Swedish Pronoun: Hen

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Identifying as non-binary can be difficult but Sweden has an official gender neutral pronoun: hen. It’s  similar to the use of singular “they” in English. It took inspiration from the neutral pronoun in the Finnish language (hän) and after much debate “hen” was officially adopted.

Its use is:
– for talking about someone who’s gender is unknown
– when the gender is unnecessary in the conversation
– for talking about someone who identifies as neither male nor female

It’s been used in various places in Sweden, some say since the 1960s, but was discussed in mainstream media in 2013 and eventually placed into the official Swedish dictionary in 2015.

It has two main uses in Sweden. The first is, obviously, for LGBT+ groups but the second is interesting. Some schools and pre-schools have started using “hen” for their pupils so as not to push gender roles or identities on their students.

First studies suggest that the use of “hen” in early education doesn’t reduce children’s tendency to use gender to categorise people but it reduces their tendency to gender-stereotype and gender-segregate.

The use of hen is the same and just as simple as han (he) or hon (she), for exmaple “hen är vacker” – “they are beautiful”.

Comments 10

  1. Sorry, but no, just no. I have no problem with a transgender person, especially not with a kid before puberty, that still has the chance to be seen the way they want, and not like a women that dressed like a men, they should never go through a puberty they don’t want. Let them take hormones to stop this and later they still have the opportunity to decide what they want for their life.

    And if you are not sure if you are a boy or girl that’s great too, then you are whatever you where born, that likes to dress, behave etc. what people would attributed to the other gender, nothing complicated about that. Your gender is like your name, it doesn’t mean you have to behave like other kids that have the same name.

    I don’t need a new pronoun for girls that like to play with cars, or boys that don’t like to romp with their friends.

    1. I think you miss the point: it is useful to have pronouns in a language that are not gendered. For example, in languages that use gender neutral pronouns all the time, one does not have to introduce gender into every conversation. There isn’t a “default” gender. Concepts like “God” don’t have to instantly be tied to a gender. These are all all subtle ways in which gender creeps into consciousness. It is clear that languages that use gender-neutral pronouns do not necessarily produce non-sexist societies–but I do notice that once efforts are made to increase people’s consciousness of sexism, the gender neutral language already in use helps a lot.

      1. I understand that and disagree, but that is not the reason this topic got so big. It’s not about having a pronoun for the times you are talking about a group of people with different genders. Language already handles that without a problem. And if you don’t know the gender, you ask, big deal…

        We are talking about that because there are persons that don’t feel “comfortable” to state their gender and that is where I have a problem. You can be whoever you wanna be, your gender has nothing to do with that. The only reason why this discussion exist are individuals that want to be special, and when they got what they want, there will be something else, so that they can feel special and victimized again. The educational approach only serves as a dummy.

        And you are right when I look at the gender neutral languages I don’t have the feeling that this country’s doing better, it’s often even the opposite. So, it doesn’t work in the long run. It will, perhaps, have a positive effect for a short time, but when it got normal the effect will disappear.

        But the best thing about all this people is, that they are, very often, the same who love to take in “refugees” who actually are part of a sexist culture and religion. The same people who telling me that Islam is a feminist religion. It’s all bullshit, they aren’t honest, not even to them self.

        1. “You can be whoever you wanna be, your gender has nothing to do with that. The only reason why this discussion exist are individuals that want to be special, and when they got what they want, there will be something else, so that they can feel special and victimized again. The educational approach only serves as a dummy.”

          I like that paragraph. Says it quite well in my opinion.

          I’m not against transsexuals in any way, but I don’t feel this “pronoun” makes it [sexuality] any better. Plus, in English, “hen” isn’t neutral — it is a female bird.

          And I’ll add in another “kink” to all this: “religion.” As long as “religions” are in some sort of majority in any society, a “neutral” pronoun will never take hold in any meaningful way. The religious simply won’t allow this as anything permanent.

        2. Obviously you are not gender non binary. Its not about feeling “special” its quite the opposite of just wanting to feel normal. But there people who are fine with their bodies as is, just it feels unnatural to stick yourself in a gender box for the sake of social norms. Its just silly.

          If we existed in a society that was less focused on gender, and didn’t have language that marked that- you might be a person who was outspoken about being able to identify yourself as this term “he” because you have a penis and you wanted a word that acknowledges that EVERY TIME someone addressed you. You would even demand children to address you through you genital identifier. You would be criticized as being perverse, or just as you said people would think you just wanted a word to make you feel special…

        3. @Wheat fields
          Oh, please… If you have a penis and you don’t feel like a transgender, then you are a “he”, end of story. And if that is to much for the person to handle he needs help from an expert. Feeling comfortable or uncomfortable has nothing to with your gender pronoun, you can express yourself however you like, and if your gender stops you from that, then you are the one, that thinks in cliches.
          But thanks for the confirmation, that it is exactly about that, persons that love being a victim, and not some educational anti-sexism bullshit.

          And no, I would not. If German were a gender neutral language, I would be 100% in it and if someone thinks we should use gender pronouns, I would say the same and the argument would be the same too: I don’t let some individuals dictating my language, so that they can feel special.

    2. Apart from gender and sexuality, there are many cases where a gender-neutral pronoun is useful, for instance when you are talking about someone and something where gender is irrelevant. You can’t say “this person” or some other awkward expression all the time when a neutral pronoun does the job. I use “they” in English regularly, and certainly not as often as I should.

      Language is dynamic and naturally evolves with society and toward simplicity. It’s fine if you don’t want to use these pronouns, nobody is forcing you anyway, but you don’t have any right or power to prevent others from using a convenient pronoun that makes sentences easier to understand.

      I also think it’s a great pedagogical tool, there probably will be less Harvey Weinsteins in the upcoming Swedish generations…

  2. If any country, except for Oceania, would have had an official dictionary, it would certainly be Sweden so as a foreigner you could be excused for thinking so.

    However, the Swedish Academy (the author of the dictionary you refer to) is not part of the State (though truth be told, it’s difficult to say where the Swedish State actually ends), but a private organisation whose goal is to make the crème de la crème of the Swedish cultural elite (for Americans: leftwing, ultra rich, evil, ivory tower sociologists who knows nothing yet rules the country) feel even more important.

  3. Mister, Miss, Mrs., He, She, and if I’m dealing with a progressive, crypto-fascist, neo-Bolshevik cosmopolite babe, I’ll say Ms., but that’s as far as I go with this nonsense. If some basket-case gender bender has a problem with my limited pronouns, word up guy, gal, or whatever – you already have far bigger problems and issues to deal with than me.

  4. I like the word because it’s very practical to use in certain situations. When it comes to identifying a person as non-binary, I’ve never seen it used in everyday context.

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