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Life without male and female, boys and girls, men and women. Just people....

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Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen

A country tries to banish gender.

Leklust catalog, Sweden
Leklust catalog, Sweden

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. 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 is that 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. The entry defines hen as a "proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of he [han in 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.

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by on May. 3, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Replies (11-20):
by Ruby Member on May. 4, 2012 at 1:59 AM

Well, I have 6 hens, and none of them have penis', so that word isn't going to work here.

by on May. 4, 2012 at 2:00 AM
2 moms liked this

It's almost like that want you to hide your gender...that the idea that men and women are different is unacceptable.


Quoting 1Giovanni:

Am I the only one thinks this is a bad idea. I mean there is a reason why there is men and women. I like being a women, have no issues with my gender.

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by on May. 4, 2012 at 2:02 AM

my husband has long hair, he likes to wear it in a pony tail most of the time. he won't use a scrunchy tho, even if he really needs it out of his face. nothing "girly" for him, and definitely no barettes or clippies! lol. i personally have no problem with supporting genders, and then if anyone is a little different or has a preference, more power to them! you won't catch me in dresses and heels! :P

Quoting EireLass:

In my circle alot of men wear ponytails and braids.

Quoting Radarma:

 Today I wondered why boys never wear hair clips/barrettes.

Why has the hair clip/barrette not become acceptable for boys/men?

Just thinking out

This Sweden sounds like a progressive place to be!

by Silver Member on May. 4, 2012 at 2:06 AM
3 moms liked this
Oh for fucks sake, I'm all about equality for all, but this damned gender neutral shit is ridiculous
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by on May. 4, 2012 at 2:11 AM
1 mom liked this

I think it is ridiculous and unnecessary. I have no problem if girls want to wear pants and ride tractors or a boy wants to play with dolls. I think you can achieve gender equality as to not be inhibited or judged on by your gender but the idea of banishing gender is too far. We should celebrate differences not view them as something that needs to be suppressed or altered. This to me is the same as the whole one day we will all be gray speech. What is wrong with not being the same as everyone else. I enjoy diversity too much to support this. Besides the french language would completely crumble lol there is way too much grammar geared towards if you are talking about a boy or girl.

by on May. 4, 2012 at 2:11 AM
3 moms liked this
Sounds really stupid. There are natural differences between men and women. Ignoring them won't make them disappear. We shouldn't be teaching people to be ashamed of or hide our differences.

Also, if women could compete with men in sports, they would. But they don't. I'm pretty sure most of the records held by men are better (stronger/faster/longer, etc) than the records held by women.

Both genders should have equal opportunity. But they shouldn't cease to exist.
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by Silver Member on May. 4, 2012 at 2:20 AM

Maybe, but we would still find something to bitch about.  In 25 years, hen would be deemed politically incorrect.

by Kellie on May. 4, 2012 at 2:21 AM

I don't have an issue with them removing the stereotypical imagery from advertisements, or removal of segregated shopping areas for clothing.

What struck me as odd is the part about having to "legally recognize" a name as 'gender neutral'.... so is there a law there stating that Michael is a boys name, and you can not name your daughter that? Or that Lisa is a girls name and you can't name your son that?  Unless it's one of the "legally recognized unisex" names?  What?

by on May. 4, 2012 at 6:47 AM
Ok I haven't read the article but I saw that pronoun in books I read in high school (Starbridge Academy.) there was a race of creatures that were gender neutral until 'puberty' and there were 3 pronouns to describe the gender and I'm pretty durn sure 'hen' was the neutral gender.
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by JENN on May. 4, 2012 at 7:06 AM

 I just had to laugh at the title, my 6 yr old said to me yesterday "I wish there were no Boys and girls, just people". lol (course he said that because he saw something on tv where they said ladies before gentlemen, and he likes to be first lol)

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