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Thu Apr 12, 2012, 04:44 PM

Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen

A country tries to banish gender.


By most people’s standards, Sweden is a paradise for liberated women. It has the highest proportion of working women in the world, and women earn about two-thirds of all degrees. Standard parental leave runs at 480 days, and 60 of those days are reserved exclusively for dads, causing some to credit the country with forging the way for a new kind of nurturing masculinity. In 2010, the World Economic Forum designated Sweden as the most gender-equal country in the world.

But for many Swedes, gender equality is not enough. Many are pushing for the Nordic nation to be not simply gender-equal but gender-neutral. The idea is that the government and society should tolerate no distinctions at all between the sexes. This means on the narrow level that society should show sensitivity to people who don't identify themselves as either male or female, including allowing any type of couple to marry. But that’s the least radical part of the project. What many gender-neutral activists are after is a society that entirely erases traditional gender roles and stereotypes at even the most mundane levels.

Activists are lobbying for parents to be able to choose any name for their children (there are currently just 170 legally recognized unisex names in Sweden). The idea is that names should not be at all tied to gender, so it would be acceptable for parents to, say, name a girl Jack or a boy Lisa. A Swedish children's clothes company has removed the "boys" and "girls" sections in its stores, and the idea of dressing children in a gender-neutral manner has been widely discussed on parenting blogs. This Swedish toy catalog recently decided to switch things around, showing a boy in a Spider-Man costume pushing a pink pram, while a girl in denim rides a yellow tractor.

The Swedish Bowling Association has announced plans to merge male and female bowling tournaments in order to make the sport gender-neutral. Social Democrat politicians have proposed installing gender-neutral restrooms so that members of the public will not be compelled to categorize themselves as either ladies or gents. Several preschools have banished references to pupils' genders, instead referring to children by their first names or as "buddies." So, a teacher would say "good morning, buddies" or "good morning, Lisa, Tom, and Jack" rather than, "good morning, boys and girls." They believe this fulfills the national curriculum's guideline that preschools should "counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles" and give girls and boys "the same opportunities to test and develop abilities and interests without being limited by stereotypical gender roles."



More at link: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/04/hen_sweden_s_new_gender_neutral_pronoun_causes_controversy_.html

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Arrow 28 replies Author Time Post
Reply Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen (Original post)
Little Star Apr 2012 OP
iverglas Apr 2012 #1
Little Star Apr 2012 #2
iverglas Apr 2012 #4
longship Apr 2012 #3
iverglas Apr 2012 #5
longship Apr 2012 #6
boston bean Apr 2012 #7
iverglas Apr 2012 #8
longship Apr 2012 #10
iverglas Apr 2012 #11
longship Apr 2012 #13
iverglas Apr 2012 #16
longship Apr 2012 #20
boston bean Apr 2012 #17
seabeyond Apr 2012 #14
longship Apr 2012 #18
seabeyond Apr 2012 #19
longship Apr 2012 #21
MadrasT Apr 2012 #23
longship Apr 2012 #25
Warren DeMontague Apr 2012 #9
iverglas Apr 2012 #12
Warren DeMontague Apr 2012 #15
iverglas Apr 2012 #26
Warren DeMontague Apr 2012 #27
MadrasT Apr 2012 #24
BlueIris Apr 2012 #22
Warren DeMontague Apr 2012 #28

Response to Little Star (Original post)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 05:03 PM

1. the Canadian government has adopted "they" as third person singular

 

- in legislation - and I now do it in all my own work.

Doing a quickie search at CanLII for "they shall" for an example finds this up top:

Sex Offender Information Registration Act, SC 2004, c 10
Consolidated Statutes of Canada — Canada (Federal)
... 5. (1) When a sex offender reports to a registration centre, they shall provide the following information to a person who collects information at the registration centre: ... (3) If a sex offender is required to report to a registration centre designated under this Act, they shall report in person. ... (2) If a sex offender is required to report to a registration centre designated under this Act, they shall report in person or in accordance with regulations made under paragraph

The meaning remains obvious, despite the technically incorrect grammar.

