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Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice

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Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice addresses interconnections between speciesism, sexism, racism, and homophobia, clarifying why social justice activists in the twenty-first century must challenge intersecting forms of oppression.
This anthology presents bold and gripping--sometimes horrifying--personal narratives from fourteen activists who have personally explored links of oppression between humans and animals, including such exploitative enterprises as cockfighting, factory farming, vivisection, and the bushmeat trade. Sister Species asks readers to rethink how they view "others," how they affect animals with their daily choices, and how they might bring change for all who are abused. These essays remind readers that women have always been important to social justice and animal advocacy, and they urge each of us to recognize the links that continue to bind all oppressed individuals. The astonishing honesty of these contributors demonstrates with painful clarity why every woman should be an animal activist and why every animal activist should be a feminist.
Contributors are Carol J. Adams, Tara Sophia Bahna-James, Karen Davis, Elizabeth Jane Farians, Hope Ferdowsian, Linda Fisher, Twyla François, Christine Garcia, A. Breeze Harper, Sangamithra Iyer, Pattrice Jones, Lisa Kemmerer, Allison Lance, Ingrid Newkirk, Lauren Ornelas, and Miyun Park.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2011

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About the author

Lisa Kemmerer

14 books17 followers
Internationally acclaimed for her work in animal ethics, professor emeritus Dr. Lisa Kemmerer is the founder of the educational, vegan umbrella organization, Tapestry. Having earned a BA in International Studies from Reed College, a Master of Theological Studies in Comparative Religions from Harvard, and a PhD in philosophy--specializing in animal ethics--from Glasgow University in Scotland, Kemmerer taught for 20 years at the university level.

As professor of philosophy and religions, Dr. K wrote and edited more than 100 articles/anthology chapters and 10 books.

• Animals and World Religions
• Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice
• In Search of Consistency: Ethics and Animals
• Animals and Environment: Advocacy Activism, and the Quest for Common Ground
• Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice
• Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices
• Call to Compassion: Religious Perspectives on Animal Advocacy
• Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education, Advocacy, and Sanctuary
• Bear Necessities: Rescue, Rehabilitation, Sanctuary, and Advocacy

She retired to develop her educational non-profit, Tapestry, which will continue her work on behalf of nonhuman animals, the environment, and disempowered human beings.

For more information, please visit lisakemmerer.com

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Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews
Profile Image for Peacegal.
9,662 reviews84 followers
November 4, 2015
SISTER SPECIES continues the tradition pioneered by authors such as Carol J. Adams in tying animal rights advocacy in with broader social justice causes such as feminism. This volume collects a diverse collection of voices from women involved in different aspects of the animal movement.

Miyun Park works on behalf of farmed animals, investigating the practices of factory farms and encouraging members of the public to choose a vegan diet to reduce the number of animals who will suffer in food production. Farmed animals by far represent the most suffering experienced by any other beings under humans’ care, and it makes sense that an increasing number of activists choose to focus their energies on their protection. Park shares this sobering quote from Wolfson and Sullivan:

It is almost impossible to imagine the number of farmed animals. Approximately 9.5 billion animals die annually in food production in the United States. This compares with some 218 million killed by hunters and trappers and in animal shelters, biomedical research, product testing, dissection, and fur farms, COMBINED. Approximately 23 million chickens and some 268,000 pigs are slaughtered every hour in the United States. That’s 266 chickens per second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. From a statistician’s point of view, since farmed animals represent 98 percent of all animals (even including companion animals and animals in zoos and circuses) with whom humans interact in the United States, all animals are farmed animals; the number who are not is statistically insignificant.

While some essays in this volume unfortunately, typify the stereotype of the angry, name-calling activist, Tara Sophia Bahana-James endorses a kinder, gentler approach to our fellow humans:

To many animal activists, those outside the movement seem almost unreachable. Yet the vast majority of human animals have not built corporate empires rooted in extreme forms of animal exploitation. Nor are most humans so blinded by rage and self-loathing as to derive pleasure from cruelty. Most people are simply well-intentioned mothers, fathers, children, friends and caregivers who have known love, pain, sacrifice, and kindness.

Which is, well, true. Most people dislike animal suffering (yes, there is a sense of compassion behind the tiresome phrase “don’t show/tell me that!”), but most people have also been socialized to support the industries that make animals suffer. It’s easy for some activists to forget that most vegans were, at one time, meat eaters.

Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, notes that human nature can easily veer from ignorance to ugliness, however. She describes a trip organized by an animal welfare group to view an infamous seal hunt. “The other visitors [on the tour] were an eye-opener,” Davis writes. One wanted to film the seal slaughter to take home to his friends as a form of entertainment. Another hoped to collect a fresh sealskin as a souvenir. Several women in the group felt compassion for the baby seals being killed, but couldn’t muster any feeling for the adult animals who were also slaughtered. So we can’t let people off the hook entirely; many do awful things with full knowledge of the hurt they’re causing.

Karen Davis’s essay, in fact, was my favorite in this collection. Davis describes her journey from blissfully unaware to one of the world’s foremost advocates for domestic birds exploited by humans. I also feel that Davis’s outlook on life and activism more closely matches my own. She seems to have a bit more melancholy air than some of the more gung-ho activists, and is not afraid to reveal her own more pessimistic thoughts. If I may be so forward, I’d say her (and my) approach to activism is more along the lines of, “The world is a terrible place filled with terrible things, but I must do what I can do to make it better, if even just a tiny bit.”

An essay by Christine L. Garcia, a San Francisco attorney, demonstrates the ways in which animal advocates can stray off-track. Garcia is involved in animal law and states she spends about half of her time defending the “right” of owners to keep aggressive dogs. Garcia displays the circuitous ethics that must be employed for an animal rights person to engage in what is essentially defending the dog breeding industry. She complains about the legal status of dogs as property, and compares this setup to human slavery, but then uses Fourth Amendment arguments to fight against the impoundment of vicious dogs, as the owners have the right to their “property.” She is especially focused upon the overreaching arm of big government, yet aren’t laws needed to protect animals, and indeed, the only way we can truly put animal abusers out of practice? So which is it?

Garcia compares dog maulings to barfights, and speaks as if dogs possess knowledge of social mores and can be sorry for the bad choices they made in the past. She highlights the case of Lucy, a seven-year-old pit bull’s, fatal attack on a neighbor’s tiny dog, whom Garcia doesn’t even bother to name:

“Lucy had “corrected” a neighboring Chihuahua for repeated aggressions against Liam. Unfortunately, Lucy’s corrective action resulted in a deceased Chihuahua. The correction of the Chihuahua was done out of continued provocation and self defense of Lucy’s brother, Liam. Even though humans can justify aggression—even deadly aggression—for self-defense, this star sibling was not permitted to justify her action. … Lucy was executed.”

Translation: Lucy, a member of a dog breed that was developed for, and has for hundreds of years been primarily used in, deadly combat with other animals, may or may not have encountered a barking, growling member of a delicate, small mouthed dog breed that is generally smaller than an average cat. Whatever happened triggered the pit bull’s well-known high prey drive and tenacious dog aggression which is a firmly established trait in this unfortunate breed. Like a collie herding or a beagle following a scent, Lucy began to behave in a breed-specific way that corresponds with the cues bred into her brain and body: she attacked another dog and executed the killing bite. The dogs’ owners no doubt didn’t want this to happen, and tried to stop it, but this is next to impossible when a fighting breed is in fighting mode, as pit bulls are well-known for their gameness (willingness to finish a fight no matter what.)

Much is made of the fact that Lucy lived with other pets and a child, and had supposedly made it to age seven with zero incidents to her name. (Garcia lets slip that the pit bull’s clueless owners even allowed children to pull on the dog’s ears.) However, such is the reality of fighting breeds. They’re unpredictable. (Hence the “he’s never done anything like this before,” comment in every attack story.) Kissy Face, a beloved family pit bull, lived in her loving household for eight years before killing two-year-old Beau Rutledge. When you breed dogs whose M.O. is to launch an all-out, killing attack, you’re playing with fire when a dog may be triggered by some minor stimulus not even perceptible to a human.

As is sadly typical among people identifying as animal advocates in the 21st century, Garcia of course sides with the dog who killed instead of the victim animal. If you’ve ever seen a pit bull maul to death a weaker animal, I guarantee it is a hideous sight that will stick with you. And if you’re tempted to side with the pit bull breeding lobby on this matter, I would strongly suggest heading over to LiveLeak and having the courage to watch such footage (there’s no shortage of it) before making your decision. Lucy’s death was no doubt far more peaceful and painless than the Chihuahua’s “execution.”

Pit bull enthusiasts (I refuse to call them animal rights advocates) can justify the fatal “correction” of another animal by a pit bull, but what about when a victim animal’s guardian fatally “corrects” a pit bull in effort to save the life of their companion? When a pit bull being offered for adoption broke her leash and began to attack a Westie in a Georgia Petsmart store, the Westie’s guardian fatally stabbed the pit bull after nonfatal methods failed to get her to release the little dog. Pit bull fans began attacking the Westie’s owner, calling for his arrest, issuing threats and smearing his name on social media. In the world of the extreme fighting breed apologist, only pit bulls are allowed to take lives.

