Man’s Best Friend?

Let’s be real – most of us, at some point or another in our lives “hated” our parents. Don’t even try to deny it. We disliked them so much that we swore that whatever happened we would not act like them we were parents. Lord knows I was one of those children and even though I critiqued my parents for millions of things, there was one thing that upset me more than anything else. No matter how much I begged and promised to be the best daughter ever, my parents refused to get me a dog, or any pet for that matter. So cruel. Although I am now way past my rebellious stage, I still say that I will never forgive them for not allowing us to have a pet – growing up pretending my stuffed animals were alive was just not normal.

For someone who has loved animals for as long as I can remember, not having a pet felt wrong. However, it was not until this last week in my ecofeminism class that I began to think about animals and their relationship(s) to humans on a much deeper level. Throughout the class we read several texts that explored this topic, but it was Lori Gruen’s essay titled “Dismantling Oppression: An Analysis of the Connection between Women and Animals,” that resonated with me most of all. Like the other essays in Greta Gaard’s book Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature (1993), Gruen attempts to analyze the connections between women and animals, the most prominent of which seems to be their similarities as foci of oppression systems within our society. According to Gruen, the connection between women and animals it two-fold; it is both innate and socially constructed. As human beings, women are of course also animals and like all species, they are fertile and have the ability to reproduce. While this relationship is biological, there are other connections between women and animals and how they are both regarded within our patriarchal society, that have been constructed by that society itself. For example, Gruen argues that through the development of hunting within the early human race, men were able to exert their superiority and dominance over the animals they hunted. In turn, hunting further forced an association between animals and women; already physically smaller and weaker than men, women were not typically very involved in hunting, leaving the men to exert power over the powerless animals. This tie was only exemplified with the invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Not only did agriculture lead to the need of a larger population, solidifying the place of women within the home bearing children, it also led to the domestication of animals in the fields and the home. Therefore, the development of agriculture allowed men to take agency away from women by limiting them to the home and to the act of child-bearing, as well to take power further away from animals by bringing them into the home only to kill them for food later.

As most people would argue today, the domestication of animals did have the positive outcome in the establishment of pets within the home. I, myself, would agree with this of course. However, when reading this essay, I could not help but feel bothered with the fact that this same process led to the oppression of animals in the long run. Even though having pets within the home has allowed humans to develop meaningful relationships with animals, I had never considered the other effects that domestication had in the overall power balance between humans and animals. Can there be something inherently wrong with people having pets even if they are “man’s best friend”? Are we supporting the system of oppression against animals in some indirect way? After pondering these questions, I came to the conclusion that the relationships humans have with pets today are radically different from the superficial and often cruel relationships that people had with animals when they first became domesticated.

What if this was your best friend?

Nevertheless, Gruen’s article also highlighted a way in which humans and especially men within scientific fields do oppress animals, through the testing of chemical products and medicines. This semester, I took my first psychology class on animal learning and although I was fascinated to find out how humans and animals learn information, I could not help but feel uncomfortable with the means by which scientists have learned about these methods. As I saw everyday in class, scientists run experiments on animals such as rats and pigeons to figure out how they learn, in the hopes that they can address cognitive and behavioral issues in human beings. At first, the idea that “testing on animals can increase the longevity of human life” sounds reasonable and appealing. Hey, if testing on animals means that we will get to live longer and healthier lives, why would it be a bad thing? At least we are not testing on other people, right? That would be clearly immoral, plain and simple. However, on second thought, who are we to decide that testing on animals is not equally as immoral? Why is it that we have no problem killing millions and millions of animals every year in labs to improve our lives…are their lives not important too? Unfortunately, it is clear that to most people, this type of relationship with animals is justified, as long as it serves a greater purpose for the human kind. But just think about this for one minute: would you want your dog sitting with you right now to be shocked or drugged in repeated trials just so generations down the line can possibly live longer? Yes, I know that it is important to learn about humans and other aspects of our world through science but I also know that when I finally get my pet, the last thing I would do is abuse it in a lab. In my opinion, there has to be a middle ground, some sort of solution that will allow us to do both. What is that solution, you ask? I don’t know now but I want to propose the challenge for us to figure it out. At the end of the day, we test on animals mostly to see how man-made substances affect our health….why should animals have to suffer in the expense of our other mistakes?

Fight for our animals!

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