A new word is needed in the Swedish language

"A new word is needed in the Swedish language"

Debate article in Svenska Dagbladet

Sweden is about to get its first children's book that uses hen Why? Yes, because the word hen gives the opportunity to face the world more unconditionally. The book Kivi & Monsterhund will be a book where all children can identify themselves without having to relate to gender. This is written by Karin Milles, docent in Swedish, Karin Salmson and Marie Tomicic, Olika publishing house.

The words she and he carries with it an artillery of ideas about characteristics, and language and word choice become very important for how we perceive the world. The word hen opens up for freer interpretations because it is not tied to these notions.

Although the book is not yet out, we have received reactions. Many are positive and curious. Others find it upsetting and threatening because gender is seen as important. It creates predictability and security. It is perceived as problematic when someone goes outside the expected gender roles, and usually it leads to some type of punishment. In 2011, for example, a little boy was assaulted in Jönköping, because he used pink and nail polish, which are interpreted as female attributes.

Today, he is used reflexively when we don't know the gender of a figure, and the old written language norm says that he should be used when you don't know the gender or when it's not relevant - which can be seen, for example, in many law texts. Not to mention all the children's books where seemingly gender-neutral characters and animals are almost always male. He becomes the norm and whoever is supposed to be she has to distinguish herself with feminine attributes. A child who calls a person incorrectly for he is quickly corrected, and quickly learns that it is important to distinguish between he and she.

We believe that it should be subordinated to other principles, and that the manic and active differentiation of gender has negative consequences for both the individual and society, and that a freer approach without equally strong gender indoctrination would provide a better future. Bringing the word hen into the language is part of that work.

He becomes the norm and whoever is supposed to be she has to distinguish herself with feminine attributes.

In Kivi & Monsterhund it doesn't matter if it's a female or a male, a female can combine characteristics and attributes according to individual preferences and in the long run lead to neither she nor he having such strict gender rules. It is a solution that gives the opportunity to face the world more unconditionally and to read a text or have a conversation where the important thing is not gender but the individual's personal characteristics.

A counterargument is precisely that the word she can lead to blurring the differences between gender roles. Exactly what differences are important to keep? Wage differences, use of violence, caring or empathic abilities? Our idea is instead that everyone should be different, regardless of gender. In the latest revision of the Discrimination Act, the basis for discrimination "transgender identity and expression" was also introduced, which also points to the need for the word hen for those who identify as neither nor.

By freeing the word hen from expectations linked to traditional gender roles, an opportunity is given to meet Kivi on other premises. It's an exciting language opportunity! Why pass up that chance? She is needed if an author, such as Jesper Lundqvist who wrote Kivi & Monsterhund, wants a character to be valued based on their individual characteristics and to provide opportunities for identification to all children.

To insert a new one elements that make us think in our use of language provide the opportunity for awareness and change that extends beyond single words. Using hen is not removing she and he. It is to add to him: to give three possibilities instead of two.

Karin Milles
docent in Swedish, Södertörn University
Karin Salmson
Various publishers
Marie Tomicic
Various publishers