September 06

Like a Dog

 

Sarah Mcinerney is one of RTE’s rising political journalists. She is in the new line up for DriveTime slot. She is a tough interviewer. When you discover that Vincent Brown is her mentor, you understand why.

In a recent interview, she said, “There is a word that is sometimes used to describe me – ‘aggressive’. And I wonder if it would be used to describe a man? I don’t know.” She then adds, “And there’s also this ‘Rottweiler’ [image] that people sometimes use to describe me. I would talk to my husband about it and ask him: ‘Am I aggressive? Am I a Rottweiler?'”

Metaphors are a way of understanding one thing in terms of another. A metaphor goes beyond the surface appearance and says something about  inner qualities. Used across most cultures, and they can evoke a strong emotional response. Those that describe Mcinerney as a rottweiler are asking us to understand her inner qualities in a particular way, and react to that emotionally.

You do not have to be Freud to know that it a negative attribution. Robert and Barbara Sommer carried out a series of studies that help us understand why. When they asked university students to rate animals commonly used as metaphors for people they found that in general animal metaphors are negative, as we view ourselves as being elevated above the animal kingdom.

Her husband, she says, views the world in which she works “as a bit of a zoo.” But big cats live in zoos, and these are the most positive animal metaphors attributed to men. Think Richard the Lionheart, or the current popularity of keeping big cats as pets, as exemplified by Tiger King

Unlike big cats, dog metaphors are negative. The Sommers found they were used to describe someone who was disliked or ugly. On rare occasions there was a playful aspect, when it was  used as a term of affection.

Mcinerary has an interesting take on what it takes to thrive in the media zoo. “”If I am preparing for a big meeting or negotiating – I am self-employed – I will always discuss it at length with my husband. And I will say to him ‘is this what a man would say?'” So has she succeeded here  at a metaphorical level – as the Sommers found that dog metaphors were used only to describe men.

Nevertheless, she is uncomfortable with the rottweiler metaphor – she has changed it.

In speaking with her husband, “And only recently he said he thinks I am more like a bloodhound,” she laughs. “What a romantic conversation. [But he said] ‘you are not attacking [guests], you are following the scent. So I said ‘OK, I am not a Rottweiler, I am a bloodhound’.”

According to Symbolic Modelling Theory we operate using self-guiding metaphors, often in a non conscious way. When we become aware of these metaphors we can determine whether they have a faulty logic, which do not serve us. If they don’t serve us, we can work to change them so they do.

Mcinerney seems to demonstrate a flexibility in adapting metaphors so that they become a resource.

She is a good journalist, our hope is that this metaphor serves her well, and when she needs to, she can continue to change it to a more resourceful metaphor.