The Biotic Woman: Strays and Breeders Edition

It's been a tough year for feminist sensitivity in South Carolina's elected ranks. During a press conference last summer, Governor Mark Sanford declared, while occasionally shedding tears, that a woman other than his wife was his soulmate. For what it's worth, Jenny Sanford has since filed for divorce, upending the "stand by your man" stance of many political wives, and is working on a memoir.

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But last Friday's comments by Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer take the proverbial cruelty cake for thoughtlessly conflating the suffering of people and animals, victim-blaming during the recession, threatening those on government assistance with unnecessary and unrelated stipulations to receiving their benefits, and using sexual shaming tactics and mocking decision-making abilities that he conflated with willpower, age and intelligence. You thought Sanford did a number on his whole family and his state with his public confession? He could learn a lesson in heartlessness from Bauer, who said, in part:

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better."

The entire audio from this appalling speech can be heard in the YouTube video below.

Bauer's comments came as part of his argument that government benefits should be taken from those who fail drug tests or don't attend parent-teacher conferences or PTA meetings. I'm all for parental involvement in the schools, but further penalizing people scraping by on government assistance because they don't have time to go wrangle with other PTA moms is absurd and wildly out of touch. He also equated low test scores with schools that provide free or reduced-fee lunches, which directs blame at all of the wrong institutions and systemic problems. Perhaps most problematically, he moves without irony from complaining about government assistance rewarding "bad behavior" to fretting about "babies having babies." Is he upset about welfare or teen pregnancy? Why so many judgment values? Why conflate personal choices with tough economic times?

[Aside: does Bauer think Gov. Sanford should have thought further than his own attempts at breeding? Or is Sanford off the hook for his sexual transgressions because he's a wealthy, well-educated white dude? Sanford's "bad behavior" arguably cost the state more in wasted time and resources than government assistance programs, but I digress.]

What does this have to do with ecofeminism? Predictably, some liberal and progressive blogs have seized on Bauer's statements in the same ways I have, but no one bothers to call out the most basic issue here: that comparing people to animals is a strange, inconsistent insult that devalues all living beings. Many people would argue that in fact we are all animals—human animals. Why assistance for necessities like food would be treated as a way to speak down to others is more confusing than anything—we all need help now and then—and no doubt the history of using animalistic insults towards people of color and low-income people is lost on Bauer.

The other problem I have with this argument is about the closeness of need and how we care for so-called "strays." What is it about getting too close to someone else's pain? Is it that you're afraid you'll end up caring too much, or is it that once you come within a certain proximity, you become (self-imposed or otherwise) "responsible" for others? As I see it, you do become responsible. You are charged with the knowledge of suffering, and the moral and ethical choices about how you will use this knowledge. Bauer contends that if you feed a stray, it will return. But why is a system of care and support so widely disparaged? So what if a stray animal or person returns? "Stray" implies impulsivity, rootlessness, lost. I'd argue a stray person or animal acts on perfectly rational instinct to go towards food, shelter, community.

Bauer, who has "a reputation for reckless and immature behavior" according to the Associated Press, issued a non-apology on Monday that included the sentiment: "I wish I'd used a different metaphor." I'll take it one step further. I think he oughta stick to talking about issues he understands and leave the metaphors out of it entirely until his level of awareness of intersecting issues catches up with his prominence in state politics.

Photo credit Brad Warthen's blog

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Comments

5 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Thank you. Again.

I love love love reading what you have to say.
Your analysis on strays made me think of how G. Francione refers to the animals sharing his home as refugees who are now part of his family. And it's true. We can't hate "stray" nonhuman persons; it's our fault as a screwed-up society with screwed-up thinking that got them on the street, homeless and starving, in the first place. Same with displaced/homeless human persons.

spam

please block user VivianaS, the link above is a scam/loan link (yet again).

on a non-IT note, it is such a compelling and well-reasoned blog, that doesn't get lazy and use the usual cliches. as i have commented in the past, my brother and i grew up both the results of unplanned pregnancies, with different fathers, and on assistance with a single mom. you get a lot of people assuming you're going to end up in juvie or worse, and yet we were both national merit scholars and didn't end up that way. we also grew up taking in strays (and i ended up vegan, and now my mom is mostly vegan too).

i too think that compassion is taught about 10% as much as selfishness and "getting ahead" in our culture. it's ironic that often those espousing the value of selfishness and god rewarding them with wealth and all of that seem to ignore certain pertinant quotes about a rich man, a camel, and the eye of a needle, as well as the meek inheriting the earth, and pretty much every jesus story ever. (would multiplying the loaves be feeding strays? guess so.) i'm not religious but it irks me, the hypocrisy of these political evangelists. they say similar things about animals being made only for humans as they do for a woman being made for a man and so forth. gah.

anyways, thanks again. normally i would cringe seeing a headline and expecting an anti-animal backlash at best. (or worse, anti-poverty as well, if conservative media)

to people who bitch to me about so-called welfare queens i promptly say i grew up on welfare, and you can't live on it. you have to earn under the table in order just to pay bills. you certainly don't live like a queen. and you aren't a bad person for needing help. i also point out how many billions continue to quietly go to "corporate welfare" (bailouts, tax breaks, buyouts, "pork" projects, etc) and how social welfare is in comparison a drop in the bucket.

neuter sleezy male politicians before they breed more "love kids

I'd say it's the guys whose 'brains' are in their pants and who can't keep from unzipping, who are the ones doing the "breeding" these days, whether we're talking about elected officials or churchified homophobic preachers.

Seeing that reproductive rights for women are somewhere even below the bottom of the list of priorities of these sleazeball power dudes, it's clear that "barefoot and pregnant" - in other words, breeding - is exactly what the Republican radical-right has in MIND for everyone but their own daughters and mistresses.

I'm *so glad* you wrote about this!

Bauer's comments are absolutely appalling - insulting to humans and nonhumans alike. Implicit in Bauer's comparison is the idea that animals are "less than," and to be compared to nonhumans is the ultimate put-down. I don't know about y'all, but I'd much rather be a dog than a racist/classist/sexist/womanizing politician from South Carolina! (Dogs rock.)

It's also worth noting that "strays" are, much like marginalized humans, scapegoated and blamed for their circumstances (circumstances which are mostly/fully beyond their control). Homeless dogs and cats are oftentimes made homeless by humans - who "release" (read: dump) them into the "wild" when they're no longer wanted/convenient/cute/babies/novel/interesting/fun. If they're unsterilized, of course they'll "breed"! (i.e., mate and parent.) Cats are especially maligned - blamed for declining bird populations - when, in point o' facts, climate change (caused by human activity, including large-scale animal ag.) has had the most impact on birds' migratory patterns and numbers. Easier to round up and kill all the feral cats than examine one's own behavior, though.

Likewise, why question the bloated national defense budget when you can just blame the "welfare queens" for "draining" the country's coffers? Women of color and impoverished/working-class women make for easier targets than war-happy, upper-/middle-class white male leaders, that's why.

Ditto

"Easier to round up and kill all the feral cats than examine one's own behavior, though."

"Women of color and impoverished/working-class women make for easier targets than war-happy, upper-/middle-class white male leaders, that's why."

...and amen, says the ex-welfare kid and lady with ex-"ferals". aka domestic cats unsocialized to humans but belonging to a species with thousands of years of domestication and yet are supposed to be akin to bringing bobcats home somehow. :p