In the World of Dog Shows, Is Sexism Alive And Well?

  • March 11, 2018
  • By Caroline Coile

 Is Sexism Alive and Well? From the monthly column "Thoughts I Had Driving Home From The Dog Show" by Caroline Coile. ShowSight - The Dog Show Magazine, November 2016 Issue. Photo by Daniel Cartier
Queens Victoria and Alexandra. The Duchess of Newcastle. Their interest in purebred dogs and dog shows helped establish the new pastime among Victorian women. Geraldine R. Dodge was one of dogdom’s most influential persons in this country. Yet despite the patronage of these strong women, the average female dog show fancier historically faced challenges her male counterparts did not. Women have made great strides toward equality since then. Certainly some of the dog world’s most renown breeders, handlers and judges are women. But is there still sexism?
In 1894 the Ladies Kennel Association was formed in Britain because its members felt they were treated unfairly by The Kennel Club, which did not take their participation seriously and often relegated their entries to “a place amongst the poultry and pigeons.” They also complained that Kennel Club shows had no provisions for women such as separate entrances and 
washrooms that were essential for ladies of the day. Queen Alexandra (then Princess of Wales) was one of the early supporters of the LKA. She exhibited her Borzoi and Bassets there in 1902 and became the club’s Patroness in 1905. The Countess of Aberdeen, known for her Skye Terriers, was an especially active patron of the club and apparently an early proponent of woman’s rights. According to C.H. Lane’s 1901 book Dog Shows and Doggy People: “Matters intended to benefit women in all ranks of life find in the Countess no lukewarm advocate—one who can both act and speak in their favour, frequently presiding over meetings held for such purposes...” Despite such ladies of influence, The Kennel Club did not allow women as full members until 1978.
When the AKC was formed in 1884 all its officials were men. In 1888 the rival National Kennel Club of America was formed, with noted Saint Bernard and Pug breeder-judge-author Anna Whitney as Vice President. When the National KC agreed to be absorbed into the AKC in 1889 it did so with the understanding that its members would be integrated into the AKC; however, the AKC refused to allow Miss Whitney and other female members to join their male counterparts.
The Ladies Kennel Association was founded in 1900 to allow women a voice in AKC affairs. But in 1909 the AKC implemented the following bylaw: “The voting powers of each member club can and shall be exercised only by a male Delegate...” So even the Ladies’ Kennel Association had to have a male delegate! In 1950 their delegate, James Austin, moved to make women eligible to be delegates. There was no second. It was finally voted on—and defeated—in 1952. In the early 1970s the woman’s movement was more visible than ever and, upon the advice of AKC’s attorney, the matter was revisited. In 1973 the motion to allow women as delegates lost by 25 votes. Local kennel club members, who were largely women, protested that their male delegates were obviously not voting as they’d directed. In 1974 the voting changed from secret to roll call; the amendment then passed by a vote of 180 to 7! The first three women seated were Carol Duffy, Gertrude Freeman and Julia Gasow. The first woman elected to the Board was Jackie Hungerland in 1985; they are still in the minority. In 1995 Judith Daniels became the first and only female President of the AKC; she was replaced in 1996 by a man. There has yet to be a woman AKC CEO.
I don’t know how many local clubs allowed women as members or especially, officers, in the early days, but as of a decade ago I know at least ten still did not. Most infamous of those is the Westminster Kennel Club. While the WKC has no problem accepting entry fees from women it does have a problem letting them make decisions—except as judges.
The aforementioned Miss Anna Whitney presided over an entry of 118 Saint Bernards at Westminster in 1888, the first instance of a woman judging dogs at an AKC show. She went on to judge there 15 more times (some say it was an agreement to placate her for the AKC snub). In 1928 Mrs. Reginald Mayhew was the first woman to judge BIS there as part of a panel, and in 1933 the famed Mrs. Geraldine R. Dodge became the first woman to judge BIS as the 
sole arbiter.
The practical matter of traveling alone precluded all but the wealthiest women from judging (or exhibiting in) any but local shows in the early 1900s. Women simply did not travel or dine alone, so unless one had a companion or friends to stay with, it just wasn’t done.
Both female exhibitors and judges had other cultural biases to contend with. According to Sarah Amato in her book Beastly Possession: Animals in Victorian Consumer Culture, women who showed dogs were taken as examples of women trying to invade male territory and thus destroy Edwardian gender culture.
They became unwitting symbols of the suffragette movement and as such, often the object of mockery. In the public press woman fanciers were 
portrayed as frivolous, prone to hysterics if their spoiled dog did not win. Satirical illustrations showed women as bitter spinsters, or as fashion plates with dogs as accessories, or as matrons using dogs as substitutes for the babies they should instead be raising. Caricatures of male exhibitors were far more positive, perhaps showing a man and his hunting hound who resembled 
one another.
These early feminists were also seen as unladylike. According to an article in the 1905 “Field and Fancy” (reprinted in Anne Hier’s book Dog Shows Then and Now): “The time was that to exhibit dogs was looked upon more or less as an outrage on the part of a society dame or young lady, while to lead a dog into a ring was decidedly ‘fast.’” The author goes on to say that the Ladies Kennel Association in Boston was the first to promote the practice and that other cities followed suit. “Now the custom is general, and there are several women of position and fortune who can today ‘handle’ a dog in the ring with all the ease and finish of the professional man who studies a dog’s pose and watches the judge’s eye.”
Nonetheless it would be 30 more years before a woman caught the Westminster BIS judge’s eye. In 1935, Mrs. Sherman Hoyt of Blakeen Poodles became the first woman to handle a dog to BIS at Westminster. It would be 1956 before Anne Hone Rogers (later Anne Rogers Clark) would be the next woman to win the top award at the Garden. Female handlers have now won a total of 17 (of 140) BIS awards at Westminster. Of the 17 handlers who have won more than one BIS at Westminster, only three are women. True, times are changing, but we still seem to be lagging. Between 1980 and 2000, only four female handlers won BIS at Westminster; from 2000 to present, 7 female handlers emerged victorious.