I've never thought it was really reasonable to try to change a language in such an extreme way as to invent a new word and try to get people to use it, especially for something as common and ingrained as a personal pronoun. Lots of people have always said "they" to refer to an unspecified third person, despite how all our elementary school teachers battled to get us not to do it (indicating the need for such a pronoun in the first place).

To get rid of he and she in English to refer to specific individuals ... if we wanted to ... that's something that is generations in the future.

Meanwhile, good on Sweden for all the voluntary stuff going on in all sectors of the society -- the corporate and associational sectors mentioned there are certainly excellent nuts to crack.

I'm not entirely sure that mixed bowling isn't going to disadvantage women, though ... and I'm afraid that gender neutral washrooms really and truly do. Women don't have equal social power, even in Sweden, and in places like bars and even schools and workplaces, women having no choice but to share intimate quarters like washrooms with men who may be strangers is not really appropriate, to my mind.

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Response to iverglas (Reply #1)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 05:11 PM

2. I'm still trying to digest this article....

some things I like and other things kinda worry me a little. I'd like to hear more about it thou.

Your point about sharing washrooms is not my cup of tea for sure. lol

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Response to Little Star (Reply #2)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 05:34 PM

4. one does have to hand it to them, though

 

for being so seeming open to all these ideas.

Imagine them even being discussed in North American media without being ridiculed from the outset -- let alone tried on, as the magazine there did.

There is an argument to be made, it seems, that enforcing diversity in some of the ways described does maybe amount to limiting diversity in other ways ...

Carrots can take an awfully long time to change a society. Canada too has non-gendered unemployment-insurance parental leave for the birth/adoption of children: 15 weeks reserved purely as maternity leave (to recognize women's and babies' needs during late pregnancy, delivery and early infancy), and 35 weeks during the first year after birth that parents can divide between them as they choose (including simultaneously). It isn't hard to guess how most parents take that leave, where both are employed. And not just because men usually earn more than women so the sacrifice would be greater if he took the time out. Just offering the option isn't enough to bring about real social change.

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Response to Little Star (Original post)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 05:26 PM

3. It is a difficult problem to solve

How far do you take it before it gets a bit silly.

English is a particularly knotty problem. Yes! Cultural history plays a huge part. But what can we do? I think we can use gender neutral language where it's available. I really like "they" as a gender neutral singular. But the there are silly things like herstory. Maybe the advocates for that one would also support hersterectomy, or (horrors!) hersterical.

Myself, I find the rhetorical games all a bit silly. Instead, one has to take on culture itself. That is precisely what Sweden seems to be taking on. More power to them. After you've done that, maybe new gender neutral pronouns can be introduced. I just cannot see the rhetoric succeeding without a cultural lead.

If only it was so simple.

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Response to longship (Reply #3)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 05:35 PM

5. well, herstory ;)

 

That really is just a clever play on words, doncha think?

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Response to iverglas (Reply #5)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 05:50 PM

6. I think I made a case against "herstory"

Mere pronunciation is not an argument for gender neutrality. The word history has no gender specific root. Why create the very silly substitute, herstory. Are we now going to separate histories for men and women? The so-called word, herstory, is a silly attempt to purge gender from rhetoric where it doesn't even exist.

Those of us who are for gender equality and neutrality would best pick better battles, mainly tackling (as Sweden has apparently done) the cultural battles.

Let the mere rhetorical battles go. If you want to win, it isn't going to happen by coining a word like "herstory" or any other silly rhetorical construction.

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Response to longship (Reply #6)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 06:01 PM

7. I think that maybe herstory has to do with

women not receiving credit for achievements in history. So, the word is used to emphasize womens achievements in history.

I'm not so sure it relates specifically to gender equality or neutrality.

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Response to longship (Reply #6)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 06:08 PM

8. let me try again

 

I've never heard of anyone suggesting that "herstory" be substituted for "history" in the English language, or even claiming that "history" is a gendered word or concept.

"Herstory" is a pun. A clever way of expressing the fact that women have, in fact, been excluded from the stories the human race tells itself about itself. To put women back into those stories, there is "herstory".

I'm sorry, but when you say:

Are we now going to separate histories for men and women? The so-called word, herstory, is a silly attempt to purge gender from rhetoric where it doesn't even exist.

