Women and animal advocacy

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The animal advocacy movement – embracing animal rights, animal welfare, and anti-vivisectionism – has been disproportionately initiated and led by women, particularly in the United Kingdom.[1]

Many of the major animal advocacy groups, all regarded as radical in their time, were founded and run by women, including the Battersea Dogs' Home (Mary Tealby, 1860), the National Anti-Vivisection Society (Frances Power Cobbe, 1875), the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (Frances Power Cobbe, 1898), the anti-vivisection Battersea General Hospital (known as the Antiviv), the British Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society (Lizzy Lind af Hageby, 1903), the Animal Welfare Institute (Christine Stevens, 1951), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Ingrid Newkirk, 1980). Women have also featured prominently in actions carried out in the name of the Animal Liberation Front and the Hunt Saboteurs Association.


Personhood, women, and animals[edit]

When Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, an anonymous tract, A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, immediately appeared as a parody.

Carol J. Adams argues that personhood was until recently regarded as the preserve of the white European man, with everyone else deemed "other" – other races, other species, the other sex – all identified with the forces of nature and superstition, as opposed to the world of science and reason.[2] Women, Black people, and beasts were irrational and inferior. When Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, philosopher Thomas Taylor responded anonymously in the same year with A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, in which he demonstrated that arguments for the oppression or liberation of women applied equally well to animals, intending it as a reductio ad absurdum of Wollstonecraft's position.[3]

Suffragists and animals[edit]

Coral Lansbury writes that the suffragist movement in the UK became closely linked with the anti-vivisection movement. Writing about the Brown Dog affair, a controversy about animal research that raged in Edwardian England, she argues that the iconography of vivisection struck a chord with women. The vivisected dog muzzled and strapped to the operating board was a symbolic reminder of the suffragette on hunger strike restrained and force-fed in Brixton Prison, as well as women strapped into the gynaecologist's chair by their male doctors, for childbirth, for sterilization as a cure for "hysteria," and as objects of study by male medical students.[4]


  1. ^ Gaarder, Emily. "The 'Gender' Question of Animal Rights: Why are Women the Majority?", paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, August 11, 2006.
  2. ^ Adams, Carol. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, cited in Taylor, Angus. Animals and Ethics. Broadview Press, 2003, p. 103.
  3. ^ Sunstein, Cass R. The Chimps' Day in Court, The New York Times, February 20, 2000.
  4. ^ Lansbury, Coral. The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985, pp. x and 24.

Further reading[edit]

  • Feminists for Animal Rights
  • Donovan, Josephine. "Animal Rights and Feminist Theory," Signs, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Winter, 1990), pp. 350–375.
  • Kean, Hilda (1995). "The 'Smooth Cool Men of Science': The Feminist and Socialist Response to Vivisection", History Workshop Journal, 40: 16–38.
  • Kean, Hilda (1998). Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800. Reaktion Books.
  • Kemmerer, Lisa (2012). Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education, Advocacy, and Sanctuary. University of Utah Press.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1985). The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England. University of Wisconsin Press.

See also[edit]