Why is The Alpha Parent happiest when kicking other women?

Beautiful Angry Young Woman In Suit Kicking

As is often the case on The Skeptical OB, a single post becomes a multi-day meditation on a topic. I started the week asking if natural childbirth and lactivism cause postpartum depression, progressed to discussing the lactivist War on Formula as a rather poorly disguised war on women, and then shared a new campaign to support mothers (#sogladtheytoldme) and my gratitude for the women in my life who supported me through motherhood.

And, as so often happens, a natural childbirth advocate or lactivist obligingly provides me with an outstanding example of what I have just been criticizing.

In this case, The Alpha Parent (Allison Dixley) has returned from a two month hiatus, just as hateful as ever, this time with bonus victim blaming.

Which raises the question: Why is The Alpha Parent happiest when kicking other women?

I understand why the lactivist industry grossly exaggerates the benefits of breastfeeding, and grossly inflates the purported “risks” of formula feeding. I understand why the lactivist industry attempts to shame and humiliate women who don’t breastfeed; they profit from monetizing that shame and guilt. But why would an individual woman spend so much time excoriating women who don’t breastfeed when the infant feeding decision is deeply personal and affects no one else? It’s the age old tactic of trying to feel better about yourself by tearing other people down.

The Alpha Parent wants you to know that she is better than you, hence her moniker and her blog. She likes to terrorize other women, finds shaming and humiliating other women to be deliciously satisfying, and merely uses breastfeeding as the rhetorical excuse to stomp on other women.

But The Alpha Parent has a problem. As campaigns like #sogladtheytoldme demonstrate, shaming other mothers is going out of style. The intended victims of the shaming are no longer passive. They point out the harms of idealized images of birth and breastfeeding; they support other women in their mothering journeys; and they take aim at the whole idea of attempting to induce guilt in other mothers.

What’s a woman who feels happiest when kicking other women to do?

Berate those women for their own guilt! How?

1. Women should be strong enough to take what ever Allison Dixley enjoys dishing out.

…“Stop being judgemental, I should not be made to feel guilty” is their mating call.

Yet contrary to what some mothers and stand-up comedians may claim, women are not fragile simpering wallflowers at the mercy of iron-tongued tormentors. They are not passive pawns pushed around by the force of others’ words. The image of the female as a boiling pot of feelings, a puppet to her emotions, easily triggered and unable to control herself is a misogynistic invention of a culture that’s still riding on patriarchal coattails. Sadly, many women continue to lap up this rhetoric, and when they become mothers, it becomes enshrined in their self-entitled, self-serving psyche…

2. It’s their own fault that they feel guilty, not Dixley’s fault for heaping abuse (complete with annoying GIFs) on them.

… By its very nature, guilt assumes a wrong doing that one has committed. So in order to feel guilt, two components must be present: 1. A wrongdoing. 2. Personal blame. Now let’s apply this to an obvious example: failure to breastfeed. If the mother believed that breast milk and formula were equivalent, #1 would be absent in her view. Thus, she wouldn’t feel guilty for not breastfeeding. If on the other hand, #1 is present but #2 is not, the result is merely shame not guilt.

3. They’re doing something wrong.

If you’re feeling guilty right now (heck, you’re a parent), look at your guilt with the idea that you are, or might be, responsible …

To that end, Dixley misinterprets a quote often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The quote does NOT mean that if someone’s abuse makes you feel bad, it must be true. The quote stands for the proposition that you can and should fight against attempts to demean you.

When in 1939 African American contralto Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated opera singers of her generation, was denied permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to use its Constitution Hall for a concert, Mrs. Roosevelt did not tell Ms. Anderson that if she felt bad that the DAR viewed African American women as inferior, it was because she believed herself to be inferior. She did not say, “no one can make you feel ashamed of your race unless you really are ashamed of it.”

What did Roosevelt do?

First, she resigned from the DAR to signal her disgust with their behavior.

Second, she arranged for Marian Anderson to give an open air concert at the Lincoln Memorial, attended by 75,000 people.

