Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Katrin B. sent in a link to a series of ads created by an organization called Stepping Stone Nova Scotia. Their mission is to advocate on behalf of, and offer resources and services to, prostitutes in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
The ads depict quotes by friends or family members of prostitutes (“I’m proud of my tramp, raising two kids on her own”) which are intended to humanize sex workers; the bottom of each ad reads “Sex workers are brothers/daughters/mothers too.” They’re also intended to shock the reader into really thinking about prostitutes. The juxtaposition of words like “tramp” and “hooker” with the white middle-class faces of the speakers makes the viewer question our culture’s ease with using those terms, and forces us to see the person behind the prostitute.
Stepping Stone’s executive director, Rene Ross, points out that every time a prostitute is killed—sex workers have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the Canadian national average—media accounts emphasize that the victim was a prostitute, but not that she (or he) was also a mother, daughter, friend or, for example, animal lover. By thinking of sex workers only in terms of their stigmatized occupation, we don’t have to care about them as people.
In New Mexico, where I live, the remains of eleven women (and the unborn fetus of one) were found buried on a mesa outside of Albuquerque in 2009. The women had disappeared between 2003 and 2005, and most, according to police, were involved with drugs and/or prostitution. Why did it take the police so long to find the bodies of these women, and why do their murders still remain unsolved? Some observers have suggested that because the women were—or were alleged to be—prostitutes, there was less pressure to find them after they went missing, or to solve their murders once their bodies were found. As long as the victims were sex workers, then the non-sex worker public can feel safe in the knowledge that they are not at risk. We know that prostitution is dangerous, so it’s expected that some of them will die grisly deaths, and be buried like trash on a mesa outside of town.
I love the motivation behind the ads, and they do make me smile. I hope they have the effect that Stepping Stone intends—making people think of prostitutes as people, not trash. But they’re also funny, and I wonder if they won’t also have an unintended effect, of making prostitutes seem like a joke.
This week I watched the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. During the roast, most of the jokes dealt with his well-known history with drug use and prostitution, and “prostitute,” “hooker” and “whore” were used as punch lines in the majority of the jokes, and each “whore” reference incited additional laughter. Sure, many of the women that Sheen paid to have sex were doubtless “high class” call girls, paid well, and not living on the street. But we also know that at least some of these women, as well as the non-prostitute females in his life, were subject to violence and threats of violence. He is alleged to have beaten, shot, shoved, and thrown to the floor a number of women over the years, but because many of these women were prostitutes (or porn stars, which is the next best thing), the women were “asking for it.”
Let’s hope that Stepping Stone’s campaign does some good, making us think about sex workers as people, rather than punch lines and faceless victims.
Friday, September 30, 2011
Using the dead body parts of slaughtered animals for art is nothing new. British artist Damien Hirst’s first major piece was called A Thousand Years (1990) and consisted of a cow’s head rotting inside of a glass case, complete with flies and maggots. Other artists have used, and sometimes killed, animals in order to provoke reactions from the public. In 2003, Chilean artist Marco Evarisitti created a piece, for example, that involved live goldfish swimming in blenders full of water. Patrons were given the opportunity to press the buttons on any of the blenders, killing the goldfish within, which the artist said was an invitation for the public to “do battle with their conscience.” More controversial was Swedish photographer Nathalia Edenmont, whose work involved actually killing rabbits, mice, chickens and cats, and then photographing their chopped up bodies alongside flowers, fruit and other objects. Like Evarisitti, Edenmont has said that her work was intended to challenge the public, and claimed that those who opposed it were hypocrites for not opposing the killing of animals for makeup or for food.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the San Francisco Arts Commission gave New York City artist Tom Otterness a $750,000 grant to create public art for San Francisco’s subway system. After the city put out a press release about the grant, local animal activists recognized the artist’s name; in 1977, Otterness adopted a dog from a humane society, shot him, and filmed his death for a film he called “Shot Dog Film.” Activists led by In Defense of Animals were outraged; IDA employee Anita Carswell said “You do not let an animal shooter put up 59 sculptures in your subway system. It’s going to be offensive to everybody that rides the subway, a reminder: ‘People who shoot dogs for stupid reasons get rewarded.’”
He may not get his reward after all. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has asked that the project be put on hold; as of this writing, it is unclear whether the project will be completed, or whether Otterness will be the artist to complete it. At least in San Francisco, the city of St. Francis, most people do not see such cruelty as art.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
You may have heard by now that Michael Vick, the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, just won a one hundred million dollar, six year contract, just two years after being released from the Leavenworth penitentiary after being caught running a dog fighting business.
Sports analysts are already saying that Vick's deal is not really for a hundred million dollars; he's only truly guaranteed $35 million over the next three years, and can lose all the rest depending on his performance, lack of injury, and the like. Still. $35 million is an awful lot of money for a convicted dog killer.
