Hen: Sweden’s New Gender Neutral Pronoun Causes Controversy.
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.
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.