I just hear you making things up, unless something very odd is going in the halls of academe in the US that I'm not aware of.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herstory

Herstory is history written from a feminist perspective, emphasizing the role of women, or told from a woman's point of view. It is a neologism coined in the late 1960s as part of a feminist critique of conventional historiography, and refers to history (reinterpreted as "his story") written from a feminist perspective, emphasizing the role of women, or told from a woman's point of view. (The word history—from the Ancient Greek ιστορία, or istoria, meaning "a learning or knowing by inquiry"—is etymologically unrelated to the possessive pronoun his.)

... During the 1970s and 1980s, second-wave feminists saw the study of history as a male-dominated intellectual enterprise and presented "herstory" as a means of compensation. The term, intended to be both serious and comic, became a rallying cry used on T-shirts and buttons as well as in academia.

In feminist literature and academic discourse, the term has been used occasionally as an "economical way" to describe feminist efforts against a male-centered canon.

You are tilting at straw windmills, from what I see.

There may be arguments against the concept of "herstory" (see further in that wiki article), but acting as if there is some serious movement to replace the word "history" with the word "herstory", that's just, well, silly.


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Response to iverglas (Reply #8)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:11 PM

10. Etymology of "history"

Has no gender! It is silly and ignorant to take the syllable his and interpret it as a gender biased syllable and then do the totally ignorant transformation as to make a new word herstory. it makes no sense at all except for making an argument about rhetoric for which the word, herstory, has no basis. It's a very silly argument.

Anybody using that word has no clue how to transform culture. Apparently the Swedes know that that culture comes first, then we can work on the rhetoric.

Meanwhile, we still see people posting the silly "herstory" on these forums while, at the same time state congresses are passing laws which do all sorts of rubbish against women's rights.

But at least we got the word herstory into the dictionary.

Bullshit! First rights, then we can work on the rhetoric. I will bet my last dollar that it will not include herstory, nor hersterical, nor hersterectomy.

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Response to longship (Reply #10)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:13 PM

11. excuse me

 

Would you please stop addressing me as if I am a moron, and as if you have not read a word I have said?

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Response to iverglas (Reply #11)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:40 PM

13. I will let "herstory is history written from a feminist perspective" speak for itself

Nobody would dare to deny that women have suffered due to gender bias. However, there is only one history and that is what really happened. To label a special feminist history as the utterly inanely termed, herstory implies, does not help women at all.

Instead, you could do what many historians are doing and that is digging into the facts and telling things as they happened.

Again, fucking Sweden has got it right. First you tackle the cultural battles, correcting the history. Then you can work on rhetoric. The former drives the latter.

The word herstory implies that there is a different history for women, than men. Culturally, this is true, but there really is only one true history, and it may not support women (it doesn't) but it is what it is. Instead of using that to educate people, do women actually want a different history for them? Gawd, I would hope not.

Dare I quote George Santayana here?
I hope I wouldn't have to.

Sorry for the passion here. It is one to which I have a lot. Forgive me, please.

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Response to longship (Reply #13)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:44 PM

16. do what you like

 

but no, I don't forgive your repeated refusal to address what I have said, and preference for pretending I have said something you would obviously prefer that I had said, for some reason.

You could always go back to the beginning and start over. Me, I'm going to make supper and practise standing upright ... life is thrilling, these days.

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Response to iverglas (Reply #16)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 10:21 PM

20. I apologize for any offense

I am on your side. My argument is strictly rhetorical. But the rhetoric makes a difference. Here, at DU, we all use rhetorical devices to get our point across and I do not disassociate myself from that. I do it, too.

But I have a problem with this particular coinage. The word history has no gender specific root, to gentrify it has no purpose other than to make a gender neutral word into a gendered word.

I am being, as I often am on these forums, a bit of a pedant.

If you take offense to that, I grovel at your feet and apologize. I just think the word is silly, and I firmly believe that if people used it in popular culture it would be received precisely as that.

The more important argument is the lack of accuracy of women's part of history. That is the one battle we should all be fighting. My field is science and mathematics and the story of women there is both compelling and wonderful, in spite of them having to fight against gender bias.

