I have a confession to make. I am a feminist. I think your dog might be too.
Regarding feminism, I’m not sure how a movement about equality became so loaded. But today is International Women’s Day, so it’s a good time to talk about it. My mother raised three independent women, encouraging us to pursue our educations and careers. Yet she told me she isn’t a feminist because she likes to wear heels and makeup and be pretty.
“But Mom!” I laughed, “I do too!”
Here’s the way I see it: There’s still a lot of inequality in this world — it also includes racism and so-called ableism (prejudice against people with disabilities) — and a lot of it has to do with valuing one group of people over others. Some call that the patriarchy. I just call on the numbers, a well-known example being the gaping chasm in pay. If you’re a woman, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’re still earning about 20 percent less than your male counterparts. A 20 percent difference is better than generations before us — when the mere thought of a woman in the workplace was startling — but this is 2013! We have tiny computers that hold unthinkable amounts of data — a 20 percent difference is unacceptable! I know you work hard, and I think you deserve to be compensated fairly. That’s why feminism is still valid.
Dogs are feminists because they don’t care what we look like. I hate that one of the primary issues still plaguing feminism is what to do about harmful media destroying girls’ self esteem, holding them back for the rest of their lives. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, women are more likely than men to develop an eating disorder fueled by narrow media representations of beauty. Forty-seven percent of school age girls claim to want to lose weight because of the images in magazines, and 69 percent of girls grades 5-12 look to media for what the “perfect” woman is supposed to look like. In high school, I was one of the more than half of teenage girls using unhealthy weight control methods such as starving and laxatives. Even successful, professional women are developing eating disorders.
A dog helped me deal with such issues.
After the devastating loss of Annie, my family rescued an Australian Shepherd named Jasmine. When I sat in my room crying because my hair would never be straight and my legs would never be skinny, Jasmine would come and lick my face. She didn’t see my puberty-induced stretch marks or acne or crooked teeth. In her own way, Jasmine was reassuring me that the features that matter most are the ones that can’t be seen. She loved me because I was kind to her and not because of what I did or did not look like.
Dogs need feminism. They need their female human friends to feel safe walking them at all hours of the day in any neighborhood in any manner of dress. Because dogs love walks. When I was a dog-walker, I bonded with a black Lab named Ambroise. He was a beautiful soul. He would lie down to let children pet him, and he knew which shops along our main route harbored friendly workers with treats for him.
He never barked — in fact, he was a bit shy. Until one day, when a strange man approached me. The man first told me to “Smile, you’re so pretty” (how many of you have heard this one?), and when I told him I wasn’t interested in talking (I was on the job, for goodness sake), he stepped forward, cornering me, and reached out a hand. That’s when Ambroise growled for the first time ever. The man quickly withdrew.
This was on a busy street in a nice neighborhood populated with mothers pushing strollers in the middle of the day while I was wearing perfectly normal walking clothes. What would have happened if I didn’t have Ambroise with me? I don’t know, but I do know that I shouldn’t have to worry about walking around, with or without a dog, just because I’m a woman.
One of the greatest reasons I think dogs are feminists is because feminism seeks to undo hierarchical structures of power that usually place men at the very top. It’s a very patriarchal way of looking at the world, and a similar idea of power has gained an unsettling foothold in the world of dogs. The controversial and now debunked Domination Theory of training is based on the idea that dogs need a “pack leader” to force them into submission. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s official position is to “not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it.”
In an even greater display of harmful power structures, puppy mills continue to run rampant because dogs are valued only as property. As we’ve seen time and time again here on Dogster, crimes committed against animals are not treated with the same gravity as crimes against people, even though they demonstrate the same lack of respect for life.
Michael Vick destroyed the lives of multiple dogs, subjecting them to unspeakable torture, and he only received 23 months confinement, some of which he served in his own home … and he even has a new dog! I’m not comparing women to animals (I’ll leave that to PETA), but our struggles begin looking awfully similar when the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which calls for specific language ensuring our constitutional rights regardless of gender — fell three votes short of ratification in 1982.
In the White House, the expanded Violence Against Women Act was only barely reauthorized this year. It’s only recently that cities and states began calling for bans on the retail sale of animals. We’re both struggling to gain recognition within a system that continues to favor a narrow group of privileged people.
I know I’m a feminist, and I think your dog might be too. After all, she would be the first to object to being only “man’s best friend.”
Wouldn’t you, too?
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