Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Gendering Animals

 We be of one blood, you and I.


Animals have gender.

Animals—by which I mean, of course, non-human animals—are male and female, just like we are.*

Why then, in English, do we refer to animals as “it”?

If you think that there are religious implications here, you're right.

“Animals” are our kin. As such, they deserve to be accorded dignity and treated with respect.

As such, they deserve to be spoken of as he or she, not it.

In standard journalistic style sheets, named animals—by which is meant, those on whom human beings have bestowed names, like Lassie, Bambi, or Cecil—get to be dignified with gendered pronouns. So-called “unnamed” animals, however, merit only an inanimate it.

Well, screw that, say I. Just who do we think we are?

But wait, you say: How do I know if that squirrel in the tree is male or female?

Oh for gods' sakes. Do you honestly mean to say that you can't tell?

And you call yourself a pagan?


*Biologically speaking, of course, the situation is rather more complicated than that, but let's start there for now.


Photo: Paul B. Rucker


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper Sunday, 19 August 2018

    Well, if you are discussing mammals and birds, yes. With snails and slugs, they are either "it" or "both gendered." Going further into invertebrates, you will find that binary gender is meaningless. Reptiles and insects have cases of females procreating without males. So that brings another dimension to the discussion of gender and sex.

    "It" can be appropriate depending on the animal. I would prefer "They" and "Them."
    Your friendly "Animal Wisdom" fellow blogger.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 19 August 2018

    Thanks, Virginia: the better that we know others, the better we know ourselves.

    That said, in the nature of things, we're probably more likely to be discussing a cow, or a turkey, or a honeybee than we are a snail or a slug.

    I'll tell you. Some species. ;)

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Sunday, 19 August 2018

    I'm afraid you're confusing gender with biological sex. Gender is grammatical, a product of language, which is a product of culture. We call a ship she, yet it is not even alive; we even call a ship she if she bears the name of a human male. In languages other than English, many things are called he or she which have no biological sex.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 20 August 2018

    Yes, thank Goddess English shed its grammatical genders 1000 years ago, as Old English morphed into Middle.
    But no, there's no confusion here, Erin. The distinction between (biological) sex and (ascribed) gender that you speak of is a function of the human animal.
    When speaking of non-human animals, however, the two terms are, in effect, synonymous.
    "Sexing animals," after all, means something else.

  • tehomet
    tehomet Monday, 20 August 2018

    The distinction between (biological) sex and (ascribed) gender that you speak of is a function of the human animal.


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