The silence of the bitches. The political structure of misogyny in antispecist activism.

Catia Faria
6 min readJan 3, 2021

This article was originally published in Pikara Magazine (March 15, 2018). Translation: Zara Simans

In the famous comic Bitch Planet, all those women considered ‘non-compliant’ to patriarchal roles and expectations are sent to a prison colony on another planet, exiled and punished for not accepting the place which corresponds to them in society. But let us imagine a world in which interplanetary travel is still impossible or where attempts at colonising other planets have failed. In this world, the obedience of the non-compliant is gained through the use of an artefact which has been shown to be more than effective when it comes to controlling and containing canine behaviour — the shock collar. A shock collar is a device which attempts to modify conduct via the transmission of electrical impulses into the necks of the dogs, graduating the strength via a remote control. This training is gained through negative and positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is used to reduce the frequency of undesired behaviour such as the dog escaping, uncontrolled expression, aggressiveness, or pulling on the lead during its daily activity. The positive reinforcement is achieved via a continuous pleasurable stimulation which aims to sustain the desired conduct over time, such as docility and obedience. According to the philosopher Kate Manne, this is the world in which we live today. A world of female dogs (bitches) silenced by the shock collar of misogyny.

Misogyny, according to Manne, is not a psychological phenomenon which consists of hate or contempt towards women, but rather a method used to reinforce, monitor and maintain social hierarchies. Manne refers to “the system that operates within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance”. That which is achieved via the control, vigilance, punishment and exile of the ‘bad’ women who defy the patriarchal order, rewarding the ‘good’ women and negatively branding the others as a warning to those who step out of line. In this view, misogyny is not inside one´s head. It doesn’t have to do with what men think or feel, but rather with the shock collar which women find themselves controlled by in a man’s world within a historical, patriarchal context. This is a crucial point, given that the fight should not be naively directed at changing the attitudes of men but rather what must be changed is the balance of power. Understood as a political structure, the logic of misogyny finds resonance in multiple phenomena within our current reality, including those present in the shameful reality of the antispecist activist movement.

Over the last few weeks, three prominent international activists for the defence of animals, Wayne Pacelle (Humane Society), Paul Shapiro (Compassion Over Killing) and Nick Cooney (previously in Mercy for Animals) have been called out publicly for the sexual assault of, and continued abuse of power towards female comrades with whom they have shared activist spaces. This eruption of allegations was triggered by the testimonies of Christina Wilson (Mercy for Animals) and Haya Bhumitra (Animal Equality) about the harassment and abusive behaviour of Nick Cooney, but within seconds the stories of affected women multiplied, showing up on social networks under the hashtags #ARMeToo (Animal Rights Me Too) #TimesUpAR (Time’s Up Animal Rights).

For those of us who form part of the antispecist movement, the news is hardly surprising. As they say where I come from (Portugal), the news is when the man bites the dog and not when the dog bites the man. This means we are not talking about isolated incidents, but rather the norm, the ‘that’s just the way it is’ pattern which can be seen across the whole spectrum of antispecist activism — from large worldwide organisations that move millions of dollars to neighbourhood libertarian squatter collectives.

When you are not a cis man and you go into antispecist activism, you find yourself up against a movement, which in spite of its grassroots being made up of an overwhelming majority of women (over 70%), will make it difficult to find space as a leader or spokesperson. You can expect subordinate and invisible positions such as taking direct care of the animals, carrying out daily organizational tasks, obtaining funding o recruiting new activists. The most protagonism you can aspire to is taking part in naked actions which form part of sexist campaigns, only of course, if your body complies with the beauty standards generated in this heteronormative patriarchal context.

But, beyond the normativity of your body or your gender expression, if you are not a cis man, your will be subject to continuous mansplaining, constant interruptions during meetings, your strategic ideas will be discredited or simply not taken into account and your work — that which conveniently for those who have power, you do behind the scenes — will often be appropriated. They will make you question your validity, your skills and your mental health. You will be manipulated, harassed, assaulted, and eventually raped. For a while, you won’t dare to talk about it but when you do start to talk about it, is when the shock collar will become more apparent. Your fellow activists will tell you that you should keep quiet because calling men out is “bad for the animals”. They will contrast your case with one which is equally bad or worse, suffered by another ‘good’ woman activist who has decided not to call it out, all “in the name of the animals”. They will recommend that you follow her example. They will warn you that if you don’t comply, you will be subject to hostility — from them as well — and that you will become one of the ‘bad’ women. The reprisals will probably be such as to leave you with no other option but exile. Or in other words, that’s how they silence the bitches who don’t conform.

So one should expect that this misogynist logic, headed by the Cooneys of the movement, would be obvious to everyone. The problem is that there is an important reason why we don’t detect the structure operating under our noses. That reason is called “himpathy” and it is the hidden face of misogyny. The term “himpathy”, recently coined by Manne, is the psychological process in which we identify and excessively sympathise with men (“he is a good guy”) progressively turning around our view of the aggressor till we come to see him as the victim. For example, as we start to worry about his future, seeing him as a vulnerable or even pathetic being, we move away from the focus on the person who has suffered the assault and the importance of the harm caused, undermining the dimension of the real problem. Understandably, himpathy appears to serve also as a defence mechanism for avoiding the highly demanding emotional work that requires dealing with these terrible experiences which in varying moments of our lives and activism, end up destroying so many of us.

All this is more than enough to be able to see that supporting misogyny in the antispecist movement, apart from being an injustice, implies that many highly motivated and capable people end up leaving the movement. That — and not the calling out — is what results in grave consequences for the animals. Fortunately, the movement triggered by these cases and the following sacking of high level directors seems to indicate that the tide is now changing. So we await with expectation, knowing that it is only a question of time until the other Cooneys come to light and the subsequent #TimesUpDDAAESPAÑA becomes a reality.

That will be the moment in which we will be able to shout from the rooftops that in the antispecist movement, “fear is going to change sides”. So let’s tear off those collars because patriarchy will no longer silence us bitches!

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