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Is my beloved Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, a sexist? Is he about to make me angry? Say it ain’t so!

I took a weird set of turns getting here, so follow closely.

NY Times Mark Derr writes an opinion piece about Milan and his dog/owner training practices.

Mr. Millan builds his philosophy from a simplistic conception of the dog’s “natural” pack, controlled by a dominant alpha animal (usually male). In his scheme, that leader is the human, which leads to the conclusion that all behavior problems in dogs derive from the failure of the owner or owners to dominate.

Mr. Millan’s quick fix might make for good television and might even produce lasting results in some cases. But it flies in the face of what professional animal behaviorists — either trained and certified veterinarians or ethologists — have learned about normal and abnormal behavior in dogs.

The piece is mostly about this struggle between those who advocate ‘punitive training’ and ‘reward-based training’. But on the first page we learn something very important about Mr. Milan:

Women are the worst offenders in his world. In one of the outtakes included in the four-DVD set of the first season of “Dog Whisperer,” Mr. Millan explains that a woman is “the only species that is wired different from the rest.” And a “woman always applies affection before discipline,” he says. “Man applies discipline then affection, so we’re more psychological than emotional. All animals follow dominant leaders; they don’t follow lovable leaders.”

Um.

Mr. Derr’s reponse: “Mr. Millan’s sexism is laughable; his ethology is outdated.”

Um.

Salon’s Broadsheet had a bit to say about the piece:

Nasty, and a weird assertion from a guy whose acknowledged hero is Oprah Winfrey. (Back in 2005, Salon’s Heather Havrilesky wrote a great piece about her interview/dog-training session with Millan, in which he credited Winfrey and actress Jada Pinkett with helping him to succeed. He also offered a softer, if still essentialist, explanation of his views on gender: “What I learned when I came to America is, third-world country men do not fulfill women … A woman requires affection, a woman requires emotion, a woman requires you to say, ‘You’re so beautiful and you’re so great.’”)

Um.

I honestly don’t know what to feel about this one. On one hand, I thnk Cesar is really great. I could watch Dog Whisperer for hours on end. I see people on the street with yappy, excited dogs and I just want to poke them hard and go “SHH!” and watch how they back down.

On the other hand, those quotes really do make him seem sexist. True, they are taken out of context and if someone called Mr. Milan to the carpet, he might be able to say something that will make it all seem okay. But… what?

I found ths whole thing via this post: The difference between sexism and racism

Imagine if the host of a popular TV show on dog training had made the following remarks:

“Black people are the only species that is wired different from the rest. They always apply affection before discipline. White people apply discipline then affection, so we’re more psychological than emotional. All animals follow dominant leaders; they don’t follow lovable leaders.”

He would probably be fired, don’t you think?

it’s still basically okay to announce in public that women are an inferior “species” who are more emotional than men.

That is, of course, Cesar’s statement but with ‘black people’ inserted for women. The poster’s thesis is that sexism is more acceptable than racism in our society. Only 46 reponses so far, but it’s a flamewar already. For good reason. Comparing oppressions never reflects well on anyone, but the white privilege and white women’s syndrome involved in making statements like this is so big we may not be able to fit in a room with this person.

Commenter Shannon nails it:

Maybe you need to pay a little more attention to racism. Really, check the priv. Sexism is ignored in society, but racism is too. Just because you’re a white woman and don’t have to deal with it doesn’t mean you gotta go with the annoying ass “but people of color have it better than us” crap. If you need help, I have some books and news articles you can read.

She’s getting piled on over there and Blackamazon asks that some peeps provide some backup. I’m heading over to do such right now.

The discussion I would like to have here: Is what Cesar said sexist, or merely an observation? Is it okay to say women are diffrent from men without implying that women are less than men? How do we interpet his use of the word ‘species’?

Also, could he have gotten away with making the same remarks about black people? He is a minority, after all. Would he have made such observations along race or culture lines? Most of the people who appear on Dog Whisperer are white, so he could easily say “white people are the only ones who apply affection first, black people know better.” But would he be fired for it?

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ETA: Looks like Alas picked up on this one, too. Surprise! We’re in agreement.

Son of ETA: The comments on the difference between sexism and racism post have been turned off because the OP is afraid of honest debate and being told what a wanker she is. However, Blackamazon gives a detailed analysis of the commentary that did occur and why it shows that white privilege is alive and well, even amongst ‘historians’.

10 comments to Sexism, Racism, Dogs.

  • I don’t say I love you enough

  • Great post and great follow up questions! I’m going to do my best to give my opinion on the matter.

    1) Is what Caesar said sexist, or merely an observation?

    I think that this ties in partly with your subsequent question about the use of the word ‘species’. I doubt Caesar meant it to be insulting, and indeed using the term is pretty standard in our culture, but it’s inherently sexist. It Others women (and sometimes Others men, when it’s used by women), and is often used in a way that implicitly puts the gender in question down.

