Sunday, April 21, 2019

Dog-mom-o-phobia

This is a good old-fashioned what-a-silly-article blog post. So let me be clear: I don't think its author is a Bad Person, and yeah, this could easily have a clickbait or cynical editorial strategy explanation. So maybe this isn't about how the article was Bad (which gosh but it was), so much as about where, precisely, it - and others like it - went wrong.

The article, which you've likely already seen, is about how millennials prefer "fur babies" to baby-babies. (An assertion in no way demonstrated in the piece, but, moving on.)

The opening anecdote is an extended riff of fury directed at "the lady I’d identified as childless," a woman at a new-mom-only (?) party who had the audacity to speak about her dog. The grievance, I think (?), is partly that some ~millennials~ are choosing not to have kids, but more that some who don't have kids do have dogs and aren't sufficiently meh about their pets: "Whether or not to reproduce is probably the most personal decision you will ever make. But nothing can substitute for that. So don’t pretend that a canine companion is the same thing." And then, in case this were not clear: "A dog is a huge commitment, a fabulous friend and, fine, call it part of the family. But having a baby is something entirely different."

Wait what? A dog and a baby, not the same? This is a surprise.

This fear that people (women) are confusing their dogs for human children is a persistent one, if ridiculous. Why (I repeat) is it troubling for someone (or just someone without kids) to spend money on ('on') a dog, but not on, say, home decor? The concern seems to be that this is energy that could just as easily be channeled into child-rearing, which is to say, the only people confusing dogs with babies are... the people writing hot takes about why it's bad to treat a dog like a baby.

Below, then, the enumerated musings of someone who has finally kind of figured out going outside with leash and carrier:

1) Contrary to popular opinion, it is not harder to have a newborn than a puppy. Babies are human beings and it's to some extent intuitive what to do with them. Puppies are far more mysterious on account of, they're dogs. Society is set up in such a way as to assume people have kids. Dogs, meanwhile, are understood to be a nuisance-luxury. Neighbors can feel entitled to oppose the mere presence of a dog; of a baby, it's just too universally recognized that they're in the wrong for them to make a fuss and get taken seriously. A baby can come with you to a coffee shop or restaurant. A dog, not so much. There are all kinds of meet-ups and activities for new parents. New first-time dog owners, however, might find themselves struggling alone with housebreaking and unpredictable whimpering and feeling like the choice to get a dog meant never leaving the country, town, or home-and-nearby-grassy-patches ever again. Some of this had to do with the timing, and the differences in location, but I found getting a dog so much more disruptive than having a baby. Not physically, of course - there's no middle-of-the-night nursing of a dog! I did not give birth to my poodle!* - but in terms of the thud to my life of not being able to come and go as I pleased? Of being responsible for this other creature without means to communicate its wants and needs?

The author has no idea, and even sort of admits as much: "Canines don’t exterminate your social life in the same way as mewling tykes tend to do, and, although I’ve never had a dog, I’m struggling to imagine that owning one causes quite the same level of cranium-cracking, body-battering, tear-inducing sleep deprivation that’s part and parcel of early parenthood." Emphasis mine. If you've never had a dog, it's not impossible you'd have means of comparison. Not all knowledge must be firsthand. But this just seems like a from-thin-air guess?

2) Once more: no one thinks their dog is a baby. It's not A Thing. It's a way of insulting people who don't have (human) children.

2a) There is no reason given in the article - or that common sense summons - to think that anyone in the history of humanity has actually thought, hmm, dog or baby, weighed pros and cons, and been like, OK, that's it, dog! or for that matter, baby! It's just not how any actual human beings think.

2b) The person who is in a place in their life where they absolutely could have a baby but they've opted instead to have a dog, so as to facilitate travel (????), is... not a myth, exactly, but you can't assume the reason someone has a dog but not a kid is that they've decided a dog is lower-stakes. There are 10,000 different reasons people who don't have kids are in that situation, 9,995 of which are not things they're going to tell randos at a party. So they will come up with something for situations like that - 'too busy' or 'dog instead' - and maybe that's it or maybe not but if you stop and think for a millisecond you'd realize that you don't know if that's the real reason. Does the author imagine schnauzer-lady is going to open up to her about financial or fertility limitations? About her trouble finding the right partner?

3) What was going on at this party that it was a crime that one woman there didn't have a baby, but instead made some lighthearted remarks about her schnauzer? I could see if this were, like, a new-moms support group and someone came in and, in a Carrie Bradshaw twist, insisted their dog were their baby. But that appears not to be the case. Just a party which a woman without a baby dared attend.

4) People are WAY more judgmental about dog-raising than the human variety. There's first the question of where the dog came from, which can of course be more openly discussed than re: the human baby. Then there's how to prevent the dog from turning your home into its toilet, and training in general. If you do crate-training, your home will not be a dog toilet, but you will have, in your home, a cage, which will strike some as cruel, even if your dog isn't in it much of the time (or at all, past puppyhood). If you only ever walk your dog on a leash (going off-leash only at fenced dog runs), you're crushing the poor creature's spirit! or maybe just doing your part to avoid the dog bothering people on the street, or getting lost. I don't know. Dogs have a universal, communal-property quality in a way babies - so special to their own parents - do not, plus there's no sense of it being taboo to offer unsolicited criticism of a stranger's dog-handling choices.

5) And what if some people do confuse dogs and babies? Is that the end of the world? A woman on the street recently, whose poodle I'd just admired, asked if what was in my carrier was a baby or a dog. OK so this ought to have been obvious, but in this one case, evidently not. So what! And everyone confuses their dogs' and babies' names but also dogs' and adult relatives' names so it's not a big deal at all and one should feel free to chill out about this.

*OHIP, the Ontario universal health care system, covered childbirth but we're on our own at the vet.

4 comments:

caryatis said...

"Once more: no one thinks their dog is a baby. It's not A Thing. It's a way of insulting people who don't have (human) children."

People do talk about "fur-kids," though. For example, the feminist philosopher whose book I'm reading thanks her husband for "co-parenting" "fur-kids." (Kate Manne, Down Girl, recommended.) Now, she almost certainly does not actually think her dogs and cat are babies, but the locution suggests that pets are in some way equivalent to actual kids. And it's just really, really, gross. Why can't we just call pets pets?

"the thud to my life of not being able to come and go as I pleased? "

So you actually can't ever leave the dog alone? Not even for a few hours? Does it depend on the dog? (Why do people tolerate this?)

"Dogs have a universal, communal-property quality in a way babies - so special to their own parents - do not, plus there's no sense of it being taboo to offer unsolicited criticism of a stranger's dog-handling choices."

There is the thing about how an uncontrolled dog might well bite me, or at the least bark at me or jump on me or frighten me, which an uncontrolled baby will not.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

In no particular order:

-A baby won't frighten you but a slightly older child could!

-I can certainly leave my dog alone for a few hours. (I've heard of cases where that's not possible but it's unusual.) But having a dog means having to consider the need to get back home for walks at regular hours, and makes any sort of travel not impossible but complicated. It's of course different from how a baby needs to be with you at all times. But... a baby *can* be with you at all times. For example, today I went to a fitness class then got dumplings, all with the baby. Bringing the dog along for any of this is impossible to imagine.

-Use of "fur-kids" is something I interpret as tongue-in-cheek. But more importantly, if someone has pets but not kids, it's near-impossible to know *why* that's the case. Assuming it's because pets demand less in the way of self-sacrifice is... a leap. A potentially very insulting one if it's someone who wants kids but can't have them, but also a rude and unfair one re: nearly everyone who's chosen (for now or in general) not to have kids.

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