When the DAR figuratively kicked Marian Anderson to the curb, Eleanor Roosevelt KICKED BACK.

As Eleanor Roosevelt showed us, when you encounter someone attempting to shame and humiliate another human being, you don’t laugh it off as harmless; you don’t blame the victim for being upset by abusive treatment; you don’t tolerate that behavior but instead condemn it in word and deed.

Which is what I am trying to do.

I don’t have the power to arrange a public tribute to bottle feeding mothers at a national monument, but I do have the power to publicly reassure them that Allison Dixley speaks from hate, not from science. And I have the power to express my personal disgust that for Allison Dixley, it isn’t enough to stomp on women when they are down; she has to crown her efforts by blaming women for her heel prints on their foreheads.

Allison Dixley’s behavior is nothing more than self-serving viciousness.

  • anneymarie

    I finally found the quote I was looking for on this topic!

    “It is often said that if you feel uneasy about your conduct, you’re probably doing wrong. But is that so? The proddings of the conscience are unreliable. Some people have a hypersensitive conscience and feel guilty about nearly everything. (Hence all those jokes that, in different versions, Jews and Catholics tell about themselves.) Other people do appalling things and sleep through the night untroubled. There’s no consistent calibration of the conscience; feelings are not a reliable substitute for thought. That’s why therapists flourish. And columnists proffering ethical advice.”

    -Randy Cohen, in “The Ethicist” column

  • Michelle

    Can I just say thank you for the reassurance you give. Your blog is like a safe little island in the middle of the shit storm that is ‘Mommy Blogs’. I know I can count on you to be sane, rational and supportive. I avoid The Alpha Bitch like the plague and I’ve even removed people from my life who’ve subscribed to her extremist views. I’m not very good at expressing my feelings or explaining it so it’s such a relief to read your post and go ‘This! This is it!’.

    And also a huge thank you to your core group of commenters. They’re an amazing group of sane, rational, supportive people and more importantly they have no hesitation in kicking back when lacti-crazies descend. And they kick back with sanity and humour. I usually have to avoid the comments because that’s where the craziest dwell but on your blog it’s one of the best parts. I was having a crap mommy day the other day and just seeing how you all took on a lacti-crazy had me in tears of laughter.

    So thank you all, from a mommy who is trying her best to ignore all the shit being flung at her by lacti-crazy monkeys.

  • Alice

    I am convinced that Alpha Parent must be a child of Sauron & Dolores Umbridge

  • CanDoc

    Wow. I just went to her blog site. Positively hideous, who the eff does she think she is? The opposite of narcissism is guiltiness. Guess she’s never felt guilty about anything.

  • Liz Leyden

    I thought The Alpha Parent was a parody of Mommy Blogs. Are you telling me the writer is serious?

    • Young CC Prof

      I’m not sure anyone is entirely sure.

    • Kq

      The fact that she’spublished a book that seems entirely serious implies that she is, unfortunately, for real.

  • PinkandOrange

    The Alpha Parent is WAY too concerned about my breasts. I can handle them on my own, thx.

  • A

    ” it becomes enshrined in their self-entitled, self-serving psyche…”

    … Is… Is it just me… Or… Is she… actually… describing herself? Is there a psychoanalist in the room?

  • OT: I’ve got a Toronto area mom whose OB has now told her at 6.5 months that they do not support the plan for patient choice cesarean. Ideas on what this mom should do? Names of OBs who might be able to help? The whole bait and switch thing is kind of repulsing….

    • CanDoc

      What? Seriously? Hmm. She should:
      a) Ask her physician for referral to another OB.
      b) Ask around amongst friends/acquaintances through the grapevine for leads.
      c) She should discuss CSMR (cesarean section, maternal request) with her OB, using the most recent Canadian position on this, http://www.jogc.ca/abstracts/full/200912_HealthPolicy_1.pdf

      d) She should discuss with her family doctor referral to a different OB who wishes to respect her “autonomy”.

