Another twist in the Obama family doggy drama.

January 16th, 2009 9:52 am by Kelly Garbato

Update, 1/22/09:

Now that this post is making the rounds (which is to say, a few bloggers have mentioned it – lolz on me!), I want to make the following clarifications:

1) As I said at, I don’t think Obama is a misogynist. In calling his “girly dog” remark sexist, I’m not grouping him with hardcore misogynists like Ann Coulter, Joe Francis, Rick Warren and the like. Rather, I think that Obama occasionally engages in the sort of casual, softcore sexism that’s all too common among men (and women!) who have been raised in a culture steeped in misogyny. An occasional slip is understandable and excusable – after all, we’re all socialized with certain prejudices, which we have to unlearn – but only if you’re willing to recognize, apologize and learn from it.

Here, Mrs. Obama offered her husband several opportunities to reconsider his comments – and he didn’t. To me, his failure to recognize how this gendered stereotype might offend his wife and daughters is worse than the comments themselves.

2) Upon re-reading the post, I see that I conflated “small dogs” with “girly dogs” – my bad! While I think there’s a strong correlation between a dog’s size and his/her perceived “girly”-ness, there are exceptions. The standard poodle, for example, is a larger breed, but might be considered “girly,” inasmuch as it’s “high maintenance” (i.e., is rather well groomed). “Girly doesn’t necessarily equal “small,” but the two are somewhat related.

Nor do I have a problem with Obama preferring a large dog; indeed, as some have pointed out, large dogs are overrepresented in shelters, at least in some areas of the country, and thus it might do more good for Obama to adopt a large breed. That’s fine by me – but he can do so without denigrating “girly” dogs (and, by extension, actual girls and women).

3) Enumerating the consequences of gender-based stereotypes and insults on human men and women is well beyond the scope of this blog.

However, if you:

a) Don’t understand why the term “girly” might be perceived as an insult, and a gender-based one at that;

b) Don’t see the links between misogyny and homophobia; and/or

c) Don’t recognize the practical, real-world effects of gender stereotypes and gendered slurs on men and women (and girls and boys), or understand how men and women (and girls and boys) receive different, gendered socialization, then

I highly recommend adding some feminist blogs to your reading list. For a primer, start with Finally, a feminism 101 blog. As far as non-AR feminist blogs go, I also like Shakespeare’s Sister and Feministe, both of which are relatively light on speciesism.

If you think I need to “lighten up” or “get over myself,” you really need to do some feminist homework!

4) Finally, I’d like to add that the term “girly dog” also invokes class and race stereotypes. When you think of the quintessential “girly dog” and her “owner,” probably you think of a small, white, yappy, puffy little dog with bows in her perfectly groomed hair. The dog – being a lap dog, as Obama also said – is most likely pictured lounging on the lap of an equally perfectly groomed woman, who is either prissy and “diva”-ish, like Paris Hilton (another blogger’s term and example), or older and regally respectable, like Ms. Walters. Either way, she’s white and upper-class. At least, that’s my take on the term.


Oy. After months of equivocating on the dog issue, the Obama family has announced that they’ve narrowed their choice down to two breeds: the Labradoodle and the Portuguese Water Dog. Unfortunately, as reports, while these are not the only two “hypoallergenic” breeds available, they are harder to find on animal adoption websites:

You recently signed’s petition on asking Barack Obama to adopt a shelter dog. He is interested in adopting, but has narrowed his search to uncommon breeds that are difficult to find in a shelter. Now, on the President-Elect’s website, there’s a section where people can vote for their favorite ideas, and the top vote-getting ideas will be directly seen by Obama. One of the animal shelter workers who posts pets for adoption on has posted an idea urging the president to consider finding a mixed breed dog with the right individual traits that meets his family’s needs.

You can make a huge difference by voting one more time here. If this is your first time on the site, you’ll be asked to create an account, which is super simple. After you create your account, click the link above again to locate the suggestion.

