Animal Studies Bibliography

Evans, Rhonda, DeAnn K. Gauthier and Craig J. Forsyth. 1998. Dogfighting: Symbolic expression and validation of masculinity. Sex Roles39(11/12): 825-838.
(Summarized by Katherine Groble, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)

In their paper Evans et al. posit that southern white men view dogfighting as a status symbol and as a means to gain honor and prove one’s manhood. This is both a reflection of the Southern patriarchal culture, which defines distinct gender roles and values overt masculinity (Hulbert and Bankston, 1998), and the fact that working-class men have fewer external avenues to achieve status, such as economically rewarding and distinguished jobs. Additionally, U.S. masculinity places emphasis on assertiveness, aggression, strength and competition (O’Neill, 1982; Hantover, 1978) and dog fighting and other competitive sports, which interestingly enough also tend to draw mainly from the working class, supply an outlet for otherwise marginalized populations to exhibit these characteristics. This has also been used as a possible explanation for the increased interest in paramilitary culture through violent “diversions” such as paintball (Gibson, 1994).

Historically, dogfighting was a means to test guard dogs (Jones, 1988). It then developed into a spectator sport for royalty and the aristocracy, eventually trickling down to the other classes, but it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the pastime took on its modern day form: dogfighting is now an exclusively male sport practiced mainly by the working-class. It has become so ingrained as part of the masculine culture of honor in some places, especially the South, that the resistance to change is immense.

As of yet, most research studying this phenomenon has focused on the role of mainstream sports, such as football, hockey, etc., in masculine culture. However, the authors believe that illegal activities such as dogfighting and cockfighting may provide additional insight into Southern masculinity and the motivations behind such activities. Their study was ethnographical in nature and relied on both observational data of participants and spectators at dogfighting events and the interviews of 31 dogmen, 90% of which were white, from Louisiana and Mississippi. Through talking with study participants they found that dogs are seen as physical extensions of their owners and heroism or cowardice in a dog directly reflects the same characteristics in a man. Additionally, the most admirable quality in a dog is “gameness”, or an invincible will (Jones, 1988), and dogs seen as exhibiting cowardice (e.g. they refuse to or stop fighting) are called “curs”, a very derogatory term, and killed onsite. This violence is seen as redeeming the “fallen man”, whose reputation would be ruined if he didn’t kill his dog.

As predicted, the few middle-class men who fought dogs and participated in the study viewed dogfighting as a hobby and not an integral part of their lives as the other men reported. This is probably because they received validation from other parts of their life. It was also noted that rationality, versus impulse and violence, is held in higher esteem by the middleand upper classes. Additionally, the threat of legal repercussions is not only not a deterrent for these (working-class) dogmen, but serves to cement their feelings of camaraderie and sense of group belonging, and men that have quit for a time have found it isolating and lose their sense of personal identity. Another point of interest briefly mentioned at the end of the article refers to the spectators at dogfights and mentions “deep play” in which one is seen as having a strong character (and most probably more manly) if they bet more than they can stand to lose (Geertz, 1972).


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