The problem with your “pit bull” shirt

Peach is so conflicted about wearing her Michigan hoodie considering how  badly they (along with many other schools) have dropped the ball when it comes to addressing sexual assault on campus.

Peach is so conflicted about wearing her Michigan hoodie considering how badly they (along with many other schools) have dropped the ball when it comes to addressing sexual assault on campus.

We live in an intense, politically correct, emotionally charged world. Where anything you sell, buy, wear, consume, do (or don’t do), say, support or smoke is sure to be painstakingly dissected by some Preachy McPreacherson who’s more than happy to take your fun, feel-good personal statement and walk all over it in their poopy preacher shoes.

And that’s probably what this post is gonna feel like too. But hear me out.

I’d like to talk about t-shirts. Specifically, pit bull rescue t-shirts and the messages they convey.

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When is a t-shirt not just a t-shirt?

In the last week, I’ve seen the following crowdfunding shirt and variations of it pop up in my Facebook newsfeed at least five or six times, oftentimes hilariously right next to a post from pages like A Mighty Girl or Miss Representation.

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What it says: Some girls play with dolls. Real girls rescue pitbulls!!!

What it does: Legitimizes the idea that there are girls out there who aren’t “real girls.”

Excessive use of exclamation points aside, I have a REAL problem with this shirt. Because it further engenders the insidious and absurd notion that some girls/women (or boys/men) lack legitimacy in some way. Which is a pretty ironic message to send when you spend most of your time fighting for the “rights” of dog owners who happen to have a certain kind of dog.

But that irony isn’t what ultimately bugs me. Because the dog rescue community is one seriously ironic space and I’ve grown rather numb to it. What gets me about shirts like this is that they represent messages that are profoundly damaging to women, and yet the rescue community largely comprises women. So what gives?

Peach says, "How exactly does disparaging women and girls help your advocacy and rescue efforts?"

Peach says, “How exactly does disparaging women and girls help your advocacy and rescue efforts?”

The reality is that, at least in the United States, we’ve become so comfortable with appropriating the phrase “Real Man” or “Real Woman” to suit our own purposes, we’ve lost sight of the REAL problem with using that kind of language to begin with.

Who you callin’ a “bitch”?

Which brings me to another shirt. One that has succeeded in completely reinforcing my belief that so many pit bull rescue groups out there are every bit as harmful to pit bull welfare as breed discrimination and abusive owners are. For the record, you will never see me donate to, volunteer for or support any group clueless enough to be promoting this kind of language and merchandise. I don’t care how many dogs they’ve “saved” or fences they’ve built or how many free bags of food they distributed last year.

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The best part about these shirts is that they’re available in women’s and toddlers’ sizes too. Awesome. Because every 5-year old should have their own “Dog Fighters are Bitches” tee to wear to their first day of kindergarten. Thanks, Cafe Press.

With this shirt, it is both the irony and the flagrant offense towards women that completely crack me up. Literally, you are saying Dog Fighters are Female Dogs, which is supposed to be a put down? Wait, I’m so confused.

Figuratively, you’re insulting dog fighters by comparing them to women using the quintessential female slur. Why not Dog Fighters are Assholes? Or Dog Fighters are Dickheads? Or Dog Fighters are Pea Brains? Or Neanderthal Simpletons? Or Ohio State Fans?

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Because apparently nothing is more insulting to men, particularly those who fight dogs, than being compared to a woman.

But here’s the thing: Dog fighters aren’t the ones buying your clever or cutesy, pro-pit bull t-shirts and they don’t give a shit about what you have to say about them or how they choose to spend their time. But guess who is buying (or not buying) your shirts? Women. Particularly those of us who have the luxury of spending money on frivolous dog t-shirts. And as shocking as it might be to hear, we’re not big fans of lazy, unoriginal marketing that reinforces bullshit gender stereotypes. In fact, that’s why a lot of us got involved with dog rescue, pit bulls and animal welfare in the first place.

photo 2 (7)

I’ve got piles of dog t-shirts in my closet. Some of them I purchased, some of them were given to me. Some of them are so old and grungy I only wear them to bed or to the gym. Some of them are ones that I was far more excited about when I bought them than I am now, but I still wear them because, hey, why get rid of a perfectly good t-shirt? Mostly, I prefer the ones that combine drinking and dogs.

