A young tree-throwing woman on June 21 filmed a male neighbor pursuing her after she told him, “You got cat called. Come on. Get over here.” As the viewer says, the female tree-throwing man “sat down on the sidewalk and gawked” at the male neighbor she reportedly chased with a sword. When the neighbor talks on camera about his kitten he says, “Who is the kitten, other than my cat?” the young woman asks. Then he says, “Oh yeah, that’s right!”
When the male neighbor grabbed his cat and walked away, another homeowner recorded the confrontation. After the young woman walked away, she started hitting a big branch with a homemade sword. The video went viral after being posted on TikTok, a video app based out of China and accessible here in the U.S.
Web trends do not only take hold of the U.S. What they also reveal about the culture around which we live, speak and generally communicate. It’s interesting to note when, where and how the woman first entered this scene. Was she a recent resident? A permanent resident? Or was she a visitor who had arrived just that day?
Robert Keith Dickey, a professor of geography at Kenyon College, drew some links between the tree-throwing incident and what he calls “Botanical Sexism.” A short version of Botanical Sexism is that there is a high and persistent stereotype that female plant species are subordinate to male plants. While these female species are often considered feminine and female (assuming the meaning of femininity is weak), male plants are super masculine and often masculine. Because male plants are believed to be superior, females—and plants—are often regarded as inferior.
Examples of Botanical Sexism in North America include:
* A Pitouse plant that can cause an accident by smelling, chewing, biting and resisting competition (it’s nicknamed the flapping belly)
* A pair of tree-fruit consuming banana trees in Pineside, Ontario, that are considered very fat and red by local people (and even though there are 17 species of bananas in North America and no one is clear if they’re mammals, they are believed to be)
* One of the most famous “Hawaiian” plants, the Lomi or flower (Lami) of the Castleaea genus that grows mainly in Hawaii
* Brown eyed flowers on lady ferns that are thought to have rubbed off its male component
Alison McRown, an evolutionary biologist at University of Hawaii, uncovered other botanical stereotypes while investigating Hawaiian plant names. Female insects had distinct names in Hawaiian English, like cooties (coots) and pinks. All plants used masculine names, like Laman (for men), Pa’awele (Hawaiian for “famous”) and Benahau (a vast collection of plants that lived in prehistoric Hawaiians).
McRown points out that botanical discrimination goes beyond cultural and religious beliefs: It may be rooted in biology. “Even though the letter ‘a’ is different between male and female plants, it is assumed by readers that there is a rational difference between the two letters in a plant,” McRown says. “Readers believe that female species are superior to male species. Thus, females of a species are commonly seen as superior to their male counterparts, and that they should be given more prominence in the literature.”
If you are a botanist, McRown suggests that you must watch and perhaps read the scientific literature to see that the male trees do in fact outperform the female trees.