Of course not. It not only sounds ridiculous, it IS ridiculous. But that's how I often feel about the term non-human animals too, even though I understand why it's used, and use it on occasion myself. So this post is about how we name the beings we care about and fight for, because after seven years of being vegan it's something I still haven't been able to resolve. Obviously I'm not alone in this what-to-name-other-animals quandary, as the more-than-qualified Vegan Feminist Agitator herself wrote a brilliant post on this very topic not so long ago. And I considered linking to her post and leaving it at that because I really don't want to repeat her many good points, but, my need to muddle through this in writing with you in the hopes of finally solving this maddening linguistic conundrum proved to be stronger. Ready?
So, what do we (what do you?) call other animals when you're trying to convey that humans are animals too? Because sadly, we often forget or even actively squash our own animalness when trying to differentiate ourselves. Specifically, how do you refer to other beings who* are animals but not human animals? And how can we do this without implying that human animals are somehow superior, or the norm? Because as we know, naming is crucial in how we identify and interact with others. Naming is not neutral, is not objective, but determines from the outset how something or someone (or whether something is in fact someone) will be treated.
[* Spelling and grammar check suggested who should be that. Naturally I disagreed.]
The problem of course with the term "non-male humans" is that it posits male humans as the norm and places female humans in the category of Other. (Now I would argue that in practice we still act as if women deviate from the norm, but at least our language reflects an ideal of treating men and women as equals.) Unfortunately, the term "non-human animals" does the same thing (in this case positing human animals as the norm), except that it doesn't sound as ludicrous. Perhaps this is because we're so used to the term, or because speciesism is ingrained enough that even vegans haven't quite outgrown our outmoded language.
Back to the question: How do we refer to other animals?
- non-human animals
- humans and other animals
- other animals
- other beings
- sentient beings
- insert your term here
Of those eight terms I try to avoid using animals as much as possible because for most folk that word excludes humans. I also try (but often fail) to avoid non-human animals for the reasons discussed above. Humans and other animals is a bit cumbersome so I tend to shorten it to other animals. I like sentient beings quite a lot, and will often use that, in addition to beings or other beings. The only term that I haven't really used even though I see it a fair bit is earthlings, not because I don't think it appropriate, but because for some odd reason (maybe I've read or watched too much sci-fi?) the word always makes me think of Martians. And I mean always, snort.
Sadly, I slip and sometimes find myself using animals (see how ubiquitous animal use really is?) when I don't actually mean to, so I wish I could settle on one term once and for all. One term that is clear, compact, and sounds just right.
What about you? How have you solved the problem of what to call those not called Maria? ;)