By most people’s standards, Sweden is a paradise for liberated women.It has the highest proportion of working women in the world, and women earn about two-thirds of all degrees. As reported in Slate, “Standard parental leave runs at 480 days, and 60 of those days are
reserved exclusively for dads, causing some to credit the country with forging the way for a new kind of nurturing masculinity. In 2010, the World Economic Forum designated Sweden as the most gender-equal country in the world.
“But for many Swedes, gender equality is not enough. Many are pushing for the Nordic nation to be not simply gender-equal but gender-neutral. The idea is that the government and society should tolerate no distinctions at all between the sexes. This means on the narrow level that society should show sensitivity to people who don’t identify themselves as either male or female, including allowing any type of couple to marry. But that’s the least radical part of the project. What many gender-neutral activists are after is a society that entirely erases traditional gender roles and stereotypes at even the most mundane levels.
“Activists are lobbying for parents to be able to choose any name for their children (there are currently just 170 legally recognized unisex names in Sweden). The idea isthat names should not be at all tied to gender, so it would be acceptable for parents to, say, name a girl Jack or a boy Lisa. A Swedish children’s clothes company has removed the “boys” and “girls” sections in its stores, and the idea of dressing children in a gender-neutral manner has been widely discussed on parenting blogs. This Swedish toy catalog recently decided to switch things around, showing a boy in a Spider-Man costume pushing a pink pram, while a girl in denim rides a yellow tractor.
“The Swedish Bowling Association has announced plans to merge male and female bowling tournaments in order to make the sport gender-neutral. Social Democrat politicians have proposed installing gender-neutral restrooms so that members of the public will not be compelled to categorize themselves as either ladies or gents. Several preschools have banished references to pupils’ genders, instead referring to children by their first names or as “buddies.” So, a teacher would say “good morning, buddies” or “good morning, Lisa, Tom, and Jack” rather than, “good morning, boys and girls.” They believe this fulfills the national curriculum’s guideline that preschools should “counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles” and give girls and boys “the same opportunities to test and develop abilities and interests without being limited by stereotypical gender roles.”
“Earlier this month, the movement for gender neutrality reached a milestone: Just days after International Women’s Day a new pronoun, hen (pronounced like the bird in English), was added to the online version of the country’s National Encyclopedia. Theentry defines hen as a “proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of he [hanin Swedish] and she [hon].”The National Encyclopedia announcement came amid a heated debate about gender neutrality that has been raging in Swedish newspaper columns and TV studios and on parenting blogs and feminist websites. It was sparked by the publication of Sweden’s first ever gender-neutral children’s book, Kivi och Monsterhund (Kivi and Monsterdog). It tells the story of Kivi, who wants a dog for “hen’s” birthday. The male author, Jesper Lundqvist, introduces several gender-neutral words in the book. For instance the words mammor and pappor (moms and dads) are replaced with mappor and pammor.
“The free lifestyle magazine, Nöjesguiden, which is distributed in major Swedish cities and is similar to the Village Voice, recently released an issue using hen throughout. In his column, writer Kawa Zolfagari says, “It can be hard to handle the male ego sometimes. I myself tend to get a stinging feeling when a female friend has had it with sexism or has got hurt because of some guy and desperately blurts out some generalisation about men. Sometimes I think ‘Hen knows me, hen knows I am not an idiot, why does hen speak that way of all men?’ Nöjesguiden‘s editor, Margret Atladottir, said hen ought to be included in the dictionary of the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize in literature.
“Hen was first mentioned by Swedish linguists in the mid-1960s, and then in 1994 the late linguist Hans Karlgren suggested adding hen as a new personal pronoun, mostly for practical reasons. Karlgren was trying to avoid the awkward he/she that gums up writing, and invent a single word “that enables us to speak of a person without specifying their gender. He argued that it could improve the Swedish language and make it more nuanced.”