      • theNormalDistribution

        Oh wow. Please tell me this is not the best endorsement we have for MRCS. Is this paper not terribly biased? The authors seem to have a really hard time actually accepting or admitting that maybe, possibly, in some situations, it could be okay to allow MRCS. Reading this, you would get the impression that everyone is in clear agreement that c-sections are about the most awfulest and dangerous thing ever, and I don’t think that’s the case. They mention the professional bodies who support denial of MRCS, and yet, ACOG’s position on MRCS is mysteriously omitted. I find myself wondering if any of the sources cited actually support what the paper claims they say… I’m guessing probably not.

        They basically come to the conclusion that you must weigh risks unequally or value patient autonomy (read: over “safety”) to agree to provide MRSC. But that is not at all in keeping with my (unqualified) understanding of the research. I’m pretty sure if you ignore all the social factors that seem enmeshed in this topic, and give a rigorous analysis to the risks, a good case could be made for MRSC being safest without having to resort to deeming some risks more or less acceptable than others.

        The moral of this story: when I get pregnant, I will need a binder full of research and a rebuttal to this embarrassing paper if I want to feel sufficiently prepared to advocate for myself. It seems pretty ridiculous that I should have to gain a better understanding of the topic than the experts in order to ensure that my (perfectly reasonable) choices are respected, but it’s really starting to look that way. BLARG!

        /Sorry that got rantey. I haven’t commented in a while.
        //Screw you, Canada.

    • theNormalDistribution

      Oh no, not again. What a horrible situation.

  • SporkParade

    Just because someone cannot make me feel inferior without my own consent doesn’t change the fact that they’re a giant douchebag for trying.

  • fearlessformulafeeder

    Standing ovation. Seriously.

  • Sue

    Why is this woman even given the time of day?

    Her pronouncements are not alpha-ish at all – more like a delta-minus.

    • namaste863

      Why stop there? There are epsilons after all.

      • Sue

        Or phi for phail

    • SporkParade

      She’s less an alpha mom and more an alpha b*tch.

  • It’s women like Dixley that seek to remove women’s autonomy over their own bodies – she would have no problems “forcing women to breastfeed” (or “forcing them to give birth vaginally”) because “only those who truly can’t should be excused”. She fails to understand, that women make choices based on the information they have at hand and their own personal circumstances – and whatever those choices are, they likely are “the best under the circumstance”. She fails to get how anyone might have different preferences than her own. She fails to get how being forced to do something for which you do not have a preference actually does cause damage. She has all the maturity of a pre-schooler, it’s all about her and her perspective and she lacks empathetic capacity.

    • Alice

      I completely agree with you when you write about her wish to remove women’s autonomy over their own body. I think she would be perfect “Aunt” (a women who controls and police other women) in M.Atwoods “Handmaids Tale”

  • mostlyclueless

    Big round of applause. You are wonderful.

  • yugaya

    ” the mother can divert the audience’s attention away from the original fault (“I’m a dick for not breastfeeding”)”

    So, TAP considers mother who do not breastfeed (for whatever reason) to be “dicks for not breastfeeding”. And now that feminism has long dealt with the guilt burdened upon women through “original sin”, she attempts to blame, shame and degrade women of today by making sure that they learn from her all about the “original fault” that is not breastfeeding. Nice little rhetorical parallelism that neatly underlines the skinny on her patriarchal worldview.

  • Guest Nurse

    “They are not passive pawns pushed around by the force of others’ words.”

    Interesting. And yet, somehow, they are so fragile and passive that merely having a Similac clock on the wall of the newborn nursery can pursuade them to abandon breastfeeding and switch to formula. Somehow these women who aren’t pawns to anyone are swayed by a commercial or magazine article. NOW I understand!

    • Young CC Prof

      Breastfeeding is easy. Except it can be “sabotaged” by one wrong word, or by the slightest of birth interventions, or by one drop of formula. That makes total sense, right?

  • namaste863

    What a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility for her own terrible behavior. I’ve seen bullies use this tactic time and time again, and it’s pathetic. Words are probably the only thing more destructive than a nuclear bomb. Words have consequences.

  • Bertrande

    Keep up the good work, Dr. Amy!

