Pussy Panic versus Liking Animals: Tracking Gender in Animal Studies

Critical Inquiry 39 (1):89-115 (2012)
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Abstract

Pioneering work in interdisciplinary animal studies, much of it under the rubric of ecofeminism, dates back to the 1970s. Yet animal studies remained an idiosyncratic backwater until its twenty-first-century reinvention as a high-profile area of humanities research. This essay ties the soaring cachet of the new animal studies to a revamped origin story—one beginning in 2002 and claiming Derrida as founding father. In readings of Derrida and leading animal studies theorist Cary Wolfe, I examine the gender politics of animal studies today, especially that affiliated with Wolfe’s formulation of posthumanism. In addition to slighting important ecofeminist precedents, this approach to animal studies is remarkably anxious to distance itself both from emotional attachments to animals and from scholars working on gender, sexuality, and race. I attribute this anxiety in part to the gendered opposition, longstanding in academia, between scholarship frankly motivated by feeling and scholarship whose prestige depends on claims to “masculine” objectivity and theoretical rigor. To counter this logic, I turn to animal studies foremothers Carol Adams and Donna Haraway; despite disagreements on several key issues, Adams and Haraway share a readiness to own their debt to feminist thinking and to see their theoretical work as inseparable from emotional and political commitments to animals

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