The pit bull issue does tie into feminism, which is the overarching theme of this book—although animal rights advocates have yet to acknowledge it. Lisa Kemmerer writes in the introduction:

Violence runs across lines of oppression. … Violence, generally enacted by males, disproportionately affects children, nonhuman animals, nonwhite racialized minorities, and women—especially women who are members of nonwhite racialized minorities.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these too, are the communities most affected by pit bull attacks. Dogfighters are overwhelmingly male. Through intense and brutal breeding programs, they created the ultimate expression of macho values: a breed with a highly muscular body, large mouth, and oversized jaw muscles necessary to complete their fatal task. They bred out the normal social cues dogs, a naturally social species, use to avoid fatal aggression, and instead created “the ultimate canine gladiator” who sees other dogs as prey and possesses both a uniquely grievous “grip and shake” bite style and the willingness to ignore serious and even fatal injuries in order to finish a fight.

Pit bulls themselves are the primary victims of this ultimate expression of patriarchy. They are abused and overbred on a scale experienced by no other type of dog in the Western world. Garcia needs to drop the breeder-apologist foolishness and instead embrace the breed-specific legislation practiced by her hometown of San Francisco: mandatory spay/neuter of all pit bulls and their close mixes. To oppose this commonsense measure is to stand with the breeders and dogfighters, not with the pit bulls and the dog attack victims.
Profile Image for Kate Lawrence.
Author 1 book22 followers
May 24, 2018
A real strength here is that, rather than a single author, we find a number of activists sharing their life stories and unique viewpoints and responses to social injustice. The connection between speciesism and many other forms of oppression appears throughout. The authors are all saying that it's time--and past time--to include animals among publicly acknowledged victims of cruelty, and to take meaningful steps to change that. The step that can prevent the suffering of the most animals by far, and which is entirely a matter of individual choice, is becoming vegan, or at least moving toward it.
One cannot help being enriched and inspired by the dedication of these women and the work they have done and are doing.
Profile Image for Corey Wrenn.
Author 3 books38 followers
March 26, 2014
The first chapter of this book is absolutely astounding. To my knowledge, the first chapter is the most comprehensive, well written overview of species-inclusive intersectional anti-oppression theory I have yet read. I would highly recommend this book for the first chapter alone to anyone wanting to know how race, gender, sexual orientation, species, etc. all interact and how all systems of oppression work together and the history of intersectionality work. It makes no sense to struggle for human rights while ignoring animal rights...just as it makes no sense to struggle for women's rights but ignore gay rights, etc. All are connected.

While I thought the first chapter was thrillingly comprehensive and well argued, the rest of the book quite frankly bored me. I think this may have to do with the fact that I'm well versed in animal rights, so the stories being shared didn't really interest me. Anytime I see graphic discussions of violence against animals, I skim...so I did a lot of skimming. For someone who does not know about what happens to other animals, this would be a good introduction, especially for those who are already tuned in to anti-sexism or critical race work.

The first chapter is very academic, but the rest of the chapters are supplied by leading female activists and leaders in the animal rights movement. Most of the stories are biographical, explaining how these women came into the movement and how their personal experiences with oppression inform their activism. Again, this may be interesting to some, but I had been hoping for a more academic piece. I'm glad that women are given voice, as this is so rarely the case in the animal rights movement, but this wasn't what I was expecting.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a supplementary addition to a college-level course on Animals & Society as well as race and gender studies. I think students would learn a lot from the first chapter and would find the personal stories (in rather short chapters) easy to comprehend and relate to. Otherwise, I would also recommend that first chapter to seasoned advocates who are new to intersectionality politics. For those looking for a solid academic exploration into human/animal intersectionality politics, this is not the book for you. I would recommend Carol Adams' work, particularly "Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations" edited by Adams & Donovan.
Profile Image for Sherry Lee.
14 reviews1 follower
December 21, 2012
The lengthy introduction by the author over-introduces the content of the book. Most of the writers do not engage in an intersectional analysis of oppression, yet that is the focus of the introduction. For example, all of the authors are women, but each does not necessarily address sexism and speciesism as linked oppressions. Few discuss racism. Other oppressions (disablism, ageism, classism, and so on) are not addressed at all. Therefore, the introduction sets up hopes that are not met in the content of the writing.

This is not the fault of the contributors. The contributors were asked to write because they were women who were animal rights activists. They were not (as explained in the introduction) asked to specifically frame their writing in a discussion of the intersections of oppression. That's why the introduction is so strange.

