Reading Time: 2 minutes PETA wants to foster empathy in young children (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Vegan charity PETA has written to a publisher urging it to update the pronouns used for animals in a popular series of children’s books.

The organization wants animals in the That’s Not My… children’s book series to be referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’ instead of using the inanimate pronoun ‘it’.

‘Empathy for all sentient beings’

“We applaud Fiona Watt’s award-winning work, which has undoubtedly sparked children’s interest in animals worldwide…As you know, words
matter. The wrong choice of words can send a mixed message to even the youngest of readers about the relationship between humans and other animals and the importance of empathy,” PETA said in its letter.

“The way we talk about animals must adapt to reflect a more modern understanding of them. By making this change, you would be encouraging your readers and their families to think about the language they use and how it might perpetuate negative attitudes toward animals.

“For example, as the series currently exists, animal characters such as the frog, hamster, and lamb share the pronoun ‘it’ with the tractor and car, suggesting that the animals are inanimate objects rather than living beings with feelings. Teaching children from a young age to use inclusive language is one step toward a feeling of empathy for all sentient beings.”

‘Words matter’

“Words matter, and referring to animals as objects only serves to widen the perceived but nonexistent gulf between us and them,” PETA Director, Elisa Allen, said in a statement.

“PETA is encouraging this leader in children’s literature to do right by animals and young readers by using language that shows respect for every living, feeling being.”

Language and animals

The issue of how the language we use around animals flavors our relationship to them has been explored multiple times. Revd Professor Andrew Linzey, Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, covered the issue in the 2011Journal of Animal Ethics, which was published by The Centre in collaboration with the University of Illinois.

The volume argued that the way we speak about animals – particularly when it comes to derogatory language – affects how they are treated.

“We shall not be able to think clearly unless we discipline ourselves to use less than partial adjectives in our exploration of animals and our moral relations with them, ” said the volume.

Maria Chiorando

Maria is a news and features writer for Plant Based News. As a former magazine editor, newspaper reporter, and features writer, her work has been published by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and various regional newspapers, as well as Vegan Life magazine and Vegan Trade Journal. She has interviewed a huge range of people, from Prime Ministers to authors, activists, pop stars and actors, and enjoys the varied range of topics writing for PBN allows her to tackle. She was previously the editor of Plant Based News for over 3 years.