But the history tells the real stories of these women. Like the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes, Marie Curie. Of Henrietta Leavitt who worked for decades at the Harvard observatory and discovered one of the most important astronomical discoveries of all time and was directly responsible for Edwin Hubble, decades later, using her data for finding that the universe was expanding. Of Caroline Herschel, an astronomer of exquisite talent who worked with her brother, William Herschel and made astounding discoveries in the nineteenth century. Just in science, I could go on and on. Try Hypatia, another favorite of mine. Or Hildegard of Bingen. (Both of which were polymaths.)

There are countless women like these, women who have made profound differences in history. We only have to tell their stories, which are compelling and often played out under difficult cultural situations. It is these histories which make the case for feminism, not silly rhetorical games.

Tell the stories, the real stories, their histories. They are all the more compelling because of their gender. Why diminish that by calling it something else, especially something as silly as herstory. This is the real history.

Thanks.

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Response to longship (Reply #13)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:58 PM

17. you might have noticed the name of this forum is History of Feminism

Again, herstory is a play on words, it has nothing to do with gender neutrality or gender equality.

It is simply a way to point out that in history, many historical achievements of women have been left out. Not that it is a different history. History is of course just that, history.

I don't think using a word or a phrase to emphasize the issue undermines gender neutrality or equality.

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Response to longship (Reply #10)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:43 PM

14. you are missing the point it talking specifically and not being asked to used generally. firstly

this is a forum where we listen, not devise arguments that are not being made.

secondly, ..... i will continue to teach sons and those around us to be aware of their language, because it matters. dont be using feminine insults against a guy. just keep it out of language, because that conditions, both genders. and no, i dont think that needs to be put on a back burner until all issues are addressed for women and our rights.

multi tasking is a good thing.

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Response to seabeyond (Reply #14)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 09:29 PM

18. I agree 100%

But the word "herstory" is an odious thing. It implies a different history for females, a concept which I, and every rational person should reject. History is what it is.

If you object to the history being told, That is fine, and I would stand beside you to defend the facts. But to label a special feminist history as herstory which has no gender specific etymological root, is inane. I know that it is important to raise awareness of gender issues, but we are not gonna get it done with herstory. If somebody like me, who is totally on your side can ridicule it, imagine what the real enemies of feminism would make of it. You are playing into your enemy's hand.

The entire argument for the word is without basis and it harms the very thing we all want to accomplish.

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Response to longship (Reply #18)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 09:33 PM

19. i dont use the word. if i am hearing right, and what i am seeing....

NO ONE is asking it being adopted in language as a replacement for history. it is used when women... are addressing women history that is almost totally excluded from our learning. so when you see herstory, you know it is about women in history. it is not to be along side of history or adopted in place of history. it is used in a specific reference. when i google women in history, i will find a lot of herstory. saying.... it is talking women in history.

it is not the big deal you are trying to create it as.

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Response to seabeyond (Reply #19)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 10:35 PM

21. No offense taken or delivered

See my post #20.

I hope I made my position clear there. Often I miss the mark when I let passion get away from logical argument. On these forums it is sometimes difficult to separate the two.

As a retired teacher I think stories are the best way to teach. Rhetoric implies definition, which implies fixed meaning. History, even that of feminism could not survive that, nor could any other.

I appreciate your input.

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Response to longship (Reply #18)

Fri Apr 13, 2012, 12:33 AM

23. I appreciate your passion about this

I also really dislike the word "herstory" and literally roll my eyes when I see it.

And I also understand what iverglas is saying about the reason and origin of the word.

I still would never use it... but maybe I won't roll my eyes quite so often.

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Response to MadrasT (Reply #23)

Fri Apr 13, 2012, 01:09 AM

25. I, too, have moderated my opinion

But not too much. I would hate like hell to give the opposition any reason to make a specifically rhetorical argument against something which we all should recognize as one of the unalienable rights.

The opposition is very good at this and I feel very strongly that we don't need to give them any gifts.

This last few months we see what they have in store for women. They are not just playing games. This is what they are about and they will likely only back down if they think that it will hurt them in Nov., which it will.

But this is what they are about. To oppose them, one has to phrase things with some care. Any misstep could bounce back at us. Silly rhetoric like herstory does just that. I can just see the Repukes outlawing hersterectomies, etc. It is a tactic ripe for ridicule, as it should be.

