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.
Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash (fox)
Photo by paweldotio on Unsplash (elephants)
Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash (polar bears)
Photo by Gilles Rolland-Monnet on Unsplash (koala bear)
THE FIRST 3O PAGES OF LUNDY’S NEW BOOK
ARE NOW FREE FOR ANYONE TO READ!
So this got me thinking.. Why do people refer to
“vehicles” as “ she”…. Boats, cars etc? What was the premise way back when this began? Is it because these have been the play things of men?
Food for thought!
Liane Mann, LICSW
I hate to say it, but I suspect that’s exactly why.
This is so great!
My kids and I have had the habit of calling familiar animals him or her depending on which they are. But we tend to call all unfamiliar animals, ie wildlife, IT.
We would say, “Look at that squirrel, it is pretty.
I never realized we do this until I read your article.
I love that you have brought this to my attention.
I am going to start saying “she” and see what my kids say.
YES – you are the 1st person I have seen ever suggest this way of retraining the world. I have been doing it for years – probably almost 10 since I realized women were the deviants from the norm (thanks to Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner and the Dance of a Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd). Sue mentions that it is incredibly hard for the psyche of women to imagine a world different than what her language limits her too..and why so very many women stay asleep to their Feminine Wound – and thus stay asleep to being at the receiving hand of so much abuse.
I allowed myself to start just thinking about a female goddess version – a stout reborn again christian this felt sacrilegious. But I did it. Then I allowed myself to stat believing She was part of the Divine equation…and my world started to shift.
Then I started to look at other ways we always make men first, and started flipping the script:
* man and wife – wife and husband (why does he get to maintain his man*ness in the equation anywho? oh because traditionally one women were the ones that were bound by marriage….)
* he and she –> she and he
* his and her –> her and his
It was revolutionary….and now almost 10 years later automatic. A world that includes me just as much as him…well kind of.
I have attempted to share this idea with others when I can – but it will take people with your clout to get the word out there. Thank you!