doing what he wanted them to? Does the mere fact of being male entitle you to the bodies and lives of whomever you please? Apparently that’s a message that’s brought forth frequently enough to provoke an incident like this when someone feels that his entitlement as a male is not being “respected.” The same could be said for the entitlement of whites who are critical of employment equity, or the heterosexual person who considers it a “waste” when they find out someone they know is queer. If the status quo isn’t fulfilled, people get very defensive, because they take for granted the existence of their unearned privilege.
How exactly do these intersect? I think it can be summed up in a comment I heard from a worker at a nearby dairy:
“She is the definition of a cow.”
Referring to a client. This came from
a) a woman, who
b) relies heavily on exploiting female animals like cows to keep her in business, and who
c) obviously doesn’t think much of either women or cattle.
Here is a short video that uses advertisements for animal products to show how both “food” animals and women are degraded and treated as consumable objects in partiarchal cultures. Regardless of whether you agree with everything she says, it’s hard to deny the trends in those ads.
What I’m trying to get at here (as you may have guessed by now) is that it doesn’t necessarily take a remarkable person to display this kind of violence. It is enacted every day by regular people as a result of being taught that violence towards certain individuals is normal and acceptable. When we see things like the ads in the above video, it’s not hard to understand how we can become desensitized to violence against groups that are considered “other” by the mainstream.
Not only can this kind of environment foster violence on the part of observers, it can also do serious emotional damage. Virgil Butler, a former US slaughterhouse employee, wrote about his experience killing chickens on his blog. Amy J. Fitzgerald writes about the correlation between violent crimes and the presence of slaughterhouses in rural communities (there are many facets to this). In the article The Emotional Toll of Slaughter Work, it’s clear that workers who were interviewed have great difficulty performing their tasks and feel conflicted about their obligations at work, in some cases doing things they could never have expected of themselves in order to keep the line moving, or even to release feelings of frustration about their workplace, which uses them as cogs in a machine, just as it uses the animals. The issue of slaughter workers is more complex, as it encompasses numerous problems with class, race, and workers’ rights, as well as capitalism, animal issues and violence in general. This subject could be a whole other post – or blog, for that matter – and I don’t feel I can do it justice here, but I do encourage you to look into it yourself. It’s much more nuanced than the image we often get presented with of a worker abusing animals on a farm or in a slaughterhouse (or a mass shooter, for that matter) being depicted as evil or psychotic. Animal Voices has done shows with Virgil Butler and author Gail Eisnitz about this issue; both shows can be found here. Eisnitz also authored a book about the complex factors influencing slaughterhouse workers and thus also how “food” animals and people in surrounding communities are affected.
In my circles as a farmer, and as the trend of the “foodie” rises, I’m often presented with the idea that some farms are “humane” – generally local farms, small farms, or organic farms. People (understandably) object to factory farming, but fail to examine the violence that still exists on these other types of farms, and also ignore that local farms are often also factory farms. There is a lack of critique in the farming community when it comes to raising animals in these ways – people seem to think that if it’s less horrible than a factory farm setting, the animals must be “happy”. What they don’t see is that animals are not given adequate medical care for their ailments, are forcibly impregnated, have their bodies mutilated and their families split up, and even witness their family members being killed. This willful ignorance serves to keep us feeling comfortable about our choice to continue consuming “foods” which in reality are luxuries and are not necessary to most of us for health and vitality – which in fact harm our bodies and place limits on our empathy for others.
Which scenario looks better to you? Which do you think displays true respect?
All this comes back to the pig whose head was put in a bike basket. What some people might see as a harmless (or even funny) prank is really a part of all the things discussed here. The way we view “food” animals as shameful, stupid and dirty allows us to not only use and exploit them, but inflict terror and harm on them almost always without consequence. And when we accept actions like these against one group, is it really so hard to see how they get perpetuated against other groups? In an area heavily saturated with animal agriculture, with at least one slaughterhouse close by, is it such a big surprise that someone can become numb to this violence and start taking part in it themselves? Is it surprising that the pig’s head incident got zero press or investigation?
These connections are left out of discussions about the ethics of food, in my experience. Maybe it’s time we took a closer look.
Posted on June 9, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged abuse, animal voices, bull riding, bullfighting, bulls, calgary stampede, calves, carol j adams, cats, chicken, chickens, corrida, dairy, dr peggy larson, foodies, humane, humane farming, international women's day, intersectionality, joel salatin, local farms, local food, mass shooting, pig head, pig's head, pigs, rabbits, rodeo, rodeos, sexism, slaughter house, slaughter workers, steer wrestling, Stouffville cats, victim blaming, violence, violence against animals, violence against women, women. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.