December 20, 2016

- ‘But, who’s the top dog?

- ‘I’m the top dog.’

- ‘No, who is the alpha? You know, the one in charge?’

- ‘I’m the top dog.’

This common exchange above inspired the title of this oral history project: ‘She’s the Top Dog,’ a play on so many concepts: on the gender-neutral term ‘musher’, and of the power of a story told as truth, without being challenged. This project is a celebration of the varied and beautiful stories of women and their dog teams, told in their own words, women at all stages of their teams, from women just starting to women who have been in the sport for 20 plus years, champions of 1,000 mile races and champions of sprint races, and women who never race at all. Women with 60 dogs and women with 6.

 As mushers, we do acknowledge and expect an equitable environment, an inclusive space of men and women competing and traveling together, where women notice our genders when we have to pee but do not always feel the constant male gaze. And yet, once we leave the runners and the trail, there is a very different system of power at work. There is a compelling story of alternative forms of life, as it is when we leave mainstream expectations for life at the fringes.

There is something wonderfully important about the stories told from women and their dog teams. The presence of women in certain roles in the world is becoming less rare and more ordinary, and in the transition from rare to ordinary I have become fascinated with the opportunity to raise up all these voices. The power and energy that emerges through their stories is honest and clear, of the beauty and bonds of these lives. It is public narrative, writ with similarities and powerful individual stories. The format is storytelling, but also mapped with numbers and with network maps.

Presenter Bio: Sally Manikian (National Class 2015) lives a life of persistent inquiry. Home is the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where she lives with and cares for her disabled brother and sister as well as the 16 dogs of the Shady Pines Sled Dogs. She has been a musher for nearly a decade, and has been training and racing her own team for six years, racing 100 mile and 250 mile races, including the UP200 and the Can Am 250 in Maine. Sally works for The Conservation Fund as the New Hampshire and Vermont Representative, and is also a freelance writer and engaged community member. 

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