Dear "Franz," (a postscript)

March 30th, 2009 3:16 pm by Kelly Garbato

Photo via gwenael.piaser

A few days ago, I posted a snarky little missive addressed to “Franz,” an angry, speciesist troll who left several (now deleted) comments in response to this post. At the time, I gave little thought to his all-too-predictable ranting before deleting the comments, however, upon further reflection, I kind of wish I’d left them up. So much to deconstruct!

Franz’s initial comment left me wondering whether he was an uber-militant vegan, or just another speciesist troll. In it, he noted that he’s an Ohio resident, and yes, all “pig farms” are like the one depicted in Death on a Factory Farm. And anyone who thinks otherwise is “fucking ignorant.” And furthermore, unless a “morsel of meat” has never crossed your lips, you’re a “fucking hypocrite” for criticizing factory farming.

He followed that up with an obviously speciesist rant about vegans (like myself, presumably) who spend (“waste”) time on animal advocacy issues when there are More Important Things to worry about. Who cares about the dismemberment of fully conscious pigs, when millions of Humans have died in the “civil unrest” in Darfur? And, ZOMG, what about the peoples?, and so on and so forth.

Obviously, anyone who spends more than a reactionary thirty seconds considering the issue can see what an utter load of bullshit anthropocentric excrement it is. For starters, we can play this game forever: Who cares about the rape of women in Darfur when other women are being murdered? Who cares about genocide in Darfur when there’s an AIDS epidemic in (Southern) Africa? Who cares about AIDS when the entire human population is threatened by climate change? Ranking oppressions is an exercise in futility. Who gets to decide which injustice is the most egregious – and thus the most worthy of our attention? Could it be the oppressors, hmmmm?

(FWIW, hop on over to any A-list feminist blog, and you can see the same dishonest attacks leveled at women who dare to criticize “trivial” examples of misogyny in Western cultures: Who cares about “Fat Princess” when women are forced into hijabs in Islamic countries!?!?1! This line of “reasoning” is nothing but a smokescreen, and a transparent one at that.)

Not to mention, such an argument assumes that we can only care about and work on a single issue at any one time; that different forms of oppression and social injustice exist separately and are wholly independent of one another, as if in a void; that one’s compassion, kindness, justice and ethics towards one marginalized group will not inform a person’s attitudes and actions towards other marginalized groups; and that a being’s compassion is a finite pie that must be doled out a slice at a time. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

But I digress. The most interesting part of Franz’s rant came in the second comment. By this point, my eyes were glazing over, but I’ll try to paraphrase as best I can. Franz implored me to consider the story of some dude whose wife and (three?) children had been murdered. I forget the man’s name, but seeing as Franz mentioned the case directly after scolding me for not personally rescuing the entire population of Darfur, I assume that the murders were a part of said genocide.

What about John Q. Smith, whose wife and children were murdered and dismembered right in front of him? Don’t you care about him?

The “casual” sexism inherent in this sentence didn’t hit me until a few hours later. Here, John Q. Smith’s (unnamed) wife and children are the primary victims: it is they who were murdered and dismembered. While I’ve no doubt that this is traumatic for John, the crimes committed against him (being forced to watch as his wife and children were murdered and dismembered) are nowhere near as serious as the crimes committed against the wife and children (murder and dismemberment). They lost their lives, while John was allowed to live.

Yet, the way Franz frames the sentence, you’d think the most horrific abuses were reserved for John. Franz doesn’t ask “What about this woman and her children, who were murdered and dismembered?” – rather, he saves the bulk of his pity for John, whose wife and children were murdered and dismembered. To Franz, John’s wife and children are not even worthy of names – they’re some man’s wife and children, i.e., property, and that’s all we need to know. Seriously, we may as well identify the woman and children with numbers and ear tags. You know, like “livestock.”

The sad thing is, this sexist slight may very well have passed me by, unnoticed, had I not read this observation in Animal Equality a few nights prior:

As reported by The Sun (London),

“A terrified 19-stone husband was forced to lie next to his wife as two men raped her yesterday.”

Largely through syntax, the sentence attaches importance only to men. Instead of the raped woman, her spouse gets first mention, subject position, and the description “terrified.” Relegated to “his wife,” the primary victim is buried midsentence inside a prepositional phrase (“next to his wife”) and dependent clause (“as two men raped her yesterday”). Dismembered while fully conscious, a lobster received equally dismissive treatment from the Associated Press:

“Katie Couric looked away as [the chef] pulled off the lobster’s claws, chopped off its tail, removed its innards, sliced the upper body in half and threw the pieces into a hot frying pan with olive oil and garlic.”

The lobster suffered a violent death. Couric merely was present. (page 5)

In chastising me for caring about non-human animals – supposedly, to the exclusion of human animals – Franz implicitly holds himself up as a defender of human rights. However, Franz’s language betrays his narrow (ever-narrowing?) circle of compassion. To him, some humans (men) are more human than others (women and children). Franz’s accusations against me become quite ironic when viewed in this light. In advocating for the rights of non-human animals, I try my best to avoid engaging in other “isms.” On the contrary – whenever possible, I try to integrate my anti-speciesism with anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic (etc.) theory and activism. Franz, on the other hand, reduces women and children to property while urging me to “give a fuck” about human rights. How rich.

In addition to providing an illustration of the similar ways in which language is used as a weapon against non-human animals and marginalized groups of humans, Franz’s slip also goes to show how domination is rarely singular. Hatred is corrupting: once you allow one form of prejudice into your heart, you pave the way for others. Women, children, people of color, those of different faiths (and no faith) are dehumanized, made into animals; animals, in turn, are objectified, treated like inanimate things.

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