Personal pronouns for nonhuman animals should be “he/she/they” and “who”

The love of all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man
The love of all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man. Image: MikeB
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The Humane Society of the United States’ internal style guide has long recommended that staffers refer to animals has “he/she/they” and “who”. An effort is also underway to call on the Associated Press to update its style guide’s recommendation on the use of personal pronouns for nonhuman animals.

Shelter and rescue communications can help reinforce animals’ humanity by embracing the use of personal pronouns

The Humane Society of the United States

This is an interesting topic for me because it goes to the heart of our relationship with animals. It speaks volumes about animal rights and whether we are interacting with nonhuman animals from a position of near equality rather than one of complete ‘dominion’ as referenced in the Bible.

Are words and the use of language important in changing attitudes?

Absolutely, words and language are crucial in changing attitudes. Here’s why:

  • Shaping Perception: Language frames how we understand the world. Words can highlight certain aspects of an issue, influencing how sympathetic we are or what blame we assign.
  • Challenging Stereotypes: Inclusive language can dismantle stereotypes. For instance, instead of saying “girls are good at math too,” we can simply say “girls are good at math,” avoiding the implication that math is usually a boys’ domain.
  • Sparking Empathy: Language can foster understanding. Sharing stories and experiences allows people to connect with different perspectives, potentially leading to more empathy and acceptance.
  • Driving Movements: Powerful language is a key tool for social movements. Slogans, speeches, and media narratives can raise awareness, inspire action, and rally support for change.

This two-way street works both ways. Language reflects changing attitudes too. New terms and evolving usage can signal a shift in social norms.

Language molds societal attitudes. It can change human behaviour as can the law. It is working backwards if you like. Humans create language and decide on its use based on attitudes. Humans can then modify language away from its typical usage to change attitudes. As mentioned above it works both ways.

I have always referred to an unnamed cat as ‘she’ or ‘he’; never ‘it’. The veterinarians who authored the best-selling book on home veterinary care: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, always refer to cats as ‘she’. A nice touch as it is a countermeasure against the usual default ‘he’.

Dr Desmond Morris, the amazing zoologist, author and painter, referred to cats as ‘it’ indicating a change in attitudes since his work was published first in 1986. Times have changed. Animal welfare has improved and personal pronouns for animals are changing too.

Here is an infographic I created on what PETA stands for (link to the page). They’d be delighted with the drive to change the usual use of pronouns for animals – ‘it’. PETA’s MO and policy is based on animals being treated as equal as possible.

The purpose is to regard animals as nonhuman animals in reference to the fact that humans are animals too. We are the same in so many ways. When you drill down there is very little difference which is why when you have the attitude that I have, sport hunting looks so barbaric as does practices such as declawing.

For there to be a paradigm shift in animal welfare worldwide humankind needs to use the pronouns in the title. Developing countries are very far from this state of affairs sadly. A lot of animal abuse comes from developing countries. The more refined a country is the more extensive animal welfare is.

What PETA really stands for. Infographic.
What PETA really stands for. Infographic.

Here is the tweet that got me thinking about this. Cassandra is a fellow hater of cat declawing. Never met her but I like her.

Asking Google Gemini the following question: “Can you give me some examples where changing language has changed attitudes?” produced the following response:

Absolutely! Language and attitudes have a fascinating two-way street relationship. Here are a few examples of how changing language can influence attitudes:

  • Gendered language: Terms like “chairman” or “businessman” have historically excluded women. As we’ve shifted to gender-neutral terms like “chairperson” or “businessperson,” it reflects and reinforces a changing attitude towards gender equality in the workplace.
  • Inclusive language: Many communities are moving away from terms that are considered insensitive or outdated. For instance, replacing “disabled” with “differently abled” reflects a shift towards a more positive and empowering view of people with disabilities.
  • Reclaiming slurs: Some marginalized groups have begun reclaiming words that were once used as slurs against them. This can be a way to take back power and redefine the term. For example, the LGBTQ+ community’s use of the word “queer.”
  • Evolving terminology: The field of mental health is constantly evolving, and the language used to describe conditions does too. Replacing terms like “crazy” with “mentally ill” shows a greater understanding and empathy towards mental health struggles.

These are just a few examples, and language change is always ongoing. As societies evolve, the way we talk about things does too, reflecting and shaping our attitudes towards each other and the world around us.

Did the reference in the Bible to dominion over animals harm animal welfare and rights?

The concept of dominion over animals in the Bible (particularly Genesis 1:26) has been a source of debate regarding animal welfare and rights. Here’s a breakdown of the different perspectives:

  • Dominion as Responsibility: Some argue that dominion implies responsible care. Humans, created in God’s image, have a duty to manage the Earth and its creatures wisely, ensuring their well-being and flourishing. This view emphasizes stewardship and sustainability.
  • Dominion as Exploitation: Others interpret dominion as granting humans unrestricted rights to use animals for food, labor, or experimentation. This perspective has been linked to practices some consider cruel or exploitative.
  • Changes in Interpretation: The Bible was written in a different historical context. Some argue that our understanding of animal sentience and ecology has evolved. The concept of dominion may need to be reinterpreted for the modern world.

Overall, the Bible’s influence on animal treatment is complex. It can be used to justify both respectful and harmful practices. Many religious groups are actively reassessing the concept of dominion in light of contemporary concerns about animal welfare.

Here are some additional points to consider:

  • Other parts of the Bible, like Proverbs 12:10 (“The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the hearts of the wicked are cruel”), emphasize kindness towards animals.
  • The rise of secular ethics and animal rights movements has also played a role in shaping attitudes towards animal welfare.

Whether the Bible has directly harmed animal welfare is a matter of ongoing debate. It certainly provides a foundation for some perspectives, but it’s ultimately how people interpret these ideas that shapes real-world actions.

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