Have you ever noticed that we refer to all animals as “he” unless we know for sure that they’re females?
If you referred to, say, a squirrel as “she,” people would say to you, “Wait, how do you know it’s a ‘she’?” But if you call it “he,” nobody asks you how you know it’s male.
In other words, maleness is the default. To be a female is to diverge from the norm – even though females are the majority.
If you have children, you’ll notice this pattern in picture books. An animal in a story is only a “she” if she has children that she’s looking after, or if she’s a male animal’s mate. All the other animals in children’s books are “he.”
Try something for a few weeks (or for good): Whenever you see an animal, or tell a story about one, call it “she” unless you’re sure it’s a male. In other words, reverse the societal habit.
Here’s what you’ll notice: You’ll start to perceive the animal as female.
I discovered this effect when my children were very young because I decided to refer to all unknown animals as female. “Oh, look at the river otter. Isn’t she amazing? Oh, see the chickadee on the bird feeder. Isn’t she adorable? Be careful with that strange dog, we don’t know if she’s aggressive or not.” And so forth.
And I noticed that they started to seem like she-animals to me.
The lesson to me was that what we call the beings around us shapes how we perceive them.
Children feel a close connection to animals, partly because kids are small and other animals tend to be smaller than humans. The fur probably helps too. So, the way children perceive animals can shape how they see the world. If we want to break away from having our kids see the world as inherently male, and see maleness as the norm, then calling animals “she” is a great way to point them in a better direction.
And it has good effects on adults, too.
There is a vast array of ways in which maleness is treated as the norm in modern society. To pick just one example out of dozens: the fields of psychology and psychiatry are deeply rooted in the notion that the emotional style typical of men is the normal and healthy way to be. Those fields view women as overly emotional, hysterical, and oversensitive. Emotional responses that are entirely normal in women – and that would in fact be much healthier ways for men to function – get defined as signs of instability.
If you’d like to dive into this last arena, read the outstanding book Women and Madness by Phyllis Chesler.
(The family courts are terrible on this point, discriminating against mothers for totally understandable and healthy emotional reactions.)
Therefore, when we train ourselves to think of animals as “she,” we’re retraining our brains; not just in how we perceive animals, but in how we perceive the whole world. It’s a great way to start freeing our minds, and our children’s minds, from the outlook that maleness is the natural and normal in the world.
I encourage you to try it.
P.S. As for people who say – as I know some will – “Well, isn’t it just as bad to make femaleness the norm?” the answer is simple: “No.” (I’ll try to resist the temptation to add, “Don’t be ridiculous.”) It will take centuries of retraining our brains to even get ourselves back to a good balance. Worry then about whether we’re at risk of tipping over in the other direction.
THE FIRST 3O PAGES OF LUNDY’S NEW BOOK
ARE NOW FREE FOR ANYONE TO READ!