For many in the sports world, Vick's story is a storyof redemption. Not only did Vick lose his football career, his lucrative product endorsements, and his freedom, but in 2008 he filed for bankruptcy, thanks to the loss of his income and poor financial management of his assets while he was free. Yet less than two years later, Vick not only got a chance to play professional football again, being named Comeback Player of the Year in 2010, but he is now the third highest paid player in the NFL, and the first to ever sign two one hundred million dollar deals in his career. He's also gotten back his endorsements; even Nike, notoriously shy of signing controversial athletes, has given Vick a new contract.
At a press conference announcing his new contract, Vick appeared humble, and talked about the "sacrifices" he had to make to reach this point in his life, and all that he gave up--he does still owe millions to his creditors as part of his bankruptcy settlement. Sports commentators seem united in their sense that Vick is now a changed man, and that he has moved forward from his "mistakes." That may well be, and in the press conference, he seemed sincere.
But I'm still not convinced. Running a dog fighting ring that involved multiple states, gambling and racketeering, lying to police and prosecutors, and hundreds of dogs being trained, fought, and, in many cases, brutally killed (some by Vick himself) is not a "mistake." It's a sign of extreme cruelty and, some would say, pathology.
America is the land of second chances. We famously forgive our fallen celebrities for their financial, sexual, and even criminal transgressions. And if we won't allow for those who have sinned to redeem themselves, what does it say about us?
But for me, I am going to wait and see. I suspect that Vick won't--or at least won't soon, because right now he can't afford it--restart his extravagent lifestyle, and will try to keep a clean image. I certainly doubt that he will ever engage in dog fighting again. He would be insane to do so. But I wonder how a person who once tortured animals for pleasure and profit can ever truly change, especially if he continues to refer to that behavior as "mistakes."
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I’ve been thinking a bit about disability lately. I have a student in my class who’s in a wheelchair, and we’ve talked in class about issues surrounding disability, including how definitions of “normality” are often socially constructed. But what of disability in non-human animals? How do other animals see or understand disability, normality, or bodily integrity?
I currently live with three disabled animals. Molly came to me three years ago with one leg missing—from what, I don’t know. She’s never been very mobile, but as she’s gotten older, she’s gone completely immobile. She just lays down wherever I put her, and scoots a little bit towards the food, but that’s it. Then there’s Audrey, who arrived here in the Spring from California with a broken back. She was surrendered to an animal shelter as a baby; I am guessing that someone in her human family dropped her, severing her fragile spine. Luckily she was rescued by the volunteers at Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue and lovingly cared for by a veterinarian there before she was transported to New Mexico to my house. And just this last week, one of my youngest rabbits, Junior, began experiencing a lack of muscle coordination. It has now gotten so bad that he can only stand for brief amounts of time before he falls over, like a fainting goat.
When other people see that I, or friends of mine, care for disabled animals, they often feel sorry for them. Oh what a sad bunny! But what they don’t see is, at least in rabbits like Audrey, is a fierce determination and a desire to do all the same things that she sees everyone around her doing. She has a cart that she rides around the house in, although she has now chewed through her harness twice. I have to find her a new one that she can’t destroy, and in the meantime, she scoots around whenever she can on the floor.
This weekend we took out our little trailer and went for an overnight camping trip. As usual, we took our four Chihuahuas and our parrot, who began joining us last year when she got sick, and we realized at that time how much she loved traveling; now we bring her with us whenever we go. This time we also brought Audrey, Molly and Junior. While both Molly and Junior were sort of confused by the whole experience, they were good sports, and ate and drank in their new environment like always. Audrey, on the other hand, loved the trip. She spent the first couple of hours in the extra large litterbox/bed which we brought for the three bunnies, but once she realized she could climb out of it (those front legs of hers are strong!), she spent the rest of the trip on the floor of the trailer, exploring.
Another camper came by and saw Audrey through the door to the trailer, and couldn’t believe we’d brought a rabbit camping with us. She didn’t realize that she was disabled, which is good, because it saved me from having to tell the whole story about her and from having to reassure this stranger that she was okay. But on the other hand, maybe having more people see “differently abled” bunnies like Audrey out camping with the family, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, would help to dispel the idea that disabled animals don’t enjoy life, or worse, don’t even deserve to live.
Friday, April 29, 2011
What was the focus of the editorial? Linzey argued that the language that humans use when discussing non-human animals matters, and shapes how we treat them. The media's response? That crazy academics like Linzey are worried that animals will be “insulted” if we call them pets, critters, or beasts. Sadly, these stories entirely miss the point.
