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Our blend of humanity
The world is a wondrous place of diversity where communities can make their own rules. Sometimes our binary language gets in the way of our understanding.
The common garden mole can switch between being male and female, depending on what they are doing. They can get pregnant and have a kid, then switch back to being predominantly testosterone-driven to get through the daily grind of digging themselves into a hole (Take peace in this if you think your job sucks, there are garden moles that dig holes with their claws day in, day out). Male seahorses give birth and bonobos will use sex instead of aggression to soothe social conflict with pretty much anyone in their community.
I think that sometimes our language gets in the way of us fully comprehending the spectrum of variations in the natural world, as well as in our own society. The Germanic and Roman languages (English, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, French) designate genders onto animate and inanimate objects. In German, a table, Tisch, is masculine, in French, a village is masculine, a capital city, feminine.
In English, we may not use gender to talk about inanimate objects, but we often let it creep into how we talk about animals. A dog at first glance is masculine, unless clarified, a cat, the opposite. More often than not, if an animal’s gender is unclear, the default is “he”. Sometimes we apply that to humans and job titles as well. We let unconscious bias play out in this way all the time.
But the thing is this - language is malleable and always changing, societies take all forms. Together, we create the rules.
Let me give you an example of how changes starts with a handful of people, and then expands. In the case of Sweden, it started with a children’s book. Jesper Lundqvist’s Kivi and Monsterhund had a protagonist that went by hen, an existing word that meant gender-neutral. Unlike most of our narratives around gender-neutrality or queerdom, there was no adversity or conflict as a result of this pronoun, the character just was. Now the word has become so common that the majority of Swedes use it in their day-to-day descriptors, and unconsciously it’s changing their biases.
When I’ve spoken about using “they” in product design, alot of the in-house backlash is that it’s grammatically incorrect. Grammar was once written by a group of people and then adopted, and people have the power to change it based on the society they want to live in.
What if we choose to take gender out of the language and treated each person like they had a personality unique to them, unless they specify otherwise?
That way, we increase our capacity to let everyone feel like they belong.
In order to learn about other humans and animals, we have to have a level of open-hearted acceptance and curiosity, because we’re still debunking the biases that were set by early science. The only way we can unravel these assumptions is by being present with each situation, person or data point and letting the wonder and curiosity drive our process. I think that’s partially why Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr Karl and others are so captivating.
No one is without bias. Just be ready to abandon your cherished thoughts and ideas and to have your stuff checked in the face of conflicting evidence. Do whatever it takes to not fool yourself into thinking something that is true, when it's not, or thinking something that is not true that is true. The pathway is not straight, it's curved and it has off ramps that leads nowhere. There's alot of experimenting happening. There's no answers at the back of the book. - Neil deGrasse Tyson
Lionesses can grown manes and exhibit bisexual behaviour. Same-sex penguins can raise children together. There are animals that are the boldest of the litter, and those that are timid and cautious.* What if we accept all of the differences in animals, and in doing so, accept our own special variety of humanity?
*I am purposely omitting the brutality that exists in the animal world. We’ve got enough violence and suffering in our narratives, thanks.