  • Guesty

    A friend of mine is a new mother. All of this horrific propaganda and mind-fucking by natural birth advocates have her sincerely believing that breast feeding is more important than her own sanity, self-esteem, mental health — or worst — her relationship with her baby. If she would just throw out all the horrific paraphernalia the lactavists have sold to her — it looks like an BDS torture room in there — lay in a supply of bottles and formula and enjoy her baby I think she’d be astonished at how much better everything would get. But she is convinced that the benefits of breastmilk are worth what she is doing to herself and there is no talking her out of it. Twenty years from now it won’t matter that she breastfed. But I think she will regret giving over those precious first months to torture and self-loathing and resentment. It’s so sad.

    • Outi

      I did that with my first two kids. One night, when my second was two weeks old, I was sitting at the sofa trying to breast feed her. She was crying because she was hungry and nothing was coming out of my boobs. I was crying, because I felt like my body was betraying me by not producing enough milk to that child. I was so depressed and felt like dirt. Thankfully my man woke up, took the baby, told me to get some sleep and gave her some formula. In the morning he called my mother, who talked some sense into me. She told me I was not breast fed. She told me it didn’t matter and the more important thing was to be present for the baby and for her big brother and with the lack of sleep and depression I wasn’t able to do that. After that I still felt guilty, but it got better. I was sleeping better, the baby was happier and gradually I was able to understand that my best was good enough.

  • Amy M

    I’ve said it before, but the misuse of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote is probably my biggest pet peeve when it comes to the communities of mothers online. It absolutely enrages me that people like Alison D. here decide to use it as license to be giant assholes. “Oh well, if you feel guilty/bad/ashamed, it must be YOUR FAULT.” If anyone should be ashamed of themselves its women like that, being jerks for no reason at all.

    And you can’t win anyway—if you don’t feel guilty, and its clear that you don’t, inevitably the asshole will then insist that you should. I’ve definitely seen that online: “Women who formula feed/circumcise/go back to work/etc SHOULD feel bad/guilty because they aren’t giving the child the best/they are harming the child.” So either you succumb and are made to feel guilty, but its all your fault, or you don’t but the other side feels like it must not have tried hard enough, because you should feel guilty.

    I say, let them rage and insist that we should feel guilty, while we get on with life. Basically,

    • MegaMechaMeg

      My MIL once told me I should feel guilty for not wearing enough makeup and being pretty enough for my husband. I still have not mustered up the energy to feel all that bad about it, and oddly enough she never brought it up again. Funny, that.

      • nomofear

        HA! I think we share a first name, and tendencies.

  • Lisa C

    I doubt that Allison Dixley has the insight necessary to answer Dr. Amy’s question. Her lack of awareness is most apparent when she writes about formula companies and their “marketing propaganda” which according to her is “tailored to exploit mothers’ fears ” (http://www.thealphaparent.com/2012/07/formula-feeding-as-choice.html).

    That’s pretty rich coming from a women who does the EXACT SAME THING in her attempt to convince women to breastfeed at all costs.

    • Mom2Many

      Couldn’t agree more. There’s an old saying out there that when literally translated says, ” As the innkeeper is, so does he trust his guests”. Basically, if the innkeeper thinks that his guests will rob him or harm him, odds are good that he thinks that way because HE is that way.
      For me, that saying has often turned out to be very accurate.

      • KarenJJ

        Like watching the poster on the lactivism thread now. Say big pharma loses the ability to sell formula tomorrow – will they go under? Will they fall apart?

        What if women stopped turning to bullying LCs and just used formula when they have supply problems? Will they be able to find another job where they are sanctioned to bully other women? (and I know that not all LCs are the bullying type and can provide useful support, but LZ doesn’t strike me as being that type of breastfeeding supporter).

