Monday, February 27, 2012

On Gendering Dogs

Llamaentity and I are not so big on gender roles. We don't believe that people should be conditioned to a set of personality traits, behaviors, and desires based on biological sex. We think it would be a much better world if things weren't coded as "masculine" or "feminine", and people felt comfortable doing things that interested them and being who they wanted to be. In fact, if we ever end up parenting human children (not anytime in the foreseeable future), we'd want to encourage them to have interests on both sides of the "gender binary".

So how does this extend to our dogs? Honestly, not as well as I'd hoped.

1. Gender-neutral names: It's not like we named them Mickey and Minnie, but gender-neutral names are made pointless by gendered pronouns. When I talk to my coworkers about the dogs, I find myself correcting them if they call Mushroom a "he" or Badger a "she". It's going to be difficult, but I should stop doing this. The dogs don't have any particular attachment to their pronouns, and it doesn't matter if Mushroom the "he"-dog pooped on the carpet or if Mushroom the "she"-dog did it.

Smallish dogs or enormous mice?

 2. When we praise our dogs, we don't say "good boy" or "good girl". We try to praise the specific task, such as "good sit". This isn't really a gendering choice; I just read somewhere that it helps to be specific. When both of them are in the same area, though, we say "good sit, Mushroom" or more rarely, "good sit, Badger".

3. The Rubit incident: When I ordered Rubit clips for the dogs' tags, I didn't specify color. We received a black one and a pink one. "Which one should we give Badger?" I asked Llamaentity, who was engrossed in a video game. "The black one," replied Llamaentity matter-of-factly. So I put Badger's tags on the black Rubit, even though I thought it was uncharacteristic of Llamaentity to pass up an opportunity to switch up gender norms. Later that night, I asked what Llamaentity's reasoning was for giving Badger the black Rubit as opposed to the pink one. "Oh, you were talking about Rubits? I thought you were talking about Kongs!" Fail.

Only one of these Kongs will fit in Mushroom's tiny mouth

 4. Flowers and/or bowties: The dogs currently have neither because we're a little on the broke side after buying all of Mushroom's necessities. To be fair and non-gendered, we decided that either both dogs would wear bowties or both dogs would wear flowers. Llamaentity prefers flowers and loves elephants, so we've been eyeing these. I'll just have to bite my tongue every time someone calls Badger a "pretty girl". (Or be prepared to explain that Badger is a "pretty boy" who believes that flowers aren't only for girls.)

This is Flipperphant and O'Gator. The dogs are not allowed to play with them, by decree of Llamaentity

How about you?
Do you correct people when they refer to your male dog as "she" or vice versa?
Do you deck your dog(s) out in gendered items? Why or why not?


  1. What's this gender binary business?

    Error: cannot compute.


  2. I honestly think im biased with my pit bull motley...i refer to him as he a lot of the time and deck him out in doggy jerseys hoodies and hats ha....but i like that since yall do have two dogs it makes nothing biased between the two of them

    1. We try to make things fair between the two dogs, but since Mushroom is new, Badger currently has a lot more things. For example, most of the toys are sized up for him, so she can only fit some of them in her mouth.

  3. It's interesting that you brought this up because I've thought about it a lot in terms of children, but never in terms of animals. (I also just read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home which is all about this idea). I've always thought that if I were to have kids (a long long time from now), I would never push them into specific colors/activities based on their sex. And I think I've held true to that with my cats...But I have totally "feminized" my dog. Zoe's stuff is mostly "girly" colors like pink and purple. But my reasoning for that is mainly that I think it makes her less threatening to people. After all, it's pretty difficult to be afraid of a dog in a magenta hoodie...

    Thanks for giving me something to consider!

    1. Thanks for the reading recommendation! I really enjoy graphic novels. (Maybe because I'm too lazy to read "real" books...) We have a couple of bandanas that make Badger look less intimidating. Mushroom is only intimidating if you're a squirrel.

    2. Hahaha. Your dogs are so cute! :) And yeah, it's a great novel! We just read it in a class I'm TA-ing in... the students loved it, and we had lots of fruitful conversation about gender normativity in America.