Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gender and race in the chicken yard

As chickens have become a fixture at Mucky Boots, I have become aware of some aspects of the whole business that make me, a generally socially progressive kind of person, uncomfortable.

Take race, for example. I know chickens are not people, and I shouldn't project hundreds of years of oppression of black people onto our birds, but when we're putting the chickens to bed at night, part of me feels quite horrified that the black Australorps go in one enclosure and the yellow Orpingtons go in another. Not to mention it's the smallest enclosure. My rational brain says there are good reasons for it: they needed to be separate because they are lowest on the totem pole, not because of their colour but because they are the youngest. And we put them where we do because are they are the smallest subgroup, so logically they should go in the smallest space. But that's my rational brain. The rest of me feels that a colour-segregated chicken coop is just plain wrong.

And then there's gender. We call our pullets and laying hens "girls." For someone who wore a button all through my university days that said "I'm not a girl" and insisted on being called a woman instead, I was shocked to hear myself referring to these birds as "girls." What should I call them? Chicken women?

On top of that, I realized that only four of our sixteen female chickens have names (Marilyn for the blondest of the Orpingtons, Eva for the first hen to lay, and Alice and Gertie for the inseparable Australorps), and even then the names are more theoretical than practical, because we can't really tell them apart (beyond the black versus yellow, of course) unless we get close enough to decipher the codes on their leg bands. On the other hand, every one of the male chickens have (or had...) names: Pee Wee, Big Boy, Hector, Red Toe, Fluffy Butt and No Name (which really was his name). So the male chickens are recognized as individual and special, but the female birds don't rise above an indistinguishable mass. Discrimination!

Although I suppose the reverse discrimination of "if you're female you get to live out your life and if you're male the chances are pretty high you'll wind up in the freezer" probably outweighs any bad feelings the hens might have about being called a girl...


Wonky Girl said...

My hens act the same. We purchased two each of several breeds and those two of the same breed stay together. All are the same age and were raised in the same pen.
The one black bantam frizzle hen follows the big black Cochin hen.
Are chickens "self aware"?

Flartus said...

Hmph. This sounds like an argument that racism is part of nature, the way your birds are acting. Maybe Kim should reverse the next chicken tv session and show some clips of MLK Jr. speeches!

Your "chicken women" comment reminds me of a friend I did a volunteer event with during the height of political correctness. We were working with 6 year old children, and he referred to them as "women!" I drew the line at that; I told him, "If they're not menstruating, they're not women yet!" I mean, c'mon, I'd like to think I've earned the label of woman vs. girl.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, maybe you can call them The Ladies? And buy them little hats, pearl necklaces and clutch purses! B'gAWK!

jeanives said...

Maybe you name 'the boys' because you know they are going to get the chop; compensation. And maybe its only becasue there aren't very many of them comparatively. And maybe you could give yourself a mental break!

Paula said...

Then there's the idea from 'Summertime' in which Katherine Hepburn's character refers to herself as a girl, and justifies it that she's not quite 50 yet, which means that even though I'd like to go on calling myself girl (it has to do with youth, another line along which we discriminate) and now I can't because I'm 51!

I agree with jeanives- you should give yourself a break. Or, quickly name the other girls. I mean women.

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