Sweden’s bid to ensure equality between the sexes has reached another milestone with the gender-neutral “hen” being included in the online version of the country’s National Encyclopedia.
The pronoun was officially added to the encyclopedia this month as an alternative to the gendered pronouns “han” and “hon” (he and she), according to Slate magazine.
The word, pronounced like the bird in English, is defined as a “proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of he [han in Swedish] and she [hon]”.
It comes as debate continues to rage in the Nordic country where activists are campaigning to obliterate gender roles.
Breaking down gender roles is a core mission in the national curriculum for preschools, underpinned by the theory that society gives boys an unfair edge.
Many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues” to help staff identify language and behaviour that risk reinforcing stereotypes, while at the taxpayer-funded Egalia preschool in Stockholm, staff avoid using words such as “him” or “her” and address the 33 children as “friends” rather than girls and boys.
This month a Swedish toy catalogue published pictures of a pram-pushing Spiderman, a girl riding a toy racing car and another boy standing in front of a toy stove cooking a make-believe meal.
Kaj Wiberg, the CEO of Leklust, the company behind the catalogue, told the Swedish newspaper Metro that it was time to move forward.
“Gender roles are an outdated thing,” he said.
“I’m 71 years old, and those of us who have worked in this industry for a while know that boys play with doll houses. We know that boys can play with Barbie dolls.”
The catalogue photographs have sparked discussion on social media, including from prominent Swedish feminist blogger “Lady Dahmer” who encouraged readers to email the company to show their support.
“The problem with toy stores and their catalogues is that they’re selling a concept, an idea about boys and girls and what kind of qualities and interests they should have,” she told the Swedish English-language newspaper The Local.
“It’s about money because as long as they can fool us into believing boys and girls are fundamentally different, they can keep selling us twice as much.
“Children have a strong need to fit in, not stand out. When they see what is ‘right’ for their gender, it becomes less likely that they dare to break the norms.”
According to Slate magazine, the Swedish Bowling Association also has announced plans to merge male and female bowling tournaments to make the sport more gender-neutral.
It comes as a publishing house releases a a children’s book, Kivi och Monster-hund (Kivi and the Monsterdog) which features the pronoun “hen” throughout. It tells the story of Kivi, who wants a dog for “hen’s” birthday.
But not everyone is embracing the new gender-neutral terminology, Slate reports.
Jan Guillou, one of Sweden’s most well-known authors and a critic of the new word, said in a recent interview that proponents of “hen” were “feminist activists who want to destroy our language”, Slate reported. Others said it could be psychologically and socially damaging for children.
Between this and that national Twitter project, Sweden is fast moving up our list of countries well deserving of the highest of fives.
At a BBQ with a three year old boy who had dressed himself in gold lamé pants and a ruffle shouldered pink and purple Batgirl t-shirt, I learned that I do treat boys and girls differently. Even really little ones. In impossibly little ways. I don’t call boys sweetheart. I call them dude. And I use a different tone of voice, too. And I couldn’t decide how to talk to him, my instincts wanted me to dude-ing it up, which is seriously dumb. I’m embarrassed by how disoriented I was by this gender bending three year old, how hard I found it to talk to him even though I’m usually pretty happy to chat with little kids. That, there, is my free-association from Hens. But if I do it, everyone does it. Promise.