When I stitched this large-scale skeleton and started getting comments on it, I noticed that everyone, without exception, called it a “he.” Men, women, friends, family, followers, and complete strangers. To make sure I wasn’t imagining this, I went out of my way to show it to the strongest, most feminist women in my life. The ones who have thought hard about patriarchal society and are actively fighting against its influence in their lives. I didn’t say anything about pronoun use; I simply waited. Again, without exception. “He’s amazing.” “He’s so cool.” “He’s standing on a hillside.” “What’s he saying?”
I have no doubt that Temperance Brennan and her crew could look at any skeleton and tell from the shape of the pelvis whether it belonged to a man or woman. The rest of us simply default to male. I tried to bring in variety and call it a “her” once in a while, but it felt really awkward. Because it’s not a her. It has no vagina or breasts. So why isn’t it awkward to call it a “he?” It’s got no penis, either.
I have a friend who is currently transitioning from one gender to the other and as such has asked that we use "they/them" pronouns for them. It's hard to train my mind and mouth to stop saying he or she, but I'm glad for the opportunity, and I appreciate their patience as I struggle to retrain myself.
When all is said and done, I still don't know what pronoun to use for this skeleton. Such is the depth of patriarchy. It runs so deep in our language that it’s awkward to fight against it. But it’s a worthy fight. Because when “male” is the default, all other perspectives and experiences are sidelined (conscious or not) and misogyny is the result.