Sweden Introduces New Gender-Neutral Pronoun, Makes Being a Man ILLEGALS

No, JK, JK. Everyone's manhood and womanhood and non-binaryhood is still intact, no matter what the conservative gender-apocalypse-mongers are sure to do with this story. You can still be whatever gender you want to be, and embody whatever stereotypes you want—from swaggering alpha douche to limp lily on the fainting couch.

But the ever-progressive nation of Sweden has introduced a new gender-neutral pronoun—hen (neither the masculine han nor the feminine hon)—into its official National Encyclopedia. It's a heartening step in broadening the concept of gender and giving institutional validation to those for whom gender is more complicated than the stiff old male/female dichotomy. (And this is just an aside, but it brings to mind the aggressive challenges to gender in the new album from Swedish band The Knife.)

Here's Slate:

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.

...But not everyone is keen on this political meddling with the Swedish language. In a recent interview for Vice magazine, Jan Guillou, one of Sweden's most well-known authors, referred to proponents of hen as "feminist activists who want to destroy our language." Other critics believe it can be psychologically and socially damaging, especially for children. Elise Claeson, a columnist and a former equality expert at the Swedish Confederation of Professions, has said that young children can become confused by the suggestion that there is a third, "in-between" gender at a time when their brains and bodies are developing. Adults should not interrupt children's discovery of their gender and sexuality, argues Claeson. She told the Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, that "gender ideologues" have managed to change the curriculum to establish that schools should actively counter gender roles.

Oh, god forbid. It's also interesting to watch Sweden—now that it's committed to addressing gender inequality in a proactive way—grapple with the complex nuts and bolts of how gender affects society:

Ironically, in the effort to free Swedish children from so-called normative behavior, gender-neutral proponents are also subjecting them to a whole set of new rules and new norms as certain forms of play become taboo, language becomes regulated, and children's interactions and attitudes are closely observed by teachers. One Swedish school got rid of its toy cars because boys "gender-coded" them and ascribed the cars higher status than other toys. Another preschool removed "free playtime" from its schedule because, as a pedagogue at the school put it, when children play freely "stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented. In free play there is hierarchy, exclusion, and the seed to bullying." And so every detail of children's interactions gets micromanaged by concerned adults, who end up problematizing minute aspects of children's lives, from how they form friendships to what games they play and what songs they sing.

Well, you're either interested in legitimate change or you're not, and change requires some risk. What's more harmful to kids—being awkwardly micromanaged by adults, or being warped by lifetimes of gender normativity? I sincerely hope we'll get to find out.

Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen [Slate]