What I don’t have are shirts that disparage others for the sake of my cause. Especially when we’re already having to work so hard to convince our fellow human beings that us and our dogs are just like them and their dogs (or lack of dogs).

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Every time you design, sell, share or buy one of these t-shirts putting others down, stating that “if my pit bull doesn’t like you, I probably won’t either,” or defining what is or isn’t a “real man” or “real woman,” or calling someone a bitch, you are making the job of pit bull advocacy more difficult.

Using that language and wearing those shirts doesn’t make you a real man or real woman or real advocate. What it makes you is a real problem, for all of us.

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About emily douglas

Emily Douglas authors The Unexamined Dog blog and writes regularly about "pit bull" advocacy, humane education and the parallels between the education field and the dog world. Emily and her dog, Peaches volunteer as a registered therapy dog team in the Southeast Michigan area, where their visits are affectionately known as Peach Therapy.
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17 Responses to The problem with your “pit bull” shirt

  1. I totally agree with this post. I am a proud pit bull mom to two amazing rescue dogs. I would never wear one of those shirts.

  2. Selma says:

    Yes, yes, and yes. there is far too much negative, insulting and worse, myth-affirming advertising (for want of a better word) out there, especially in the anti-BSL arena. People should really stop to think about what they are saying and the ways it might be perceived before they rush to publication..

    I love this post and will be sharing it.

  3. As the owner of http://www.pitbullshirt.com (whose photo you show in the collage of pics…2nd row, far right), I can say that the last thing we need to be “wearing” is pitbull negativity…even if it is indirectly suggested in a photo, slogan, etc. We created our shirt line specifically to advocate for bully breeds in a positive manner…and to be honest, we were a bit surprised to see how many shirt designs existed that were doing the exact opposite. Not just with wording, but with the images themselves. We like our designs to promote discussion…and negative images or wording could never lead to a positive discussion. If you aren’t promoting pitbulls in a totally positive manner, you aren’t doing your job as a pitbull advocate. That being said, I am sure that plenty of the people wearing the types of shirts you are criticizing above are not intending to do any harm, but perhaps they are trying to show how overly passionate they are? I don’t know, and can’t relate. But I can say that we are totally proud of ALL of our designs and I think our pitbull, Peanut, would be as well. 🙂

  4. Karen Peer says:

    Well said. Love this post.

  5. mcfwriter says:

    Another fabulous post, Emily. Hear, hear! The use of language is a huge issue with me, and one I’m continually trying to improve in my own communications. So much of what we hear and say in regular, everyday conversation is negative or has a negative slant, or, as you point out, derogatory to one or more demographics. I’ve been saying (for nearly 30 years now) that the word Bitch is a compliment in my house, ever since being gifted with the blessing of my first Rottweiler, also my first female dog. If the world communicated as clearly and succinctly as she did the world would be SO much better off. She was no pushover, and held no grudges in her supreme awesomeness (don’t want to use the words alpha or dominance, but this bitch (heart!) took no guff from anyone, man nor beast, but also took no prisoners; she didn’t need to) . You can call me a bitch any day, and it will only make me happy.

    My condolences on the loss of your Mose. He sounds amazing, and the hole left by a cat like this is huge. I’m a “dog person” and always have at least one cat (currently four!), and good “dog cats” are few and far between.

