In Sweden the phrase “his and hers” isn’t just archaic or politically incorrect, it’s grammatically incorrect too. The country’s online National Encyclopedia was recently updated to include a third pronoun to accommodate the rising trend of gender neutrality in Sweden. The pronouns for “he” and “she” (in Swedish “han” and “hon”) are now joined by the genderless pronoun “hen.”
But the change isn’t just linguistic. In 2010, the World Economic Forum declared Sweden the most gender-neutral country in the world, and gender neutrality is changing Swedish culture in profound ways. A children’s department store has dissolved its “girls” and “boys” sections, and a number of Swedish activists are lobbying for the right of parents to name their children across gender lines. “The idea,” writes author Nathalie Rothschild, “is that names should not be at all tied to gender, so it would be acceptable for parents to name a girl Jack or a boy Lisa.”
So far, the most jarring (or liberating) development in the gender-neutral cultural war is a photo in a popular Swedish toy catalogue depicting a little boy in a Spiderman costume posing daintily while he pushes a bright-pink pram. The poster child, perhaps, for the “hen” generation.