Feminism, Nature and Culture
The purpose of this course is to expose students to major currents of contemporary social theory that have developed around “nature” and “woman” or nature and gender. We will explore a number of important contemporary topics including: biotechnology and “life,” food and identity, the body/science/fashion, human and nonhuman animal relations, and the manner in which conceptualizations of nature and of women (or gender roles) mutually constitute and reinforce one another. Our principal goals are to analyze and critique the normative idea of what is “nature” or what is “natural” as it pertains to gender, environmental processes, other life forms, and human social and economic existence in general. Because feminists have been instrumental in leading much of this analysis and critique, we lean heavily on feminist theories. We will explore these ideas through science fiction, magical realism, cartoons, movies, other fiction, social histories and biographies. By the end of the semester, students should be adept at decoding representations of nature and gender in the popular media as well as in academic scholarship. Students should also have a reasonable understanding of the development of and debates surrounding biotechnology and gender, identity and gender, and ecofeminist thought.
Animals and Women in Western Literature
What do stories about animals tell us about the treatment of women in Western society? What do stories about women tell us about the treatment of animals in Western society? And why are the two so often linked in the first place? In this course, we will examine Western cultural traditions that associate women with animals, and will interrogate women’s complex response to those associations. We will ask how, when and why women and animals are jointly excluded from subjectivity and from ethical consideration. Given the advances in areas such as women’s rights, we will ask whether there have been corresponding advances in the treatment of animals, and why women feel particularly called upon to work for those advances. Statistics suggest, for example, that the overwhelming majority of vegetarians and humane society members are women. Is the ethical treatment of animals an important feminist cause? We will read literary works (Ovid, Marie de France, William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, “Michael Field,” Ursula Le Guin, J.M. Coetzee, Ruth Ozeki) alongside religious (the Bible) and philosophical (Aristotle, Descartes, Wollstonecraft, Levinas) texts, and draw on current schools of critical thought such as ecofeminism (Carol Adams) and postmodern theory (Marin, Lippit, Wolf and Elmer) to develop an understanding of these issues.
Animals and Ethics: Rights, Welfare, and Beyond
The goal of this class is to survey different approaches to ethical thinking in relation to non-human animals. In the world named but not captured by the term “animal rights,” philosophical, ethical, and legal theories once sanctioned for use only in relation to humans are now being applied to animals with a varying array of outcomes and conclusions. This course will examine different strategies of animal advocacy as they are manifested in Kantianism, contract based theories, utilitarianism, welfarism. We will also read works that critique all Western philosophies as inadequate for dealing with non-human animals. The animal advocacy movement is filled with activists, philosophers, political theorists, feminists, lawyers, and representatives of many different intellectual traditions who disagree about the status of animals, about whether or not we should eat them or wear them or hunt them or train them for entertainment or keep them in our homes. We’ll investigate these conflicts throughout this class by looking at the needs of particular animals. While most other social movement of the twentieth century had their academic origins in disciplines like history or literature, animal advocacy is centered squarely in ethics and philosophy. We’ll study many of those originating texts and compare and contrast differing methods and approaches. Moreover, we’ll try to understand the differences between animal rights and other liberation movements (like women’s rights and civil rights) in order to see why ethics plays such an important role.
Nature Culture Gender
This course studies the implications and effects of current understandings of human identity, and how it forms our perceptions of other animals, the natural environment, and our own bodies. Over the last twenty years, the academy has engaged itself in rigorous interrogations of heretofore “natural” sites of difference. Formations such as gender, race, sexual preference, ethnicity once thought to be hardwired in the body are now being theorized as culturally constructed. The most recent addition to this scholarship challenges the distinction between human and non-human; the figure of the great ape is coming into focus as the newest agenda in this project. Reflecting on how we treat other animals-and in particular our closest relatives, the great apes-can tell us much about what we think about ourselves. How far should we go in extending the boundaries of the human concept of morality? Do the subjectivities and emotional lives of other beings exist or matter? Does respecting only that which is similar to us imply that we only take our own human nature as the pivotal reference of value? If being human sets the standard of value for everything on earth, what are the consequences of such thinking for non-humans? How should we behave toward that which is radically different, and why? What we eat and what we do not eat, what we kill and do not kill, what we define as cannibalism and what falls outside that definition reveal insights about ourselves, our own bodies, and our own subjectivities. We will study the intersection of great ape/human boundary and gender theory in a number of different ways. Do women relate to nonhuman animals differently than men do? Why? What kinds of gendered behaviors do primatologists see in the various great apes themselves, and how have those narratives been appropriated by culture? What stories in culture reify our sense of the “gentle giant” gorillas, or the combative chimps, or the matriarchal sex-crazed bonobos, or the independent and isolated orangs? Are these stories really about them, or us, or both? Are male great apes great hunters or themselves hunted? Are female great apes caring nurturers or infanticidal murderers? Do different primatologists see different things? How does the gendering of great apes relate to the gendering of humans? What kinds of experiments do we perform on these animals and what do we gain from them? What are justifications for the ways that we use them and how might we correct some of these problems? If they really are more like “us” than we could have possibly imagined, do they need our attention as the next oppressed “minority?”
Religion and Moral Status of Animals
Recognizing that religions are key shapers of people’s worldviews and formulators of their most cherished values, this course seeks to understand how religions help carve out the boundary between human and non-human animals, and instruct humans in the ethical treatment of animals. We will survey the teachings and practices toward animals in various religious traditions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and various indigenous and Native peoples spiritual practices. As part of the natural world, some religions deify animals and/or represent transcendence in animal form. At the same time, other religions can so promote the superiority of humanity that earth and animals are left with little to no moral consideration. This class will examine the formal and informal positions various religions have taken up in relation to the non-human. How is the struggle for animal liberation framed in each tradition? How does it relate to the way other disenfranchised beings are treated within that religion? Are their links between a religion’s treatment of animals, and it’s treatment of women, racial and ethnic minorities, or other “outsiders”? How would those links be described?
Texas Women’s University
This graduate seminar explores ecofeminist thinking concerning interconnections between the exploitation of nature and the subjugation of women and people of color, while considering ecofeminist reflections on activism and spirituality/religion. Through assigned readings, documentary films, guided discussion, and projects, we’ll ask questions about the meaning of environmental justice, while studying ecofeminist perspectives concerning such topics as vegetarianism, corporate globalization, colonization, and religious fundamentalisms. Our study of ecofeminist theorizing, spirituality, and activism will prompt us to examine assumptions about epistemology (how we come to understand the world and whose knowledge counts), ontology (how we envision the nature of the universe, including the relatedness of beings and entities in the world), and ethics (the nature of moral behavior).
University of California, Berkeley
Men, Women and Other Animals
This course explores various ways that human groups and interests, particularly in the United States, have both attached and divorced themselves from other animals, with particular focus on gender, race, ability, and sexuality as the definitional foils for human engagements with animality.
University of North Texas
Examines the merger of feminism with environmental ethics and its subsequent evolution. Subject matter includes the analysis of patriarchy, gender issues and multicultural perspectives within the larger framework of ethical responses to ecocrisis.