Two Australian academics recently discovered that human gender stereotypes can actually be harmful to dogs.
According to Paul McGreevy, Professor in the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, and now former Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, a large number of dog owners unwittingly force their own personal “gender identities” onto their dogs.
The professors claim that owners should think “critically on gender stereotypes” in order to prevent their dogs being mistreated. “The lives of dogs depend upon how they conform to gender expectations,” they argue.
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, “gender stereotyping” is “the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics or roles on the sole basis of her or his membership of the social group of women or men”. The professors claim such stereotyping can have a negative effect on canines.
According to McGeevy and Probyn-Rapsey, the main challenge is to understand the interactions between dogs and humans, and part of that challenge can be affected by gender stereotypes “of both humans and dogs”. They believe that unpacking and challenging gender stereotypes can improve the lives of our pets as well as our own.
“While we know how damaging stereotypes can be for humans, dog owners may not consider just how their conceptual baggage of gender stereotypes affects the animals they live with.”
The authors refer to a 2006 “landmark analysis of gender and dog ownership”, which reportedly revealed how people use their dogs as “props” to show off their own gender identities. This landmark analysis was, in actual fact, a series of interviews with 26 dog owners in northeast Georgia. McGeevy and Probyn-Rapsey note that participants in this study used gender stereotypes not only to select their dogs, but also to “describe and predict their dog’s behavior and personality”.
“These studies underline just how much the lives of dogs depend upon how they conform to gender expectations. In other words, it’s not just how we humans interact with dogs that matters, it’s how our genders interact as well.”
The professors also criticized use of the term “bitch” as a label for a female dog, since the word is sometimes also used as an offensive term for a female human.
Former Australian Labor Party leader Mark Latham is far from convinced by the authors’ conclusions. He claims it is “ridiculous to impose on canines radical gender theories and the idea of a male patriarchy”.