  • lawyer jane

    o/t: there’s a new novel out called “After Birth” by Elisa Albert that is apparently spouting some pretty extreme NCB stuff. The author in this interview claims that “The rituals of birth in 21st century United States are harmful to the majority of women and babies. These rituals not only don’t improve outcomes overall, they actually cause injury and illness when used routinely. They are rituals of a culture that fears and despises women’s bodies. That women comply so willingly is perhaps the strangest part.”

    http://therumpus.net/2015/02/the-rumpus-interview-with-elisa-albert/

    yikes!

    • jhr

      dreadful but also chilling should someone not familiar with these issues–and Dr. Amy’s eviscerating data-based analyses–read this interview.

      • lawyer jane

        An oh, ha, now she is a DOULA.

    • fiftyfifty1

      I read her interview on Slate also. I actually prefer The Rumpus interview, as she clearly comes across as the weirdo/extremist she is. She was more measured in the Slate interview.

  • AllieFoyle

    The capacity to feel guilt is an integral part of being a moral and social being, not a selfish indulgence. You know who is rarely bothered by guilt? Sociopaths.

    I suspect however, that, ironically, Ms. Dixley’s piece is a manifestation of her own difficult to acknowledge sense of guilt about her lack of compassion and enjoyment of passing judgement on others. Why else bother to defend herself by insulting the people she has judged and criticized? She knows she’s wrong and she’s doing exactly what she accuses others of doing.

  • MegaMechaMeg

    What blows my mind about this women is that when you look at her old stuff it is relatively sane. She is a breastfeeding advocate, but she talks about other things too. She is neutral on supplimenting, on mothers returning to work, and she actually gives some ok parenting advice. I don’t know when the shift happened, but it is shocking how extreme and full of hate she has become. I honestly do not understand how a human being can let that happen to themselves. All I can think is that her kid weaned and she completely lost touch with the realities of having a small child and channeled all of her sadness at losing the baby phase into forcing other women to do it “right”.

    • Bugsy

      I think that’s how it starts – I see so much of my former lactivist friend in that. She started off quite normal – just wanted a natural childbirth and to breastfeed her child – and bit by bit, devolved into a similar person to the Alpha Parent. I truthfully don’t even recognize (but very much despise) the person she’s become.

      • MegaMechaMeg

        It has to be the echo chamber effect. Hang out with simular people long enough and your mean shifts for normal behavior. So it starts out with “I want to breastfeed” and ends with “women who don’t breastfeed exclusively without a single bottle formula or otherwise are child abusing sociopaths who want their baby to be stupid, fat and cancer ridden.

    • MLE

      I think she’s not real. This is an act, maybe a get rich quick scheme. She picked something that’s not very likely to do lasting damage to anyone who follows her advice, as opposed to being anti vaccine, etc. That way she can be as vicious as she wants without being responsible for an obvious bad outcome like the measles outbreak. It’s all a bit too contrived to me.

      • MegaMechaMeg

        I thought something like that too. Like she started out just trying to have a reasonable mommy blog but then her more extreme pieces were the ones getting shared so she shrugged her shoulders and dialed the crazy up to eleven. I mean, she purposely posts things that she has to know are offensive, but then when she gets called on it she blinks her eyes and says “but I was just telling the truth, and I didn’t mean you!” It is like the disengenuous “there is always donor milk!” argument. People know damn well that is not sustainable even if it is theoretically possible.

        • MLE

          She’s an opportunist who is devoid of consideration for others, and it’s working for her. I think she looks down on those who agree with her more than anyone who disagrees with her. I also think she thinks she’s the NCB version of Dr Amy, which shows her total lack of anything resembling morality.

    • lilin

      It feels good to think yourself superior. It feels good to hate, provided you can strike out at the people you hate. And as we see, she’s sheltered herself from any guilt about hurting others, so what’s the down side?

  • Bugsy

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

    Yep. Time and again, I was blown away by the crass and judgmental nature of my lactivist friend. Anything that didn’t meet her guidelines for proper parenting was shunned or criticized.

    I’ve spent time more recently consoling a mom who was headed back to work and needed to sleep train her 11-month-old. I relayed our experience, mentioning that I don’t think sleep training traumatized our happy-go-lucky 2-year-old, and told her that the vicious anti-sleep-training stories online are just designed to prey on our ever-present mommy guilt. I encouraged her to follow her intuition on raising her son, and to do what she feels is best.

