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In 1872, a woman known only as An Earnest Englishwoman” published a letter titled Are Women Animals?” in which she protested against the fact that women were not treated as fully human. In fact, their status was worse than that of animals: regulations prohibiting cruelty against dogs, horses, and cattle were significantly more punitive than laws against cruelty to women. The Earnest Englishwoman’s heartfelt cry was for women to become-animal” in order to gain the status that they were denied on the grounds that they were not part of mankind.”
In this fascinating account, Joanna Bourke addresses the profound question of what it means to be human” rather than animal.” How are people excluded from political personhood? How does one become entitled to rights? The distinction between the two concepts is a blurred line, permanently under construction. If the Earnest Englishwoman had been capable of looking 100 years into the future, she might have wondered about the human status of chimeras, or the ethics of stem cell research. Political disclosures and scientific advances have been re-locating the human-animal border at an alarming speed. In this meticulously researched, illuminating book, Bourke explores the legacy of more than two centuries, and looks forward into what the future might hold for humans, women, and animals.
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Joanna Bourke is a Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London and an active contributor to radio, journalism, and television. She is author of several books, including Rape: Sex, Violence, History and Fear: A Cultural History, which was shortlisted for Mind Book of the Year in 2006. She lives in London.Review:
Praise for What It Means to Be Human
"Avoiding the impenetrable prose often found in academic books, this deeply scholarly work is lively and challenging in equal measure, and rewarding throughout." —Boston Globe
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