Lady Freethinker has joined more than 80 leaders in animal welfare and conservation in sending the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook a memo this week — “it” is out when referring to nonhuman animals.
The collective push — championed by Animals & Media and In Defense of Animals, and supported by organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Sentient Media, and the Journal of Critical Animal Studies and Animal Sentience — notes that words carry weight.
In an open letter to Lead Stylebook Editor Paula Froke, the organizations acknowledge that nonhuman animals are sentient beings who deserve to be referred to as “he,” “she,” or “they” — not “it.”
“Conscious beings cannot be described similarly to cars, or couches, as ‘it’ and ‘that’ and ‘which,’” the letter reads. “It is inaccurate and unjust to describe nonhuman animals as if they were inanimate objects, yet it’s done every single day — and writers are instructed to do so at the behest of widely-used and respected style guides, such as The Associated Press Stylebook.”
Current AP style rules already acknowledge that animals have a rightful place within the proposed personal pronouns; the guidebook advises writers to drop the “it” for animals with names, as in “Bernard the parakeet had a concerned look on his face as he watched the two children approach his cage.”
Lauren Easton, the global director of media relations for the Associated Press, told Lady Freethinker that the organization plans to consider the changes in the coming year.
“AP Stylebook editors carefully weigh changes to the Stylebook with an eye to making the news report clear, fair, accurate, consistent and easy for audiences to understand,” Easton said. “The team also considers how many changes can be reasonably incorporated in our daily work. AP staff produce huge amounts of material under deadline pressure. There is only so much bandwidth for new rules each year.”
The letter’s signers emphasized that dehumanizing language that distances people from the subjects — such as “it” — influences people’s perceptions and treatment of the beings in question. In the case of nonhuman animals, distancing language contributes to people’s continued exploitation of other species, added Alicia Graef of In Defense of Animals.
“We have to recognize the consciousness, the needs and rights of animals, whether we’re talking about the tiniest mice used in animal experiments, the millions of land and aquatic animals who are raised and killed in an inherently cruel and unsustainable agricultural system, our companion animals, or wild animals who need us to protect them and their habitats more than ever,” Graef said in a press release.
The AP regularly reviews and changes style recommendations to accommodate for the changing nature of language and society. Its guide has been updated annually since 1985, with most amendments taking place in May.
Last year saw a number of changes, with most focused on a shift to “person first” language that used descriptions, rather than labels, to identify subjects. Other renowned language experts, including the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), noted that “using specifics for individuals is less likely to fall into stereotypes or offend.”
So “the homeless” became “people experiencing homelessness” or “people without houses,” and “elderly” became “older Americans” — changes that afforded greater dignity and inherent value to those involved. Froke, who did not respond immediately for this story, told CJR that “the point here is not the extent of the pushback that we got, but rather the logic of what a lot of these folks were saying.”
Using that logic, animals are perfect candidates for the proposed language changes, which supporters say are more inclusive, more respectful, and less likely to perpetuate stereotypes, suffering, and exploitation.
A growing body of peer-reviewed studies emphasize that animals are sentient — capable of feeling joy, pain, grief, compassion, and altruism. Multiple scientists supporting the changes, including renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, also noted that the attitudes of science — like language — have changed over time.
“Thankfully, we have come very far in our understanding of the other animals with whom we share this planet,” Goodall said via press release. “As we face devastating losses and cruelty to individuals and species, we must do everything we can to help people recognize the sentience and innate value of other animals.”
Poll results are in!! More than 98% of you said you agreed with the push to change AP Style so that nonhuman animals without names can be referred to using “he, she” and “they.