Revisiting MacKinnon’s “Of Mice and Men”

Catharine A. MacKinnon, Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, specializes in equality issues under international and constitutional law. MacKinnon pioneered the legal claim for sexual harassment, establishing it before the U.S. Supreme Court, and secured legal recognition of rape as an act of genocide.

In the 2004 essay “Of Mice and Men: A Feminist Fragment on Animal Rights,” Catharine MacKinnon explored the connection between misogyny and animal exploitation. MacKinnon’s book chapter continues to influence the way I understand animal liberation as the call for nonhuman animals to live on their own terms.

Our social norms signify that the integrity of nonhuman bodies does not matter. As female people have often been defined and valued in terms of the use of their bodies and their reproductive functions, feminism has a message for all liberationists.

Where is human disregard for other animals obvious? “The place to look for this bottom line,” writes MacKinnon, “is the farm, the stockyard, the slaughterhouse.”

Where is human disregard for other animals more subtle? For nonhumans and for women, Professor MacKinnon notes, the “denial of social hierarchy…is further supported by verbiage about love and protection” as though it mitigates the domination.

To take a stand where such deeply-rooted exploitation could be successfully challenged involves a journey deep into the psychology that leads to a human history of oppression and destruction.

A Unilateral Bargain

When we exert control over cats and dogs and horses, we pretend our vice is a virtue.

Maybe we don’t eat them, but they are nevertheless commodities, separated from their birth families at the discretion of buyers and sellers, to find comfort as long as their luck would keep them with people willing and able to feed and shelter them. At any time, the kind human owner might experience a reversal of fortune: family strife, divorce, illness, or death. Then what happens to these animals?

As for horses, many who pass their primes (or the primes of their owners) cannot evade the common chain of sale, resale or donation to charity, neglect, and finally slaughter. Horses die by the hundreds every year on racetracks, and still more die during vivisection on behalf of the racing industry. They’re subjected to other “sports” and sent into wars, ranching businesses, policing and social control.

Many people call the animals in their homes companions, even part of the family. But domestication was physically imposed upon the animal’s ancestors, their reproduction controlled over generations.

Once specific individuals are born into the human world, they need, and should receive, our protection and care. The point is that it was arrogant and violent to systematically turn wolves into dogs in the first place and caring does not mitigate that. What is true for women is true for wolves. Their rights must be on their own terms. As MacKinnon puts it: “Unless you change the structure of the power system you exercise, that you mean well may not save those you love.”

Crushing the Other

Pornography involving nonhuman animals is yet another appalling industry made possible by our systematic control over other beings. As MacKinnon writes, “Surely animals could be, and are, trained to make it appear that they are enjoying doing what people want them to do, including have sex with people.” But they have no way to opt out.

Then there’s the outright torture, such as that in crush videos. These and other examples of torture and killing of nonhuman animals have been defended on the grounds of artistic expression. As MacKinnon points out, similar arguments have been applied to defend imagery depicting the violent handling of women.

It is not surprising, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s placement of pornography into the “obscenity” category, that the debates focus on concerns over censorship. The real problem is the way we divide society into classes, perpetuating the use and humiliation of some by others. 

The best advocacy for nonhuman animals will serve as a model for respectful interaction between humans ourselves. But that doesn’t mean respect among humans is the only respect that matters. Lawmakers point out that violent treatment of nonhumans leads to desensitization, and then to violence against human beings. Such arguments imply that the abuse of nonhuman animals is taken seriously only insofar as intervention could potentially guard the human community from harm. That implication leaves human supremacy intact.

The Like-Us Trap

Some animal advocacy encourages popular interest in animal labs. The argument is that other animals have a lot in common with us, and we can prove it, so they should have some types of rights. Cognition studies are called non-invasive; yet the objects of analysis are detained, usually isolated. There is no sanctuary that can ever make up for their loss of freedom throughout their lives, while those who study them move up their career ladders — many being congratulated profusely for their published claims to have formed new bonds between humanity and other animals.

“[A]nimal rights are poised to develop first for a tiny elite, the direction in which the ‘like us’ analysis tends,” MacKinnon writes.

“[H]ow to avoid reducing animal rights to the rights of some people to speak for animals against the rights of other people to speak for the same animals needs further thought,” MacKinnon writes. Spot on. We’ve focused on who may suitably speak for owned nonhuman beings, rather than on how to withdraw from the habit of ownership itself.