But let’s get to what most exhibitors are wondering about: Is there sexism when it comes to exhibiting today? After all, Westminster was won by a female handler this year and this year’s number 1 dog of all breeds is also shown by a woman. I posed this question on my Facebook page and received answers all over the board. More men than women said “No,” and of the men who said “Yes” they tended to think sexism was in the form of male judges putting up suggestively clad women. Of women who responded, more judges and professional handlers said “No” compared to owner-handlers.
I was disturbed to find out that some men take pictures of women exhibitors in compromising or unflattering positions then share them with one another. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat ringside and heard snide comments about a woman’s weight, or need for a sports bra, or short/tight/low-cut clothes, none of which I’ve ever heard about a male exhibitor. I’ve heard repeated speculation of women—but not men—who allegedly trade sexual favors for wins, expose themselves to the judge in the ring or wear low cut blouses to get a judge’s attention. While I have seen some shorter or tighter outfits than optimal I’ve never had any evidence of any of these allegations being true for either sex.
I initially put forth my opinion that sexism was more obvious at low levels compared to higher levels of competition. My argument was that 
given two novices with similar handling skills, the man will win more compared to the woman. The man looks more professional because he puts on a suit and has his instant professional handler uniform. The woman teeters between looking like she’s come from gardening, or a beach party, or a night club or church. Her dresses are too long to look smart or too short to look 
serious, and if she wears pants she’s too casual.
Mostly, the man is typically taken more seriously. After all, he must be taking time off his busy schedule. The woman is more likely perceived as 
finding a hobby to fill her weekends. Apparently Victorian era ideas of dog shows for the women of leisure are still alive, if only subconsciously.
Most respondents who thought there was sexism disagreed with 
me, however. They asserted that sexism was more pronounced at higher levels of judging, especially Best in Show. Male professional handlers are more likely perceived as having a full-time career showing dogs versus women who are just bringing in some extra money part time.
So I tallied the male versus female handlers for every BIS reported in September 2016 and found it was almost equal: 78 male to 68 female handlers. At first glance it seems this negates any claim of sexism. But look around you at any show: Are there equal numbers of male and female exhibitors? No. This is a woman’s sport by numbers. A 2002 report from the AKC Delegates Meeting reveal that 75 percent of AKC breeders and 72 percent of AKC buyers are women. I don’t have more recent stats, or stats for exhibitors, but I am guessing it is not too far from those. The lower the level of competition, the higher proportion of women. It’s not uncommon to see classes in most breeds made up entirely of woman. But get to BOB and more men enter the ring. In groups the proportion is higher still. By BIS, men often predominate. If men were winning statistically equal to women their BIS wins should be 25 percent at most, not well over 50 percent. Are men really that better at handling? Do they really get that much better dogs to show?
I doubt judges are consciously pointing to men in favor of women. But they may be doing so unconsciously. There’s all sorts of research demonstrating unconscious sex bias. Some of the most well known are the studies showing both male and female teachers “call on boys more often than girls, ask boys more higher-order questions, give boys more extensive feedback and use longer wait-time with boys than girls. Teachers fail to see girls’ raised hands and limit their interactions with girls to social, non-academic topics. Girls are rarely chosen to give a demonstration or help with an experiment. Boys are usually target students and overall they receive more teacher attention than girls. The proportion of teacher attention given to boys increases as the students move from elementary to junior and senior high school. Even nonverbal teacher behaviors, such as head nodding and encouraging smiles, favors boys over girls.”—National Association for Research in Science Teaching.
In a 2014 blind test, students consistently rated online professors with male names higher than those with female names despite receiving the same courses. Other studies show women are disliked for being assertive, whereas males are liked for the same actions. In a 2003 study students were given identical success stories with either a male or female name then asked to rate the protagonist. The result? The protagonist perceived as male was liked and admired; the one perceived as female was disliked and nobody wanted to work with her. Think of the stories you hear about successful male versus female handlers. I bet you’ve heard more unflattering remarks about the successful woman. Other studies show that successful women are seen as less trustworthy than successful men; women who dress in more masculine clothing (dark, angular, straight) are more likely to be hired (it apparently does matter what you wear to shows!); the list goes on.
A 2016 study that looked at more than 160 million words discussing sports found higher levels of infantilizing language for woman participants, who are more likely to be called girls than men are to be called boys. The language around women in sport disproportionately focused on appearance, clothes and personal lives compared to men. Men were associated with verbs like “mastermind,” “beat,” “win,” “dominate” and “battle” whereas women were associated with verbs like “compete,” “participate” and “strive.” So basically men are out to win, women are okay with a participation ribbon. I Googled “women in dogs” and found six of the ten articles that came up on the first page were about their clothing and appearance. I did the same for 
“men in dogs” and found none dealt with appearance.
I do believe judges are judging dogs—or they think they are. But 
judging is subjective and thus prone to unconscious bias. The solution? 

1) Be aware of possible biases, not just sex biases. My respondents pointed out that racism, ageism, cronyism and pro-handlerism played as big if not bigger roles. 2) Know your breeds. 3) Just judge the dogs!
“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes bitch, okay.”—Madonna 




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