    In the ideal world, I shouldn’t have to tell another mom to trust her instinct over the judgmental parenting advice omnipresent in the blogosphere. We would all be supported in trusting our own selves automatically.

    As new parents, we’re terrified by our new journey. The levels of guilt I feel regarding my parenting decisions have amazed me…and it sickens me the extent to which AP-style mantra preys on our feelings of guilt. They know darn well what they’re doing, but misuse quotes like Roosevelt’s to make themselves look even better on the competitive parenting score card to which they ascribe.

    • Mishimoo

      Sleep training traumatized my youngest so much that every evening, when he starts feeling tired, he climbs up the stairs and demands to go to bed. The horror!

      • Bugsy

        Lol, our little guy does something similar. It’s adorable, and great to see that he can fall asleep independently!

        • Mishimoo

          I love it so much, it is so cute! Our older two don’t do it, they like to play instead of sleeping. It must have been the extra 3 months of breastmilk that the little guy got. 😉

      • Busbus

        Yeah, mine too! We sleep trained or youngest after three years of broken nights with my older one, who still sleeps way worse than my younger did at about 6 months. My younger one will point to his bed and say “na! na!” (For nap) when it’s time to sleep and is so ridiculously happy to go to bed, me and my husband still can’t believe it. Final straw for AP if there ever was one. 😉

    • Staceyjw

      I find telling women that no one can make them feel inferior without their consent seriously victim blaming, and frankly, mean and ignorant. This line of thinking conveniently erases the role, and responsibility, of those promoting ideas that are meant to tear others down, ideas mean to create world views that rely on the destruction of females self worth. Bullies get to skate by, while their victims are told they are hurting because they consent to it. Do you not see how this is sick thinking, as well as being totally unfair?

      Do you actually mean to tell me the ruthless, never ending socialization that girls and women go through in our society does not create, and promote, the feeling of inferiority? Do you think females are immune to the cradle to grave messages (blatant as well as subconsciously shared) about their worthlessness, their second class (even subhuman) status? Do you actually believe that girls aren’t effected by the constant drum beat of unattainable perfection, and utter disgrace and uselessness when they cannot measure up? These messages span everything: beauty, sexuality. birthing, perfection in motherhood, etc.

      You cannot mean this! To believe that you are fully in control of your feelings of inferiority, regardless of the cultural beliefs surrounding you, what you are really saying is that all of the women that have posted here about feeling less than due to the culture of NCB/lactivism are to blame for their feelings. That all the girls that feel inferior because they are considered overweight, ugly, promiscuous, etc, aren’t feeling this way because of often daily harassment, but because of their shortcomings.

      To say women consent to this treatment and the related emotions is utter misogyny. I really do not think this is your opinion, but it needed said.

      (Please don’t bring up men here, as in WATM. This is not about them.)

      • Bugsy

        Whoops – I think I was unclear in my original post; I was agreeing with Dr. Amy’s reference to their misusing Roosevelt’s quote. The “yep” was 100% in reference to agreeing with her.

        The last paragraph in my post perhaps more clearly reflects that.

        I’m one of the last people who would say that feelings don’t count. Anybody who has seen my now 300+ posts on here knows that I strongly support the rights/feelings of moms, and that I am concerned about the effects of the NCB/lactivist movement on women generally. I’ve seen the judgment & criticism first-hand from the crazy lactivist who used to be one of my closest friends.

        You raise some wonderful points. I just finished reading Debora Spar’s “Wonder Women,” which speaks dearly on this subject. It’s a great read, particularly for its discussions of how women are affected by the constant noise that “we can have it all,” and how it gets turned into “we should have it all…all of the time.” Yes, La Leche League comes up in her discussion of the quest for perfection.

        Apologies if it wasn’t clear in my original post.

        • staceyjw

          I really didn’t think you meant to say that. I just thought it was a good place to put this thought, because women need to hear it. Too often we are told that if we just buck up we can get over it because we let it happen. Ugh!
          No apologies necessary 🙂

          • Bugsy

            No worries; I completely agree w/ you, and appreciate the clarification!

