ONTD Political

New children's book to introduce gender neutral pronoun to Swedish

3:36 pm - 02/17/2012
The Swedish language is in need of a new pronoun free of preconceived notions about gender, argue a Swedish linguist along with representatives from a publishing house set to release a children's book featuring the word “hen” rather than “han” (he) or hon (she).

The Swedish words “hon” (she) and “han” (he) are loaded with preconceptions about characteristics and we see that language and the words we choose have a huge impact on how we experience the world.


The new gender-neutral Swedish word “hen” will open up for a freer interpretation by not being tied to these preconceptions.

Despite the fact that the book “Kivi & Monsterhund” ('Kivi & Monster Dog') hasn't been published yet, we have already received a number of reactions.

Many are positive and curious.

Others feel that it is upsetting and threatening, as gender is seen as something important. It creates predictability and safety. It is perceived as problematic when someone breaches the expected gender roles and in many cases it leads to some sort of punishment.

In 2011, a young boy in Jönköping was attacked for wearing pink and nail polish, which are perceived as female attributes.

Today, “han” (he) is automatically used when we don't know the gender of a character and old Swedish rules on writing dictate that “he” should be used when the sex is not known or is deemed irrelevant – which can be seen in many legal texts.

And there are all the children's books where seemingly gender-neutral characters and animals almost always are male.

“He” becomes the norm and anyone who is supposed to be a “she” has to stand out by expressing her feminine attributes. A child who erroneously calls someone “he” is quickly corrected and learns that it is important to make a distinction between “he” and “she”.


We argue that this should be of secondary importance and that the active separation of the sexes has negative consequences for both individuals and society.

A more relaxed attitude with a less prominent gender indoctrination would lead to a better future. To bring the Swedish word “hen” into common usage is part of that work.

In “Kivi & Monster Dog”, it doesn't matter if it is a he (han) or a she (hon); a gender-neutral “hen” can combine characteristics and attributes according to individual preferences, and in the long run lead to neither “he” nor “she” being so strictly tied rules on gender.

“Hen” is therefore a solution that makes it possible to meet the world in a more unbiased way and to read a text or have a conversation where the focus is shifted away from gender identity to the personal characteristics of the individual.


A counter-argument could be that the word “hen” would mean that differences between the two gender roles are erased. But exactly what differences are important to keep?

Salary differences, the use of violence, the providing of care or the capacity for kindness?

We think everyone should be allowed to be different, regardless of sex. According to the latest reworking of Sweden's laws on discrimination, one can now also claim to be discriminated against due to “cross gender identity and expression”, which also shows that the word “hen” is needed for those who are unable to identify with either gender.

By freeing the word “hen” from the expectations tied to traditional gender roles, readers are given a possibility to meet Kivi in a different way.

This is an exciting linguistic possibility! Why forfeit that chance?

We argue that “hen” is needed if an writers like Jesper Lundqvist, the author of “Kivi & Monster Dog”, wants to succeed in letting the character be evaluated from its individual characteristics and give all children the chance to identify with it.

Bringing in a new element that makes us think about how we use language allows for awareness and change which goes beyond any single word.

Using “hen” doesn't mean we need to get rid of hon (she) and han (he).

Rather, it's simply a matter of adding hen: to allow for three choices, instead of two.

Source: The Local (Sweden) don't read the comments
this site has a preview of Kivi & Monsterhund (assuming you read Swedish)
the side note on its really needed for legal cases is interesting
its_anya 17th-Feb-2012 09:58 pm (UTC)
Once, in a discussion a school that used gender-neutral pronouns, I saw a man comment that gender neutral pronouns are 'forcing children to behave in a certain way and taking away their individuality'. I'm still not quite over it.
tigerdreams 17th-Feb-2012 10:32 pm (UTC)
...That's, like, the opposite of right.
romp 17th-Feb-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I wish he could have expanded on that.
kyra_neko_rei 18th-Feb-2012 02:53 am (UTC)
What, refraining from lumping them in with half the species is taking away their individuality?
lomesir22 17th-Feb-2012 10:33 pm (UTC)
I wish English had a gender neutral pronoun. :(
escherzo 17th-Feb-2012 10:42 pm (UTC)
Well, the singular 'they' is in relatively common use, although it's not official by any means.
lomesir22 17th-Feb-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
True, but it's so inelegant to use a technically plural word when referring to an individual. Wouldn't it be fun if someone instituted an official pronoun and all the dudebros frothed at the mouth? :)
escherzo 17th-Feb-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
There are certainly some of those to pick from as well! Ze/hir for example, or a relatively rare but extremely awesome-sounding one, xe/xyr.

