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You're a hen, I'm a hen: gender-neutral pronoun gains ground in Sweden

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Making the leap from gender-equality to trying to efface any differences between the sexes whatsoever, Sweden has officially recognized a new gender-neutral word. Goodbye, "him." See you later, "her." Instead, welcome, "hen."

The pronoun, which advocates have been promoting for decades, was added to the online version of Sweden's National Encyclopedia earlier this month, Slate reports.

There, hen is defined as a "proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of he [han in Swedish]and she [hon]"

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"Hen" was first noticed by Swedish linguists decades ago, Slate reports, and in 1994 another linguist put forward the idea of using it to replace "he" and "she," so as to have a single word that "enables us to speak of a person without specifying their gender."

Replacing familiar pronouns is hardly the end of Sweden's experiments with gender-neutrality. As Slate reports, the Swedish Bowling Association plans to combine male and female tournaments to make the sport gender-neutral. Some of the country's politicians have even put forward the idea of gender-neutral washrooms to avoid forcing people to identify as male or female.

And this month, the Swedish toy chain Leklust published a catalogue that shows a child in a Spider-Man costume pushing a pink stroller.

"Gender roles are an outdated thing," Kaj Wiberg, the CEO of Leklust, told the Swedish newspaper Metro.

At least one school in the country agrees. Last summer, a preschool (clearly an early adopter of "hen" thinking) banned kids from using the words "him" and "her." The gender-neutral policy also covers the colour of toys, reading material and the placement of blocks near the kitchen.

Should we raise children to believe that men and women may be different but are nonetheless equal, or should we try to scrub their minds of the idea of difference altogether?

Obviously, there are those who oppose the word "hen" and the thinking that gives rise to it. One prominent Swedish author, Jan Guillou, has called proponents of the term, "feminist activists who want to destroy our language."

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What do you think, do we need gender-neutral language?

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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