The Patriarchal Hush of Female Birds & How Queer Ecology Can Help
Did you know that female birds couldn’t sing? Scientific observation gives us facts and from those facts we build reality, and in this reality, only male birds produce song. That is, until the past two decades when female scientists began to also study birdsong.
The Complexity of Female Beings is Not Abnormal
For more than 150 years, dating back to Charles Darwin’s writings on sexual selection, scientists generally considered birdsong to be a male trait. According to widely accepted scientific perspectives, bird’s songs were complex vocalizations that male birds produce during breeding season. Female vocalizations were rare or abnormal.
Female vocalizations were rare or abnormal. Except they weren’t abnormal at all. Female birds could, in fact, sing and had always been singing, long before the colonization of science. Female birds were always capable of complex vocalizations along with their complex male counterparts.
They just couldn’t be heard over the patriarchy.
In the past two decades, scientists began to “discover” female bird songs. In a recently published study analyzing the research itself, data shows that the key people driving this recent paradigm shift were women.
Traditionally, white men working in countries of the northern hemisphere have conducted much of the research on birdsong.
Traditionally, white men have led research on many topics. That is because white men and the systems that benefit them have excluded women, BIPOC, queer, and pretty much anyone from the global south from the educational opportunities and professions that do this research–until recently when systemic conditions have improved. Slightly. For some. It’s still not equal, of course. We (and it’s a giant we) have been excluded from producing cultural knowledge.
Is it any wonder that female birds lost their songs just as women have been denied our voices for so many generations? Any wonder that female beings of all species seem quiet and simple, vessels for procreation, objects for the use and pleasure of the male species? Perhaps the comparison is a stretch, but I think not. I happen to think that females and males and every other expression of sex or gender is equally and differently complex and beautiful.
We Are All Biased
Science is meant to be objective. Observations, tests and results. However, we also know from the science of quantum physics, that the observer, by observing, tends to affect the outcome of the experiment.
I know I am not the first to point out that science is neither unbiased or objective. Research and observation is seen and reported through the lens of the observer. If the lens through which observation is made is only open so far, the possibilities for observation are limited to that lens’s aperture.
Men, especially white men, have predominantly done research and controlled the production of knowledge in regards to bird song (specifically birdsong in this article, also knowledge in general).
Is Binary Killing Beauty?
So if the people who do the observations already carry a herteronormative, binary belief system, then that will be the lens through which they will make observations. That will be the world they see and the world they report to others on.
This is one fascinating example of how patriarchal and colonial domination has not only oppressed women and others, but is literally robbing the human world of a range of knowledge, or suppressing knowledge that previously existed. Or both. I would imagine that knowledge of various indigenous cultures includes female birdsong and lots of other beautiful things that white supremecist patriarchy has suppressed.
What other information are we lacking about our world because so many of us haven’t had access to professions that observe and create knowledge?
Just imagine. Imagine what other songs are out there. Imagine what else is waiting to be discovered, not just by female scientists, but all kinds of humans who observe through the lenses of different intersecting identities and bring varied lived experiences to their observation. And imagine a kaleidoscope.
We construct our reality through words, language, story, and media. Women and basically everyone else except white men have largely been left out of the production of knowledge and therefore, the creation of reality, to the point that we literally believed female birds to be silent. What other beautiful aspects of life are happening out there, waiting to be heard, seen, touched, felt? What more is there to discover that hasn’t been observed through limited hetereonormative white lenses?
Bring On Queer Ecology
There is an entire field of knowledge blossoming called queer ecology, which combines queer theory and environmental studies with the goal of diversifying our narratives of the natural world–and I can’t wait to see where it takes us. I can’t wait to learn what knowledge exists outside of the binary. My hypothesis? The world will become much more fascinating.
As much as I am continually frustrated by the injustice of patriarchy and colonialism, I am equally excited for what awaits us on the other side. Excited about the beauty of the world we haven’t tapped into yet, but that is existing there, waiting for the right eyes to see it.
What a beautiful world it will be when we are finally able to see it through many different eyes. What a beautiful world it is already, filled with songs and dances of so many species, dancing right alongside our own species.
How much more beauty is there in the world that are we capable of observing? How much more beauty can we see and process? Can we feel?
I think the answer is infinite. We can experience infinite beauty. All we have to do is learn to view it through as many lenses as possible.
Perhaps you feel called to share your infinitely beautiful creations with the world too? Join us today in adding more nonbinary, decolonized, patriarchy-smashing knowledge and wonder.
Amy Schmidt is the CEO and founder of Medusa Media Collective. She is an editor, writer and teacher. She also teaches yoga, leadership, and empowerment self-defense for women. Her goal in writing is connection through empathy, and her passion is working to end gender-based violence. She likes her humor dry and her fruit juicy.