Language is more than just the means by which we communicate. Language both reflects, and also shapes, how we see the world. So it shouldn’t surprise us that words about animals shape our understanding of animals. Terms like “pet” and “livestock” reflect a particular understanding of animals, and then shape our treatment of them. Once an animal has been classified as a pet, it would, in our culture, be difficult to turn that animal into meat, and we are horrified to hear of dogs in China being raised for human consumption. Similarly, we don’t think twice about killing animals that have already been classified as livestock or pests. New Zealand, for example, just held their annual Easter Day Hunt in which over 23,000 rabbits were hunted and killed, for fun and for charity. Other than animal activists in New Zealand and rabbit lovers elsewhere, most people do not care. That’s because these rabbits were already classified as pests.
Language is never neutral—it shapes behavior. In her analysis of the history and mythology of the turkey, Karen Davis makes the claim that when we’re determined to do violence to an animal, we must first turn the victim into a despicable “thing” that deserves such treatment.
In addition, idioms like “skin a dead cat” contribute to a permissive social attitude towards the abuse of animals. Negative animal idioms normalize or trivialize violence towards animals. When sayings like “flog a dead horse” are used and become a normal part of our vocabulary, we can no longer “see” the implications of human violence against animals. These expressions mask the real violence within them and demonstrate human power over animals.
In Defense of Animals began a campaign in 1999 to encourage people to call themselves guardians of companion animals, rather than owners. IDA has long argued that “owner” is linked with the treatment of animals. In particular, using the term means that companion animals are considered to be simply commodities or property, not individual beings, and IDA argues that this classification underlies their exploitation. The organization and other advocates argue that it is not so long ago that women, children and others were seen, in legal terms, as merely property.
This is the point that Linzey and the editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics were arguing: Language is real, and language does something. The fact that so many of the media reports surrounding the issue not only didn’t get that issue, but trivialized it, indicates how far we have to go as a society to take animals seriously, and to take seriously their treatment.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
But non-human animals can also be found hidden in the margins of the rest of the news. Even when they’re not included in the news stories, they often have a stake in the news, are impacted by the news, or play a hidden role in the news.
For example, many news items appear daily regarding the continuing problems in the US economy, and how states and cities are struggling to balance their budgets in the face of declining tax revenue and a loss of federal support. We hear about the tough choices that governors, mayors and legislators are having to make, and the potential impact of those choices on people. Wages and benefits are being cut, as are social services, making it hard for many citizens already struggling to keep their heads above the poverty level.
But animals are also impacted by these budgetary cuts. As animal control agencies find their budgets slashed, they must make difficult choices too. Some agencies are electing to cut important services, such as picking up stray animals, or providing low-cost spay/neuter services, which will cause more animal suffering. And at the same time that these agencies are facing a loss of needed income, they have a greater burden on their hands, as more people abandon their animals because they can no longer afford to care for them. Each new foreclosure and layoff potentially can mean another animal ends up at the shelter.
In other news, the world has been watching the events unfold in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Iran with a mixture of wonder, concern and excitement. For many Westerners, the revolutions and unrest in these countries is a positive sign that the dictatorships that have long run many Middle Eastern countries may be coming to an end, hopefully to be replaced by democracies and human rights. Others are worried that with the end of these regimes, we may see more instability in this region, and possibly a rise in Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Western sentiment.
But these political changes have impacted non-human animals as well. In Egypt, for example, animals like camels, donkeys and horses are starving to death, as the tourist industry has dried up and the animals’ owners could no longer feed them. Many other Egyptians have abandoned their companion animals, leading to greater numbers of dogs and cats on the streets, fending for themselves in the chaos. Even Egypt’s famed cats, so much a symbol of both ancient and modern Egypt, are suffering.
In Christchurch New Zealand, which was recently hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, hundreds of people have died and the city is reeling; a week later, rescue crews are still locating survivors and finding dead bodies amidst the rubble. But while it is not covered in the international news, we know that wherever humans suffer, animals tend to suffer as well. So what of the missing and dead animals? Or the animals who are separated from their human loved ones, who are not allowed to return to the devastation of their homes until authorities declare the areas safe? Luckily, New Zealand has a well-developed network of animal charities working to save animals and reunite animals and humans after the disaster.
In my state of New Mexico, we were recently slammed by a record-breaking cold front which devastated the state and resulted in the loss of gas—and heat—to thousands of New Mexicans during the coldest week in decades. Luckily, no people died during this crisis. The news has not reported on whether any animals suffered from the cold, but given how many animals in New Mexico live outdoors—from horses and goats and cows to dogs and cats and rabbits—it is most likely the case that at least some animals froze to death. That was certainly the case with 35 animals who died in the cold at a zoo in northern Mexico in early February.
But my point is that our lives are intertwined, human and non-human, and our fates, good and bad, are similarly interconnected. Sometimes you have to read between the lines in the daily news, but if the news impacts more than a few people, it probably impacts more than a few animals as well.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Baby bunnies, as well as chicks and ducklings, are purchased at pet stores and feed stores every year as gifts, and every year, many of those same rabbits find themselves abandoned at animal shelters, or worse, in the wild. Those that aren’t often don’t survive because the purchasers were not planning to commit to these animals for their lifetimes.