Guest post by Dallas Rising
When invited to join the VINE team in a fundraising role, I knew I’d be walking into a world where I had much to learn. After spending nearly eight years at an organization as leader and teacher, stepping into a role where I would be working alongside pattrice has been challenging. I’m not alone in seeking out her writings and speeches as they reliably unearth blind spots of mine, and the lessons have been coming fast and furious since I’ve started. This post is my response to request she made that I share my experience processing one of the more surprising corrections I’ve gotten from her about language and writing appropriate for VINE communications.
Working on a project around the recent group of roosters rescued from cockfighting, I was crafting a piece asking for people to donate to help cover the costs of their intake and integration. When I sent a draft to pattrice, she told me never to use the term “boy” or “girl” when referring to an adult animal when writing for VINE.
I corrected the wording and moved on, but the exchange drew my attention to how frequently I use the terms “boys” and “girls” with adult nonhuman animals. I refer to the dogs and cats my husband and I have adopted as “our boys”. In the days following the feedback on my wording, I was aware of the myriad ways I use “boy” when talking to our dog and cat, Warren and Milo.
Who’s my precious boy?
Who’s my special boy?
What a handsome boy you are!
Come on baby boy, let’s get you your din.
You’re the most charming little boy.
Good boy! Good boy!
Why are you such a naughty boy?
And I noticed how I responded to other animals I don’t live with. Variations of the same, minus the “naughty” and plus an “it’s okay to be a shy girl.”
I understand the reasoning that it’s disrespectful to refer to adults as if they were children. I thought about how much easier it is to make decisions for animals when we infantilize them, which we do unconsciously through our language. Just as referring to an animal as “it” makes it easier for us to do cruel and painful things to them, referring to adult animals as “boys and girls” allows us to avoid the discomfort we should feel about how much power we have over them. It’s a tool that reinforces the notion we’re not bound to respect or listen to their requests or preferences. We tell ourselves we know what’s best for them, as parents “know” what’s best for their children.
Despite coming from a place of love and protection, could our using “boy” and “girl” as an affectionate term be reinforcing a paradigm of unquestioned power and control over the animals with whom we live and love?
Just as referring to an animal as “it” makes it easier for us to do cruel and painful things to them, referring to adult animals as “boys and girls” allows us to avoid the discomfort we should feel about how much power we have over them.
I love being called “girl” by certain people even though I’m a grown woman. My sister, my mom, my husband, and an affectionate friend who always makes me feel loved whenever we see one another. The difference here is these people don’t decide what and how much I eat and when, or when I can be outside or for how long, or what medical treatment I will receive. They can’t scoop me up and carry me whenever they want to. (My husband Brandon can currently do this but he knows better than to try.)
What do you think about calling adult animals “boys” and “girls”? Do you see a distinction between private and public use? What do you imagine you’d say instead if you were to give up “boys/girls”?