Thank you for being part of this non-partisan effort to promote homeless pet adoption please spread the word to your friends!

Indeed, a search of Petfinder for “Labradoodle” currently turns up zero results, while “Portuguese Water Dog” uncovers seven purebred dogs.

Additionally, in selecting a purebred dog, the Obamas are practically inviting greedy breeders to cash in on their (hopefully) compassionate choice by sexually exploiting and selling the “Obama dog.” (Doubly so if they adopt a breed that’s hard to find through adoption routes.) A mixed breed or mutt – particularly one of unknown heritage, which can’t easily be reproduced – would help minimize this risk.

Also on the Obama dog front, has some crazy cute graphics you can download, encouraging the Obamas to adopt a mutt.


They’re available at, which is a riff on Obama’s observation that “A lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.”

Incidentally, the Tennessee Guerrilla Women included a clip of the November 25, 2008 Barbara Walters Obama interview in their discussion of the Labradoodle/Portuguese Water Dog dilemma. Here, Walters asks the Obamas about their dog search, sharing with Barack and Michelle a photo of her own dog, Cha-Cha – a Cuban Havanese who she describes as “like a little terrier”:

I’m too lazy to type up a transcript, but luckily the WaPo’s Ruth Marcus summarizes:

No girly dog.

Excuse me?

That’s right. Barack Obama doesn’t want a girly dog.

As in Barbara Walters’s non-allergenic terrier, a Havanese named Cha Cha.

“It’s like a little yappy dog?” Obama asked Walters, foolishly ignoring his wife’s advice not to criticize.

“It, like, sits in your lap and things?” queried the skeptical president-elect.

Michelle, still trying to save her husband from himself, pronounced the dog “cute.”

Barack wasn’t buying it. “It sounds kind of like a…a girly dog,” he said, at which point his wife pointed out, “We’re girls. We have a house full of girls.”

Except for the, well, Top Dog, who forthwith issued an executive order. “We’re gonna have a big, rambunctious dog.”

That’s right. The “new face of feminism,” who is married to a woman and has two young daughters, doesn’t want a “girly dog.” And, ahem, sees nothing wrong with using the word “girly” as a pejorative. Nice.

The term “girly dog” is yet another example of intersecting oppressions – another instance of animal advocacy as a feminist issue.

Let’s start with the stereotype of a “girly dog.” “Girly dogs” are much like “girly girls” – small, weak, fluffy, frilly, frou-frou-ey, in need of copious amounts of grooming, with large closets (filled with sparkly pink clothes, no doubt) and even bigger (yappy) mouths. Girly dogs, like girly girls, are feminine. Submissive. Annoying. Rather useless. Lazy. Bitchy. A pain in the ass. By extension, men who “own” “girly dogs” (or are “girly” themselves) are gay. Which is almost as bad as being a woman.

Big, rambunctious dogs, on the other hand, are manly. Tough. Full of testosterone. Rebellious. Not easily controlled. Leaders, not followers. They take shit from no one – least of all, girly dogs and women. 100%, Grade A hetero. Manly dogs are no one’s bitches.

Akin to the men eat meat / women nibble on salad dichotomy, the girly / manly dog split also hurts women and animals. Here, both women and small dogs are devalued for superficial reasons; the content of their characters is based on their physical characteristics, real or imagined. That which is “girly” or feminine is dismissed, denigrated, while the “manly” or masculine is judged superior and preferable. Inherent in this equation is the “I ain’t no fag!” protestation – only homosexual men “own” small, yippy dogs. In addition to being breedist and sexist, the term “girly dog” is also homophobic.

Ageist, too: small, “girly” “lap” dogs are the sort of “pets” one might picture relaxing in the laps of older women, such as Ms. Walters herself.

To summarize, in just two words, women (older women especially), gay men and small dogs are all denigrated through their perceived associations with and similarities to one another.