    Keep up the great writing!
    Maureen

  6. Jill Caren says:

    I totally agree with everything said here! We do fundraising t-shirts for animal groups at http://charitypaws.com – this week we happen to be promoting a pit bull rescue and created a few designs for them. We do have one that can be considered “controversial” with a saying “the more people I meet the more I love my pitbull” – but we were hoping people would see it as a statement as an owners commitment and love to their pit bull as apposed to a put down to people. We created designs that are softer and more artistic for our mostly female market – shirts that showed pitties in a positive light with softer designs. I think a lot of the shirts out there mean well but do more damage than good to the breed and the owners with these abrasive quotes. It is funny that I have been working for various pit bull groups for years — have 2 of my own and have never bought a shirt, because I have never found one I would want to wear – but this week I got to create designs I would love to wear! Thank you for bringing this up — such a great thing to address!

  7. Abby says:

    Preach! With you 100% on this one.

  8. Christine says:

    Love you Emily and every word you wrote!

  9. Ken Foster says:

    Where can I get that I Geek Dogs shirt?

  10. Kara says:

    I would never buy the shirt that says “bitches” on it because I don’t want profanity on my shirt but I respectably have to semi-disagree with this post. I don’t really think that people buy or read shirts like this and think they are shaming women. I think it is taking the message to a level that it isn’t meant to go. People wear these shirts because they are trying to be funny and show that they are passionate about a type of dog. I would not read the shirt “real women adopt pitbulls” and think….”I have never adopted a pitbull so I must not be a real woman.” I would just think that, that person adopts pitbulls (good for them). I just think this article is trying to make a non-issue into an issue. But I do appreciate your opinion and love anyone who is passionate about dogs.

  11. Tiffany says:

    I almost never comment but have to come out of the shadows to say thanks. Beautifully and succinctly written. Here here!

  12. Julie says:

    I think there are larger issues with pit bulls than what is on a t-shirt. I have never seen a breed of dog where their “lovers” are constantly divided and bashing each other. Nothing will change if it continues like this. Some of those same rescues you “judged” are doing great things in the community and are saving MANY dogs and finding them wonderful families. I agree with turning something like this into a issue.
    I would also like to say when your kitty was lost, you asked not to be judged. Isn’t that what you are doing to these rescues?

    • Julie says:

      My response should have been: Not turning something like this into a issue.

    • Hi Julie- Thanks so much for your response!

      1. I would argue that anytime you put anything on a t-shirt . . or a bumper sticker or a banner, etc. it’s been made into an issue. If it’s not an issue, why bother putting it on a shirt? I’m just responding to an issue that’s already been created. 🙂

      2. I have every right to JUDGE rescue groups. You know why? Because they are registered non-profits who collect donor money and who have taken it upon themselves to take dogs off the street and out of shelters and rehome them in our communities without any regulation, licensing or professional training. What organizations do with their donors’ money and how they go about their work IS supposed to be and SHOULD be judged. That’s the whole point. How exactly is me asking these groups and “advocates” to be smarter, more professional and more thoughtful with their work “bashing”? Shouldn’t we be asking these questions?

      3. Actually, I never once asked “not to be judged” in my post about my cat. What I said was, I had no interest in using that post for a debate about proper cat ownership. Judge me all you want. I just won’t be entertaining that judgement or conversation on my site or engaging in it personally, because that’s not what the post was about. The parallel you drew between this post and that one is ineffective, and seems like a pretty weak attempt to be hurtful in order to make your point.

      Again, thanks so much for your response.

  13. jamieb says:

    There are a number of definitions for bitch or bitches, calling a bad female driver a bitch, is bad. In that context you are saying one thing, calling a dog fighter a bitch is not the same. Just like a girl calling her girlfriend a bitch is not the same. Very nuanced. Its meant to shame and emasculate a subculture who think its tough and masculine to fight dogs. The message is good, the cuss or swear words might only land a 50% positive response. Many stuffy people that do not like pitbulls, would think, yeah dog fighting is wrong, but look, pitbull advocates are not classy. They walk around with swear words, cuss words etc on their shirts. A bigoted person can use almost anything to confirm what they already believe. For example, they would just roll their eyes and say pffff “pitbull owners”, why cant they get a classy dog like a lab, or corgi.

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