We gotta say, Sweden is ahead of the curve when it comes to gender issues and revolutionizing the way men and women are represented in mainstream society. They were the first country to have a feminist political party represented in the European Union, and if they won the recent national election, Feminist Initiative would’ve been the world’s first specifically feminist party to rule a country.
Before you breathe a sigh of relief and think thank goodness they didn’t win, the FI wanted to implement better legislation for childcare and maternity leave, and redefine the nation’s GDP to include the unpaid labor stay-at-home mothers and wives do. Essentially they were going to bat for all types of women and have them valued in society in pretty revolutionary ways.
But Sweden is not done with its re-branding of gender norms. They want to get in at the ground level and change the way the younger generation view men and women. Newsweek magazine recently profiled a new word that elementary schools are using to teach school kids the difference between male, female and gender neutral terms.
The word is “hen” and it was originally introduced in two nurseries in the capital of Stockholm in 2012. Over the past two years kids and adults have slowly been adopting and getting used to the word in its intended context.
An organization out of England called Let Toys Be Toys started the whole movement and specifically geared it toward breaking down gender stereotypes in toy aisles which we’re all familiar with. The whole “pink aisle for girls” mentality and “blue toys for boys” attitude is something California-based Goldieblox are also fighting against with their engineering toys for girls.
Apparently the campaign from Let Toys Be Toys is working, because some major European retailers like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots have gotten rid of the “girls” and “boys” signage, but not the pink and blue color codes just yet. But the group sees this as progress.
The UK’s National Union of Teachers, for its part, has launched the Breaking the Mould initiative to address gender stereotypes in elementary schools. Newsweek also lists various other countries and industries aiming to make a change, but only Sweden has taken it as far as using the word as part of their curriculum and everyday language.
“Sweden is really the pioneer. No other country has made such an effort to break down gender barriers among children,” said Lann Hornscheidt, a professor of gender studies and linguistics at the Humboldt University’s Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies.
While it is still too early to do studies on how effective this gender neutral word is on a young child, it has already started to get a lot of attention and create strong opinions about it.
Dr David Eberhard, a leading Swedish psychiatrist who was quoted in the piece says discarding gender differences altogether can be dangerous and misses a crucial part of what they are trying to teach.
“We should treat each other with respect, but ignoring biological gender differences is crazy. Making us identical won’t create more equality.” He has a point. The idea of equality has to exist alongside the notion that men and women are different, but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other. Differences themselves have to stop being a cause for division.
But Lann Hornscheidt argues it is simply a small step toward a society that is not burdened with gender stereotypes from the past.
“The gender gap creates poverty among women. Initiatives like hen are all part of an effort to create a more just world.”
The World Economic Forum’s latest gender gap report ranks Sweden as the world’s fourth most gender-equal country (behind Iceland, Finland and Denmark) which means they are certainly doing something right. They aren’t afraid to try new things and challenge the status quo.
Thoughts about “hen”?