When a chimpanzee died in an Atlanta laboratory after being used in HIV experiments, Professor Lawrence Tribe declared, “Clearly, Jerom was enslaved.” Tribe added that Jerom should have been treated “with respect” yet had no right to opt out of being enlisted “to save a human life, or achieve a higher goal.” The reporter who interviewed Tribe reassured readers: “In other words using chimps for medical research would remain possible.”

“People tend to remain fixated on what we want from them, to project humans onto animals, to look for and find or not find ourselves in them,” writes MacKinnon. The question for the animal rights theorist and activist is “what they want from us, if anything other than to be let alone, and what will it take to learn the answer.”

The Most Comprehensive Right

Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis said the right to be free of public curiosity was rooted in something deeper than what a study of property rights could reach. Justice Brandeis wrote that “the right to be let alone” is “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” [Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928) (dissenting).]

The right is valued not only by men, and not only by the civilized. 

Animal advocacy needs the filter MacKinnon’s feminist fragment provides. Much more work remains to be done before our society understands how the domination of any group affects all. Critically, animals are still property across the board. Serious animal advocacy, by working at the base of the hierarchy, will strengthen respect for all groups. We have something to teach all movements for social betterment, even though there are relatively few of us, so that we face great pressure to focus on “the animal question” specifically. The fewer theorists and activists are in this area, the more critical it is that we’re informed by (and inform) people who work in interrelated areas of social justice.

Love and liberation,


Photo credit: 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); by Coalition for the ICC via Flickr.

To Hear Fellows Crying

In this vulgar Anthropocene story, in our self-styled supreme species, empathy has been shelled, shot, stomped, interrogated, lynched, detained, depleted, betrayed, clubbed, bulldozed, slaughtered, unheeded and unheard. The inflictors of such harm will crumble in their time. Their child, or their child’s child, will be stranded.

In this world riddled with the strange, empty casings of the supreme ones’ self-domesticated angst, a vague, lifelong murmur from deep in my mind calls out to the universal mother, calls out to the gentle grandfather who walked me to the post office with a typewritten letter to a friend. It calls for a time when my living soul was clutched tightly, by all the love in the world.

The full piece is published at ➡️CounterPunch. Writing it caused me to take refuge with the love and happiness I felt, aged 3, with my grandfather. It’s about the refuge Tyre Nichols and George Floyd ought to have had. It’s about love for every conscious soul ever to have lived on this Earth. Empathy connects us all and brings us home.

Text image: Tim Hall, holding me. Banner image by Kelly, via Pexels.

We’d Be Better Without the Border

Ghost Robotics trained the robot dogs near El Paso, where the conditions—oxygen depletion, dangerous heat—are known to overwhelm border guards. An announcement for the project from the Department of Homeland Security is peppered with inane dog jokes.

Consider the depths of this profanity. The borderlands once belonged to the indigenous people of Mexico, and to the coyotes and wolves, to the agave-feeding nectar bats. And to the pronghorn—antelope-like beings who cannot jump fences.

Is it any accident that the Real ID Act of 2005, by which the U.S. government imposes its authority over state identification cards, allows the waiving of federal, state, and local environmental laws on the borderlands?

Full article published today at CounterPunch.


“The Deer Aren’t Wearing Kevlar® Vests!” A Word on Gun Control in the United States

Gun control advocates are quick to insist that they’re not interfering with hunting and hunters. On 60 Minutes this week, again, Joe Biden repeated the punchline: We can do without military-grade rifles; the deer aren’t wearing Kevlar® vests! Ha ha ha. We can explode deer bodies with regular old guns, so come on, man! Let’s just ban the assault weapons!

When we understand ourselves in, and as, animal life…we know the gun debate is indeed about hunting. Targeting people in a grocery store, or stalking deer in the suburban woods… it’s a continuum. We the People have a penchant for treating other lives as our targets. 

Some beings are more targeted than others. Whether one is placed in the crosshairs because of foreignness, race, class, species, or other perceived vulnerability, all are the subjects of ruthless de-personhood. 

The Warning Calls of Prairie Dogs

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson wrote, in the Foreword to On Their Own Terms – Animal Liberation:

…I considered the warning calls of prairie dogs. They include one to announce that a human is approaching, yet another when a human approaches with a gun.

Finding out about others without desiring to use or have them, intimidate or subordinate them may be the hardest thing of all for humans to do.

I write this from Pennsylvania, where the greedy lobbyists for Sunday hunting (they always make claims about the revenue hunting brings to the Commonwealth) recently got what they wanted.

When we reverse this bloody thinking, when we work to designate parks and their surroundings as gun- and trap-free zones, we stand for the birthright of conscious, living living beings, human or non-, to prevail over the gunmakers.

