Are dogs a woman’s best friend? Ovidie delivers a captivating feminist rereading of our relationship with dogs

In his latest essay, “Sitting, Standing, Lying”, published on April 24 by JC Lattès, Ovidie explores the links that exist between women and dogs. To do this, she draws on her own history and draws fascinating parallels between feminist struggles and animal causes.

I’m not a big dog lover. I was even afraid of it for a good part of my life. My perception of canines evolved when I found myself, by accident, dog sitting one weekend. For the first time in my life, I walked in a public space with a dog, Ribella. I felt an unexpected joy. Like 81% of women in France, I was the victim of sexual harassment in the street. As a result, I cross public spaces with hyper-vigilance at all times. But with Ribella at my side, no man dared to approach me or look at me inappropriately. I felt free to wander the streets of Paris.

“This dissuasive presence acts in many different situations, regardless of social category. Dogs are defenders of the street for those we call ‘dog punkettes’, those who are homeless… This is valid in an urban environment, as you experienced, but also in a rural environment, when we go for a walk in the forest. […] Going with a dog frees up part of our brain.” Ovidie explains to me.

Dogs are also victims of patriarchy

The dog (or the female dog, a term also used as a sexist insult, well!) is a shield against male violence, but he can also be a victim of it. In his essay, Ovidie discusses the rise in domestic violence during the Covid pandemic. It coincided with a explosion of violence against dogs. “We realized that a woman who suffered domestic violence was five times more likely than any other woman to see her dog beaten by her partner”she points out.

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© Olivier Roller / Instagram Ovidie

In his invigorating and accessible essay, the author analyzes the way in which women and dogs have been and still are exploited by the patriarchy, for capitalist purposes. She makes the link between the laboratory experiments of which dogs are victims (2 million tortured each year) with those carried out on women in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Like women, dogs are also reduced to the status of decorative objects. We dress them, we doll them up and we make them undergo cosmetic surgery, in other words mutilations (ears or tails cut off) to meet current beauty standards. Not to mention genetic manipulation to make dogs “more beautiful”, disregarding their health.

Ovidie is perplexed by this schizophrenic treatment: There is a big cognitive dissonance between the videos you post on Insta with cute little dogs and everyone who rests behind, and the thousands of dogs that are produced each year in France in dog farmsintended for animal testing and which will never see a blade of grass.“

Canicides, feminicides, same fight?

A chilling chapter of his essay is devoted to canicides – mass killings of dogs considered “stray” – perpetrated in large cities like Paris, New York or Istanbul, at times when it was a question of chasing unwanted populations from the streets before a world event, to stick to a postcard image.

In 1878, the SPA proposed a new invention during the Universal Exhibition to eradicate stray dogs in cities: gas chambers. They were used in Paris in 1880, by the prefect Louis Andrieux. You know the terrifying rest of the story of the gas chambers. In 1910, in Istanbul, the city decided to deport 35,000 dogs to an island, where most died of dehydration. This episode probably inspired Wes Anderson for his film, “Isle of Dogs”, released in 2018 and which deals precisely with this subject.

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Guess who will oppose this animal abuse? “From the end of the 19th century, those who became aware, those who opposed these mass massacres, were the feminists. For what ? Because they know they are next on the list. If they are opposed to vivisection on dogs, it is because they are victims of vivisection Ovidie enlightens us. The first movements for the animal cause were led by figures like Louise Michel.

This overrepresentation of women in the animal cause (they represent between 68% and 80% of activists!), vegetarianism or ecology only proves the link between exploitation of animals and women, to the delight of the capitalist system. These struggles are demonized or ridiculed, with overtones of sexism.

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“In left-wing activist movements in the broad sense, those who defended the animal cause were considered stupid. It was considered a little too sentimental, an unserious fight. » And if we go back to 1893 and the beginnings of psychiatry, whose misogynistic biases we know, the Practical Guide to Mental Illnesses reported that Exaggerated affection for an animal is mental illness », Ovidie tells us.

Dogs, empathy and masculinity

For the author, whose life was marked by her relationship with dogs, the pain of losing a dog remains a particularly inaudible subject. Part of his book is devoted to the loss of the great canine love of his life, Raziel.

“It raises a lot of questions. How do we decide, at what point, have we really made the right choice? Why do we have the power of life and death over the animal? I think that this book, I wrote it above all for this passage. I needed to write to grieve.” she confides to me.

She deplores lack of specific psychological support when an animal died. For a long time, the only person who spoke publicly on this subject was Jean-Pierre Hutin, the creator of the show “30 million friends”, in his book Mabrouk, dog’s life.

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I found him very courageous to address these questions, because it’s complicated for a man, even more so in the 80s, to say publicly ‘I’m depressed because my dog ​​died’. » Ovidie notes that two other authors, Eric Sapin Dufour and François Schuiten, have taken up the subject of canine mourning in 2023. “I see a link with the fact that we are in a phase of deconstruction of masculinity,” underlines the author. Can the dog be a tool to develop male empathy and save us from patriarchy? That might be a lot to ask of him!

With Sit, stand, lie downOvidie manages to find a nice balance between analysis and personal experience. We learn a lot about how the history of women and dogs are inextricably linked, without falling into overly theoretical work. With her funny and sincere pen, the author brings an addition of soul to his text. Proof of its success, this warm attempt gives us a furious desire to have a dog to discover, in turn, the power of this bond. “Good, it was my hidden objective!” » jokes Ovidie.


Listen to Apéro des Daronnes, Madmoizelle’s show which wants to break down the taboos around parenthood.

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