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This is the second of two posts about cruel practices in horse industries. The first was about horse racing.

Yesterday we covered the abuse of horses in horse racing; in this post we discuss a recent video released by the Humane Society. The video highlights an instance of a larger issue, which is how arbitrary human tastes can create incentives for cruelty.

The concern revolves around the Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH), a breed developed in the U.S. in the late 1800s and bred to have smooth gaits, including their distinctive “running walk,”  that are unusual in most breeds. Over time, a more exaggerated version became popular among show judges and spectators at TWH shows; called the “big lick,” it requires horses to shift their weight to their back legs and pick their front legs high off the ground. Fans enjoyed the flashy, unusual movements and horses that performed the gait began taking home more prizes. This created a powerful incentive to get horses to exhibit the unnaturally exaggerated gait.

How do you get this gait? It’s possible to get some horses to do so through careful training. But to speed up the process, or for horses that aren’t learning, trainers developed a range of techniques. These first two are still allowed, under varying circumstances, during training and in the show ring:

  • Using padding and weighted shoes to change how the horse stands and moves its feet (akin to how high heels shift a person’s weight and stance).
  • Placing chains around the tops of their hooves to encourage them to pick their feet up more highly than they would otherwise (presumably they’re irritating).
However, some trainers use prohibited versions of these two items, using pads and chains that were not within the allowable height and weight.
The next three techniques are illegal, but many insiders argue that they are still common.  I warn you now: much of this post from this point on will be very upsetting for many readers.
  • Place screws or nails in different parts of their front hooves or soles to cause discomfort.  While horses’ hooves are hard, the soles are quite sensitive.  The screws or nails make it painful for the horse to put its front legs down, so it shifts its weight back, helping to attain the gait.
  • Intentionally cut the horse’s front hooves so short that the sensitive sole hits the ground directly, which is extremely painful (think of what happens if your fingernail gets cut or broken off too short).
  • Coating a horse’s hooves and lower legs with caustic substances, then wrapping them in plastic wrap, for as long as several days, until they’re very sore — a process called, aptly, “soring.” This causes the horse to shift weight to its back legs in an effort to reduce the pain from the front feet. This is often used in conjunction with chains, which irritate and rub up against the raw skin.

Many inspectors argue that these practices, once widely accepted in the industry, are still common today. Recently the Humane Society released undercover footage of training practices at Whitter Stables, a facility in Collierville, TN that has been the center of a federal investigation. It is a very distressing video that includes many of the practices listed above, as well as horses being whipped when they have difficulty standing:

In 1970, Congress passed the Horse Protection Act, which outlawed the exhibition of sored horses. So trainers have developed techniques to hide them; they paint horses’ hooves and legs to cover evidence of soring or use boots to cover tacks embedded in their hooves.

They also beat them so that they learn not to show any sign of pain when inspected before a show.  They do this by simulating an inspection and then punishing the horse if it shows any signs of distress (e.g., punching or hitting them in the face or administering an electric shock).  Eventually horses learn that if they flinch, they get hurt twice; hiding signs of pain prevents the infliction of more suffering.

Trainers may also use a fast-acting but short-term numbing agent to reduce the pain just long enough to pass inspections. Other trainers and owners simply leave a show if word gets out that USDA inspectors were present.

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association argues that these practices are not widespread. However, in 2006 the last class in the World Grand Champion competition at the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration (the TWH show equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, in terms of importance) was canceled because of the 10 entered horses, 5 did not pass the inspection and another was removed by the owner without being inspected. In 2009, the USDA issued over 400 violations at the Celebration.

A USDA report states the organization only had the resources to send their own veterinarians to 6% of official TWH shows in 2007; the other 94% were inspected by individuals hired, trained, and licensed by organizations sponsoring shows, a system the USDA found to be plagued by conflicts of interest. The report also noted that hostility toward USDA inspectors is so high that they routinely bring police or armed security with them to shows.

Jackie McConnell, the trainer in the video, has been indicted on federal charges. But without sustained attention and commitment to punishing violators, the problem will continue due to the pressure to produce horses that satisfy the tastes that have become entrenched in the industry. As one industry insider explained to Horse Illustrated magazine in 2004,

As long as the big lick wins at shows, the trainer must produce it to stay in business….The day a trainer stops producing big lick horses is the day all the horses in his or her barn are removed and taken to another trainer.  The pressure is enormous.


Gwen Sharp and Lisa Wade are professors of sociology. You can follow Gwen on Twitter and Lisa on Twitter and Facebook.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

In a collection of alcohol ads from the 1960s and ’70s, Retronaut included an ad that is a nice example of how marketers sometimes co-opt social movements.  In this case, the co-optation works against the movement, sending the opposite message that it intended.

“I never even thought of burning my bra until I discovered Smirnoff,” says a woman with bedroom eyes.   The message, of course, is not that a woman who drinks the vodka will become politicized; instead, it is that Smirnoff will “loosen her up” and facilitate seduction.

We’ve posted other examples of this phenomenon, including a series of Playboy illustrations that co-opted the feminist movement (“Male supremacy is all right — but I favor a different position”) as well as the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.  We’ve also collected instances of feminist rhetoric being used to market a wide range of products and, of course, there’s always the remarkable “torches of freedom” pro-smoking campaigns.

The bra-burning story, incidentally, is a myth.  In 1968 feminists protested outside of the Miss America pageant; they threw many items deemed oppressive into a trash can: bras, yes, as well as cosmetics, high heels, etc.  They didn’t light the trash can on fire.  The idea that they burned bras was added later, in an effort to link the Women’s Movement to the Anti-War Movement (remember that draftees were burning their draft cards).  The Anti-War Movement was, at the time, being taken more seriously, so the link was meant to give feminism more credibility.  Instead, the idea of feminists burning bras became a humorous cultural trope, hence the ad above.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.





