In the United States (and other places too), women still do the majority of the housework. Therefore, women perform most of the DIY pest control in the home, even though, in the professional field, men are associated with pest control. Feminist Pest Control acknowledges women for performing this free labor as well as the women who work in professional pest control. Feminist Pest Control also recognizes non-normative partnerships and living situations where the traditional white, middle class heterosexual power structures, real or imagined, are non-existent, and therefore more than one woman performs pest control, no women perform pest control, or no one performs pest control.
Even though women and other feminine genders are imagined as those who experience the majority of phobias, fears, and other negative emotions (think back to hysteria) in relation to human-pest interactions, all humans have different reactions to seeing and living with pests. Women and other feminine genders are not weak for expressing these emotions; men and other masculine genders are not emasculated for expressing these emotions.
Pest infestations highlight intersecting identities and oppressions pertaining to state-sanctioned and institutionally-based racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, nationalism, and classism due to historical associations between filth and non-normative humans. For example, a poor single mother of color may not have the means to live somewhere that has pest prevention measures in place nor could she afford to pay for individualized integrated pest management and treatment. Feminist Pest Control aims to dissociate the presence of pest animals with filth and dirt, and in so doing, remove negative emotions, such as shame, from human-pest co-habitation. An aspiration of Feminist Pest Control is to provide grants to people who cannot afford pest control.
Feminist Pest Control also desires to add “species” and “speciesism” to the list of intersections that people generally associate with intersectional feminism. In addition to sex/gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability, immigration status, and others, an animal’s species is a means by which humans develop prejudice. Stemming from taxonomic systems deriving from the Great Chain of Being and Carl Linneaus, humans have seen themselves at the top of all species hierarchies. Humans, too, have long used animality rhetoric to dehumanize humans, such as Nazis calling Jews “cockroaches” in the World War II era. These practices both keep the human group at the bottom and the cockroaches lower. Instead, Feminist Pest Control recognizes the aliveness, agency, and value of all living things and inanimate objects following in line with scholars of vital materialism such as Jane Bennett, whose recent book Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things recognizes the power inherent in all things to shift political economies and ideologies, and Mel Y. Chen, who wrote Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, which considers “how matter that is considered insensate, immobile, deathly, or otherwise ‘wrong’ animates cultural life in important ways.”
Feminist Pest Control also acknowledges that female pests are most often prejudiced against because they produce offspring, thus proliferating infestation. Feminist Pest Control advocates for female pests because, to some, they should be the most feared and killed.
Feminist Pest Control aims to tear down patriarchalcapitalist systems that produce infrastructures that proliferate pest infestations. Processes such as habitat fragmentation and deforestation through real estate development eliminate the delicate balance of ecosystems leading to species imbalances (more deer, for example). Additionally, city systems such as sewers and waste management create new ecosystems that provide ideal conditions for pest reproduction. Human habitations, in general, also allow pest animals to get out of harsh weather conditions that would usually control populations “naturally.”
My consideration for pests began in fall of 2015 when I had three intersecting challenges. First and foremost, I moved into a house that was full of them. With a history of panic at the sight of animals out of place, I was panicked. At the same time, I worked on a project with my PhD advisor Alan C. Braddock called Mapping Virginia CAFOS: Visualizing Factory Farming, which looked at the environmental impact of industrial animal agriculture. I had been recently (incorrectly) diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and even though I had been a long-time vegetarian, my doctor had me on a strictly meat diet (I have since been correctly diagnosed with late-onset type 1 diabetes, and I am back to a vegan lifestyle). So basically, I was eating meat, studying why meat making was so bad (which I already knew as a human-animal advocate/artist/scholar), and living in a house full of animals.
Even though I was panicked at the sight of the American Cockroaches, I couldn’t kill them—one, they were too fast, and two, they were too large, about 3 inches not including antennae—they seemed to have real consciousness, real emotions, and a realness that I could not just end with my own two hands. I would instead place a glass over them and wait for my then-girlfriend now-wife to come over and take them to the woods. This conundrum plagued me and fed into a Masters’ Thesis about architecture, capitalism, and animals, which, among other things, looked at how buildings, especially vacant ones, encompass matrixes of human, nonhuman animal, object, information, natural resources and materials, and history. This notion, developed out of posthumanist theory by scholars such as Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, and Cary Wolfe, led me to realize that even animal studies scholars, when speaking about animals, generally do not mean pest animals.
Pest animals are the most disposable of animals, and killed by humans with the most rapidity of any other genre of animal, even meat animals in factory farms. Thus, Feminist Pest Control was birthed. It comes with every contradiction you can imagine, including the fact that I hired Orkin (I call my guy “the cockroach angel”—he’s a former navy man who used to build nuclear submarines—no big deal) to kill the animals in my house that I cannot kill with my own two hands and that I do not have to see die because they do so out of sight/out of mind. I don’t want to live with them either, and yet, I want to give them moral/ethical consideration and to bring them into the common vernacular with other, more charismatic animals that we talk about, look at videos of, and visit at zoos.
Pests are challenging figures because infestations highlight various institutional oppressions that already exist. While anyone could potentially have an infestation in their house, the poor who live in urban and swampy environments are most at risk. Feminist Pest Control does not aim to tell these humans that they have to learn to live with the rats in their house because all animals live in this matrix and we have to promote harmony. Instead, Feminist Pest Control looks for answers to these challenges and others. How can we give moral/ethical consideration to the pest without reifying intersectional oppressions that potentiate infestation? How can we eliminate negative emotions attached to pest animals? How can we dissociate pest animals from filth?