      • Amy M

        I agree with your point, staceyjw, but I think Bugsy is not agreeing with the misuse of the quote, and your post is better aimed at Alison Dixley and people like her directly.

  • Are you nuts

    “The image of the female as a boiling pot of feelings, a puppet to her emotions, easily triggered and unable to control herself is a misogynistic invention of a culture that’s still riding on patriarchal coattails.”

    Actually, a boiling pot of feelings, a puppet to my emotions – that describes me to a T the first four weeks postpartum. One drop of criticism may have put me right over the edge!

    • Cobalt

      I think that’s the typical postpartum experience.

    • nomofear

      Yep, full on sobbing even when HAPPY about something. It’s a fun time!

  • fiftyfifty1

    “So in order to feel guilt, two components must be present: 1. A wrongdoing. 2. Personal blame.”

    So completely untrue. Even dogs can show that it’s untrue. Try this experiment: Go up to any dog sitting there minding its own business and start scolding it “Bad Rover, stupid dog, bad doggy” and you will almost immediately have a dog that looks guilty and despondent. Even though it’s just a dog, you can see that the dog feels terrible and apologetic. But for what? It’s done absolutely nothing wrong! But that’s a part of being a social animal. Dogs, like us, are hard-wired to respond to social shaming.

    Actually, I take it back–DON’T do this experiment on a dog. Because it’s mean.

    • Sarah

      Actually, studies have shown the dog, rather than being hard-wired, is responding to classical conditioning — likely something upsetting to the dog has happened when those words/that tone is used. Try just the tone sans threatening body language/posture/with a brand-new puppy or feral adult dog who has never had an unpleasant consequence applied when that tone/words are used, and you’ll see something quite different — indifference or even positive emotions. That doesn’t negate your argument regarding human guilt — if anything, it exposes the lie that “guilt means you’ve done something wrong.” Nope, just means someone else is trying to make you feel bad (and possibly applying unpleasant consequences at the same time)! Whether we’re hard-wired to respond to shaming I have no idea, but we’re certainly conditioned to accept others’ judgement.

      • fiftyfifty1

        Sure, dogs aren’t born knowing the meaning of human postures and tone. Why would specific human communication signals be hard-wired into dogs? The point is that dogs are social animals that are hard wired for picking up on and responding to the social pressures placed on them by others in their social circles. They may have to learn what cues mean “bad dog” coming from a human, but as soon as they do learn, they care. This is unlike my cat. I have tried to shame her many times and she just blinks at me. If I yell loud enough she runs away. And it’s not that she is too dumb to be classically conditioned. It took her all of 48 hours to connect the sound of the new automatic feeder machine with the idea of food.

        • Bugsy

          Typical cat!

          (I have three…love them, and their nonchalance always cracks me up.)

        • Alcharisi

          My late, lamented cat would just yowl back at me if I tried to shame her. The surviving cat is more typically nonchalant, and this has only increased as she has become more and more demented. (“Oh, my! Something has removed me from the nice warm keyboard! I’ll just have to walk in a circle and lie down there again! Surely it will work this time.”)

    • Busbus

      I agree. This statement it’s just unbelievably dumb. What about women who were raped and feel guilty and ashamed? Is that a sign that they really “know in their hearts they did something wrong and are to blame”? Of course not! What about someone who promised their friends they were going to do a horrible hing (let’s say, a crime or even a terrorist attack) but then back out at the last minute and feel guilty and ashamed for not pulling through and letting their friends down? Is their guilt proof that they did something wrong and should have gone ahead after all? Of course not. Or, less sordid, what about all the people in the past who felt incredibly guilty for masturbating, since it was supposedly a great sin? Did they really do something wrong? Not in my opinion.

      Society, our more accurately, the groups we are a part of, posess a powerful pull on us, for good or bad. Guilt may be a personal feeling, but it may also simply be a reaction to the fact that we did not behave the way “or group” tells us to behave.