Sun and Moon and gender

Fascinating bit of research on NPR just now:  The linguistic gender of nouns strongly affects how people perceive and describe the world.  E.g. “bridge” is feminine in German, and German speakers randomly described bridges as “pretty, fragile,” etc.  But it’s masculine in Spanish, and Spanish speakers described bridges as “thrilling, strong,” etc.  Even English-only speakers who were taught a made-up gendered language for just one day showed the same effect.

There are two words for “sun” in Hebrew.  The familiar one, shemesh שמש , is very old; it’s the word that’s used in Genesis, and it’s a masculine noun.  A lot of people have been asking me why the once-every-28-years Sun Blessing we recite this Wednesday (if the sun peeks out!) is called Birkat haChammah ברכת החמה instead of Birkat haShemesh ברכת השמש. Chammah חמה is a poetic name for the sun, a feminine noun which is not as old as shemesh שמש; I think it shows up first in Rabbinic literature, though it could be be as early as later in the Bible.  (Don’t have time to do a full text search for you right now.)  Chammah חמה comes from cham חם, which means “hot.”

What my questioners probably know, but have forgotten, is that there are also two Hebrew words for “moon.”  The old one that shows up in Genesis is yareyach ירח, related to the word yerach ירח which means “month.”  Makes sense, for a people whose months are lunar.  The more poetic and later name is l’vanah לבנה, from lavan לבן which means “white.”  Yareyach ירח is masculine, l’vanah לבנה is feminine.

So our tradition sees elements of traditional masculinity and traditional femininity in both the sun and the moon; and it’s not that they switched places, but both were seen as “masculine” earlier and both “feminine” later.  And the question that I have behind all of this is, why are these stereotypical gender traits so strongly ingrained in us humans, when there are so many examples to the contrary?