    In this case, let’s look at what Caesar was saying: woman always applies affection before discipline

    Given that his show revolves around pushing a punishment/domination method over a reward/non-domination based one, this is is a put down.

    His argument is one of a gender essentialist, too. He says women always use affection and contrasts that with men, who he says apply discipline and are “more psychological than emotional”.

    He’s using the same psuedo-science that has been used since recorded history to reinforce gender roles. That is sexist. Not to mention not currently supported by science; while sexual differences do exist, we don’t currently know to what extent, if at all, it affects our behaviours and personalities.

    2) Is it okay to say women are diffrent from men without implying that women are less than men?

    I’ve already addressed how I believe that, even if he wasn’t meaning to, Caeasar’s words were putting women in a lesser position.

    I think that it’s okay to say that women and men are different. I think it’s okay to say ways in which you believe they are different. However, I don’t think it’s okay to perpetuate your own beliefs as proven (using the term “always” and stating this is how men “are”), especially when traditionally this has been used to make women lesser.

    3) Also, could he have gotten away with making the same remarks about black people?

    My gut instinct says “no”, but not only am I (as a white person) not in a position to provide a definitive answer, having thought more carefully on the subject, these days people can get away with passing offensive concepts off as facts. So, it’s entirely plausible that he could have gotten away with it.

    I think there’s an image that people tend to be more tolerant of racial minorites being racist towards each other on issues that are generally accepted as racist when coming from a white person.

    I don’t know how true the image is, though. I don’t have any relevant experience with this kind of thing, beyond having a few instances in which individual people have used it to try to excuse racist things they’ve said about other minorities.

    I do think, however, that no matter what group that sort of thing is said about — and no matter who it comes from — it’s not acceptable. Period.

  • Tekanji – the blog migration kept me occupied for along time and I didn’t have the chance to respond to your excellent comment. The argument you make is very sound and I am forced to admit that, yes, he wasn’t just engaging in harmless Men are from Mars, Women are from the Outer Rim speak. He was, indeed, being really sexist. That makes me sad! Oh, and angry.

    That brings us to what is there to be done about it? The show has a blog that Milan supposedly posts to during the season’s run, but season 2 is over now. Is it worth writing to NGC? Will they care/listen? Should boycotts be called for? Or should we pitch in and get Caesar some sensitivity training?

  • First of all, yay for the new blog! Looks great. I -gotta- do the migration myself, i HATE blogger goddamit.

    I have never seen this show, Dog Whisperer. I have unfortunately seen this other show a few too many times. never quite that blatantly at that particular site, though. boggle. yeah.

    as i’ve rhetorically asked elsewhere, why o why do people feel the need for this sort of gambit in the first place? But i do know she’s said similar-ish things before, although to be perfectly honest i’d just sort of filed it away…yeah. i ‘spect i thought there were only so many people and so many ways i could be pissed off about at once, and she didn’t do this one OFTEN, that i’d been reading (admittedly not much lately), but.

    But the way she talked to Shannon and the rest of you just had me on the floor. And then to shut it down! Jesus, people were frigging having a tea party in there; she’s let threads go on for much longer and much more rancorously before closing comments. I just wonder what would’ve happened if I don’t know say MaxJulian had found his way there before she shut down. morbidly inquiring minds and all. i have a feeling with one thing or another we’d all still be scraping bits and pieces off the walls.

    yeah you know frankly, i think she actually made it worse by shutting it down; or well, you know, plus being unwilling to give, like, a millimeter, “gee, maybe you have a point at that.” o well.

  • I think this goes back to my post about White Liberal Guilt. Many white people who mean well and don’t harbor intentionally racist thoughts sometimes say racist things. But they’re so full of their own press that they’re NOT racist or are so scared they might be that they completely shut down, put their fingers in their ears, and scream “I am not being racist you’re misreading me/interrogating the text from the wrong perspective/really MEEN!”

  • piny

    I think that it’s okay to say that women and men are different. I think it’s okay to say ways in which you believe they are different. However, I don’t think it’s okay to perpetuate your own beliefs as proven (using the term “always” and stating this is how men “are”), especially when traditionally this has been used to make women lesser.

    I think Men are from Mars… is really fucking sexist, but YMMV.

    I dunno if I agree with the idea that it’s not sexist to draw broad class distinctions between the sexes. When a generalization like this is made, the group described ceases to be a collection of individuals and starts to be an undifferentiated mass. It’s true of “positive” stereotypes, too, like the model-minority stereotype, or any number of fetishistic stereotypes directed towards women. They lead to a lazy understanding of that group and all the people in it, such that you think of them and their potential in really simplistic terms. When that group is marginalized, the stereotype inevitably assists in dehumanizing them.

    I have never seen this show, Dog Whisperer. I have unfortunately seen this other show a few too many times. never quite that blatantly at that particular site, though. boggle. yeah.

    There are too many television shows dedicated to confusing pets with children.