While the last fifty years have been characterized by increasing freedoms for women, this has not been true for men to the same degree.  Women have entered masculine arenas throughout society, from where they work to what they wear, but men have not been freed to pursue feminine interests.  Men still face teasing, ridicule, stigma, or even violence for daring to do “girly” things.  Being a dancer or an elementary school teacher comes with raised eyebrows, askew glances, and questions as to one’s sexual orientation; enjoying “chick flicks” or preferring Cosmos to Coronas likely attracts teasing; and wearing a dress or high heels is essentially tolerated only on Halloween.

So girly things are still a no man’s land.


Unless a very high status man — a man whose masculinity is undeniable, a leader among men — explores that land and plants a man flag.  If a man is so manly as to have begun to define manliness itself, then that man can change the very definition, thereby de-feminizing, and therefore de-stigmatizing an activity.  What once would have been cause for ridicule suddenly becomes unremarkable, i.e., man-approved.

Marco Roso, of DIS Magazine, sent me an example of such a transformation: the alice band.  Known to Americans as headbands,” an alice band is a loop or horseshoe-shaped hair accessory designed to push hair back away from the face.  It is a distinctly feminine accessory.  Or at least it was.  European footballers have begun wearing them to keep their hair back while playing.  While  a man lower on the masculine social hierarchy may have been teased relentlessly for donning such a girl-associated item, these high-status, wildly-admired men seem to be changing the social construction of the alice band.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In 1991 writer and cultural critic Katha Pollitt coined the phrase “The Smurfette Principle” to draw attention to the tendency for movies, TV shows, and other cultural products to include one, and just one female (source). For the unfamiliar, The Smurfs was a children’s television show, airing from 1981 to 1989, populated by a whole world of little blue men and one (sexy) blue woman:


In her latest in the series Tropes vs. Women, Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian applies The Smurfette Principle to today’s movies and shows.  How far have we come?


For more tropes, see Sarkeesian on The Manic Pixie DreamGirl and Women in Refrigerators.

Transcript after the jump:


Eight readers — Christine B., Hermes, Yvette, Hope H., Tyler D., Pris S., John G., and Dmitrity T.M. — alerted us to a photo spread in the December issue of French Vogue. The series of photographs is another piece of evidence of the adultification of young girls, an adultification that looks suspiciously like child porn, given the sexualization of adult women.  New York Magazine reports that the girls are 6 years old.  Don’t miss the lipstick, high heels, and disinterested pouts.

The thing is: the adultification/sexualization of young girls is paralleled by a infantilization of adult women.  This adds up to a conflation of women and children which serves to uphold prejudice against adult women and the exploitation of girls.

More at Gawker.

For more on the infantilization of adult women, see our posts on lady spanking, Glee, this collection of examples, a vintage example, and the Halloween edition.

For more on the adultification/sexualization of young girls, see our posts on sexually suggestive teen brandsadultifying children of color, “trucker girl” baby booties“future trophy wife” kids’ tee, House of Dereón’s girls’ collection, “is modesty making a comeback?“, more sexualized clothes and toyssexist kids’ tees, a trifecta of sexualizing girls, a zebra-striped string bikini for infants, a nipple tassle t-shirt, even more icky kids’ t-shirts, “are you tighter than a 5th grader?” t-shirt, the totally gross “I’m tight like spandex” girls’ t-shirt, a Halloween costume post, and girls in the World of Dance tour.

And, yes, it happens to boys too.  For examples of the sexualization of young boys, see our posts on Lil’ Wayne’s virginity loss, the depiction of a 13-year-old boy having a relationship with his teacher, the sexy marketing of both Jaden Smith and Justin Bieber, with a follow up here.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Rachel sent in a commercial for Dove chocolate that, as she says, sends “mixed messages…about unrealistic beauty standards for women.” Here’s the video:


We’re only human, but we try to be perfect.
We pretend that high heels are comfortable, and that waxing just takes getting used to.
We pretend we can manage anything that’s thrown at us, and sometimes we can.
And other times, we just have to cut ourselves some slack, and take a moment.
Because although we’re only human, that’s more than enough.
Your moment, your Dove.

The commercial seems to want to have it both ways. On the one hand, trappings of conventional femininity (heels, waxing, as well as being a superwoman who can handle “anything that’s thrown at us”) are accepted as “perfection,” elements of an ideal version of us we aspire to. On the other hand, it’s drawing on the idea that we should just accept ourselves — we’re “more than enough” — but in a way that implies that we have to do this not because there’s something wrong with an ideal of perfection that requires women to put ourselves through painful rituals, but just because sometimes we can’t manage to meet that ideal and have to give ourselves a break and eat some chocolate (of course!) to console ourselves before we get up the energy to throw ourselves back into the search for perfection again. As we often see in advertising, it uses a women’s empowerment message (you’re great the way you are! You can do anything!) in a superficial way that simply suggests consumption as a solution rather than truly challenging the beauty ideals it appears to be critiquing.

Thanks to Raluca-Elena, I am now disturbed to discover that the makers of heelarious, fake high heels for infant girls, are now selling teethers in the shape of a credit card with the name “Ima Spender.” Get it?

Let’s train those girls to consume above their means before they even get their first teeth!

Okay okay, infants aren’t going to get the joke. But why is it so funny to encourage infant girls to grow up to be shallow, gold digging, divas?  Or is this me stereotyping the high-fashion-conscious?

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.