Monday, April 17, 2017

“Are Women Animals?”

“Are Women Animals?” asked its writer, whose letter was published this month in 1872 in The Times of London.
The writer, still known only as “An Earnest Englishwoman,” asked if women—who did not have remotely equal legal status with men under English law at that time—were even due the level of legal protection against cruelty afforded to animals. By doing so, writes author Joanna Bourke in What it Means to be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present, the Earnest Englishwoman was “protesting against the fact that women were not being treated as fully human.” She wasn’t asking if women were biologically animals—the answer to that question was clear—but was using the example to highlight the cruelty towards women that she felt went often unpunished in a legal system designed to protect men’s property rights. Bourke writes: Who, she asked, are entitled to the social and political rights assigned to ‘mankind’? How could it be just that animals had been granted more rights under law than women? She sounded exasperated. ‘Whether women are the equals of men has been endlessly debated’, she admitted, adding that it was a ‘moot point’ whether women even possessed souls. But, she pleaded, ‘can it be too much to ask [for] a definitive acknowledgment that they are at least animals?’

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