As individual narratives, each chapter is interesting. However, the degree to which each author contributes to building an understanding of "women, animals, and social justice" varies considerably. The best chapter is by Breeze Harper, author of Sistah Vegan.

(I don't think authors have much, if any, say in book covers? Regardless, someone missed the point of the book in the cover design--a book that intends to address intersections of oppressions but has a cover that represents the idea of "women" as young, curvy but thin, flawless, and white?)

Profile Image for Birgit.
Author 2 books9 followers
June 14, 2011
A feminist view on animal advocacy? I certainly haven't heard about such an approach before. All the more reason for me to pick up Sister Species: Women, Animals And Social Justice to satisfy my curiosity.
In her anthology Lisa A. Kemmerer introduces the reader at length to the topic of animal activism and its close connection to other forms of oppression such as sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. sharing a collection of essays focusing on animal ethics. These essays are as diverse as the women who wrote about their experiences, including cock fighting, factory farming, the bushmeat trade, as well as contemplating theology and animals, to mention but a few.
You don't have to be a feminist to understand this book and its message. Being vegetarian probably helps. Overall I think it's almost safe to say that a lot of people won't like this book, because it forces them to rethink their view of “the other”, in this case non-human animals, but it is important to understand that what we do for “us” (humans) should not be achieved at the cost of “others” (animals). Inconvenient truths? You bet. And if it weren't for women like those contributing to this book, the voices of those who can't fight for themselves would only be heard in slaughterhouses and experimental laboratories.
In short: This book will change your way of thinking about animals who don't happen to be human. Read it!
Profile Image for Amy Armstrong.
189 reviews38 followers
May 25, 2011
Just to be clear: I disliked this book because of the execution, not the idea. In general, I'm in favor of any work that promotes equality for people and the humane treatment of animals.

For starters, the introduction goes on forever and I never felt a personal connection with anything presented in [title: Sister Species] which makes me wonder who this book is even for. If Lisa A Kemmerer hopes to use this work to pursuade others to become advocates for social justice (as she sees it), Sister Species isn't going to do it.

Also, as a general note about this type of book, I am really tired of authors who supposedly want to promote social justice and tolerance while they preech that everything you're doing that is unlike what they're doing is wrong. We're never going to get anywhere if we trade-in one type of oppression for another, regardless of the motivation behind it.
Profile Image for M.
427 reviews3 followers
April 20, 2020
The introduction of this book, the premise of uniting and explaining veganism intersectionally, got me quite excited. However, some of the essays left me feeling uncomfortable, still perpetuating many stereotypes or unchallenged prejudices regarding animals (that the more intelligent they are, the more they matter, or a focus on cuteness/innocence as well as regarding the people that exploited them (seeing them as "evil", with little or no analysis). Class (but also ability) is barely mentioned, and some of the failures of the vegan movement can be seen through this: much of the way activism has been done seems to have been by manipulating "consumer choices" and thus hoping to put pressure on production. While all of the accounts are valuable as field-notes from activists, I would not have framed them within this theoretical approach, as they are not themselves framed like this. Some are, though, and some of the essays I found very good.

My personal favourite is "small small redemption" by Sangamithra Iyer, but I also thoroughly enjoyed pattrice jones' essay "fighting cocks: ecofeminism versus sexualized violence" and found a. breeze harper's ("connections: speciesism, racism, and whiteness as the norm") very informative as well.

Hope Ferdowsian's account of trauma in both human and nonhuman animals is helpful to see connectedness within species, Elizabeth Jane Farian's story of how she established a course on theology and animals is quite an inspiring story of breaking within her field, Linda Fisher's narrative adds an indigenous perspective of what caring for land and animals might mean, within or outside tradition and Tata Sophia Bahna-James's essay also carries strength in her words and her plea for compassion.

Profile Image for Kasandra.
68 reviews
April 13, 2019
Very interesting personal essays from various women exploring how they became involved in animal rights work. I really enjoyed the diversity of their experiences. There are essays from many women of color whose voices need more attention from within the movement. Worth the read for sure for those interested in animal rights and it's overlap with feminism/women's issues.
Profile Image for Aspasia.
782 reviews9 followers
September 22, 2014
I found out about this intriguing title through my Women's Studies class and college library. Years ago I had read an article about animal welfare that casually mentioned in a sentence that eating dairy products was harmful to animals, but the author of the article didn't elaborate as to WHY this was wrong. This book does that and explains how veganism, feminism and social justice are related.

Ecofeminism is a termed that was invented in 1972 by a French author (14) and "focuses on interconnections between the domination/oppression of women and domination/oppression of nature" (14). How exactly are women and animals connected in our society? "Nature and women have been devalued, objectified or exploited for the benefit of the dominant culture" (15). This view of women and nature has manifested itself through the centuries as "both women and animals have historically been considered less intelligent, less rational and ...more primitive and closer to nature than men" (16). This mindset has led to "objectification, ridicule, and control of reproduction" (16).