So eff you, Obama, for using the term “girly” as an insult – and in the company of two accomplished women, one of which is your wife, to boot.

To paraphrase Wanda Sykes, “Don’t say that something is girly when you mean that something is dumb or stupid. It’s insulting. It’s like if I thought this pepper shaker was stupid, and I said, ‘Man, this pepper shaker is so 47-year-old man with dumbo ears and a penchant for flip-flopping.'” Or, you know, “This pepper shaker is so Barack Obama.”

And while we’re at it, don’t reinforce the stereotype that small dogs are somehow dumb, stupid or inferior because of their size. My “girly” dogs will eff you up, yo.

(Crossposted to.)



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12 Responses to “Another twist in the Obama family doggy drama.”

  1. issue or non-issue? « an inconsistent blog Says:

    […] see, I’m gonna try something. I want to know what you think. I recently came across this article discussing Obama using the word “girly”. And here is the scathing […]

  2. Jennifer Says:

    Well, I can surly understand how Obama may prefer a large dog over a little dog because I am the same way. I see little dogs as very cute and adorable but still I would never own one because I like big dogs.

    However…Obama’s feminist remark will bite him in the but. Is he or is he not standing behind feminism? Casual remarks come from deep within, who we really are and I believe he has just told on himself making him into a liar and untrustworthy.

  3. Kay Farrell Says:

    Although a wrong choice of word, I will not criticize Obama for wanting a bigger
    dog. I do groan when I hear it has to be a puppy since puppies are harder to find
    at a shelter and a lot of adult dogs get euthanized simply because they are adults.
    And while little dogs are being praised, on the average, little dogs have a far
    better chance of adoption than big dogs. Especially big black dogs and mixed
    breeds. The Obama family could take a stand against euthanasia (4 million
    pets a year in US last I heard, but I think it is higher now with foreclosures &
    very bad economy) by adopting from a shelter a young but full grown, mixed
    breed, big, black dog with the appropriate coat for hypoallergenic. Many big
    dogs die simply because they are big, and that is grossly unfair and tragic.

  4. Kelly Says:

    Many big dogs die simply because they are big,

    And black!:

    I think it’d be awesome if the first African American president were to adopt a big – black! – beautiful mutt. Especially given the racial prejudices which contribute to Black Dog Syndrome.

    As someone who grew up with big dogs, I certainly don’t have a problem with Obama preferring larger dogs. There’s just no need to denigrate women and small / “frou-frou” dogs in the process :)

  5. Chris Says:

    Really? Is it THAT offensive? Get over yourselfs…

  6. Kelly Says:

    Way to actually address the substance of my complaint, Chris.

  7. veganrampage Says:

    You are so exactly correct in your observations about Obama’s “girly” remark. Gah. I almost wish I hadn’t read this, but as a vegan, and a radical feminist (hah!), I prefer the truth over lies and denial. On, and Chris, it IS THAT offensive, you don’t get it, and would you please STFU? Thanks babycakes.

  8. Smite Me! [.net] » Blog Archive » ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur Says:

    […] such ads reinforce gender stereotypes which hold that women are vain, shallow, inane, “girly,” overly concerned with appearance, and wasteful (inasmuch as they spend obscene amounts of […]

  9. » Blog Archive » ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur Says:

    […] such ads reinforce gender stereotypes which hold that women are vain, shallow, inane, “girly,” overly concerned with appearance, and wasteful (inasmuch as they spend obscene amounts of […]

  10. Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 17: F-O-O-D. * » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] around your neck, wear crocks, shave your chest, use lip balm.” They manage get out two sexist/speciesist stereotypes in as many minutes, but no one’s a winner […]

  11. Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 4 » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] (And also gay men, i.e., “less than men.” “Real” men prefer dogs to cats, particularly big, vicious dogs, such as pit bulls and rottweilers. No cats or Pomeranians for the Brawny man, […]

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