It's a bit inelegant, but the thing I like about it is that even people who don't have an understanding of the concept of gender neutral pronouns sometimes use it in conversation. It may not sound 'correct,' but it wouldn't take much training for more people to pick up.
beuk 18th-Feb-2012 12:05 am (UTC)
I've become so cool with singular they, you know, since it's been common since Elizabethan times that it's been grandfathered in, that I used it in some of my college papers. I got annoyed when it got crossed out in my papers.
interrobamf 18th-Feb-2012 01:01 am (UTC)
I use singular they, but it annoys me because the construction isn't parallel with other sentences using singular forms. "They use it", as opposed to "He/she uses it". "They uses it" just sounds too bizarre.
lacunaz 18th-Feb-2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
I am a hardcore singular they stan. And I find it amusing when people insist that it's horrible and then turn around and use it all the time. It's been in common use since Shakespeare -- singular they is happening! It's already happened!
romp 17th-Feb-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
I use "she" most of the time and let people cope. I agree this all would have been easier if English had come up with this 600 years ago.
romp 17th-Feb-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
*supposed to go to lomesir22, bah
world_dancer 18th-Feb-2012 02:32 am (UTC)
It.

Unlike many other languages, English doesn't assign sex to non-living things, so we're set to go if all you want is a gender neutral pronoun. We developed one centuries ago.

I think the problem people might have with "it" is simply that it is considered pejorative when used to refer to people because due to the lack of assigning gender to objects not having a gender is grammatically associated with being an object. Unless you're saying something along the lines of "I don't know who it is at the door" in which case it does indicate a person, gender unknown.

kyra_neko_rei 18th-Feb-2012 03:00 am (UTC)
Yeah, "it" pretty strongly implies an object, a something-not-someone-type animal, or other form of nonperson.

And it gets used as a transphobic insult a lot, the implication being that if you're not a proper genderconforming cisgender male or a proper genderconforming cisgender female, you're not a human being.
merri_chan 18th-Feb-2012 05:45 am (UTC)
Yeah, "it" pretty strongly implies an object, a something-not-someone-type animal, or other form of nonperson.

Pretty much this.
mephisto5 18th-Feb-2012 11:12 am (UTC)
Because 'It' is used abusively when referring to trans or otherwise genderqueer people and it's fucking triggering.

And I wouldn't say 'I don't know who it is at the door', I'd say 'who's' or 'who is'.

If you want a gender neutral pronoun other than 'they', which is a perfectly good one that's been around for centuries, there's also 'ou' (again, very old) . 'thon' dates back several years and 'co' is also in use.
kyra_neko_rei 18th-Feb-2012 02:55 am (UTC)
"Zie" or "ze" is coming into popular use in some circles, though you can tell it arose on the internet because the equivalent of his/hers/him/her is "hir" and "hirs" which is very difficult to pronounce distinctly from "her(s)." Though I've also seen "zir" used there, which sounds rather like an offshoot of "their."
the_gabih 18th-Feb-2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
We used to, apparently. Ou wasn't huge in the Middle Ages, but it was still a thing.
fynoda 18th-Feb-2012 03:38 am (UTC)
In Japanese, "hen" means weird or strange, in a negative way. Interesting concept though, go Sweden.
merri_chan 18th-Feb-2012 05:47 am (UTC)
This is my happy agender face rn.
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