What is the first thought that pops into your head when you look at the picture of this pit bull? Are you fearful, angry, sympathetic, happy? In general, people looking at this photo would feel threatened and scared. This breed has a stigma of being a threatening, vicious, and dangerous breed of dog that will bite attack at any second. The media portrays pit bulls as unpredictable beasts towards humans. Attacks stemming from this breed are always on the news, while the multiple attacks that occur from different breeds every day are never publicized. Why is this? They are often portrayed as guard dogs, participants in illegal drug activity and dog fighting, and big stocky dogs that have “jaws that lock and won’t let go”. However, in reality, these dogs were bred to be “babysitters” and docile but alert watchdogs. Because of their look and physical body structure, they have been exploited and genetically tainted to be “scary”. Their “breed” (the term pit bull refers to the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier, all of which are genetically and temperamentally different breeds) was, as I said, bred to be loyal, affectionate, and very good with children. So, there is an obvious social stigma that has been placed on this dog through no fault of their own.
Erving Goffman defined stigma as “the process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity”. This is obviously seen in the reaction and general view towards pit bulls. However, this stigma extends to people around the breed as well. Many media reports describe this dog as deviant and owned by racial minorities or marginalized people. Of course, there is dog fighting that does happen on a day-to-day basis, as unfortunate as it is. However, by no means is this dog just a “fighter”. There are so many pit bull owners who adopt these dogs to be good babysitters for their children, or to have for a good laugh every day. Many of these owners obtain this dog to try to break that stigma, since they see the qualities of the dog that should be publicized, not hidden. These owners also often receive a “bad rap” for owning this breed, even if they are normal people with families and good backgrounds. That is the unfortunate reality of stigmas… they are often unable to be broken.
- What else in society is stigmatized? Is it legitimate or socially constructed?
- Do you think stigmas can be abolished, and if so, how?