Enough is enough. There is only history, and it has nothing to do with gender bias other than the way it is reported. But that is the one thing we all can influence. Women's history is as rich and compelling as any. Tell the stories and people will listen.

Calling it herstory does nothing without the stories. So why even relabel it? Just tell the fucking stories. They are awfully good, after all.

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Response to Little Star (Original post)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 07:25 PM

9. "lobbying for parents to be able to choose any name for their children"

I guess that's one area where we have them beat, at least as far as I understand it.

Parents here can name their kids whatever they want, as evidenced by the person who got $60,000 for naming their kid "Intel Dual Core" or something like that.

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Response to Warren DeMontague (Reply #9)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:26 PM

12. it's fairly common in European countries

 

to have rules about what children may and may not be named. In some instances I think they stem from ancient established religions, in some a desire to maintain ethnic identity, in others it's just the concept of ordre public (roughly, the public interest) that makes children's names a matter of valid public concern. And make civil-law countries especially, those lovers of codification, bureaucratized beyond belief in some ways. Some of the rules really do seem a bit overly intrusive, and not just to us.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/08/world/europe/08iht-danes.html

Personally, I find the growing practice of giving girls male names rather distasteful. All the Madisons and Cassidys and the like. English (for example) has many good, strong female names with long histories, and rejecting them in favour of making pseudo-boys out of girls isn't really advancing equality. And I don't think there are too many Swedes about to name their sons Lisa.

I always think of my mum and little sister getting such a kick out of beauty queen Kaye Lani Rae Rafko's name. ... Ooh, now I have to watch Roger & Me again to see what she said to Michael Moore ...

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Response to iverglas (Reply #12)

Thu Apr 12, 2012, 08:43 PM

15. Of course. What constitutes a "valid public concern" is by no means universally agreed upon.

I mean, if I had my aesthetic druthers the first one to go would be anything that rhymes with "...aden"; anyone who did the preschool circuit in the past 10 years has seen the proliferation of Jaydens Braydens Kaidens and the like.

But I do err on the side of letting parents make the decision.

Also, for what it's worth, "Madison" isn't a traditional any-kind-of-name, male or otherwise. Yes it was James Madison's last name, but its use as a first name for girls can be traced directly back to the movie Splash.

Seriously.

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Response to Warren DeMontague (Reply #15)

Sat Apr 14, 2012, 07:35 PM

26. chuckles

 

In last week's Toronto Star that I happened to get around to reading today before it went to the recycle. The columnist reports that her 19-yr-old son at university has six friends named Ben.

http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1155850--baby-names-parents-named-peter-and-susan-have-spawned-a-generatino-of-bens-and-emilies

... The list of this year’s most popular names for girls and boys as compiled by names.family education.com/nametracker confirms this. In the top 10 for girls are Madison, Chloe, Olivia and, yes, Emily. The most popular names for boys are Ethan, Jayden, Aiden — and holding strong at No. 1, Jacob. It is interesting how children’s names are so reflective of each generation’s tastes. Naming is an act that at its very essence is intended for posterity. As a Karen, who has not once encountered anyone younger than me with the same first name, I know first-hand that the opposite is true. Names are very much a product of their time.

Snork.

The trend I was getting at for girls was to give them surnames as names, I guess, surnames being pretty much by-definition masculine nouns. It just seems to somehow give a girl some value-added to have a male name. Yeah, popular entertainment is full of them. Madison, Addison, ...


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Response to iverglas (Reply #26)

Sat Apr 14, 2012, 09:36 PM

27. I make an exception for Kaidan Alenko.

I mean, he's not my type, but I understand he's quite popular in some circles.

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Response to iverglas (Reply #12)

Fri Apr 13, 2012, 12:36 AM

24. I had no idea that anyone regulated naming.

That is really interesting.

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Response to Warren DeMontague (Reply #9)

Fri Apr 13, 2012, 12:07 AM

22. "Intel Dual Core"...?

You are kidding me.

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Response to BlueIris (Reply #22)

Sun Apr 15, 2012, 09:12 PM

28. To be fair, some of these may be Palins.

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