Rejecting Fatalism: Social Justice Movements Change The World
An Animal Rights Article from


Jenna Fox, The Abolitionist
August 2014

The more radical the proposed notion of change is from the position of the status quo, the more severe/violent/extreme the opposition to it is and the more threatening it is perceived to be. Those in power are afraid they will lose said power....Social justice movements start out very small, but the moral truth of the issue stands strong. Attitudes evolve, cultural shift occurs, and this spreads over time.

Some people say that animal exploitation can never end because speciesism is simply too vast and too ingrained to ever change. I don’t subscribe to fatalism. After all, if we all did, then no injustice would ever be challenged and nothing would ever change. Nobody is claiming that the world will “go vegan overnight”, but a shift in consciousness is gradually happening.

The 2012 Olympics marks the first ever games where the teams of all participating countries include women. This is huge. In some cultures around the world, women are still regarded as second class citizens or lower beings. They are treated as things to be used however men see fit. They are dominated and owned like property (just as animals still are in our culture). Indeed, all manner of injustice occurs. Women do not have the same rights as men and are the victims of extreme violence. They are subject to rape, torture, mutilation, beatings, and murder—much of which is perfectly legal (just as it is for nonhuman animals). Gender inequality is so vast, so extreme, such an ingrained attitude, that the situation seems hopeless. But, we know things can change. Human consciousness evolves.

Not so long ago in human history, women had to endure such normalized discrimination the world over. This discrimination was culturally and socially acceptable and legal. But, when cultural norms are challenged, change can and does happen. Not overnight, but I’m sure we’d all be in agreement that no matter how long it takes, equality is worth fighting for. Though such aforementioned acts of atrocity are still committed against women, Western society as a whole now rejects them. It is no longer socially acceptable or legal.

The women’s rights movement (or “feminist” movement) has been active since the late 18th century, when women’s suffrage was first sought in France. But the “First Wave” of feminism is largely associated with the more widespread activity of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when women rallied for suffrage in Western nations. New Zealand was the first country to grant all women the legal right to vote in 1893. The UK gave only privileged white women the vote in 1918, but later granted that right to all women in 1928. Despite heralding the suffrage movement, women in France only received the right to vote in 1944!

The road to change is fraught with challenge that takes time to overcome. It’s not easy and it often involves facing a lot of opposition. Those who have power or gain profit from the status quo have a vested interest in fighting change. Suffragettes faced violent retaliation, incarceration, and social rejection before finally achieving their goal of securing the right to vote and run for political office…and that was just phase one. In the “Second Wave” of feminism in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, feminist activists went on to challenge sexist gender roles and harmful ideas about sexuality. Building on the efforts of earlier feminists, they battled inequality and discrimination within the law and culture. Women took a more active role in the pursuit of equality, and the movement spread fast alongside the growing civil rights and anti-war movements. Injustice was being challenged on multiple fronts during this time, and the feminists brought to light the highly politicized aspects of women’s lives. They were able to communicate how their personal freedoms, power, and opportunities for independence and satisfaction were deliberately restricted to protect men’s privilege. Despite having gained partial access to the workplace during the first and second world wars, any further progress was stunted and women still experienced a forced dependence on their husbands as they were expected to fill restrictive gender roles.

Though the second wave of feminism was able to achieve many advances for women, it, like its predecessor, also experienced opposition, hardship, and slow progress. Women owe much of their legal rights and personal freedoms they enjoy today to the success of the second wave.

In the U.K. and much of the West, we are lucky to live in a situation where women are seen as members of the moral community and have legal status as persons. The situation isn’t perfect by any means. There is still much work to be done for women’s rights—the “Third Wave” of feminism cannot rest yet. Women still battle for equality and for an end to discrimination on the basis of gender. Women still don’t receive equal pay. They must still fight for the legal rights to make decisions regarding their own bodies and reproduction. Women must still fight violence, harassment and rape—for which they are often blamed. Women who report these crimes are often forced to bare the burden of proof and they are intimidated from speaking out. Women are still under-represented in politics and positions of power, and are still more likely to be poor. Women still have fewer opportunities over all than men, and are still expected to do the bulk of the caretaking for the sick, young, and elderly.

However, it is safe to say that the women’s rights movement has come a long, long way and achieved a great deal. It was a battle worth fighting, but the war is not won yet.

