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Institute of Advanced Study

Women, Animality, Immunity - and the Slave of the Slave

Abstract 4

Derrida made a number of fragmentary comments about women’s rights a few years before he looked more directly at the appeal to animal rights. He mentioned that the woman has sometimes shared the inferior status of the animal. However, his interest in the way in which the declaration of rights can sometimes dovetail with subordination – a point he did make in reflecting on animal rights – was quarantined from the remarks on women’s rights. In the late nineteenth century, Frances Power Cobbe was thinking of a socio-political context when she pointed out that men, in their treatment of women, seemed to have granted themselves immunities, (sometimes legally upheld, sometimes de facto exceptions) from laws that would more generally apply to the treatment of other humans, or to domestic animals such as horses and dogs. Meaning immunity in the sense of exception, Cobbe also appealed to another idea – that one might now liken to auto-immunity – that this immunity was poisonous and auto-destructive. Evidently, it was destructive to women, but Cobbe argued that it was also auto-destructive with respect to European aspirations to a progress and fineness of civilization. She appealed to the idea that the ‘civilized’ man mistreating women gave himself over to a brutishness that she likened to savagery and animalism. Responding to the complex interlocking subordinations occurring in the series of excluded terms, ‘women, children, animals, and slaves,’ the paper asks how best to remember their interrelated, auto-immune subordinations. The women and children will not always have been exempt from making claims to subordinate the animal and the slave; the slave will not always have been exempt from claims to subordinate animals, children or women; and the animal has been deemed a subordinating agent insofar as the worst subordinating man may be deemed animal-like.

Insights Paper