'Animaladies: Gender, Animals, and Madness'

An interview about a unique book on oppression and marginalization.

Posted Aug 10, 2020

Animaladies is a provocative, interdisciplinary volume linking the ways gender and animal rights activism are associated with sentiment and, often, insanity as a way of undermining its political aims." –CHOICE 

I recently learned about a new, highly original, and provocative book edited by Drs. Lori Gruen and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey called Animaladies: Gender, Animals, and Madness.The book's description, part of which reads, "Highlighting the frequent pathologization of animal lovers and animal rights activists, this book examines how the 'madness' of our relationships with animals intersects with the 'madness' of taking animals seriously ... While allusions to madness are both subtle and overt, they are also very often gendered, thought to be overly sentimental with an added sense that emotions are being directed at the wrong species," was all it took for me to see if Drs. Gruen and Probyn-Rapsey could take the time to answer a few questions about their fascinating and unsettling book. Here's what they had to say. 

Can you tell us more about the term at its heart, ‘animaladies’?

Animaladies is a triangulation of “animal” “ladies” and “maladies” and the idea seems even more relevant today then when Fiona first came up with the term. Covid 19 is one giant ‘animalady’; a systemic dis-ease of human-animal relations gone horribly wrong. The question is whether or not this disease will prompt a rethink of the institutionalized violence that transmits it—whether we can recognise, acknowledge and act upon the forced entanglements of industrial agriculture and habitat loss that lay the groundwork for the virus to take hold.  

Animaladies is a label for these bad relations—but it’s situated within a discourse of hope that Animal studies scholars seem to (despite everything!) hold on to—the hope that relations can be transformed for the better. The word also works as a warning in the book. Animaladies can be diagnosis targeted at scapegoats—diagnosed by a mainstream that looks in the wrong places for someone to blame for its own ills: "crazy cat ladies" rather than animal factory hoarders, the "madness" of women rather than women passionate about the lives of animals. The ‘animaladies’ who are explored in each of the chapters ask us to consider how women and animal advocates generally are so often framed as a problem rather than as a framer of those problems. 

How did Animaladies, Gender, Animals and Madness come about?

Animaladies started out life as what was meant to be a one-day symposium at the University of Sydney. We had so many submissions for the call for papers that it turned into a two-day conference with concurrent sessions; there was something about the term ‘animaladies’ and the feelings it arouses (something is very wrong, and it’s not just me!) that it grabbed people. In 2018 we held another conference, this time at the University of Wollongong, where there is a great animal studies community, and again the concept reverberated with speakers and thinkers and practitioners, far and wide. 

How did you choose contributors?

Many of the contributors who appear in the book were at the first conference. Lynn Mowson (whose incredible artwork also graces the front cover of the book), Hayley Singer, Yvette Watt (and the Duck lake project that saved ducks, deterred hunters and brought media onboard by performing "Swan Lake" in the midst of duck hunting season), Vas Stanescu and his brother, James, wrote a chapter on the pathologization of veganism), and Heather Fraser and Nik Taylor (who wrote about domestic violence). 

 Lori Gruen, used with permission
Source: Lori Gruen, used with permission

At the second conference, we were joined by Nekeisha Alayna Alexis (who wrote a stunning chapter on plantation narratives and the "humane meat" movement), Guy Scotton (who wrote a brilliant analysis of how the animal movement is itself implicated in psychologising and pathologizing opponents), and Katie Gillespie (her chapter on witnessing is a standout). 

There was a special event with Pattrice Jones and local sanctuary operators the day before the conference for those who are at the frontlines of "animaladies"; not only the rehabilitation of animals but also the repair of "our" broader relations with them. We’re delighted that sanctuaries are a feature of the chapter written by Pattrice Jones and Cheryl Wylie; sanctuaries kept coming up as an alternative vision, a relief, and place of respite from the animaladies we laid out.

How does your book relate to your backgrounds and general areas of interest?

Fiona: My background is a mixed bag of Australian studies (postcolonial literature, cultural and gender studies) and animal studies. I’ve had an interest in how human relations with animals and animality are pathologized for a while now and partly this comes from teaching Animal Studies and researching in the area for the last decade, where it seems inevitable, but also fruitful, to confront the feeling that doing animal studies, or taking animals seriously is somehow "crazy." There is also this sense that it is so often women who take this ‘risk’ of animal advocacy, and of course women who are ‘crazy’ are also frequently trailblazing architects of transformational politics.  

Lori: This project ties together my interests in gender, animals, science studies, and disability issues. My chapter "Just say No to Lobotomy" is about both literal and figurative lobotomies. The practice of lobotomies started with experiments on some of the first 100 chimpanzees who were used in research in this country and I have an abiding interest in the history of chimpanzee use. I also have done a lot of work challenging the division between reason and emotion, a division that is of one of the foundational animaladies.

Who is your intended audience?

With the breadth of topics, it would be of great interest to many different readers: artists, sanctuary workers, social workers and counselors, people who identify as "animal lovers," as crazy cat ladies (but not animal hoarders!). Humanities and social science students and scholars are a part of the imagined audience too, alongside all those inspired to work with animals and understand the trauma and joy of doing so. We see the book as a contribution to feminist animal studies, so those students and scholars will hopefully find the book resonates with their interests as well.

What are some of your current projects?

Fiona is currently working on a few projects—one concerns the dingoes of Pelorus Island (with Rowena Lennox), dingoes who were released onto a small island off the east coast of Australia, fitted with 1080 capsules timed to release poison into the bloodstream of the dingoes after they had, so the conservation biologists hoped, killed off a population of feral goats. The macabre data we have seen paint a picture of the parlous state of animal welfare considerations in conservation projects. The other project, a newer one, is looking at the cultural impacts of introduced animals in Australia, with Indigenous studies professor Lynette Russell. And all the while, ticking along, is the ongoing project—the Animal Studies Survey (2015 and 2020) with Yvette Watt and Siobhan O’Sullivan, which tracks the rise of animal studies as a field. Results from the 2020 survey will start to appear down the track, as we assemble our analyses of the data.  

Lori has a lot of projects underway. She and Alice Crary are co-writing a book called Animal Crisis that explores the damaged relationships we have with other animals and the need for incorporating ideology critique within animal ethics. With Justin Marceau she is co-editing a volume Against Cages and Carceral Logics that will contain chapters that explore the need for re-thinking “lock ‘em up” strategies, bringing animal liberation, civil rights, and prison reform into the conversation. She is also working on a book about zoos.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?

It’s been so wonderful thinking about answers to these questions, Marc, and being reminded of the inspiring conferences that brought us all together (in person!) to think through ‘animaladies.’ We hope, one day, that we can do another Animaladies conference and reconnect with the extraordinary energy and passion that I think readers can see in each of the chapters in this book. Animaladies in the form of the global COVID-19 pandemic prevents us doing this, but it is of course also an imperative to make it happen again and soon.



1) Lori Gruen is the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University in CT where she also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies. She is the author and editor of 11 books. Fiona Probyn-Rapsey is Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She is the author and co-editor of 4 books, as well as series Co-Editor (along with Yvette Watt and Melissa Boyde) of the Animal Publics book series through Sydney University Press.