PC Culture

A Study Researched Rape Culture and Dog Parks

Helen Wilson insists that her dog-park study may have found some helpful answers for how we handle rape culture among humans.

A paper written by Portland Ungendering Research Initiative’s Helen Wilson claims that dog parks are actually very sexual places where we can learn things about rape culture and “queer performativity.”

Yes — seriously.

Wilson explains the whole thing in her paper, titled “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon.”

“This article addresses questions in human geography and the geographies of sexuality by drawing upon one year of embedded in situ observations of dogs and their human companions at three public dog parks in Portland, Oregon,” states the paper’s abstract. “The purpose of this research is to uncover emerging themes in human and canine interactive behavioral patterns in urban dog parks to better understand human a-/moral decision-making in public spaces and uncover bias and emergent assumptions around gender, race, and sexuality.”

According to the abstract, the paper asks the questions “What issues surround queer performativity and human reaction to homosexual sex between and among dogs?” and “Do dogs suffer oppression based upon (perceived) gender?”

The paper “concludes by applying Black feminist criminology categories through which [Wilson’s] observations can be understood and by inferring from lessons relevant to human and dog interactions to suggest practical applications that disrupts hegemonic masculinities and improves access to emancipatory spaces.”

(How’s that for a buzzword salad?)

As noted in an article in the College Fix, Wilson’s paper claims that dog parks are “petri dishes for canine rape culture.”

“They offer a very public view into the ways human companions foster and perpetuate masculinist systems of communal oppression across species and in public spaces,” the paper states. “The cultural norms operating within and upon these spaces form microcultures where acceptable and unacceptable behavior in human communities may be reflected in the way human companions construct their interactions with dogs, particularly in regard to rape culture and queering, and a-/moral interpretations of such behaviors and their human analogues under the assumptions of rape culture.”

“In essence,” Wilson states, dogs parks “become rape-condoning spaces in which human rape culture plays out by the moral permissiveness we extend to animals.”

As for the whole sexuality part of it, Wilson noted that owners were more likely to intervene when they saw two male dogs humping each other than they were when a male dog was humping a female dog — which she interpreted as potential evidence of some sort of internalized bias against homosexuality.

Basically, the whole reasoning behind Wilson’s study is the belief that researching rape culture and sexuality among dogs in parks is a brilliant way to understand more about rape culture and sexuality among humans. This is, of course, idiotic. Why? Because humans are not dogs. That’s right: In case you haven’t noticed, there are quite a number of measurable differences between dogs and people, and the way that dogs interact with other dogs is actually quite different than the way that people interact with each other.

To be fair, as Reason’s Robby Soave notes, Wilson was at least up-front about the limitations of her study. For example: She admits she has no way of knowing whether or not any given instance of dog-humping actually constituted rape:

“It is difficult if not impossible to ascertain when canine sexual advances are un/wanted, or when they are rapes rather than performances of canine dominance, which introduces considerable unavoidable ambiguity in my interpretations of this variable,” she writes.

No kidding.

Still, Wilson insists that her study may have found some helpful answers for how we handle rape culture among humans in our human society:

By publicly or otherwise openly and suddenly yelling (NB: which was also effective at stopping dog rape/humping incidents) at males when they begin to make sexual advances on females (and other males in certain non-homosocial contexts), and by making firm and repeated stands against rape culture in society, activism, and media, human males may be metaphorically “shocked” out of regarding sexual violence, sexual harassment, and rape culture as normative, which may decrease rape rates and disrupt rape culture and emancipate rape-condoning spaces.

As I explained earlier, humans generally behave much differently than dogs.

In other words: Wilson believes that we may be able to “shock” men out of perpetuating rape culture the same way a yelling owner can “shock” his or her dog out of humping another canine. Unfortunately, however, I must say that I don’t believe humans can train each other the same way that an owner can train a dog. For one thing, adult humans don’t really have “owners.” Sure, we have bosses, but we don’t have one single person in our lives whom we rely on for everything from food to being able to use the bathroom. In adult life, there’s absolutely no relationship that comes even close to the dog–owner relationship, because, as I explained earlier, humans generally behave much differently than dogs.

The bottom line: Although it is certainly impressive that Wilson spent 100 hours watching dogs in parks for this study, I really don’t think that her work did anything to advance us as a society.


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