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?