The Intersectionality of Oppression and Social Justice

Kimberly Spanjol, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LMHC on Feb 03, 2019

Some scholars examine the intersectionality of social justice issues to understand how oppression intersects and overlaps.  For example, a black female lesbian could experience oppression on multiple levels, due to her race, gender and sexuality. All non-human animals experience extreme levels of oppression compared to most humans. They also experience oppression differently depending on what type of non-human animal they are. For example, a female cow, pig or chicken in a factory farm experiences oppression because of her species, and certain types of cruelty as a function of her gender. Think of sweet female dairy cows being constantly impregnated, torn from their babies and painfully milked by machines, or intelligent mother pigs confined in gestation crates to produce endless offspring for human consumption, unable to move or coddle their young. On the other hand, a purchased puppy (purchasing puppies continues regularly although the number of dogs purchased from breeders and pet stores is about equal to the number of dogs killed in shelters) could likely experience a very comfortable and privileged life, well-fed and cared for in the comfort of someone’s home. While science has demonstrated that farmed animals are just as sentient as the companion animals many people treat and love like family, because humans see them differently, their suffering is extreme — and largely hidden from our view so it can continue unacknowledged. 

Understanding the intersectionality of oppressions helps us to see the inconsistencies in the way we treat non-human animals based on their species and how humans justify using them.  Simply depending on how humans categorize them — as something to eat, wear, love, watch, and so on — their life experiences will differ drastically. We can also use the lens of intersectionality to understand that the way humans see and treat other species is no different from the way we administer injustices toward other humans.  

This can help to understand the importance of examining and transforming our relationships with non-human animals.  For instance, the cognitive dissonance and dampened empathy that is required to take part in the brutalization and death of billions of animals daily in the food industry impacts the way we see and treat other humans too.   Some are deemed worthy of our care, love and respect, while others are not because they are seen differently and serve a different purpose.  When we see the connections, we can begin to choose to move away from supporting any industry that treats other sentient beings as less worthy than us so they can profit. We can move away from supporting any systems, ideologies and practices that dominate and oppress others. When we connect this disconnect, all social justice concerns will benefit from wielding our power thoughtfully and viewing others as deserving of our care and respect — other humans, non-humans, and the planet we co-inhabit.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.”

Kimberly Spanjol, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LMHC is a Doctoral Level Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Humane Educator. She received her Ph.D. in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Forensic Psychology in 2005 from the City University of New York and holds a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling as well as certifications in Behavior Analysis, Animals and Human Health, Humane Education and Teaching Mindfulness to Youth. She has served as an educator, researcher, consultant and clinician. Dr. Spanjol is currently an Assistant Professor at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York and also adjuncts at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She teaches courses in Environmental Crime, Environmental Justice, Species Justice and more. Her clinical work is focused on children, teens and young adults with a variety of behavioral, developmental and mental health issues as well as their families. Dr. Spanjol has worked in private practice, educational and correctional settings for more than 25 years. Her areas of expertise are Behavior Modification, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Social Emotional Learning, Humane Education, Intersectionality and Social Justice, Animal-Assisted Therapy, The Human-Animal Bond, Animals and Criminal Justice, Animal Protection and Environmental Criminology.

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