I dream of the day that guns (along with whips, jail cells, bird cages, spurs, bombs, and fishing poles) may only be found in museums. As a vegan, I work for the day.

Love and liberation,


Persuasion (How Did I Change and Why Won’t They?)

How do you persuade other people to be vegan?, vegans ask.

Why won’t the people closest to me go vegan?

What is it about some people? You can tell them the truth, but they 




How do you let people know that there’s something they’ve yet to know?

Only when I became vegan did I really “get” what I believe. 

  • Feminism.
  • Anti-racism.
  • Respect for migrants. 
  • Class-consciousness. 
  • Any and every commitment to renounce domination dynamics. 

Only when I became vegan did I understand the rejection of mastership at the deepest level. It meant relinquishing an all-purpose privilege I wielded every day of my life.  

Strange How People Seek Protection in Their Right to Domineer.

They don’t want to give up what makes them great. Human exceptionalism is a lot like patriotism. 

Sometimes, people say they can’t part with a tradition that’s always been woven into the cultural fabric. They don’t want to feel like the loose thread.

All of this is unspoken. And it’s generally off-limits to discussion. Thus the notion that vegans won’t shut up about veganism. (Popular joke: How can you tell someone is vegan? Don’t worry; they’ll tell you.) 

But people talk about domination of animals and biocommunities all the time. Without noticing. As they engage in their everyday activities.

Vegans cannot help but seem vocal when we refuse to take part.

Is Veganism a Rejection of Culture?

Culture has many beautiful, transcendent aspects—social, artistic, political, philosophical, material. Culture develops and binds us through the centuries. We admire it. We’re proud of it. 

Culture has a troublesome inner lining, and that’s our sense of our own supremacy.

Step outside the privilege, and we can sense that we haven’t earned culture. We’ve perverted it.

I think we can appreciate culture, yet shake ourselves apart from it. True understanding will do that. It’s transformative. It’s the paradigm shift within. You can’t have it and not act on it, and you’ll be acting contrary to culture.  

Know this, really know this, and you’re not comfortable presenting veganism at a superficial level. You’ll give up your potential for popularity or career advancement rather than become the “soft seller” who calls for “steps in the right direction” and talks of adjustments to the system as great victories.

Some say people don’t want to contemplate change at the deepest level. By silencing radical (root-level) calls for change, they miss their own internal opportunity for a paradigm shift.

Here’s what I’d like to ask of every vegan I know. Understand veganism as deeply as you can. Impart it to someone else at that same, transformative level. Go for the low-hanging fruit in situations where there’s no other path, yet never lose the yearning to touch one soul and spark transformative change.

Simplicity Takes a Lot of Work.

The more I think, speak, and write (but mostly think), the more I believe I can be most useful by being clear. No jargon, no coined terms except vegan

I want to live as a messenger for the few things I understand and commit to. So I think that’s key. Making a radical and urgent message clear and simple.

Because if we think we know a meaningful and urgent thing, and want to spread the message, shouldn’t we strive to explain simply, with clarity? Rather than speaking in jargon or telling others they don’t understand the issue, we’ve got to explain, and explain simply. Simplicity, for humans, is an achievement. It takes a lot of work to identify a principle’s key elements.

Science Is Real…

Yet, contemplating most important things, our grasp of science falls short. Consider climate breakdown. Consider the chaotic and delicate interplays of biocommunities. If there is no striving for a deep, ethically powered understanding of a subject, then scientific breakthroughs serve as setbacks.

We live in a society that believes profit can drive innovation and engineering can fix our problems. And that many of us can enrich ourselves in this life by gravitating to whatever profiteering generates and holding on.

Other beings lose habitat and find their lives in turbulence as we plunder Earth and manipulate its living beings. All in the name of finding solutions to the new problems we create as we solve the old ones.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson says our original sin is pseudospeciation—which, to Jeffrey, means the belief that we are superior. That belief in our own primacy led us to domesticate others.

Arguably that sin is past the possibility of redemption. But if we never question it, then no matter how great our culture was, or how ingenious our engineering was, we’ll pass back into the universe numbly, no better for all we witnessed in all the days of our unexamined Earthly lives.


Banner photo by le vy

Shop for Tahini. International Hummus Day Is Coming.

Now you know. The 13th of May is the tenth International Hummus Day, when “millions of people around the world” will be “celebrating their love for hummus”—as millions of people would do anyway, because hummus is a staple throughout the Middle East and a mainstay in casual restaurants throughout Europe, and in many major cities worldwide.

Every day is hummus day but if we’re going to have some extra hummus conversation, OK. Let’s make some hummus this week.

