My Chihuahua, Freenie, apparently reads as masculine to many people. For starters, her name is gender-neutral. She’s a tough Chi, and none of her accessories are particularly gendered. When people refer to Freenie as “he,” I usually don’t correct them. Even a vet tech once called her “him.” If I later refer to Freenie as “she” or “her,” the human I am interacting with will often apologetically correct themselves. “Oh, sorry! I thought it was a boy.”
Does Freenie give a poop? Something tells me she doesn’t think about it.
Yet it bothers a lot of us when people get our dog’s sex wrong. Dog owners often feel the need to correct others who use the wrong pronouns for their dog. Gender norms are so ingrained in our society’s language and thoughts, so people are sensitive to the language itself. Many Western languages have masculine and feminine pronouns as well as nouns. Other languages have a single pronoun for everyone.
Technically, animals do not have “genders.” Gender is often defined academically as social roles based on the sex of the person as designated and taught by culture. Sex, on the other paw, is the biological makeup of an individual’s reproductive anatomy or secondary sex characteristics.
Sexuality and gender are not the same thing, though they are often mentioned in the same breath. Same-sex sexual behavior is not rare in the animal kingdom. But that’s a tail for another time!
Gender stereotypes are so pervasive in our culture that they are often applied to things other than humans. Our society has a need to categorize when it comes to gender. Our children’s toys for example—girls are given dolls and boys are given trucks. (Though it’s changed a lot in recent decades.) Dog toys aren’t gendered as much as human children’s toys. For one thing, dogs can’t differentiate between “boy” colors and “girl” colors. You won’t likely see princess dolls or monster trucks for dogs; dogs get wooly mammoths and bottles with messages inside them, as well as a menagerie of animals, balls, ropes, you name it.
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