Is the Death of a Chicken as Tragic as the Death of a Woman?

The current issue of Australian Feminist Studies includes an interesting review of Joan Dunayer’s book, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. It is interesting largely because reviewer Anona Taylor offers a very positive review of a book whose main thesis is that the killing of a woman as a result of domestic violence and the killing of a chicken for food are morally equivalent and should be discussed using identical language. In fact, Dunayer argues, the killing of the chicken may be even more tragic than the murder of the woman.

The idea that we should use the same language to discuss the killing of both humans and non-humans was too much to bear even for animal rights philosopher Peter Singer, who in a review of Dunayer’s book noted that it was absurd to use language that put something like the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the same moral plane as the slaughter of broiler chickens. The former was clearly a tragedy of much greater magnitude than the latter, Singer argued, even from an animal rights point of view.

In a reply to Singer, Dunayer vehemently disagreed with this contention,

“It is not speciesist” to consider the murder of several thousand humans “a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens,” Singer contends. It certainly is. . . . Also, Singer’s disrespect for chickens is inconsistent with his espoused philosophy, which values benign individuals more than those who, on balance, cause harm. By that measure, chickens are worthier than most humans, who needlessly cause much suffering and death (for example, by eating or wearing animal-derived products).

Not surprisingly, reviewer Taylor’s is concerned that Dunayer’s view clearly undermines feminist theories of the self that permit abortion. But she is apparently unconcerned about Dunayer’s larger argument that we should have no more compassion for Ted Bundy’s victims than we do for the animals killed to make a chicken salad sandwich. Taylor writes,

Dunayer argues that, like sexism or racism, speciesism survives through lies. Conventional English pronoun use terms nonhuman animals “it”, erasing their gender and grouping them with inanimate objects. Euphemism and doublespeak disguise humans’ massive exploitation and maltreatment of nonhuman beings. Dunayer shows that these (and other) linguistic ploys serve to keep nonhuman victims absent from discussion, helping us disregard and deny our mistreatment of them.

And here I thought it was just pornography and violent movies that dehumanized women.


Animal Equality Book Review. Anona Taylor, Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 17, no. 38.

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