Why make your own instead of simply buying the Sabra hummus in the stores? Because the Israel-based Strauss Group—which co-owns Sabra with PepsiCo—has been funding the Israel Defense Forces’ Golani Brigade. This year, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine has rallied to stop serving Sabra hummus in Harvard’s dining halls, given Sabra’s financial links to the IDF.

What are Israel’s military forces doing at the moment?

As Jeffrey St. Clair writes on Twitter: “According the anodyne language of the Guardian, the forced mass evictions of more than 1000 Palestinians is so that their land can be `repurposed` for a military base…”

The court ruling that enables the expulsion of a thousand people in one of single biggest expulsion decisions since the 1967 occupation.

Veganism means opposing oppression wherever it thrives. That, of course, goes for opposing the oppressive projects of our own country, our own social group, and our own species. It’s about recognizing oppression, and learning about it, and conscientious objection.

Make It at Home: Hummus With Salad and Pita

First, here are the ingredients for the hummus. Remember to pick up the pita bread. And scroll down past the hummus to get the salad recipe.

Ground cumin

3 garlic cloves

2 cups cooked chickpeas, either home-cooked (they’re the best) or canned. Keep the cooking liquid

6 tablespoons of tahini (sesame butter)

The juice of one fresh lemon

2 tablespoons organic olive oil (optional)

One bunch of parsley

Options: paprika and cayenne, salt and pepper to taste

In food processor, purée the drained chickpeas with tahini and blend in a teaspoon of cumin, the lemon juice and garlic, and, if desired, one tablespoon of the olive oil. As you’re puréeing, add a bit of the reserved cooking water to arrive at a smooth consistency.

When the mix is smooth, spoon it into a bowl and stir in the spices to taste. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon of olive oil if desired. Serve on a nest of fresh parsley.

To make the Medditerrenean salad, gather:

The torn leaves of a head of romaine lettuce, 3 diced tomatoes, 1 sliced cucumber, 1 sliced bell pepper (seeds removed), 1 small onion and 6 radishes, thinly sliced.

And for the salad dressing, whisk together, according to your preference:

Olive oil, parsely, fresh lemon juice, a minced garlic clove and minced mint leaves, and salt and pepper.

Toss the salad ingredients and serve dressing on the side. Enjoy it all with toasted pita bread. Especially on International Hummus Day.

Photo credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich

World Vegan Day…

…the First of November, is just days away. Need a simple resource for World Vegan Month outreach in Novemberor any time? Vegan 101 is a free slideshow you can use. It includes 100% evergreen material suitable for general audiences. An extra slide provides notes for presenters.

Enjoy or download any time, from this page. And best wishes for World Vegan Month!

#Pride, #AnimalLiberation, and #BlackLivesMatter

June is Pride Month — dedicated to, and celebrated by, LGBTIQ+ and allies worldwide.

I believe animal advocacy, at its best, works to challenge and transcend domination wherever it is found, and I think that belief explains why so many vegans from the movement’s earliest days have conscientiously objected to war.

It’s why so many of us sense that heterosexist oppression stems from the same place as human supremacy.

This month 51 years ago, at Stonewall Inn, an interracial group including nonbinary and transgender people rose up against vindictive policing. They rose up against bigotry, hate, and hurt. Their pain and their courage combined to open up new pathways to self-actualization for the rest of us. Pathways to respect. To love. To many more acts of protest, and to unforgettable times of joy and celebration. 

And yet the torture and death of George Floyd reminds us, again, that — as far as we have come — the struggle for human freedom is still grotesquely immature. It tells us respect still takes a back seat. And it is a setback for every living being on the face of this Earth.

Pride month 2020 is a time of sorrow because of yet another murder in a pattern of authority-wielding murders, another profound loss to the collective conscious soul. Why? Why can’t we just be decent?

The Art of Animal Liberation must be committed to human dignity and respect for nonhuman life as a dual striving. The loss of George Floyd makes the reason all the more intense, and the need to speak up for the #BlackLivesMatter movement all the more urgent. 

My CounterPunch bio identifies me as working for animal liberation. It feels right to have that bio follow a piece about the selective way “looting” is discussed in connection with #BlackLivesMatter protests. It feels right to spread the word that we’re all on this planet together, and no one is free as long as bullets, cages, and chokeholds rule our culture. Authoritarianism has got to go. Humanity must change now. There is no more “I won’t see the change in my lifetime, but…” because now we’re bracing for the storms of a distorted climate. It was always time for respect to ascend, and the very existence of a future, for us, should not be taken for granted.

Banner Photo: Mike Von