Thursday, 22 October 2015

Living with Wolves

The other day I stumbled across this article by Caitlin Moran*, and it got me thinking.

Her second point - that women are tired all the time - could fill an entire book (has filled several) so I'm going to leave that for another day, but it was the first point - that women are scared of men - that struck a chord.

"Try imagining that you could only date a half-bear half-lion. 'Oh - I hope this one's nice!' That's being a woman." 

See, I don't think she's** quite on the nail about that. I think there's a better way of putting it.

Men are dogs.

I don't mean that in the disgusted, only-after-one-thing, American street slang kind of way, or even in the barely toilet-trained, always wants feeding/walking, please-stop-humping-my-leg kind of way. I mean it in the way that is summed up by this quote from Good Omens,***:

"There are some dogs which, when you meet them, remind you that, despite thousands of years of man-made evolution, every dog is still only two meals away from being a wolf..."

I love dogs. They are wonderful creatures: loyal, intelligent, affectionate. You can have life-long, very fulfilling relationships with dogs. They make excellent companions. Some people's lives are empty without dogs. We invite them into our homes and love them and care for them, and they love and care for us. We trust them to look after us. I have nothing against dogs.

But every woman is aware that some dogs can't be trusted. Some dogs you can't let your children play with - some dogs you wouldn't play with yourself. And in every dog, even the nicest, sweetest, most fluffy looking Toy Poodle in the world, somewhere in there is a wolf. And they could snap at any point.

It could be something you said, or something you did that just rubbed that dog up the wrong way. Sometimes it's just a really mean dog that was never loved enough as a puppy. Sometimes that dog has just had a really bad day. Perhaps no-one ever taught it "No" or "Sit" or "Stay". Whatever the reason, that dog is now a wolf. And we are fucked. We are Little Red Riding Hood, and no-one's coming to save us.

And that could be any dog. A German Shepherd might sit there and take all the abuse you throw at it, might never even snap at you, might be the most loving creature in all of existence. And a little Chihuahua might go for your throat as soon as look at you. You can't tell just by looking at them which dogs are really wolves. In fact, they're all wolves - just some of them it'll never come to the surface.

It's the not knowing that's the hardest part. Because most of us love dogs, and we want to trust them completely, we want to feel safe around them all the time. Breed or background are no indicators; any dog - any dog - could become a wolf in an instant, we just don't know. So we shy away every time a pack of strays comes whooping and howling down the street after dark, having fun. Some of us take courses on dog-handling and self defense. Some of us don't go out without a friend, or a dog that we trust, to protect us. Unless we are super-confident, or in a space where we feel safe, we moderate what we say or do around dogs so we seem less threatening, less likely (in our minds) to provoke a wolf response. It's exhausting sometimes.

That's what it's like as a woman living with men.

We're not scared of all of you all the time. If we thought like that we would go crazy very, very, quickly. And we don't talk about it much to you either, because you tend to get defensive - "but look at me! I'm a Labradoodle! I'd never hurt you! How can you say that?" - and we know it's a bad idea to provoke a dog in case it becomes a wolf.

We live with you every day, we work alongside you, we love you... But we are still aware that you are potentially dangerous, We are often reminded of the fact that you, just like a dog, could snap, and if you did that, it would be like being alone in a room with a wild beast ready to rip out our jugular. And there, Moran is on the money.


I'm not saying that we should blame dogs for having a bit of wolf in their DNA - we understand it's not something you can control. It's just something to be aware of. And maybe next time, when we argue for better muzzle control or obedience training, don't jump down our throats.

*originally published in the Times Magazine
** or rather, Louis CK, who she's quoting at the time.
*** By Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It's a good book. Go read it :)