In the U.K., women now have the right to vote. And, while inequalities in pay, prestige, and advancement continue, women are now a part of the workforce that, at one time, would not permit them. Rape (including marital rape), and domestic violence is now illegal and socially unacceptable. Women now have equal access to education, healthcare, and legal aid. Abortion is now legal. Legally, women now have access to and the freedom to use contraception, with contraceptive pills, implants and injections being available to women for free on the NHS. Condoms can be obtained free of charge from family planning/sexual health clinics and are available to purchase, along with the morning after pill in every supermarket and chemist in the country. Women now have the freedom to enter into relationships with whom they choose and can terminate said relationships if they choose. Except for some patriarchal religious enclaves, women are no longer possessions of their fathers to be sold, traded, given to other men against their wills, or to become men’s property. In short, women now have legal rights that protect their interests and oppose inequality and discrimination. One day, not so long ago, women could not have made statements like this. Even our grandmothers couldn’t have.

Oppressive institutions formed to build a discriminatory power structure for men in order to dominate those who could be over-powered and controlled physically or psychologically with violence (and later politically through the withholding of legal rights and personal freedoms). Interestingly, humans started to oppress and exploit non-human animals around the same point in history that they began to oppress and exploit other humans. It’s all about power.

The more radical the proposed notion of change is from the position of the status quo, the more severe/violent/extreme the opposition to it is and the more threatening it is perceived to be. Those in power are afraid they will lose said power. The notion of women’s rights was once treated as so obscene, so ridiculous and offensive, that advocates were laughed at, dismissed as crazy, or met with violence. Sadly this is still the case in some parts of the world where women are seen and treated as though they are inferior beings in order to protect patriarchal power. In cultures where patriarchy is still prevalent–where discriminatory and oppressive attitudes are still particularly strong – it is easy to see how the prospect of animal rights is also viewed in such a light. Animal rights advocacy tends to have made the biggest impact in places where human rights have made great strides, such as in Western culture. People in such areas are starting to recognise the parallels between one form of oppression and another. It is all unjust violence.

It has taken time and hard work, but things have changed and continue to do so. Humans are waking up and seeing through all forms of discrimination that are often the result of patriarchal social conditioning over many generations, that are reinforced by these past (and prevailing) institutions. This is thanks, in large part, to the work of individuals standing up to challenge the injustice of patriarchy.

Social justice movements start out very small, but the moral truth of the issue stands strong. Attitudes evolve, cultural shift occurs, and this spreads over time. The development in the Olympic Games is a demonstration of this. Despite overwhelming odds, great progress has been made. How different things were just 100 years ago…

So, too, is it possible for such strides to be made in the animal rights movement, where we seem to be in the beginnings of the “First Wave”. Veganism is a moral stance that recognises nonhuman animals as members of the moral community. It is a rejection of discrimination, exploitation and violence. Nonhuman animals are sentient beings, individuals with personalities, emotions and the capacity to suffer (just like us-for we, don’t forget, are animals, too). They have interests in not being used, abused and killed. Yet we use, torture, and kill them by the billions because of discrimination. We see them as “lesser” than ourselves, based on the arbitrary factor of being of another species.

This is similar to how we, as a species, have used, tortured and killed women, children, and other races by the millions for centuries. Again, this is based on discrimination. Here, we see them as somehow different to the empowered group, and therefore not worthy of moral consideration. But, humans have come a long way. Society has evolved. We see the violence, suffering and death caused by unjust discrimination and domination. We challenge it and we bring about change. We grow.

As we recognise women, children, other races, and other oppressed groups as being worthy of moral consideration, it is time now to include other animals in the moral community. For, whatever our arbitrary differences, we are all sentient beings. We all seek and deserve to be protected from harm and injustice. If we are to act consistently with the moral stance we already hold about the injustice of violence and exploitation inflicted upon others, then recognising non-human animals as moral persons is the necessary step. It can happen, it will happen, it is happening. So, fear not that the mountain seems too great to climb. It begins with just one step.

If you are actively participating in the exploitation and oppression of nonhuman, sentient beings and have the freedom to behave differently, then that first step is to go vegan. If you believe rape, torture, exploitation and murder are wrong, then everyone who can suffer as a result of such acts deserves your moral consideration, no matter their gender, race, age, sexuality, handicap, or species. Let’s bring about change. Let’s make the world a better place for everyone in it.

On behalf of all the victims who are helpless to change their circumstances, thank you.

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