Feminist vegans have turned to animal activism because "the majority of factory-farmed animals, more than 20 billion individuals a year, are female" (67). " To produce milk, cows undergo a cyclical process of forced impregnation and repeated separation from their young. The male calves often are crated and killed for veal. The females, like their mothers, will be turned into dairy machines" (91). The various essays in this book also show us that pigs, chickens and turkeys are not safe either. Parts of this book are graphic as industrialized agricultural living conditions are explained in gruesome detail: pigs and hens living in cramped cages with no room to turn around, living in humongous warehouses with no exposure to fresh air or sunlight, forced separation from their eggs or piglets. Being a "farm" animal in the US is not the peaceful, pastoral scene we imagine it to be. Death at the slaughterhouse is not quick. Due to increase in animals being butchered some animals are not stunned/incapacitated as they should be before they are killed.

You can read more of my book reviews at www.thesouthernbookworm.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Rebekka Stoker.
33 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2015
An important, honest piece of writing; I am hopeful this link between nonhuman and human life (particularly that of the female experience) will continue to be explored and challenged. The essays each offered their own unique insight, however I found the introduction to be one of the most compelling pieces; it almost could have been the introduction to a much larger, academic work. At times I wonder if it "fit" the style and anecdotes of the latter portion of the book. In addition to Lisa Kemmerer's introduction, Tara Sophia Bahna-James' essay "the art of truth telling" was outstanding in its sincerity, searching, and truth-telling. As a theatre practitioner and animal rights advocate, I found this writing to have a strong balance between poetic and poignant which I deeply appreciated. This book will certainly be circulated among my friends and family.
Profile Image for d4.
351 reviews178 followers
August 18, 2012
The essays I found particularly thought-provoking or moving:

"fighting cocks" - pattrice jones
"connections" - a. breeze harper
"small small redemption" - sangamithra iyer
"the art of truth-telling" - tara sophia bahna-james
"from hunting grounds to chicken rights" - karen davis

"are you waving at me?" by ingrid e. newkirk made me empathize with her, which is strange because I'm still not buying that she's a feminist. Her essay is filled with so much animal suffering--such a level of exposure that it would be a miracle to retain sanity.

I have a more thoughts on the other essays, but I'm not sure when I'll have the time to specifically express them, or if goodreads will be the forum for that.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
8 reviews2 followers
March 27, 2014
I would agree with one of the previous reviewers that the introduction is as good as this book gets. The introduction is quite informative, especially for someone who is not familiar with intersectional approaches. But the rest of the book, sorry to say, was not insightful nor did I feel that it made true academic contributions to the animal ethics discourse. Most of the articles were incredibly short, under-researched, and did not allow time for thoughts and arguments to be completely developed in a way one might expect. In summary: the introduction incites high academic expectations that the contributions themselves do not fulfill.

Also, I am not a fan of the cover- it's more creepy than anything.
Profile Image for ♡ Lisa ♡.
53 reviews7 followers
September 17, 2011
I really like the premise of this book and the cultural and ethnic diversity of the contributors, although somehow it just wasn't as readable as I had expected. As a side note, I think the cover is smart but I really had to wonder why a vegan book would approve of utilising a chicken's corpse. Not sure if they bought the chicken and took the photo just for the cover but if they did it would certainly diverge from the animal care ethic.
Profile Image for Nicola M..
60 reviews
May 16, 2015
This book contains 14 personal essays from various female activists. If you are someone who believes in women's rights and gender equality, this is an important book to read that links the treatment of female animals (hens for their eggs, cows for their milk, etc.,) to how female non-human animals are still marginalized and "used" for their various purposes today, reproductive or otherwise. Powerful stuff.
Profile Image for Marsha.
34 reviews
July 11, 2012
I really really wanted to like this book, because the issues are so important, and so many of the women featured are doing such important work; I greatly respect all of them. But unfortunately the quality and relevance of the writing varied greatly. I feel like it had the potential to be so much more.
1 review2 followers
February 15, 2014
This book was amazing. It opened my eyes to the connection between animal rights and women's rights.
Profile Image for Agata.
9 reviews17 followers
November 18, 2014
One of the most eye-opening and inspiring books I have ever read.
Profile Image for Lisa.
4 reviews
January 16, 2015
Wonderful book for anyone involved in social justice movements.
Profile Image for Laura.
73 reviews
July 30, 2013
Finally found my people - an amazing collection of essays.
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