    I’ve seen essentialist comments on other self-help shows, from Dr. Phil (haaaaaaaate) to Dr. Drew. VS is right that these statements are commonplace. It’s not not okay to perpetuate stereotypes about how all men and women think and feel, particularly in the realm of pop psychology. The problem is that racism has its own elephants, and that there are all kinds of perfectly-acceptable horrors perpetuated because of racism. The one-in-three statistic is as unremarkable as the likelihood of rain in October.

  • Tamika

    I absolutely love Ceasar Milan! I watched the episode and heard the comment in question and was not offended. However, I understand if you are, but I truly believe he said it out of a desire to teach (men and women alike) about dog phsycology. I think we should forgive him for his use of the word “always” . And so what IF he is sexist? If you eschewed everything and everyone that was sexist or racist or too this or that for you, you wouldn’t have much. I still love Ceasar Milan.

  • Phil

    I think you are reading more into this than it really is. If you notice the majority of people that are on his show are women. True there is a sex difference and I think people in general approach problems different.Everyone has their own way to approach problems. I don’t believe he is a sexists or a rascist. I believe he is honestly trying to convey a point that whether you are male or female you have to be assertive. Ive seen many men on the show also that he told them they need to be more assertive. I am quite sure anyone who’s in the public’s eye are scrutinized more for the words they say , even when taken out of context. We’ve seen this most recently with Al Sharpton. He said something that was judged out of context.None of us humans are perfect and i know i’ve said things to friends that they misunderstood what I was saying and I felt I needed to clarify or apologize if they misunderstood what I said . I have never said anything purposely with the intent to harm someones feelings whoever they are or whatever their sexual orientation, and I’m quite sure Mr. Milan didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I’ve watched his show many times and I’ve never heard anything said that was mean or disrespectful to women or anyone. At the end of his program, he always says be the pack leader, be calm and assertive no matter who you are.
    If we go there should others be offended that we have Miss Black America or BTV (Black Entertainment Television) etc. or even The NAACP. Those orginazations are only for Black People are they not? I personally don’t care whether it says Black, White ,Latino, Chineese,Japaneese. I think everyone no matter who they are should be proud of theeir races contributions to the Whole World and thus deserving of respect.Look George Washington Carver was a Great man in his right as well as Frederick Douglas, and many many more. So to me the point of Sexism or rascism in his show is simply someones attempt to make something out of nothing as the media all too often does by fueling the flames of discontent. People should know this by now if they weren’t concentrating so hard on starting arguments amongst different people and races. May God give people the wisdom to see through the retoric. I wish you all well , and I’m quite certain you will find something wrong with my viewpoint as well. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone with different views than my own. I simply think we should practise more on loving each other as brothers and sisters of the same world than bent on tearing people down. One thing further Paris Hilton deserves to go to jail and do her time like anyone else who’s done wrong. hee hee.

  • are u a training person??

  • Ico

    Hmm… the Dog Whisperer’s remarks definitely offend me as being sexist, for all the reasons that tekanji mentioned. I realize this post is a year old, but something in it interests me anyway and it’s not the Dog Whisperer’s sexism.

    This post of Cesar’s replacing women w/ black people. I think it’s a valid rhetorical strategy, NOT because I think we should fall into senseless arguments about who faces more discrimination, but because of the different ways sexism and racism are perceived.

    In our society, white people value this colorblind sort of rhetoric (which is utter nonsense and only upholds the status quo, but anyway…). If something is overtly racist, there is a kind of knee-jerk “Oh god how *awful*” reaction from most whites, because “racist” is the label that everyone hates. There is no similar sort of reaction to sexism. Openly sexist comments and behaviors are much more acceptable in our society than openly racist stuff (which isn’t to say that sexism is a greater or lesser problem than racism; only that it works in different ways). That’s why Cesar’s comparison seems valid to me. It makes the discrimination apparent. Cesar’s comparison makes us *notice* the sexism.

    I don’t take it to mean that women have it worse than blacks, or anything like that. The reason racist remarks are so unacceptable to us is that racism is now hidden from the dominant white culture by all this colorblind rhetoric. Which is worse, dealing with openly discriminatory behavior (sexist attitudes), or completely hidden discrimination (racism in the colorblind guise)? I would never be able to answer that, and I wouldn’t try to. They’re both horribly damaging and frustrating. But I do use the race/gender comparison to make sexism visible to males who would never see it as something problematic otherwise, because like I said, it’s not about who is suffering worse discrimination. It’s just about making the discrimination apparent. And because of our sensitivity to the “racist” label, sometimes the clearest way to show discrimination is to use it.

    That, at least, is my take on it. Obviously I’ve never experienced much racism first hand (I’m half-Korean, but white looking enough to “pass,” I suppose). I’m very familiar with the colorblind rhetoric because I used to buy into it. I think it was very damaging to my perceptions of people of color, and I know racism was invisible to me for a long time. Anyway, I’m interested to hear your take on why the comparison is such a bad one. To me it seems very effective.